The Rise and Fall of... [Scope]

If the world is saved, it will not be by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all.
-Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization
Today on the train I had a bizarre moment where I burst out laughing, burgeoning with energy over the clear reality that our society is much further gone than we think it is.  The irony of this thought as I rode to a 40-hour-week job was just too much.  The excitement I experienced was in reaction to the confirmation of a feeling I've had for some time now, that our society is ultimately unsustainable, and continues to worsen.  Mondays can do that to a person, huh?

For those of you who have read his other books, the above quote from Daniel Quinn (Ishmael, The Story of B, My Ishmael) is somewhat old-hat.  For those of you who have not, it may not make a whole lot of sense, so let's break it down quickly:

Quinn's M.O. is the salvation of humanity through a radical paradigm shift away from civilization as we know it and towards something more resembling tribalism (don't knock it until you've read it!).  Here he is describing the difference between vision (unified cultural memes that we look back at and declare, "there's no other way that history could have gone!") and programs (solutions that work to change the flow of vision by impeding its progress or diverting resources).

What he's saying here is that programs, while helpful in a way similar to the paramedic at the scene of an accident, are no replacement for a unified cultural infrastructure (analogy:  hospital with its resources and doctors and nurses and so forth).  What we need to "change the world" is a new Vision, a unified idea of what it means to be Humanity, NOT a series of better-funded or more-radical programs whose stated goal is to fix social ills.  Another way of saying it is, we need to create a new future, not fix an old one.

That's actually not ALL that radical an idea, but Quinn is entirely correct, we will need new minds, or at least changed minds.

I'd like to report a phenomenon that confirms this idea:  I talk with my "smart" friends all the time about these ideas ("smart" really just indicates a conversation partner...not a measure of intelligence by any means!) and for the most part, we agree on what SHOULD happen.  We need change, and we need it soon.  I even get some decent feedback on methods for enacting said change, but once we turn to reality, to actual implementation, predictions become much, much more pessimistic.

In fact, most conversations end with the following situation:  people continue their immersion in work, the digital age, and the self-indulgence we have available to us in this time period as the world crumbles around us.  We look up one day to see that nothing we need to survive exists, and we simply fade away as a civilization without the proper infrastructure to sustain us.

For those of you who have seen Serenity, the parallel to the Reaver origin story is absolutely spot-on.  People dying where they stand, too pacified and too apathetic to feed or maintain themselves.  From what I've read, this sort of complacency also accompanied the fall of Rome as it expanded beyond its ability to maintain its borders and the number of slaves and overtaxed colonies greatly outnumbered the land-owning Roman Citizens.  Rome was too caught up in its own affairs to notice that it was crumbling from the inside out, leaving the door wide open to barbarian invasion.  Rome was dead long before it was sacked.

What about us?

That's a stupid question (no stupid questions only stupid people bla bla) without any real answer.  We're in the midst of our culture, fulfilling the Vision of our times, and it's almost impossible to see where that will lead us other than further down the road of our current Vision.  As it stands, the above assessment is spot-on; in all likelihood we will continue to deny the existence of the "lethal memes" within our Vision up until the moment it destroys us, or else we will find a way to change our Vision.

My hope is that my overly optimistic perspective will be adopted by enough people that this will not come to pass.  What we need are new minds and changed minds, and right now those are in short supply.  We are treading water, people, and our civilization is losing steam, fast.  Can minds be changed in time?  Yes, they can.  Look at how we help our own when disaster strikes (as of Jan. 14).  If we change our vision, our culture will follow.  Now, what do we change, how do we do it, and where do we want to end up?

To be continued...


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A blog about social change, written from Brooklyn, New York. Currently looking for contributors.