“Turdulent” Times: A Hero’s Journey

This is Co-Founder Kenny Ausubel’s morning address to the 2017 Bioneers gathering.

A friend once counseled me that any truly transformative experience is preceded by dread. We’re living in dreadful times indeed. The big wheels are turning. An old order is dying — a new one is being born.

This moment of cataclysmic breakdown is shattering open a space for transformational breakthrough. Although the outcome is deeply uncertain, there’s as much cause for hope as for horror.

We’re taking a collective hero’s journey — a descent through the crucible of the underworld to transform human civilization and ourselves. As cultural historian Richard Tarnas puts it, “We’re in a race between initiation and catastrophe.”

Kenny Ausubel speaking to the 2017 Bioneers Conference.

The classic hero’s journey begins with separation from the community — from wholeness and home. There follow a dark night of the soul, a deconstruction of the old identity, and a crisis of meaning.

The hero encounters mortal danger. A hovering shadow seems to darken the whole world, an encroaching peril. The hero goes through a deep inner descent, wrestling with the shadows of the darkness within.

There’s great suffering, the crucial point of transformation. The hero has to clean out the stables of the psyche and surrender the old identity. Only then can the hero discover the hidden potential within to become a person of world historical moment. Now the hero can re-enter the larger community — humbled, reborn — bearing the treasure of new vision and purpose.

Today, modern civilization and the entire species are going through a collective hero’s journey. But in this endgame at the outer limits of Western civilization, we’ve separated ourselves from the entire community of life. As a species, we face mortal danger. We’re compelled to confront our fallibility, our mistakes, our mortality. Very often what’s dying is more apparent than what’s being born.

It’s a crisis of worldviews — because, as Tarnas puts it, “Worldviews create worlds. Our celebrated civilization and rational intelligence have produced so much that is precious to us. Yet that luminosity has come with an enormous shadow where we see ourselves as the sovereign supreme intelligence in the known universe.

“It has produced a spiritual crisis, as well as an ecological catastrophe that comes from objectifying nature as if it’s just there for our benefit.

“Near-death experiences have tremendous power to reconfigure moral values. You see life differently. You see yourself differently. You develop new values — the importance of relationships, the importance of love, rather than of amassing an enormous bank account.”

As Tarnas concludes, “As a species, as a civilization, as individuals, we can go through a profound inner transformation to be reborn into a new relationship to the Earth community. That’s the measure of whether we’re going to survive and flourish.”

Today a new worldview is emerging that’s also very ancient — the spreading consciousness that we’re part of a much vaster web of life in a cosmos imbued with order and genius beyond our comprehension.

This awareness is rising up spontaneously everywhere. Some of the largest global movements in history are converging in the recognition that’s it’s all connected and we’re all connected. The twin crises of climate disruption and extreme inequality reflect the biggest political failure in history, and they’ve catalyzed a five-alarm political immune response.

But the bigger the light, the longer the shadow. Indeed, we’re living in turdulent times. We’re swamping the drain.

As Hurricane Harvey engulfed the Gulf and steeped Houston’s petro-metro in a toxic soup, Irma previewed Florida’s climate future as a deep blue state. Global weirding is upon us everywhere. It speaks in the fierce language of nature: floods, droughts, fires, hypercanes, mass extinctions. Finally that voice is being heard. Robert Jay Lifton calls this mass awakening in the US the “climate swerve.” Denial is over. Better late than never.

Meanwhile the corruption saturating the republic is escalating the chaos by stoking the darkest shadows of the human psyche: the authoritarian will to power — the hungry ghost of greed — the trolls of racism, bigotry, and misogyny. For this job, we need Ghostbusters.

The Joker has taken over Gotham City. As Russia-gate sucks the gangsters and warlords of Trumpistan into what appears to be the greatest scandal in American history, Typhoid Donald’s contagion could lead to a succession crisis and a political clear-cut. Watergate pales in comparison. It’s usually the rot within empires that topples them.

We’re heading for complete political chaos. The empire has no clothes.

As Alexandra Stevenson reported from the 2017 Davos World Economic Forum, summit of the financial masters of the universe:

“The world order has been upended… The religion of the global elite — free trade and open markets — is under attack… The biggest concern? Finding a way to make the people who are driving populist movements feel like they are part of the global economic pie that Davos participants have created and largely own.”

In other words, make feudalism great again. Talk about a marketing challenge.

Try selling that to a world where five billionaires have as much wealth as half the world’s people. Where 737 interlocking financial networks control 80% of global corporate economic activity. Where what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism” profits mightily from catastrophe and capitalizes on chaos to inflict radical fiscal and social policies that concentrate wealth and power even more.

What could possibly go wrong?

The global dark money rabbit hole is where Russia-gate is inexorably leading. Money laundering. Secret offshore accounts. Shell companies. Tax havens. Impeccably buried treasures stashed in the system’s subterranean architecture. Everything the global elites really do not want you to see.

Most of it of course is legal. The system is the crime. Resistance is anything but futile.

Democracy movements are erupting everywhere, confronting corruption — challenging austerity schemes and plutocracy. People are taking to the streets and corridors of power in numbers not seen since the ’60s — with youth often at the forefront.

In truth, we’re poised to make a quantum leap — to leapfrog into an entirely different way of doing things. In fact, nothing less will do. This Age of Nature calls for a new social contract of interdependence. Taking care of nature means taking care of people — and taking care of people means taking care of nature.

Around the world in diverse fields of endeavor, social and scientific innovators such as the bioneers have been developing and demonstrating far better technological, economic, social, cultural and political models.

They’re inspired by the wisdom of the natural world, and guided by values of social equity, inclusion, cooperation and compassion.

But paradigms die hard, and empires die harder. Progressive movements succeed most when there’s a split in the corporate class. Those fault lines are widening.

The clean energy revolution is now unstoppable. In 2015, twice as much investment globally went into renewables as into fossil fuels. Apple already uses 96% clean energy worldwide. Twenty-three Fortune 500 companies have pledged to reach 100% clean energy. The business case is irrefutable and the worm has turned.

California, the world’s sixth largest economy, has already shown it’s possible and profitable to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions, while also addressing environmental justice and racial equity. The Golden State has set the goal of 65% clean energy by 2030. It already has more clean energy jobs than all coal jobs in the US.

Globally there are over 8,000,000 jobs in renewable energy, versus about 3,000,000 in fossil fuels.

Cities, which account for 2/3 of US emissions, are taking the lead. China and India are on the move in big ways. Germany is the world’s first major renewable energy economy. Denmark produced 56% of its electricity from renewables in 2015. The list goes on — and on.

Clean tech is upending the fossil infrastructure across the board. As Tony Seba, an instructor at Stanford University, wrote in his book, “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation”:

“We are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption of transportation in history. What the cost curve says is that by 2025 all new vehicles will be electric, globally.”

Seba projects that by 2030:

  • All new energy will be provided by solar or wind.
  • Gasoline, natural gas and coal will be obsolete. Nuclear is already obsolete. Billions of dollars of oil will become stranded.

The imperative now is to fast-forward the transition to 100% clean energy, keep the oil in the ground, and, as Paul Hawken is showing, sequester carbon back where it belongs in a drawdown to 350 ppm, which is completely do-able with what we already know and have. Full stop.

Culture change usually precedes political change, and we’re also on the front lines of cultural revolution.

In the US, multi-cultural society is here to stay. Five states and 50 metro areas are already majority–minority. By 2019, minority children will be the majority nationally. The entire country is projected to become majority–minority in about 25 years.

17% of new marriages and 20% of cohabiting relationships are interracial or interethnic.

91% of respondents to a Pew Research survey said: “Interracial marriage is a change for the better, or made no difference at all.”

Millennials are the most diverse and largest generation in American history. According to a USA Today/Rock the Vote Millennials poll, almost 60% of them have a positive view of Black Lives Matter.

The massive public blowback against Trumpistan’s racist and xenophobic policies has shown how radically out of step this retrograde regime is with the arc of today’s diverse, interdependent world. Very large sectors of the business community are pushing back, even if it’s for self-interested reasons.

Trumpistan’s immigrant bashing is awakening the Latino political sleeping giant, along with big business and a majority of citizens. The Dreamers are inspiring the nation to make America grateful again.

We’re also surfing the next wave of feminism and gender justice. The post-inaugural Women’s March was the biggest demonstration in American history. With women of color at the forefront, it’s a shining expression of the Inclusivity Revolution. It’s making visible a spreading collective understanding: The power and creativity of our diversity grows exponentially at the crossroads where disparate issues and diverse peoples intersect.

As the book “Sex and World Peace” documents, “States that have improved the status of women are as a rule healthier, wealthier, less corrupt, more democratic, and more powerful on the world stage in the early 21st century.” They’re also less likely to engage in conflict both domestically and globally.

As Malcolm Potts and Thomas Hayden note: “The true clash of civilizations in the future will [be] along the fault lines between civilizations that treat women as equal members of the human species, and civilizations that cannot or will not do so.”

Our entire idea of gender is expanding. California is about to join five other states in making non-binary gender presentations available on driver’s licenses. Culturally there’s no turning back.

Meanwhile, Standing Rock has rocked the world, bringing Indigenous rights and worldviews into mainstream awareness.

It’s seeding a genuine shift in consciousness, especially among young people. Native Peoples are showing the world what it means to come together not as protestors, but as protectors — peaceful guardians of the sacred sources of life and of justice. Indigenous peoples worldwide are linking networks to build power, and engage millions more non-Native allies. This has not happened before.

It’s a movement moment. The crossroads are getting crowded.

But make no mistake: The ecological debt we’ve incurred is dire. The cultural wounds are deep, and divide-and-conquer remains the preferred playbook. We’re in for some very tough sledding across the melting snow.

Fortunately nature has a deep capacity for healing, and people are profoundly resilient. Resilience is the grail, both ecological and social — enhancing our ability to adapt to dramatic changes, while bringing about social healing and reconciliation.

If we act boldly now, we can still dodge complete climate chaos. It requires that we actually change the system, which requires that we build broad-based political power.

But it has to be about much more than that. It’s about a transformation of what power means. We’re moving away from “power over” to “power to” and “power with” — power to create an ecologically vital and socially just world — power with each other to create beloved community.

That’s an epochal shift in worldview. Why does this consciousness seem to be arising spontaneously around the world all at once?

Our scientific understanding of consciousness is in its infancy. The psychologist Carl Jung deeply pondered this mystery of consciousness. While developing his theory of the collective unconscious, he identified what he called the “governing principles of the psyche” — the recurring archetypal myths, symbols and stories that seem to be universally shared across cultures and geographies.

Jung began paying attention to another mystery: frequent instances in which a person’s inner state would be matched by an external event that seemed perfectly orchestrated to speak precisely to it, like some kind of spooky dialogue with an invisible ubiquity. Although these occurrences couldn’t be connected by cause, they were unmistakably connected by meaning. Jung called these meaningful coincidences “synchronicities.”

But how could such anomalies be explained in a materialist, Newtonian cause-and-effect machine of a cosmos? It’s the kind of question David Bohm studied deeply. As a leading quantum physicist who worked with Einstein, he also pursued his quest with leading spiritual masters such as Krishnamurti and the Dalai Lama, whose worldviews he sought to reconcile with science.

After 40 years of research, Bohm proposed that the nature of reality is what he called a Holomovement.

He hypothesized that the cosmos is a single unbroken wholeness in flowing movement in which each part of the flow contains the entire flow.

Bohm believed this holomovement has two aspects: the implicate order and the explicate order. The explicate order is the subset that’s directly perceptible to the human senses and the mind: what we consider the physical universe.

The implicate order is everything else: all that’s beyond our five senses plus the intangibles of life.

Naturally we assume the explicate order is the fundamental reality. Bohm argued the opposite.

His analogy was that the explicate order is like the foam on the waves of the ocean. The implicate order is the ocean itself.

The foam is like the nature of the physical universe.

It arises and it passes away in the endless creation and destruction of matter. Bohm found this understanding of physics consistent with both quantum theory and spiritual teachings down through the ages.

His pathfinding original research showed the electron in quantum physics behaves as if it somehow possessed an awareness of the rest of the universe. In some sense, he said, the electron is functioning as a conscious being — or it can’t be distinguished from functioning as a conscious being.

Bohm proposed that, along with energy and matter, there’s a third irreducible component of the fabric of the cosmos: consciousness, or meaning. He said each contains the other two.

Carl Jung ultimately came to a parallel conclusion. He came to believe the collective unconscious supersedes human consciousness. It appears to pervade nature and the cosmos itself.

Just imagine a cosmos made of energy, matter and meaning. How would that change our way of living?

Here’s how the late Iroquois historian, scholar and longtime bioneer John Mohawk saw it from an Indigenous perspective.

“The culture that I come from saw the universe as the fountain of everything, including consciousness. It’s not only the human who the consciousness; it’s also the plant, the tree, the birds and all the other living things.

When you address that plant, you’re addressing its consciousness in time and space. You’re part of whatever it is that brought the plant into being. You’re related in this way.

“In our culture we’re scolded for being arrogant if we think that we’re smart. An individual is not smart, according to our culture. Individuals are merely lucky that they are a part of a system that has intelligence that happens to reside in them.

“In other words, be humble about this always. The real intelligence isn’t the property of an individual or a corporation — the real intelligence is the property of the universe itself.

“That’s the old spirituality. Acquire that consciousness, and it becomes extremely difficult to rationalize pollution. Acquire that consciousness and it becomes very difficult to rationalize cutting down trees to make board feet-worth of dollars out of them.

“I propose to you,” Mohawk concluded, “that spirituality is the highest form of political consciousness.”

That’s the consciousness that’s arising before our eyes. That’s the real treasure of this hero’s journey.

It’s all alive. It’s all connected. It’s all intelligent. It’s all relatives.

This is the revolution from the heart of nature and the human heart.

And as Joe Hill said, “Don’t mourn, organize.”

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