Essay Three: Are We Stupid?
Oscar nominee Pete Postlethwaite plays the best role of his acting career in the film “The Age of Stupid.” The movie fast forwards us to the year 2055. Pete plays the sole fictional character in this riveting film. He stars as an old man living alone in a world totally decimated by global warming. His location is the High Arctic. How prophetic this makes James Lovelock’s conclusion from his 2006 book Revenge of Gaia. In an interview about this book, Lovelock provides a dire prediction for humanity: “Before this century is over, billions of us will die, and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”
The character played by Postlethwaite is the curator of The Global Archive, a digital storage laboratory located in the Arctic. It is the last habitable place for humans on Planet Earth. The footage he views shows how global warming reached tipping points and runaway effects while at the same time humanity’s achievements are also saved for posterity. How could the human mind capable of such monumental achievements neglect to take care of the destruction happening to their lived-in-ecosystem? The old man shakes his head in disbelief looking for an answer. The film gives us an answer – carbon based energy. Our addictive dependence to it is what propelled the downward spiral of devastation. The addictive process was enabled because we allowed the environment to become an extension of human egocentric needs and values, an ego-sphere rather than an eco-sphere. In this ego-sphere we consumed mindlessly in the global economy without regard for ecosystem balance or concern about creating inequality, poverty and ecosystem imbalance. Planetary care is not on this agenda, as the film graphically shows. We see the old man in the High Arctic watching archival video footage, carefully preserved from 2008. His stark question to the viewer is: “Why didn’t we stop climate change in 2008 when there was a chance?”
The director of the film, Fanny Armstrong, creates a montage from live news and documentaries saved from 1950 to 2008. The video record charts the steps taken by humanity into global devastation – devastating that is for human habitation and for all other species. In an artfully created mosaic, six real life characters play out the dramas of their personal stories. Their humanity and incredible stupidity are extant in this brilliant tapestry of human folly. What is so gripping is that we who view it are made to feel distinctly uncomfortable, because their shadows and myopia reflect our own. The shadows and myopia arrive as a projection of our political and corporate leaders. After watching this film we can no longer hide from these shadows. We are forcibly held to account. If we do not act now, this film then becomes our story.
Two Forks In the Road – Which One Will We Take?
I talked about the Failsafe in Consciousness concept in my 2008 work, Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves, to describe how consciousness expansion will be held back by a deliberately cultivated ignorance about better knowledge. That is until the global ecological situation deteriorates to a breaking point. My thought was that this breaking point will then act as a catalyst, exposing such ignorance. At which point consciousness is propelled into expansion, deliberation and change. My vision was a very positive one, as I believed that humanity could create new structures and organizations out of which emerge the radical solutions to address the environmental crises. We have the knowledge to create this, but the obstacles that stand in the way are not technological. They are the attitudes, values and concepts that define the present dominance of corporate values, rampantly consolidated through “turbo-capitalism.” I argued that the necessary clarity to deal with the global environmental crises will emerge, once our thoughts, values and attitudes change and no longer sustain and feed our internal pollution. This is the radical internal Climate Change necessary to engage intelligently with the external Climate Change.
There is certainly global awareness, but also fear about our future place on Planet Earth. The overwhelming terror of Gaia crashing down on us is unbearable. Yet I asked the reader to take hold of the 2% option that creates the opportunity for the Failsafe in Consciousness to function and multiply. I recall many years ago when I was teaching meditation in India, hearing Sai Baba, the Indian sage, say that a transformation in human consciousness required at least 2% of the population to meditate on a daily basis. I have no idea what the knowledge source was for his pronouncement yet I do remember the “buzz” of energy in my body and mind when I heard it. I do not remember anything but that from the audience with him, yet have retained it as a distinct possibility, translating this wisdom into the 2% option. This is do-able and within our immediate grasp. Just persuade 2% of the people we know to implement a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity, reduce meat consumption, walk or cycle more, drive less, create an organic garden, plant a tree – but do it! Reduce our ecological footprint by conserving energy with one eco-friendly act every day, then global consciousness as a collective human phenomenon will change. Different questions will be asked and different solutions found, as a new mind-set of shared consciousness emerges to make the necessary decisions for change. Mass awakening does not mean that everyone “wakes” up. A critical mass of 2% will be satisfactory as a tipping point, the catalyst, to get things moving in the right direction.
To make Failsafe a robust concept I identified three interconnected components:
- Innate Earth Wisdom,
- Counter Culture and
- Tipping Points in Consciousness.
We do in fact possess innate earth wisdom. Ninety-nine per cent of our evolution as a species relied on a hunting and gathering adaptation known as foraging, a strategy of adaptation based on sophisticated ecosystem knowledge, which was integrated into harvesting patterns through a spiritual understanding of the world. That is still hardwired into our brain and I thought it was simply a matter of re-accessing what we already possess. My anthropological logic pointed to the radical remembering of this mindset in order to activate the feedback cycle needed to prevent further degradation of the global ecosystem. I note how the modern day counter culture pulled together the Ecology of Ideas from Gregory Bateson, Rachel Carson’s Radical Ecology and the fostering of Gaia as metaphor and social movement through feminists, environmentalists, and the New Age beads and incense set. This unusual coalition established a broad consensus that provided a foundation for the new science of Eco-psychology. The counter culture also touched base with a responsible corporate response and the emergence of the powerful anti-globalization movement.
A massive global citizen response will certainly elicit an equally massive government and corporate response, as the bottom-up movement and top-down strategies for drastic change meet and integrate. There is not room in this Global Ecological Emergency for separating into “US’ and “THEM” categories. We are totally interconnected whether we like it or not. We will all live together or we will all die together. An intelligent green ideology embedded in everything we produce and market is a means to bridge competing agendas. Our dependence on fossil fuels reduces because we are aware of the deadly consequences of our addiction to oil and coal. The transition to a carbon neutral global energy system over the next few decades will be costly and require a massive response from government and corporate leaders to initiate the second industrial revolution. This is necessary to blunt the impact of climate change. It is a huge global industrial project that governments and corporations can bring about due to citizen pressure to “Make It So!” Global warming has certainly entered public consciousness. It just has to penetrate the corridors of political and corporate power. As global citizens we must find the ways and means to support the shift in consciousness at all levels of global society to make this so. Our future existence, and the existence of other species on planet earth, depends on making a new beginning for all of us.
Tipping points in consciousness are about achieving a critical mass for radical change and draw on the new science of Neuroplasticity that clearly demonstrates we are not necessarily stuck with present mindsets. Our mindsets can be changed but that takes extensive and diligent internal work. Just as there are tipping points in the external ecology of Gaia, so must there be tipping points in the internal ecology of consciousness.
“The Age of Stupid” is a watershed film. You will not be the same after you have seen it. It is impossible not to be moved in a constructive direction of immediate action. For the latter, I refer the reader to Failsafe’s Appendix I: Simple Steps to Empowerment, which provides guidelines and an action plan for the global ecological emergency. The steps are:
- Take Action
- Get Up Close And Personal
- Reduce Your Ecological Footprint
- Guidelines for Business and the Workplace
- The “Big” Picture for The Future
- Science and Diversity
- Environmental Organizations
- Warning to Governments
The Scientific American journal published “10 Solutions for Climate Change” much later and basically endorsed my Appendix. If only we can get it right – and get it right now!
The hopeful trajectory is that our diligent mindfulness has changed our brain structures in the direction that permits new paradigms of behavior to come into form. As cells in the ecosystem of Gaia it is as though humanity has aligned their neuronal networks with principles of ecosystem balance, ethics and responsibility. The critical mass has arrived and it amounts to a collective tipping point for our species. Once the wild, ego driven, greed driven mind is reined in then clarity and compassion are suddenly there to provide the basis for how we can be with the planet and with one another in a totally new way. This is what happens if we “Begin It Now” – the concluding words to Failsafe: Saving The Earth From Ourselves.
The best case scenario is that we get on with the task of reining in our ego and greed driven mind. This permits a Failsafe in Consciousness to kick in because conditions have been created by our choice to cultivate different patterns within our minds. Thus consciousness expansion can no longer be held back as the radical internal Climate Change has taken place. Our innate knowledge is manifest. We interconnect with a vast counter culture that is no longer a minority, no longer asleep or disempowered. We become another light shining in the quiet revolution that has over two million organizations world-wide pursuing constructive change.
However, I underestimated the lure and power of the Second Fork. Should a Failsafe in Consciousness prove to be unfounded, we are then faced with the likelihood that humanity is a failed genetic experiment. If we continue to turn our beautiful rivers into sewers because of our endless greed and neglectful ignorance, it is obvious that there is no place on Mother Earth to support our present civilization. That too will join the trash heap collectively created by mindless generations of humanity. If consciousness is too slow to change and make the quantum leap to a culture of sustainability then there are drastic consequences to contemplate, which are starkly portrayed in the film. The ancient ecologist on Mars studying a million years of earth history would note a parasitic infestation of Planet Earth that was not very intelligent. An intelligent parasite would ensure the good health of the host that supports it. And so the Martian biologist would factor in an inevitable elimination date for our species in her star-date log and may well view our civilization as a failed genetic experiment.
This is a sobering metaphor, yet we have to accept it as a potential reality staring at us from the very near future. Our present values and patterns of consumption are the architects of the present global ecological emergency, as we remain ignorant to the consequences of the fact that everything interconnects. We are, in fact, our environment. It is our collective habits, thoughts and patterns of mindlessness that have created a flimsy, uncertain future for our species on Planet Earth. Yet civilizations rise, civilizations fall. Once we can accept that we have created the conditions for the present global civilization to die, then and only then can we find a respite. During this respite, perhaps it is possible for insights to emerge that will bring radical change to our values, habits and mindset.
It is very difficult in modern day civilization to accept death, whether it is of a loved one, ourselves or the planet. The usual response is fear and denial. We have to re-educate our minds to get past these two obstacles. For once we can clearly recognize the reality that our present form of civilization is dying we know that despair and denial will do us no good. Instead, a window opens in our mind for peace and steadiness to enter, which could then propel our species to live differently so that we may create a future on planet earth. This requires a mass awakening of attributes that run counter to the bottom line of turbo-capitalism and the ecology of greed. It does require a candid acceptance, without fear, that our global civilization in its present form is coming to an end. Such an acceptance can actually free the mind from its chains and enable mindful engagement to naturally arise. Such a way of life, such an acceptance of our true reality on the planet, can be the springboard to mitigate the course of environmental collapse. The energy and power to avert the disaster facing us rests in our minds and in a new collective choice to live very differently.
Because of all the warning signals, however, allow me to be starkly realistic. If the Failsafe in Consciousness does not kick in, the field is open for James Lovelock’s conclusions to take root. But perhaps after all the Arctic Circle may not be such a bad evolutionary staging point, as digital records, carefully preserved as archaeological relics, could provide clear guidelines for future civilizations to conduct themselves more appropriately with respect to the Earth Mother. A million years from now is merely a blink of an eye in geological time. After Global Warming destroys the present habitable eco-niche any future civilization that evolves will be able to draw on the triumphs and failures of our present civilization.
I finish with Dave Hampton’s passionate thoughts about this film (Resurgence May/June 2009: 66). “The Age of Stupid” is not just a film that could change the course of humanity. I hope it will be the catalyst that gives us a second chance to create a sustainable future. I hope it will promote a mass collective awakening globally such that we are not stupid and that we choose life and reclaim our children’s birthright – the right to expect a future.”
I have fourteen grandchildren. In the same vein as this film, I wrote Failsafe: Saving The Earth from Ourselves. Consider this book as archival footage from 2008 that provides hope and an action plan so that my grandchildren can enjoy a habitable planet. Should the adversity of Climate Change overwhelm humanity – then a different question arises. What will we then choose to do as a paradigm of behavior?
Glance at the sun
See the moon
And the stars
Gaze at the beauty
Of the earth’s
Hildergard of Bingen 1098 – 1179