Into the Crucible
Some of you have, I think, downloaded Duane Elgin’s e-book Awakening Earth: Exploring the Evolution of Human Culture and Consciousness. (If not, you can retrieve it from his website). It is very much influenced by Jean Gebser’s cultural philosophy, and is worthwhile in that respect.
On pages 101 – 103, though, in a section entitled “Planetary Compression and Transformation”, he gives his own description of what I earlier referred to, and speculated about, as “Peak Chaos” or “the crucible of change”. It is, I think, worth quoting in full, because I think it is probably quite accurate about the climax to chaotic transition.
Planetary Compression and Transformation
A painful reality seems to lie at the heart of the evolutionary process: We seem to grow only through the push of dire necessity. If that is so, then the formidable challenges we face in the decades ahead seem designed to provide the crises needed to awaken the capacity for reflective consciousness so that we can employ this capacity to secure our long-term survival as a species. Although each stage of development has been immensely demanding, the coming stage may be the most painful and difficult humanity will ever face. Massive famine, civil unrest, and ecological devastation may be necessary to motivate humanity to genuinely unite in a shared effort to live together cooperatively on the planet. If so, we will not choose a path of sustainability without first looking directly into the abyss of a new dark age of planetary feudalism that reaches into an endless future of suffering and sorrow. Only after humanity comes face‐to‐face with its destructive potentials and divided past will we begin to build a unified future.
We are moving into a time of steel-gripped necessity—a time of intense,planetary compression. Within a generation the world will become a superheated pressure cooker in which the human family is crushed by the combined and unrelenting forces of an expanding world population, a dramatically destabilized global climate, dwindling supplies of nonrenewable energy, and mounting environmental pollution. The circle has closed, and there is nowhere to escape. These forces are so unyielding, and the stresses they will place on our world are so extreme, that human civilization will either descend into chaos or ascend in a spiraling process of profound transformation. On the one hand, if humanity is unwilling to work for the advance of all, then the world will collapse into resource wars, and misery, poverty, and calamity will descend on the planet. On the other hand, unprecedented suffering may awaken humanity by burning through the unconscious denial, greed, and fear that now divide us. A new human alloy may emerge from the furnace of these superheated decades. Fiery compression may fuse the human family together with a new sense of identity that is strong enough to support the building of a sustainable global civilization.
It seems only natural that humanity would reach, and then extend beyond, its limits to growth. Because nearly every organism will work to exploit its ecological niche to the fullest extent, overshoot and collapse is a common occurrence in natural systems. Since we have never before had such powerful access to the entire planet as our “ecological niche,” we have no experience in exercising restraint as a species and caring for the overall biosphere. We learn through experience, and we have never encountered this situation before; so we should not be surprised if a great tragedy is necessary to awaken the evolutionary intelligence of humanity. Great compassion will be needed to cope with the immense suffering that will result from the combination of our technological powers and our limited experience.
The suffering of the coming era will not be without value or purpose. The immense hardship of these transitional times will liberate humanity from its narrow concerns and restricted sense of community and will generate instead a strong sense of species‐identity. Despite all our good intentions, without this coming era of collective distress and adversity, the human family is unlikely to awaken to its global identity and evolutionary responsibility. It is the immense suffering of millions—even billions—of precious human beings coupled with the widespread destruction of many other life‐forms that will burn through our complacency and isolation. Needless suffering is the psychological and psychic fire that can awaken our compassion and fuse individuals, communities, and nations into a cohesive and consciously organized global civilization. pp. 101-103
-Duane Elgin, Awakening Earth: Exploring the Evolution of Human Culture and Consciousness.