Here’s how we can save the world.
Let me be clear at the outset. When I say we can save the world, I don’t mean we need to save the Earth. I don’t even mean we need to save life on Earth. I mean we should save human beings on the Earth. Although humans have been quite destructive to the planet, I believe that Earth will continue to exist long into the future. Through our activities and excesses we’ve also caused a lot of destruction to life on planet Earth. But I believe life will continue on. What is really at risk is the human species.
We know that many great civilizations of the past collapsed.
A recent scientific article in the journal Ecological Economics found that more than 32 advanced civilizations before us have collapsed. The study notes that, “The Roman Empire’s dramatic collapse (followed by many centuries of population decline, economic deterioration, intellectual regression, and the disappearance of literacy) is well known, but it was not the first rise-and-collapse cycle in Europe.” It goes on to detail the collapse of many other advanced civilizations.
We have to ask, Are we next?
Since humans are now so interconnected on the planet, could collapse involve the entire world population? What are the signs of impending collapse and how can we prevent collapse from occurring?
Many writers have attempted to answer these questions including Joseph A. Tainter (The Collapse of Complex Societies), Jared Diamond (Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed), David C. Korten (The Great Turning). However, the person who I believe has the best grasp on the underlying causes of collapse and what we can do to prevent the total collapse of humans on the planet is Rebecca Costa (The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse).
Although there are differences in the specific reasons a civilization deteriorates and falls, Costa suggests that the underlying cause was increasing complexity and people’s inability to solve the most critical problems.
“We live in a time when large, threatening problems are looming. These problems are extremely complex and so we have not been able to resolve them for many generations. It doesn’t matter if you believe our greatest threat is pandemic virus, climate change, terrorism, or nuclear proliferation. We can all agree that, eventually, one of these problems is going to have catastrophic consequences.”
Although this has happened to past civilizations, the stakes are even higher now.
“In earlier times there were large geographic buffers between civilizations, so, when one society collapsed it had very little effect on the others,” says Costa. “Today, you need only look at the effect the recession in the U.S had on every other country in the world to realize we are now one highly interconnected, interdependent global civilization of humankind.”
We either solve our human problems together or we all collapse together.
Costa describes a number of signs that signal impending collapse including the following:
“When we examine earlier civilizations, such as the Mayans, Romans, Khmer, Byzantine and Ming societies, a clear pattern emerges,” says Costa. “They all experienced gridlock when the magnitude of the problems they needed to solve exceeded their abilities. In other words, they hit some cognitive threshold where they could no longer understand or manage their biggest, most dangerous problems. They then began passing these problems from one generation to the next as the size and strength of the threats grew.”
We begin substituting beliefs for knowledge.
Since we can’t seem to get our heads around complex problems, we simplify the issues, reduce our emphasis on scientific understanding and cling to our beliefs (“I don’t care what the scientists say. I believe global warming is a myth.”)
We simplify our world by dividing it into “good guys” and “bad guys”
As gridlock increases and we cling more firmly to unhelpful beliefs, we divide the world into “friends” and “foes.” We see things as black or white. We lose respect for others and our debates deteriorate into name calling, shaming, and blaming.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see these signs in our current Presidential debates and the ways we grapple with world-wide problems such as climate change, the loss of vital survival resources such as clean water, soil to grow food, biodiversity, and the increasing divide between the world’s super-rich and the rest of us.
One way to deal with overwhelming complexity is just to give up.
Some people have decided to just “eat, drink, and be merry” and wait for things to collapse. Many become stressed and depressed. Others actually look forward to the apocalypse and consciously or subconsciously support policies and practices that will speed us toward the End Times, often with a religious belief that things will be better in the afterlife.
Futurists like Costa think there is a better way. “The good news is once we become aware of a pattern we can act to avoid it. The first thing we need to do is acknowledge the gridlock and belief stages and guard against them. The second thing we can do is mitigate and buy time until our brains have a chance to catch up. The third is to cultivate evolution’s cognitive gift to us: Insight.”
The insight that can save us involves training the brain to expand its capacity to deal with complexity.
“The Holy Grail,” says Costa, “seems to be the early results we are seeing from brain fitness programs from people like Dr. Michael Merzenich, a leading neuroscientist at UCSF’s Keck Center.”
I also believe in the ability of human beings to change for the better. Each of us has the capacity to do something good to make the world a better place. It may be a small thing like helping others who are different than us. Or we might write a book that goes viral and impacts the world. One of the benefits of having so many people on the Earth, 7.4 billion as I write this today, is that there are a lot of opportunities for great ideas to help us all.
In my new book coming out this summer, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, I feature a number of the best practices I’ve learned over the years and some of the people who are making a real difference in the world including:
- John and Cynthia Jeavons, growing soil to feed the world.
- Marigrace Randazzo-Ratliff and Dustin Ratliff, couples counseling and an app for our times.
- Stephen and Fran Johnson, Helping Men Survive and Thrive.
- Greg Millan and Richard Riley, Improving Male Health and Well-Being.
- Barbara and Ernie Hubbard, Health, Aging, and the Healing Journey.
- David and Catherine Katz, Disease-Proofing Our Lives.
I look forward to hearing from you. What are you doing to help humanity survive and thrive? Who are the people you admire who are doing good works in the world? I’ll close with a quote from a man most of us admire, The Dalai Lama, who offers these words of wisdom:
“NEVER GIVE UP
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart
Not just to your friends
But to everyone
Work for peace
In your heart and in the world
Work for peace
And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up”
Originally posted on MenAlive. Reprinted with permission.
Also by Jed Diamond
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