In this time of great intensity, uncertainty and fear, with so many simultaneous global crisis going on, there is also so much good happening around the world right now. I see modern humanity as dancing between two poles of possibility. One is the continuation of our current path of exponential growth, resource extraction, and violence towards each other and the planet. This path inevitably leads to what I will call the Age of Disintegration (what Joanna Macy calls the Great Unraveling), and this disintegration is well under way, with resource shortages, wars, refugee crisis, and impending ecosystem collapse across the globe. The result of continuing down this path is terrible, with at best massive loss of human life, and entire species and ecosystems destroyed, and at worst the end of the road for humankind.
However, we are at the same time carving a new path, simultaneously walking towards greater unity, abundance and peace. To see this we can look towards the huge number of positive actions, projects and deep cultural shifts occurring all across our society today. If we turn our focus and energy in that direction, building on what’s already happening, we absolutely have the opportunity to create a harmonious, sustainable global civilization that enables all people to thrive. Macy calls these shifts and this possibility the Great Turning, Charles Eisenstein “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible”, I will call it the Age of Integration.
Why “integration”? Because I believe that the root of the current crises we are facing is a set of beliefs and values that have disconnected us from each other, from the planet, and even from ourselves. This starts at the deepest level with philosophical and religious beliefs that create a sense of separation and opposition — good vs. evil, body vs. mind, man vs. nature, us vs them. As Charles Eisenstein calls it, this is our culture’s Story of Separation. We tell each person that…
You are a separate individual among other separate individuals in a universe that is separate from you as well. You are a Cartesian mote of consciousness looking out through the eyes of a flesh robot, programmed by its genes to maximize reproductive self-interest. You are a bubble of psychology, a mind (whether brain-based or not) separate from other minds and separate from matter. Or you are a soul encased in flesh, separate from the world and separate from other souls. Or you are a mass, a conglomeration of particles operating according to the impersonal forces of physics
This story works hand in hand with another core cultural belief which is that there is scarcity, not enough for everyone, as the foundation for our cultural norms that celebrate individualism and greed, glorifying “success” as an individual achievement, encouraging us to get what we can for ourselves, and instilling a deep fear of the “others”. These two stories, separation and scarcity, are also the foundation of our economic system (neo-liberal capitalism) that demands competition and comparison — you better be a good consumer and capitalist or you will not be able to compete with your neighbors’ status achievements, not to mention our whole society will collapse!
All this mistrust and rivalry towards each other of course leads to wide-spread anxiety and violence of all kinds, resulting in deep wounds and scars both for victims and perpetrators, which if not healed cause a vicious cycle of more fear, othering, and violence. To break out of this cycle it is the task of our time to bind, care for, heal, and integrate the wounds our disconnected, fear based civilization has wrought upon us and our planet. Of course this includes every kind of nationalism, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. but also on more subtle levels think of how we are told to keep our work lives and our personal lives completely separate, or how we are so often told to suppress our emotions. There is so much healing to do to reintegrate all these divided parts of ourselves, both individually and collectively.
When I speak of integration I do not mean we should move towards a bland homogeneity. On the contrary it will require balancing the many diverse needs and wants of every culture and every individual across the globe. We must find common ground even where there seem to be polar opposites. This means embracing paradox, holding multiple perspectives as true, and finding the synthesis that allows for diverse beliefs and values to coexist in the long run. Following the model of nature, we must design dynamic, evolving systems and institutions that can sustainably support an incredible variety of life in a web of interconnection. Recognizing that we can (and must) do this will allow us to find win-win options where before situations seemed zero sum, and to find solutions through emergent bottom-up collaboration utilizing all our unique gifts, instead of today’s rivalrous, soul crushing work, controlled from the top down, that denigrates and dehumanizes huge numbers of people worldwide. Ultimately, cooperative design of our culture and institutions will allow us to create the society we truly want, to reintegrate our fragmented pieces, reconnect with ourselves, each other and the planet, and create sustainable peace on earth.
To do this successfully will require a fundamental shift of the beliefs that underpin the structures of our society. First, we must recognize that we are not separate individuals but are instead inextricably interconnected pieces of a unified ecosystem, where every one of our actions effects the whole in known and unknown ways. Consider that you literally could not be breathing today without oxygen from trees across the planet, food grown by distant farmers, your parents and their parents, and in fact all the choices and actions of every single human that has ever existed. From this perspective of interdependence it is obvious that when any person is suffering, their pain effects us too, so we want to help them heal as if their pain were in our own body.
Second, we must recognize that there is abundance, enough for all, if only we decide to make that a core goal of our society. We have the technology and resources to make sure everyone’s basic needs are met, we just need to adopt a value system which says that everyone deserves to be cared for. Embracing interconnection and abundance as our core beliefs, instead of individualism and scarcity, will inevitably lead to a complete reimagining of our societal systems and structures so that they work for all people.
Of course that sounds like a grand vision, but is it realistic, is it possible? I believe it is because I see so many examples of where the Age of Integration is already manifest or emerging in the world. These trends work together, amplify each other, and suggest that the vision of an integrated, peaceful world is absolutely possible. They outline clear paths to follow as well as immediate actions we can all take to move the world in a positive direction. There is a lot to say about each of these topics but I will start with just a short summary of each one.
First though I want to add a few caveats. While I do see these trends as significant, this list is also totally subjective, United States centric, and based on my own limited experiences from within my own little bubble — I am a white, millennial man living in San Francisco among the Bay Area “conscious” community of progressives, social entrepreneurs, technologists, environmentalists, creatives, hippies, artists and “change makers”. Also, even where I see hope there is still so much work to do. None of these examples of integration are complete successes, they are beginnings, things to build on. Caveats over, here’s thirteen areas where I see the the Age of Integration already coming to fruition:
- The rise of the feminine
- Racial justice front and center
- Government/governance for and by the people
- New economic ideas
- Eco-systemic thinking
- Integrative spirituality
- Indigenous wisdom
- Plant medicine
- Healing of trauma
- Love free from fear
- Transformational gatherings
- Living in community (re-villaging)