Resilience, resurgence, and rediscovery:
reflections on the quest for a new social vision
By Richard Reoch
The first half of this year has seen the publication of two books that strike a note of optimism in the midst of deepening anxiety about climate change and widespread economic disorder. They approach the crisis from two very different vantage points, but both argue that humanity still has options. They are further evidence of a subtle, but strategic, rebalancing of some of the most deep seated attitudes in the global discussion about the future, and whether humanity does or does not have the ability to reverse its current, disastrous trajectory.
“We need to find ways to reverse the climate change we’ve set in motion and halt the extinction crisis,” write the authors of Enough is Enough, a blueprint for global sustainability, published in January. Economists Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill are clear about the urgency of the crisis, but argue against doom-mongering. “The good news is that ideas for creating an ecologically sound economy are emerging from all corners of the world. The ever-present drone of what we can’t do has become both tiresome and unproductive. The time has come to figure out what we can do.”
They start from the observation that the world economy, as it is currently run, is causing long-term environmental, societal and economic damage. They go on to map out alternative paths that prioritize human well-being and “move past the culture of consumerism.”
“We humans have come to a crossroads in our history: we can either destroy the world or create a good future,” states the author of the second book that examines our options. Published in May, The Shambhala Principle by Sakyong Mipham, paints a stark portrait. “The pain and confusion of the world is now so vivid and unavoidable that we have no choice but to acknowledge it. When we are finally fed up with torturing ourselves, others, and the planet, out of our exhaustion will arise a gap in which we come to our senses and collectively rediscover a more natural state. Only by staring directly at the confusion—examining it and absorbing its reality—will our species discover a way forward.
Re-orienting for the future
This inquisitiveness about the future – based on the potent, sometimes implicit, affirmation that there will be a future – points to a number of trends that now appear to be shaping discussion in many fields.
The long years of examining the realities and causes of the current global crisis appear to have revealed realistic possibilities, both incremental and transformative, for leveraging future-oriented change.
In parallel with that examination, both scholars and activists have been studying and re-thinking the dynamics that bring about significant structural and behavioural change in societies, thus opening up new future-oriented strategies. Fresh questions are being asked in many fields about the underlying causes and attitudes that contribute powerfully, often invisibly, to the current crisis – and a shared recognition that a “cultural shift” is needed to re-set our relations with ourselves, each other and the planet.
Simultaneously, there is substantial evidence of human resilience manifesting in a growing number of initiatives and experiments with alternative models of human community, economic and environmental sustainability, all charting possibilities for future-oriented development. There is increasing debate about the indicators societies use to measure well-being and progress. Modeling is underway for more comprehensive systems of measurement that include factors ranging from personal well-being through to the impact of manufacturing and services on the biosphere, all based on securing a sustainable future.
Whether it be in the realms of business management, political science or social activism, there is an increasing emphasis on a more integrated approach to personal and social transformation, as the basis for future human society. There is growing recognition that human values treasured by the world’s indigenous traditions and centuries-old cultures may offer valuable insights for resetting humanity’s moral compass. Much has been lost sight of in the wake of contemporary industrial and post-industrial consumerist life-styles. Reawakened interest in humanity’s wisdom heritage may help us as we re-orient our aspirations for the future.
Read the full article:
Future back (.doc)
Future back (.pdf)
Richard Reoch is a trustee of The Rainforest Foundation, former media chief of Amnesty International, co-chair of “Rethinking Development”, the second international conference on Gross National Happiness, and the President of Shambhala.