All Hail The Mighty Status Quo
In the wake of COP26, it’s time to take a good, hard look in the mirror and ask: “is this what we really want?”
So, COP26 is over, having delivered a predictably inadequate agreement that isn’t even close to grappling with the urgent climate and ecological threats that the world is facing. On top of this, there are no mechanisms in place to enforce the agreement anyway, so it’s effectively a notional gesture that will rely on the goodwill and integrity of the global establishment that got us into this mess in the first place. And the global elite don’t exactly have the best track record in terms of acting in the interests of the greater good! Politicians, industry leaders, and the world’s media can move onto other matters now that the greatest existential threat in human history is off the agenda after its brief spell in the spotlight. And the rest of us are left bewildered and deflated, asking ourselves: “where do we go from here?”
Well, there have been some positives to come out of COP26. Whilst there’s been a mixed reception for the way the conference was conducted and the climate agreement that was reached, the biggest impact of COP26 came from what was going on outside the conference on the streets of Glasgow and around the world. Massive numbers of people came together to express their dissatisfaction with the official COP26 conference and their desire for world leaders to take urgent radical action to address climate change and other associated issues that have resulted from uncontrolled capitalism. This culminated in the People’s Summit, an alternative COP bringing together the numerous diverse voices in the climate justice movement, many of whom were noticeably marginalised or absent at the official COP26 conference.
What we have witnessed over the course of COP26 is a global establishment desperately trying to cling to the old system, despite overwhelming evidence that the infrastructure is now crumbling, whilst a new order is starting to rise from the ground up. What is now underway is a large scale shift in consciousness as more and more people stand up and say enough is enough.
However, although this shift has now begun, the vast majority of the world’s population is still in the grip of the old ways — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This is the subject that I have explored in my latest single, Status Quo.
Despite the huge call for change, most of us are still firmly rooted in the existing capitalist system. Even the activism at COP26 was mostly directed at persuading world leaders to take actions to mitigate the severity and impact of the climate threat. In other words, we are appealing to the system to change its own ways in order to avoid disaster. But, as Einstein once said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
At the heart of so many of the world’s problems, be they environmental, social, cultural, psychological, or spiritual, is the capitalist system itself. We can point our fingers at politicians or fossil fuel executives or any number of other individuals in positions of power that are not doing enough to avert the impending climate disaster. But ultimately these individuals are just cogs in the system itself.
The nature of capitalism is such that the more wealth and power that you accrue, the more successful you believe you are being as a human being. However, the ones that rise to the top of the system are the ones that are most indoctrinated by its values. These are values of competition, individualism, accumulation of property, and the supremacy of money above all other things, even life itself. They’re certainly not nurturing, nourishing values that would encourage individuals and environments to flourish into fulfilled, life-affirming communities. They are arid, austere values that encourage disconnection and isolation between everyone and everything.
And this has created what Sharon Blackie calls “the wasteland” or Jeremy Lent refers to as “Windigo, Inc.” after the North American Ojibwe tale, recounted by Robin Wall Kimmerer, of the Windigo monsters that would supposedly suck out your soul, change you into one of them, and then turn you against your fellow humans to perpetuate the cycle of destruction. In this myth, the more the Windigos consume, the more they crave.
This is where we are now. We’ve all become Windigos to a greater or lesser extent. Granted, the Windigo leaders may be the worst offenders, but ultimately we are all part of a Windigo system and we are therefore all Windigos. The only way to reverse this is to reject the system and look for a new way of relating to each other and to the world around us. We’re all on a conveyor belt, fulfilling the roles expected of us by the system. And we will keep being pulled back into line, repeating the same behaviours and patterns unless we can step off that conveyor belt and see the situation for what it really is.
Once enough of us have the presence and courage to do this, that is when we will become aware of a new world order rising up to replace the now outdated old system. This is what Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone refer to as “The Great Turning” in their extraordinary manifesto for transformational change, Active Hope. They have identified three different narratives that are running concurrently in the present era: “Business as Usual”, characterised by people that believe that the current system is the best or only way; “The Great Unravelling”, characterised by people that believe that the world is in serious decline and have been either paralysed or defeated by the situation; and “The Great Turning”, characterised by those working towards “the transition from a doomed economy of industrial growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the recovery of our world.”
Humanity is gradually waking up and joining The Great Turning. However, the urgency of the climate crisis means that we may not have the luxury of a number of decades and several generations for everyone to realise that Business as Usual is not working and transformative change is required. Too many people are still stuck in denial and lack of awareness or fear and panic when what we need is positive action.
Macy and Johnstone also identify three dimensions of The Great Turning. First, there are “holding actions” which “hold back and slow down the damage being caused by the political economy and Business as Usual.” We are now witnessing these on a bigger and bigger scale, embodied most visibly in the last few weeks by the huge numbers of climate activists campaigning for climate justice over the course of COP26. The second dimension of The Great Turning is “life-sustaining systems and practices.” These are the designers of new systems that will enable us to transition into sustainable living and alternative ways of structuring our societies. Many innovative systems have already been designed and all sorts of ideas are now flooding forth so that the solutions that we need to enact The Great Turning are there. But what we need in order to fulfil it is the third dimension, “shift in consciousness.” We need all the citizens of the world to wake up and take the decisive step into the new way of being.
The pressure to change is there. The pioneers and new world leaders are waiting in the wings. The systems and philosophies that we need are ready to go. Now we need everyone to get off the conveyor belt, see the status quo for what it is, and then step into the new era with confidence and active hope.