Friday, September 25, 2009

Our Final Evolutionary Exam

What follows here is a text composed of reconstructed reading notes culled from a recent notebook. I noticed that the way they happened to fall together seemed to provide a set of provocative test questions as to whether or not the human race is likely to survive. I would suggest that people reading the questions answer them (giving a single point to each "yes" and to each "no"). Then add up each of the two separate scores, and report the final verdict back to Virgil.


A time of troubles and crisis points can make or break a civilization. At this juncture in history, our major crises--climate change, economic breakdown, and terrorism--can't be managed alone. They are systemic threats that demand global resolutions. Our success will be measured not by money or power, but by resilience: the ability to change and adapt. The line between our personal lives and the world has become ever more permeable. We are in a profound crisis that is going to demand radical changes, and require engagement, action, and personal responsibility. And the outcome is uncertain. Conformity to old ideas is now lethal; only radical rebellion can change the planet when everything that we cherish is under threat. Two hundred years of growth economy has destroyed the "steady state" of the ecosphere. Will we continue to recklessly pillage and not listen to our own warnings?

Democracies have often gone to war with totalitarian states, but never with each other. But is democracy in the U.S. now at war with itself? Democrats always break their word, and Republicans lie to begin with--but they stick to that lie and thus seem more honest. Are compromises crippling? Is compromise beyond a certain point a deal-breaker? Are the balance of forces biased against significant reform?

The essential skill of the next fifty years will be crisis management in an age of limited resources and instability, uncertainty, and unpredictability. These are the ideas on which we must base our policies if we are going to match conditions in the world around us. The qualities needed will be preparedness, readiness, alertness, vigilance, and the ability to teach ourselves to see differently. Do we have these qualities and are we likely to use them?

Can art help? In our compromised world, can art still be a catalyst for change? The economic boom times are over, and capitalism is flat on its face. But art is still trapped in the "dead objects" paradigm: "Damien Hirst's pickled shark nets $17 million in art auction." Changing our ways is proving difficult for mankind. Given the intensity of economic and environmental collapse, can art do anything in this, Barack Obama's, new "age of responsibility" to make itself more relevant? Certainly the path out of the crisis cannot be a return to the status quo. Or can it? The problem is that we do not look at the consequences of our acts until it is too late to deal with them. Will this ever change?

Is the human race a flawed species? Is the human race doomed? Is it fit to survive? Will our proclivities toward greed and fear do us in? Is there still any possibility left for not heading off into utter disaster? Can that "Green New Deal" for the twenty-first century save us, or will the credit crunch, the oil crunch, and the climate crunch lead to collapse? Does humanity have the will to reverse the damage it has done to the world--and is that damage even reversible any more?

Buckminster Fuller: "We are facing our final evolutionary exam."
Ronald Reagan (in 1981): "A trillion dollars would be a stack of thousand-dollar bills 67 miles high."
Norman Mailer (in a letter to his wife, Beatrice, August 8, 1945): "Really, Darling, the vista is horrifying...I believe that to survive the world, cities of tomorrow will be built a mile beneath the earth."
Morris Berman: "I am no longer convinced that the institution of some new paradigm can really save us."
God: "Please don't ask me to come down there."

Applying the American model of freedom and democracy to other cultures and religions outside America has very real limitations. To think otherwise is politically reckless. Anti-Western Islamism has only grown stronger because of our occupation of those lands. We have failed to win in these countries, and we will go on failing to win. Sending more Americans to die will not change that painful reality. Occupations are inherently humiliating. People prefer to run their own affairs. Keeping our troops in Muslim countries is the problem, not the solution. Our motives for being there are seen as suspect and predominantly imperialistic. Would it be better to spend less time on manipulating the world and more on appreciating it?

True or false? Science makes progress, humanity does not.

2 comments:

Beverly said...

Suzi - When you ask if art can be a catalyst for change, and refer to Damien Hirst and his ilk, you are overlooking the ways that art have bypassed the marketplace for many decades (and I am not talking about the local holiday craft show - although that might be an interesting phenomena to subvert). From art interventions like those of The Yes Men, to community-based art projects that provide healing and transformation (too many to note, but they are well documented at www.communityarts.net)there is so much socially engaged art making multiple levels of impact out in the world right now. Maybe many people don't recognize it as art, but does that matter? Many of us fled the art world, recognizing that its tropes had little to feed the soul much less social causes, so it is in the margins that the good stuff has been fermenting for decades now. And your books certainly were part of the shift, so remember that. Young aspiring artists, realizing that Modernism as interpreted by capitalism had failed to be alive and fruitful, went searching for their collaborative groups in Austin, Oakland, Durban and London. They felt inspired by your interpretation of the Reenchantment and saw the world of blogging, making banners, performing on city streets, making murals in Palestine, creating dialog with elders, teens, prisoners, unemployed, all richer domains for engagement than the fancy openings in the new gentrified neighborhood of the month. You know that the real catalysts may be invisible in the pages of the status art mags and art malls of the world, and their rippling affect is not easy to measure. You know this deep in your bones....have faith.

cielbergman@zianet.com said...

Suzi:
As you know I have just returned from 8 weeks in CA during which time I read Paul Hawken's, "Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice and Beauty to the World." Only 190 pages in length, it is a very big book and provokes respectful gratitude and revelation for the millions of good folks who are committd to turning of the direction from our present destructive path. Hawken's details the literally 100,000's groups (he thinks it may be more in the range of 2 million) forming, awakening and working at grass root levels all over the globe in virtually eveery country. He illustrates that this spontaneous arising is a phenomenon never before seen in plantary history. A direct benefit of the computer and Internet. This book is a hopeful if cautious investigation into the potential survival of humanity, if we learn in large enough numbers, that we must change. No option! The core root problem as always, is critically related to literacy and education of those populations suffering poverty, desecration of their ancestral lands by transnational corporations and high birth rates. If we learn to accept the fact that corporations have behaved in the same way for 300 years and not be depressed by the illusion that it is something new, we can learn to confront and resist with renewed passion. There does indeed, seem to be the sudden rise of 'rippling effect' to which Beverly refers.

My faith and profound grief vacillates hour by hour every day of the week. However, This book is filled with websites, organizations with whom to link and glorious stories of supreme positive efforts by normal healthy passionate persons from every walk of life and every profession, including the arts. I don't read an art magazine but once a year. They are grossly hermetic and beside the point of the vastly diverse work artists contribute all over the globe. i agree without equivocation on Beverly's observation that your book The Re-Enchantment of Art had and is still contributing energetic waves to the expanding attention to the imperative of social justice and its direct link to the destruction of the envirmonment.