Dangerous Steps Backward for Humankind

It was back in the 70s when I found my life’s path. It grew out of a deep concern about where human civilization might be heading, and it began with an idea that clarified both how humankind got to where we are and the nature of the challenge we face.

Looking toward the future, I was both worried and hopeful.

Worried that civilization (and humankind) might destroy itself in either of two ways: 1) a nuclear holocaust, a possibility that had been a focus of fears worldwide throughout the years of the cold war; and/or 2) environmental destruction, fouling our own nest, leading to chaos and collapse of the biosphere on which we all depend for so much in our lives.

Hopeful because there were some signs humankind was advancing in the right directions: 1) developing some elements of international order that might constrain, to a degree, the dogs of war; 2) adopting some increasingly global approaches to important environmental problems that can only be dealt with globally, like the ozone protocol and the law of the sea.

While such advances were encouraging, the worry remained that we would make progress too slowly. Some important old ways of thinking were becoming increasingly dangerous in humankind’s emerging situation, and it was not clear how quickly those old ways could be replaced, or at least substantially revised to adjust to new realities:

1) Like millennia-old ways of thinking about security and conflict, unsuited to a time when competing superpowers possessed deliverable nuclear warheads numbering in the thousands. And

2) Like old ways of ignoring the requirements of environmental integrity, unsuited to an industrial civilization so large and powerful that was quite visibly (and increasingly) having disruptive impact on systems that form the foundation of all life on earth (including all human life).

Humankind is not to be faulted for the fact that we humans would have to make some major mid-course adjustments. It is inevitable that any creature on any planet that makes the breakthrough to civilization would eventually face such a challenge.

That’s because any civilization will tend – over time — to grow more powerful and more impactful. 1) As more powerful weapons are developed, wars will become more destructive. And 2) the creature’s impact on its planet will intensify as it expands its technological capacity to exploit its planet’s resources.

This inevitable tendency for the power and impact of a civilization to grow as it develops means that eventually the point will be reached when the civilization must become more whole to avoid self-destruction.

At that point, things will go in either one of two ways:

Either the creature and its civilization will make the necessary adjustments — becoming more whole and healthy, more in harmony all around — required for it to be viable for the long term.

Or it will fail to make the necessary adjustments, leading to break-down and catastrophe.

The mightier civilization becomes, the less room remains for the middle way of flawed-but-viable. Wholeness or brokenness, with less and less possibility of anything in between.

Imagine, then, how disappointed I must be to discover that our problem now is not that we’re making progress too slowly. It’s that we — especially in America — are moving in the wrong direction. Much of the important progress we’ve been making is being reversed.

Big steps backward! Away from the increasingly healthy future, and instead toward an increasingly dangerous chaos.

I never imagined that America would hand power to political forces that would so consistently attack forms of good order that have given promise of a more peaceful world: attacking the Atlantic Alliance, the system of international trade, the community of decent and free societies.

I never imagined that America – an America I first knew under Truman and Eisenhower – could ever act so hostile to all the values of American leadership associated with the role, “leader of the free world.”

And meanwhile, these forces have also made the United States the only nation on earth to reject a global climate treaty—the only one out of nearly 200.

Powerful interests – which have shown themselves willing, for their own short-term profit, to cripple humankind’s ability to move toward a harmonious relationship with the only planet we’ve got – are presently using their political minions to roll back environmental protections across the board in America.

This set of forces – which blatantly and consistently drive the evolution of our civilization toward the option of self-destruction — consistently works to undo decent efforts to create something more whole, healthier, more viable, and more benign.

The forces that gave us this situation – with power being placed in the hands of destroyers – must be looked at, understood, fought and defeated. We’re talking about the destiny of humankind, where the options are growing increasingly binary: whole or broken.

“I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19).”


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