Alexey L Kovalev
"Lack of comfort means we are on the threshold of new insights."
Lawrence M Krauss. Universe from Nothing
It is a beautiful warm and sunny afternoon in the Virginia suburbs at 720 Fahrenheit of Febro-Spring.
While I am reading a review of Pankaj Mishra's Age of Anger (Carlos Lozada. History cycle of despair, anger, and despotism. WP, Feb 18, 2017 ), I hear the voices of children playing and the usual muffled roar of vehicles on the remote highway. Everything seems quiet, stable and reassuring.
All of a sudden I feel a jolt as I come across the name first and then the following statement that corresponds vividly with my own sentiments of the past several days: "Trump's permanence in the White House is almost irrelevant to the strains and fractures underlying the age of anger… Trump is just one more data point."
The book in question entertains the idea of cycles of a widespread anger and frustration, that follow any radical transition in human evolution. The author's point is that fundamental shifts in common knowledge such as the scientific revolution of 17th century, the industrial revolution of 19th or information revolution of 21st leave an enormous part of the population in hopelessly disadvantaged position, which in turn breeds economic displacement, political resentment, often national or racial scapegoating, and results in some form of authoritarian regime, war and general calamity.
The latest cycle which, to Mishra's mind, started after WWII and greatly accelerated after the demise of communism, is generally characterized as Blooming Western Capitalism, and brings the following aftermath:
"In the neo-liberal fantasy of individualism, everyone was supposed to be an entrepreneur, retraining and repackaging himself or herself in a dynamic economy, perpetually alert to the latter's technological revolution". Instead "economic shifts, literacy and communication revolution bring more people out of abject poverty into a landscape of hope and aspiration - and then cruelly abandon them in that limbo."
In other words, the world's politico-economic structure or, more importantly, collective mindset, defined by material development rather than the evolution of consciousness, no longer supports any technological and informational changes that we are already experiencing.
The author also points out that almost all modern militants have emerged from this unfortunate, steadily expanding terrain between a serene elite and the mute masses. Although this idea of repeated cycles of popular revolts seems convincing, two aspects of the current situation, I believe, might require special attention.
What is going on?
The first aspect is the ever increasing speed of change; the second - our inability to resolve the tension within the parameters of the existing socio-economic structure, or its firmly established materialistic paradigm, that substituted the idea of Evolution with the notion of Development, equating progress with the inexorable advance of science and industry, and the requisite downgrading of traditions and religions.
Let us first take a look at the ever increasing speed of evolution.
In 1993 Peter Russell in his book The White Hole in Time used the quarter-mile high World Trade Center building as a graphic scale of the evolutionary process. He placed the formation of our planet 4,600 million years ago at the street level and went up proportionally along with corresponding periods.
Thus dinosaurs reigned from the 104th to the 107th floors of the building's 108 stories; the Pharaohs ruled Egypt a fiftieth of an inch from the top; the Renaissance too thin to measure. But it is not acceleration itself that we should pay attention to; it is its exponentially increasing speed. Whatever form future development may take, its pace will continue to grow.
"By the time of the Industrial Revolution," Russell continues, "it would still have been possible to predict a decade or two into the future with reasonable certainty. Today it is not possible to see even that far ahead. Unforeseen environmental changes have shown that we can no longer predict the future of the world more than a few years ahead. So closely are our affairs now interwoven that unexpected events in one person's mind can have reverberations around the world, changing the future for all concerned. And when economics crash without warning, the best-laid plans of machine and men can vanish overnight."
If rates of progress continue to speed up, we could see the amount of development of the previous twenty thousand years compressed into a few decades, and then mere years, and after that…?
As an ironic, albeit tragic, proof of the unforeseen and quick acceleration of events, by the time of the latest edition of the same book, the above mentioned impressive image of the WTC as a metaphor of evolution could not be used anymore because of its total destruction by an act of terrorism.
Just like stars
The acceleration of evolution towards a time of infinitely rapid change is not as exceptional as one might at first suppose. The evolution of matter in a star follows a similar pattern.
For 99.99 percent of its existence, a star burns hydrogen, fusing the atoms into helium and radiating the energy released as light. Eventually, the hydrogen runs out. For a star the size of our Sun, this happens after about 10,000 million years - it is currently about half way through its life.
When all the hydrogen has been consumed, a star can, if it is massive enough, switch to burning the helium, transforming it into carbon. This keeps the star going for another million years or so. Then the star can survive for another thousand years by fusing the carbon into neon. After that, within a year the star exhausts the neon burning it to form silicon. And in just a few days the silicon fuses into iron.
That is as far as a star can go along this particular path. Very quickly the star begins to collapse. As its matter becomes increasingly compressed, its gravitational field increases. Within minutes it becomes so intense that even atoms cannot withstand the pressure. This disintegration releases enormous amounts of energy, blowing off the star's outer layers in what is known as a supernova. Left behind is a neutron star - a solid mass of neutrons a mere fifteen or so miles across. For a sufficiently massive star (one about three times the mass of the Sun) the gravitational field becomes so strong that matter itself breaks down - and with it space and time. The star is said to have reached a singularity: a point at which the laws of physics no longer work. Mathematical equations become filled with zeros and infinities and cease to make any sense. It has become a black hole.
So here we go again - millions of years, then thousands, then a year, days, minutes and it's over.
No more predictions
But it is another similarity between stellar evolution and our own conscious evolution that bears a particular meaning for us. It concerns the so-called event horizon that surrounds a black hole. This is the region within which the gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape. Since nothing can travel faster than light, there is no way that any information can get out across this boundary. It is, in effect, an "information horizon."(1)
A parallel horizon could well exist for humanity - except that it would be a horizon in time rather than one in space. The faster change comes, the closer this horizon approaches. As the predictable future shrinks from decades to years to months and less, there may well come a time when it is difficult to make any forecasts at all. We will come near our "prediction horizon." Beyond this horizon, the future will probably be nothing like we anticipate.
History will have become chaotic - not chaotic in the sense of disorganized, but in the mathematical sense of unpredictable… We will not be able to be sure what is coming next. And it will be coming faster and faster. Completely unexpected developments could always be just around the corner.
Doesn't it remind us vaguely of what is happening in our lives now?
Considering the general frustration and quite unexpected events of the last year, there are reasons to assume that we are already approaching this point in time. So it makes sense to evaluate one more aspect of such a situation.
As long as we are looking to the future for our fulfillment, uncertainty spells insecurity - and insecurity is something most of us find hard to handle. If we insist on holding on to our attachment to the current world view, the changes we will encounter will probably drive us crazy. They might incline us more towards setback than a breakthrough.
Isn't it this feeling that pushes so many people to go backward - to obsolete and nature-destroying coal-mining, earth-quaking fracking and free polluting? To an unrestrained financial market run amok, to outdated social norms, to skyrocketing national debt. To severed ties with our international friends, with ethical standards, with our devotion to democracy and the Constitution? Or, using the words of the author of Age of Anger, to "harmless nostalgia for the past glories of the 'people' combined with a lethal fantasy of their magnificent restoration. It is not enough to make a nation great - it must be made great again."
Presented in such a way, the prospects of our future look rather grim. Pankaj Mishra doesn't offer a solution for the crises he identifies, merely calling for "some truly transformative thinking about both self and the world." Neither do we have any new, fundamental and comprehensive ideas on how to get out of the woods. And that is exactly what it should be - not a mere change, so popular during election campaigns, but a complete overhaul of existing points of view.
So, what is this "transformative thinking" all about?
Perhaps we are looking for it in the wrong direction. It looks like so long as we try to solve our problems by changing the world outside, we only exacerbate and worsen the situation. We've already proved it many times over. We have shaped and reshaped the world to such degrees, that the world may no longer be able to sustain us. Isn't it about time we face the music? By that account, the emergence of such a figure as Donald Trump - however incomprehensible and unexpected it is - is just a logical culmination of the same trend we all follow, and could hopefully force us to look into our stupidity's ugly face.
Of course, we should not embrace him as an acting agent. We should resist his every attempt to destroy fundamental human rights, traditions, and reasonable laws. But the goal should not be to replace him with some other politician - nice, acceptable, liberal, conservative, republican, democrat, green or independent. In fact, for the time being, it does not matter much who occupies the White House. Trump's presidency will make the situation worse, and by no means should we be helping him, but he is an epitome of our own follies, and maybe he will help us to see what we have been reluctant to see so far. In any case, the situation would non radically change even under Clinton or Sanders.
The so despised "cosmopolitan elites" who, in the words of Pankaj Mishra, "embody the vices of a desperately sought-after but infuriatingly unattainable modernity" are actually ourselves, just a lot richer. We share and maintain, in our different ways, the same worldview of consumer capitalism. And that is about to change.
The alternative, while suggesting few meaningful approaches, would not touch the core of the problem.
Get more tax money from the very rich? And spend it on what?
Give the young free higher education? But education in its current form teaches them the same pragmatic paradigm - and rather badly, at that.
Establish a few more green energy projects? They would not be able to compete with the oil and gas industry, let alone win the competition.
We should probably go along and support all these initiatives before one of us comes up with a new, genuine, and transformative idea of overhauling our collective understanding of the nature of reality.
You are not alone
Bearing in mind that this collective understanding which is supposed to be transformed, constitutes the very basis of the existing economic model, such an idea seems utterly improbable; and if conceived would become ruinous to the global economy.
But here are some soothing facts.
In his recent article Dismantling idols; the current cultural inflection point, prominent computer scientist and philosopher Bernardo Kastrup reminds us that people's ability to question the mainstream is a necessary prerequisite for a transition to a truer worldview, and continues:
"Whether we agree or disagree, like or dislike, rejoice or despair at Donald Trump, the Brexit, the upheaval in the European Union, etc., these events show - beyond any shadow of a doubt - that the mainstream narrative is no longer an overwhelming power in the culture. The system has become vulnerable and can be kicked out of local minima, which creates the conditions for both catastrophe and progress. While the potential for catastrophe needs no elaboration, missing the opportunity for progress would be a pity".
It is not impossible, then. We just have to avoid the catastrophe and concentrate on the opportunity.
Certain hints on how to do that come again from Peter Russell:
"Only through letting go of our need for certainty, and our concern for how things might or might not be, will we find the inner stability to see us through such changeful times. In this regard increasing change may be just the trigger we need to shake us to our senses."
"Again one might draw a parallel with the later stages of stellar evolution. In a collapsing star, the ultra-intense gravitational field breaks down the very structure of matter, returning it to its fundamental constituents. With our inner evolution, it may take ultra-intense rates of change to bring about the breakdown of our materialism - of our belief that we need to get the world to be a certain way before we can be at peace. Increasing compression could be another challenge to accept the present moment."
So it is actually up to us
If we are to have help from the outside, it would be from decreasing resources and the problem of increased waste that will serve as a brake on our material development. Such limits do not herald the end of evolution, only our current mode of development.
The evolution includes both physical and mental processes. So it is not that conscious development has stopped, the current mindset simply does not pay attention to it. But it is in the realm of consciousness that the further development will take the next leap.
We are now being called to move into a new phase of evolution - that of inner unfolding. If we make that step, then growth will continue but in a different arena. Its focus will have shifted from the realm of matter to the realm of mind.
Resistance and assistance
"The impediments to inner change are not physical, but mental," Russell says. "They are our attitudes, our mental habits, out mindsets as to what is possible and what is right. These are generally self-imposed. As we learn how to release our minds from their attachments, we could find ourselves changing very fast indeed - in the twinkling of an eye. If we so choose."
Another factor promoting internal acceleration is the ultra-connectivity of humanity now manifesting in our global telecommunication. We no longer have to learn the art of liberation through a somewhat "hit-or-miss" approach. We can learn from each other how best to move towards a more mature mode of being.
Finally, we should not forget the impact of increased creativity.
"Creativity is a natural function of the human mind," writes the author of The White Hole. "It is something we are all blessed with. Where we differ is the ways we use it… and the degree to which we express it. And the degree to which we express our creativity is a reflection of the boundaries we impose upon our thinking. These are the mindsets we have about what is possible and what is acceptable - and what our own creativity is capable of. If people were to grow increasingly liberated from these self-imposed limitations, human creativity would blossom as never before."
The direction in which we choose to direct this emergent creativity might also change. Less attached to the belief that we must change the world to find inner peace, we would not be so compelled to stoke the fires of material progress. We could begin to channel our creativity in more constructive direction. Into the furtherance of our conscious evolution. Into helping each other break free of the ties that bind us.
In short, inner evolution would wind itself into ever faster rates of change as surely as our material evolution has. The difference would be that our rate of inner evolution would be many times faster.
If it still seems unfathomable, please consider the following:
As a latest addition to the Darwinian belief that new species developed gradually over enormous periods of time, which was at odds with many gaps between species in the fossil record, Eldredge, Gould, as well as other biologists, have proposed that such gaps remain in the record because new species develop rapidly, usually at the edges of their ancestral populations, and for that reason leave relatively few traces of their transitional forms. If they do not develop in this manner, they will be reabsorbed into the species from which they arise.
In other words, fundamental change may, perhaps must, come swiftly.
Back to springtime
Another bright and warm day in the middle of February. Frightfully warm, around 400 above the average.
Greens are rapidly unfolding. The heating furnace is shut down; the air-conditioner is not on, but ready, the refrigerator is full and humming. Cable TV, water supply, electricity, and internet connection, all is intact.
Why is there still this uneasy feeling?
Oh! There is the new weird President in the United States. But this nuisance will hopefully be over in two years. OK, let's make it four. Will it eliminate this sense of discomfort?
Half of the country that elected him will still be there with all their fears and anxiety. The environmental situation will definitely worsen. Globalization will be marching on, leaving a significant part of the population disgruntled. We will not get rid of terrorists. We will still be producing and buying stuff we don't need, and we will still be saving time for the chance to enjoy more experiences, for which we will not have time…
But only if we succumb to the old paradigm that is holding sway at the moment, and which is about to be transformed. Perhaps it is already happening.
In the meantime, do not be afraid. Please do participate in the protests and demonstrations, but relax. Contemplate. Sleep on it. You won't miss anything important. Wake up afresh. But most importantly - Wake Up.
The solution is not out there; it is in our minds.
Even if it is not you or me, there will surely be that enlightened one, who will lead us through this nightmare. According to evolution's speed curve - very soon.
Let us help him or her collectively by at least keeping all this in mind.
(1) Stephen Hawking and others have shown that this may not be strictly true. Quantum effects may allow some energy and information to escape, but it need not concern us here. It does, however, suggest some further interesting parallels that you may if you are so inclined, care to ponder.
The material used in the article:
James Redfield and Michael Murphy. God and Evolving Universe; Peter Russell. The White Hole in Time; Bernardo Kastrup. Dismantling idols; the current cultural inflection point; Carlos Lozada. History's Cycle of Despair, Anger, and Despotism.(Review of Pankaj Mishra's Age of Anger; A History of the Present)