Recently, Stephen Hawking, the physicist, said that humanity is at risk of scoring an ‘own goal’ because of dangers of our own making. Indeed, there is a lot of informal talk that the apocalypse is around the corner – that the state of the world has taken a much greater turn for the worse. Almost everywhere we look, matters appear unhinged. There is a large undoing of behavioural norms. And there are no clear references.
That sense of foreboding – some stemming from excessive negativity and panic whipped up by our bad news media culture – may not be off the mark. After all, how often are we faced with a series of global challenges all at once?
Virulent nationalism and its violent consequences, religious extremism, massive and growing economic inequality, resource depletion, large-scale corruption, technological innovations that alienate and subordinate us as humans, and climate change.
That’s quite a set for even the best of us to get our minds around. The question is: are we in the least bit ready to meet these challenges successfully? To be fair, there are indications that some things are getting better.
The crucial issue, however, is not just the challenges we face, which are mostly of our own creation, but our capacities to respond to them. There does not seem to be much indication that most people appreciate, or even care, that we may be barrelling towards extinction.
Even if that thought does come, it’s quickly lost in the oblivion of distraction, and to competing sources of stimulus: “Have comment, will tweet.” Screen-induced trances, celebrity news, the unrealistic demands of the daily work grind, a dependency-based apathy, and ‘capture’ by false prophets make many believe that the world is someone else’s problem to fix.
This condition is tantamount to ‘being asleep’ while the house is on fire. Those most vocal about ‘doing something’ tend to propose reactionary, unhelpful actions – the Donald Trumps, the nationalists – that only inflame situations. The end result is that, even though there are many genuine people striving in many fields to put out these fires and improve the world, there are simply not enough of us – yet.
The likely reality is that we will not ‘wake up’ in large enough numbers until the combined threats are cresting like a big wave about to crash upon us. That is, until it’s too late. This is part of our make-up, but only part. Our brains are hard-wired to respond to threats that are immediate and urgent - and not problems that are slower moving and percolating.
Only we can solve the problems that we have largely created. We need a new perception set, a new survival awareness designed for today, and these are the better parts of our nature.
First, we have to wake up to the fact that there are indeed dire problems that ripple and impact on all of us equally. Second, we have to get beyond the massive distraction stream of screen addictions, the entertainment news, the narcissism, the boiling nationalism, and the petty dramas that hijack our attention and energy.
To awaken and focus, we have to override the auto-pilot that makes us look the other way, that rationalises the threats by telling us that they’re not so serious and that they’ll go away on their own; or that there’s a more important and tasty morsel of excitement just over there.
For this to happen we need to slow down, cultivate calm, widen our perceptions, see the greys in the world and work through holistic approaches that address fundamental causes.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Here comes the Apocalypse, let’s tweet’.