you can think of. To not see this, or acknowledge it, is to deny our current reality.
The mess we now find ourselves in has not arisen in recent times, as some would suggest. Our predicament predates the Industrial Revolution, and was in place long before we began emitting tons and tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Our predicament is not simply one of climate change, although some would suggest this. Climate change is a symptom of our predicament, not a cause of it.
Our predicament arose long before the socio-economic ideologies of capitalism and socialism were formed. We had started on the road towards this mess well before the Enlightenment, well before the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Indeed, our predicament was in place even before most of the modern religions of the world existed. Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Confucius, and other such great religious teachers were born long after the first steps were made leading towards this mess.
Many argue that the Industrial Revolution, and the start of our reliance on fossil fuels, is the origin of our predicament. Certainly, that revolution did not help, yet we can trace the roots back even further. The genesis for our predicament even predates the Agricultural Revolution, notwithstanding Jared Diamond’s assertion that the ‘advent of agriculture…(was) the worst mistake in the history of the human race.’1
All the reasons noted above for how we got into this mess are about what we (humans) have done throughout our history. Whether it be the political systems we have setup, or the technological inventions, or the fossil fuel industry, or even our religious systems; all these are about how we act in the world. Our predicament is more closely related to who we are and how we view the world, each other, and ourselves. Our cultural psychology and spiritual core have a lot more to do with the mess we are in than do the ways in which we manifest our psycho-spiritual being.
Our predicament is rooted in three interlocking disconnections: disconnection from nature, disconnection from each other, and disconnection from our own selves. Which came first, although an interesting enquiry, is ultimately of little import, as the three are so interconnected that the starting point is now irrelevant.
The image of an ouroboros is one way to indicate these intertwining feed-back loops.
The ouroboros (snake eating its own tail) is an ancient symbol found in ancient Egypt2 where it represents the disorder within which the orderly world sits and signifies the world’s periodic renewal. The ouroboros is portrayed encircling Ra and Osiris and together the entire motif depicts the beginning and end of time.
The ouroboros then, as a motif for our predicament, is a fitting one, as it is difficult to see any outcome for our predicament that does not entail some sort of global renewal.3 It is also fitting to note that the snake is biting its own tail. It can be said that our journeys of disconnection from nature, each other, and ourselves, have now ‘come back to bite us on the bum.’4
These three disconnections should not be read in literal terms, rather they refer more to our ways of thinking, our worldview. They are paradigms rather than specific events or even sequences of events.
Mention should also be made of the use of the word predicament (a more sophisticated word than mess.) Predicaments are not like problems, not even like complex problems. Problems tend to have solutions, whereas predicaments do not. Predicaments have outcomes.5 Predicaments are inherently chaotic and, as Chaos Theory tells us, the outcome is unpredictable, uncontrollable, non-linear, and is turbulent. Exactly what is happening!
Furthermore, often solutions offered in a predicament tend to contribute to deepening the predicament. There are many examples of this approach today. From techno-optimism to geo-engineering, from so-called green renewable energy to the prepping bunkers of the billionaires, all these rely on greater use of technology. Such belief in technology is a sign of techno-addiction. As we know, addictions are very hard to give up.
If we are to withdraw from our techno-addiction then recognising our core disconnects (from nature, from each other, and from our own selves) is the first step upon our way to recovery.
2. First found in a funerary book from the tomb of Tutankhamun in the 14th century BCE
3. Renewal often has a positive sense about it. Here, I am attributing neither a positive nor a negative attribute to the world. We simply do not, and cannot, know the sense of any future renewal.
4. The term ‘come back to bite you on the bum’ appears to have originated in Australia and refers to an action performed in the past now having dire consequences for the person who performed the original action. Collectively, we could think of this as our collective karma.
5. See Erik Michael’s excellent blog (https://problemspredicamentsandtechnology.blogspot.com/) for an explanation of the difference between problems and predicaments.