|Photo: Ricardo Viana on Unsplash|
There’s no way out. There may (or may not) be ways through.
Let me explain.
In 2006 (updated in 2010) the eminent philosopher, futurist, and systems thinker, Ervin Laszlo, published Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond.1 In that succinct book Laszlo proposed that when societies undergo transformation, they do so in four phases. First is the Trigger phase, followed by the Accumulation phase, then the Decision-window, and finally the Chaos Point.
Our current society, Laszlo asserts, saw the Trigger phase pass by from 1800 to 1960 with innovation upon innovation giving humanity greater efficiency and manipulation of our surroundings. The Accumulation phase (1960 – 2010) saw higher levels of resource use, rocketing population growth, increasing complexity, and massive environmental impacts.
Laszlo then predicted that the few short years until 2012 were crucial. These, he proposed, were the years in which humanity had a Decision-window: a few short years in which the pressures of the previous phases made society unstable and subject to fluctuations. These years were the years in which humanity had to make the decision whether to break-through or break-down (in Laszlo’s words.)
The fourth phase, Chaos Point, is one in which the system becomes critically unstable, with wild fluctuations, and will emerge into either Breakdown or Breakthrough.
In the ten years since Laszlo’s critical timing of 2012, it is extremely difficult to argue for anything other than a breakdown in social, environmental, and planetary systems having occurred. Laszlo characterised this period as one of rigidity of thinking and lack of foresight, leading to situations in which institutions can no longer cope with the mounting and intensifying crises.
Simply put – we are in a mess.
A more sophisticated word for mess would be predicament.
Predicaments are not like problems, not even like a collection of problems. Problems suggest possible solutions. Predicaments are not solvable. Erik Michaels writes of this and notes that predicaments only have outcomes, and these are notoriously unpredictable, and hence unmanageable and uncontrollable.
Once in a predicament (or mess) there is no way out. We cannot solve our way out of it. Furthermore, nor can we solve our way out of it before we get into it, if the trigger points tipping us into the mess have already been tripped.
Since Laszlo wrote his book the evidence for triggering tipping points, and exceeding planetary boundaries has been mounting. So much so, that we have to admit we are now in a mess.
If there is no way out of a mess, then what happens?
There may be a way (or ways) through the mess. But, please, do not ask me what those ways are, or where they will lead. No one can answer those questions. The ways through will possibly be many, or none. There is no way of predicting whether humanity will survive this mess.
Furthermore, the outcome of this predicament will not be known for many generations. In terms of the most well-known aspect of this mess – climate change2 – we know that for the earth to cool back to pre-Industrial (or even pre-1970) levels, it will take several centuries once carbon stops being emitted into the atmosphere.
Hence, there is only one question we must pose ourselves.
How do we treat one another, the other-than-human creatures, and the earth herself?
That is a question that only each one of us can answer.
The answers can only be ethical, possibly spiritual. The answers cannot be technological, industrial, nor even political.
1. Ervin Laszlo, Chaos Point: 2012 and Beyond, Hampton Roads Publishing Company Inc., Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, 2006 (updated 2010) There is a review of this book on this blogsite (although readers will note that I am not as optimistic about the outcome now as I was at the time of writing the review – March 2012)
2. Climate change is only one aspect of the mess we are in. Climate change is a symptom, not a cause. The symptom is Overshoot which induces many inter-related and mutually reinforcing symptoms: e.g., deforestation, soil loss and erosion, air and water pollution, insect depletion, flora and fauna extinctions, growing inequalities, war and terrorism, plagues and pandemics, homelessness, food shortage, toxic waste… ad nauseum.