As we approach the first quarter mark of the twenty-first century our home is four and a half billion years old. We have outpaced the evolution of our nearest biological ancestors by eons. We have been using tools for three and a half million years, cooking for a million years, speaking and creating art for a hundred thousand years. Almost all the knowledge we can trust has been accumulated in the last two hundred years and a large amount of that only in the most recent fifty. In the last twenty years we have begun to realise that many of our assumptions have simply been wrong and whole fields of knowledge we thought we had wrapped up, it turns out, we have merely scratched at. You don’t need an expensive university education to appreciate that everything for humans is accelerating. We are throwing out and replacing coffee cups and scientific knowledge at an increasing pace. The next fifty years are shaping up to contain perhaps the greatest changes we have ever faced. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like we have perched ourselves on the edge of a cliff. Our progress, discoveries and inventions have made us bold and confident. We’re pretty sure we can fly, but we cannot be certain. We are more than ever trying to make sense of who we really are and we will be faced with unprecedented challenges to our human identity even as we attempt to understand it. How do we make sense of it all and come out intact? How do we guide our children and what do we teach them? This blog will be my exploration of these challenges. I don’t know where it might go but I do know where it will start.
A Crumbling House
Since we started to get organised as a species a few thousand years ago, we built and now depend on some core groups of ideas that you might think of as “systems”. Like the foundation, cement and roof of a house they are what hold us together as a modern human race and protect us. Let’s divide these into three, because threes work very well. “Red, amber, green”, “Small, medium, large”, “The beginning, the middle and the end” – well, you get the idea. Firstly, there is the economy by which we value things (money). Secondly are our moral frameworks that tell us right from wrong and, lastly, our industry by which we create all the things that wouldn’t exist without us – from toilet paper to X-Ray machines. The troubling news is that all three of these systems are showing signs of stress. All three may not survive the coming years. This alone may mean we have to rethink who we are, but that is not all.
The Rising Tide
A rising tide is something that cannot be stopped. You can sit like King Canute (who wasn’t as silly as people think) on your throne and scream at the waves, but you’re just going to get wet. The first wave is our own scientific and technological advancement that, although seemingly within our control, is in fact unstoppable. The second is the earth itself, our physical and natural home that can and will only take so much.
Our Great Yearning
Dig beneath the surface of our superficial media feed. Piece together the blogs, the articles, reality TV, the Pins, the Instas and the dinner conversation. From the humble, the wealthy, the thinkers, the doers, the famous and the anonymous there are some common threads of unrest and discontent. Somehow, despite or maybe because of our great advancement, we have lost something. We have lost something fundamental and it has left a void. Something natural, basic, grounding seems missing and it is shaking our foundations. Despite our best efforts it has eluded us so far. Whether it is hipsters taking holidays in the remote wilderness, urbanites dumping digital and going analogue, others pursuing minimalism, zero-waste, permaculture, slow living, natural homes, mindfulness, yoga and meditation. For me, it all points to a yearning. We are trying to get something back, to rewind, to start again. Why? What is it we miss?