Standing on the brink of a massive ecological crisis, humanity’s actions over the next few years will determine our planet’s future. In his book How Soon is Now? radical futurist and philosopher Daniel Pinchbeck explains how a people's movement could transform society
Your new book centres around the idea that humanity has brought about ecological crisis almost as a rite of passage, to pave the way for transcendence. Why is this your view?
We are hardwired for transcendent experience, which is why traditional cultures all around the world have initiatory ordeals such as vision quests, psychedelic journeys, walkabouts and so on. Modern western civilisation denies the need for this, but if humans can’t find transcendence they will seek it negatively, through destructive episodes such as wars. We have known about the ecological threat for decades but we have been unable to act to deal with it. I believe we are subconsciously seeking a collective threshold of intensity in order to bring about our own transformation.
We forget how life and our civilisation is inherently miraculous
Sum up your vision for a mass social movement to address this crisis we face
There are many movements already happening all over the world, but somehow this vast ‘people’s movement’ has been unable to transform the society as a whole. I see that we could organise something like a global direct democracy or an alternative system for exchanging value through the internet. Because of the scalability of internet-based projects, this could happen quickly. The people could create something like a ‘digital nation’ based on principles and transparency, for instance. Whether this happens remains to be seen.
To what extent do you think this is possible?
We forget how life and our civilisation is inherently miraculous. We are ten trillion cells and microorganisms held by gravity to a sphere whirling around an atomic fireball, whirling around a black hole in the middle of infinite empty space. Just a few thousand years ago, we were apes, and now we have a global communications system and are considering settling other worlds. Anything is possible! Imagination, willpower, discipline and courage are the keys.
We will eventually reduce our focus on virtual technologies, realising they are degraded substitutes, as love and community become central again
You call for an “intentional and consciously designed metamorphosis of our current systems”. What would this look like?
I think we would want a basic income or subsidy so people didn’t have to feel anxious about the basis of their own existence. We would want a post-capitalist system where work was voluntary due to automation. People would have more time to live, perhaps in multigenerational communities where they develop their creativity and cultivate their unique individualities, spending more time with children and loved ones. We will, at the same time, explore the infinite inner dimensions of consciousness as a new direction or a new frontier for humanity. We will have a decentralised democracy that scales from the local to the bioregional to the planetary level. We will, I think, eventually reduce our focus on virtual technologies, realising they are degraded substitutes, as love and community become central again.
You’ve said that such a change will occur only when we see ourselves as one planetary tribe. Why is this?
Tribal people saw themselves as the ‘in group’ compared to other humans who were part of an ‘out group’ and therefore not fully human. Modern society has perpetuated this with nationalism and racism, and misogyny now even, gaining adherents. We are only going to survive and then thrive as a species when we realise we are one human family, all genetically related from one African ancestor. We have a role we can step in to in terms of the Earth’s ecology which is to serve and protect the community of life. Indigenous tribal people also model that for us.
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