Uh oh for modernity
We maintain endless growth at the expense of our humanity.
How’s everybody doing? Can anyone say an unqualified, “Fine?” This is from Can Modernity Last? about the position we are in:
“I picture a cat shooting up a tree in fantastic form (the easy direction, given claws), but then getting to a great height and having no obvious graceful way down.”
Planted in modernity, that relies on endless growth, we are so attached to all the goods that this world delivers that when our system no longer served us we kept it going to where it has produced oligarchs who run us and our democracy is threatened. We’re up that tree. Where power without morals can destroy us, now what? We maintain endless growth at the expense of our humanity.
Something to bear in mind is that if things were fine we never would progress. It’s like a sailboat tacking from side to side all the while moving forward. And here we are, at the extreme end of a run to the unworkable side. As the article says, “Growth is a very temporary phase that must end.”
Another lens on reality is the Hegelian dialectic: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. The thesis is how it is, the antithesis is what arises that doesn’t fit, and the synthesis is when the antithesis is so great that the system can’t continue and it incorporates what doesn’t fit in a new thesis. We are so bent out of shape that we desperately need our new thesis now. The big picture needs to reconfigure to accommodate all that’s so unworkable. Although the article argues for the comforts and luxuries of modernity not being possible in a new configuration, I’m not passing it along for that. It could be, but, even if things will scale back no matter what, I say that we-the-people would do best taking power away from institutions that aren’t serving us. And acting cooperatively, if our redesign of the world has less glitter and more love in it, well, that just might be fine.
by Tom Murphy
These are excerpts that I’ve strung together. Click on the title to read the whole thing.
In this post, I echo the bedrock question of whether economic growth can last with the question of whether modernity can last. The fact that growth can’t last is shocking enough for many. But it still allows mental space for maintaining our current way of life—just no longer growing. But is that even possible? I strongly suspect the answer to this new question is “no” as well.
I picture a cat shooting up a tree in fantastic form (the easy direction, given claws), but then getting to a great height and having no obvious graceful way down. I would seriously question our ability to preserve what we call modernity without fossil fuels. Only if we put ecological concerns above energy do we stand any chance of survival. Replacing our fossil fuel habit with renewable energy would require a substantial increase in material extraction (mining, scraping) on the planet—translating to more deforestation, more habitat loss, more pollution (tailings), more processing, and more extinctions. Renewable energy is not actually about saving the planet: clearly it will ravage more land and habitats in pursuit of materials. It’s really about preserving modernity in the face of CO2.
Let’s be clear on the goal here, and how ultimately narrow/misguided it is. Which is more valuable—modernity or the ecological health of the planet? Modernity has come at the expense of ecological health and the vitality of the community of life. It is not at all clear if modernity can exist any other way. Modernity could very well be a self-terminating prospect for exactly this reason, as humans can’t survive without a functioning ecosphere. Right now, the ecosphere is gasping for breath. I would say that it’s on life support, or in the ICU. But no—that would imply concern and remedial action. It’s just bleeding out in a ditch as we motor past, largely oblivious to its condition as we inflict even more damage. It would require putting non-human concerns first. The entire 10,000-year lineage of modernity has held expansionist, exploitative beliefs centered on humans. Short-term human concerns above all else—to the exclusion and detriment of the community of life—will surely fail, taking many species down with it. The philosophy upon which modernity is built is fundamentally incompatible with its own longevity: a fatal flaw in the operating system. At its center is the notion that humans are the apex species, rulers of the planet, increasingly in control of our own destiny and the world around us, on our way to becoming godlike masters of the world—and galaxy/universe among the more imagination-challenged. I lump this all into what I think is best characterized as a human supremacist culture. Unless the dynamical foundation changes, why would we expect a different result?
“We need more than policy change; we need a change in worldview, from the fiction of human exceptionalism to the reality of our kinship and reciprocity with the living world. The Earth asks that we renounce a culture of endless taking so that the world can continue.” Robin Wall Kimmerer
Put the community of life first. Trade hubris for humility. Live in service to and in reciprocity with the more-than-human world. If this means the end of gadgets or other unsustainable perks, so be it. What’s more important? Modernity is not the answer.
The article, like just about all others that do good jobs tuning us into our dilemma, misses where-to-from-here on the track of Teilhard to Thomas Berry to Brian Swimme with the Universe Story. Now, to do something about our supremacist culture believing that everything is here for humans involves humanity changing its mind about who we are. If we see ourselves as sacred creatures in a universe where everything is sacred, this smart species will serve the good of the whole. Brian Swimme says, “Our revolution in thinking dwarfs Copernicus’s announcement that the Earth travels around the Sun.” If we come into a coherence where we act as one humanity we at least will be doing the best that can be done to avert the worst of what we will experience if we don’t change some basic ways.
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