Mind-forged manacles

The activist Daniel Pinchbeck reflects on the mind-forged manacles that stop humanity from addressing the planetary mega-crisis and achieving metamorphosis. We must take a leaf from the spiritual holistic approach.

Back in the Sixties, the visionary scientist Buckminster Fuller foresaw only two outcomes for humanity: utopia or oblivion. Either we continue our present social and political arrangements until we destroy ourselves, or we rapidly transition to a new social system, allocate resources rationally, and elevate the human community, as a whole, to an abundant state of being. I remain convinced that Fuller was right.

Our civilisation is a planetary suicide machine, rapidly annihilating the biosphere that sustains us. We are spewing more than a million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every hour. Our oceans have become 30 per cent more acidic in the past 40 years, as they absorb excess carbon. Climate change is proving to be an erratic and complex process, but the great danger remains that we will soon hit a tipping point where we unleash rapid, unstoppable warming.

We face other ecological problems that are equally severe – a quarter of mammalian species, perhaps all species, will disappear within the next 30 years. We can’t predict when our industrial monoculture’s radical assault on the biosphere will induce feedback loops that cause the ecosystem to shut down, like a planetary heart attack, but the prospect is neither distant nor implausible.

Our post-industrial infrastructure remains fragile, toxic and perilous, while instruments of mass destruction proliferate. Climate change has caused increasingly unpredictable weather, with “once in a century” super-storms, tsunamis, earthquakes and floods now happening every year. Will nuclear power plants in America or the UK do better than Fukushima in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami? When resources become scarce, will aggrieved nations trigger nuclear contact? Will enraged individuals turn to bioterrorism? As sea levels rise, what will become of the hundreds of millions of environmental refugees?

While our current system enhanced the quality of life for vast populations, increasing lifespans and improving access to goods, services and communication technologies, it also created incredible, horrific inequities between the haves and have-nots. Since the Second World War, the US and its European allies have mastered the use of debt as a weapon of domination and control.

The planetary mega-crisis cannot be solved in piecemeal fashion – the symptoms are aspects of a universal disorder, a systemic disease. The only conceivable response is the rapid construction and universal dissemination of a comprehensive alternative, a new “operating system” for human society. Revolution is an antiquated term that refers to older political and social arrangements. What we require now is more like a metamorphosis, where we consciously transform our existing infrastructure from within and without, utilising archaic techniques and postmodern technologies to bring about a polar reversal of values and behaviour.

Our social and cultural evolution appears to be an extension of natural or biological evolution, and follows the same principles. In nature, evolution leads from primitive competition to sophisticated symbiosis, coordinated co-operation. As an example, our bodies consist of hordes of micro-organisms that once fought for resources until they learned to work together.

We are in the process of realising that humanity, as a whole, is a planetary superorganism, a sentient swarm constantly altering and transforming the ecology that sustains us. Confronting the mega-crisis that threatens all life on earth, we will either die off or we will transition from domination and aggression to co-operation and sharing.

It has been noted that one cannot solve problems at the level of consciousness that created them – problems “dissolve” when we attain a more encompassing awareness. In our present dangerous circumstances, we can no longer maintain an oppositional world-view. We must, instead, adapt the mystical perspective that recognises the universe and the self as one indivisible whole.

The process of transformation has many dimensions, for the individual and the collective. Today, many people are discovering their beliefs and behaviour patterns to be rooted in subconscious programmes, imprints from early childhood. We must break free of these programmes that are running us – what the poet William Blake called “mindforged manacles”. As we awaken to the reality of our precious, perilous situation, we can take responsibility for changing it.

The flip-side of the negative potential for planetary apocalypse is the prospect that we can reconstruct human society rapidly, using the communications infrastructure and social tools that evolved in the past few decades. Sustainable technologies for permaculture, bioremediation, holistic health, rainwater harvesting, alternative energies, and so on can be mass-distributed. We can use mass media and social media to disseminate a new set of values and principles that supports a holistic and sustainable way of life. Facing rising seas, we can construct eco-cities that act as scaffoldings for living systems, supporting local communities, with food and energy produced on site. Through a co-ordinated movement of civil society, we can dismantle the military-industrial complex and institute a peaceful world.

If this seems impossible to conceive, we must take a moment to recall how many seemingly impossible things have come into being. The human imagination remains an unlimited resource. Perhaps we subconsciously created this planetary mega-crisis to force ourselves to unleash, as an immune system response, the full power of our creative ingenuity, to reach the next level of species consciousness.

The choice is ours, as the future remains to be written.

Daniel Pinchbeck is an author. Follow his work at: danielpinchbeck.net

Would the UK have coped better in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster? Photo: Getty

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.