Craig Chalquist, PhD
As economies and ecosystems buckle and shatter, we find no lack of counterposed diagnoses and solutions: from greed to reform, petroleum to clean energy, industrial agriculture to permaculture, plutocracy to direct democracy. What we lack, however, is a coherent picture of what it all means and where it might be going. A planet-sized picture of underlying forces, of big paradigms in collision.
From a planet’s eye view through a lens crafted from history, philosophy, Systems Theory, and deep psychology, much of the conflict so entrenched today–eco-disaster, permanent war, casino capitalism, and near-total monopolization of food, energy, water, and transport, for example–boil as surface turbulence where two collective worldviews struggle for dominance.
Whether held individually or collectively, worldviews operate as primary mental constructs around which all our values, actions, and aspirations align. Just as we tend to accept those thoughts, emotions, and internal impulses that align with how we see ourselves while filtering out what is felt as contradictory, so we accept those aspects of reality that fit our frames of orientation–our instruments for grasping our place in a world wide and deep beyond our senses–and screen out what does not fit our trusty lenses. To put it differently, self-congruence is to inner reality as worldview is to outer.
When a collective worldview operates in a particular field–science, philosophy, agriculture, etc.–we refer to it as a paradigm. A survey of history through an eye sensitized to large systems, recurrent patterns, and mythic images discloses even larger collective worldviews of the kind that overshadow entire eras. These eradigms tend to gather around some resonant archetypal motif or image that surfaces spontaneously from collective consciousness, grips millions of people across frontiers of nation and culture, organizes their frames of orientation (including their actions, goals, and values), and recedes once more into the depths, making way for the next potent eradigm.
History studied in this way reveals at least three former eradigms:
- Eradigm Mother Nature (Paleolithic/Mesolithic prehistory to appx. 11000 BCE): the collective worldview of nature as all-giving Goddess. The primary orienting direction of this eradigm is the center (all indigenous cultures regard their homeland as the center of the world), its primary fantasy is containment, its primary developmental task–assuming that entire human groups and perhaps even our species undergo phases of development toward full humanness–is one of appreciation.
- Eradigm Heavenly City (Ancient/Feudal, appx. 10000 BCE – 1500 CE): the world as a stage of divine happenings, with Heaven above and matter and body below; power hierarchies, organized religions, divinized kings, patriarchy, and the rise of empire and urbanization. Primary direction: vertical. Primary fantasy: height. Primary developmental task: ascension.
- Eradigm Big Machine (Modernity, appx. 1500 – present): outward expansion, science, industrialization, nationalization. Primary direction: horizontal. Primary fantasy: breadth. Primary developmental task: expansion.
Note that these phases do not represent advances in consciousness. Eradigm Heavenly City is not an improvement over Eradigm Mother Nature. Rather, each eradigm offers a kind of coloring in of collective consciousness. The fullest consciousness imaginable can hold in awareness, at least ideally, the key insights and achievements of all previous eradigms.
Note too that living inside an eradigm makes it difficult to see as a perspective. Do fish take water into account or just swim in it? The Big Machine eradigm rumbling forward all around us rose during the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions to look outward upon a globe divided into components and measurable by relatively simple cause-effect interventions. In the Machine view, things can be explained if you take them to pieces because the pieces are what count. For aspects of reality that can be divided up and measured, the Machine remains a powerful blueprint.
In 1910, however, a new eradigm began to rise from the depths of collective consciousness. That year was remarkable for a number of key events, from the death of Mark Twain and William James to the birth of Jacques Cousteau and the NAACP. Movements of liberation opposing colonialism around the world joined here and there for common efforts. Psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler coined the term “depth psychology” to describe psychoanalytic models in which the mind organized itself with interacting forces. Field theory appeared in several disciplines, including physics and social science, as Einstein drafted the first relativity equations. Quantum mechanics waited just around the corner. Through it all, interconnection, participation, and relation were revealing themselves as more basic and real than static stuff.
As a tool, if a dangerously reductive one, the Big Machine remained as useful as ever; but as a perspective to be immersed in, it began to crack in a million relational places.
In 1968, the emerging participatory eradigm acquired an image when Apollo 8 relayed homeward several photographs of Earth rising behind the lunar horizon.
Millions of viewers of “Earthrise” stared in deep rapture as the seamless, borderless, bright-blue wholeness of our homeworld made itself evident against the black backdrop of space. Scientific discovery combined with intuitive awe, esthetic appreciation, and adventurous courage had offered us a higher view of Earth than was available on the ground.
Many cultures tell myths and legends about a primal Mother Nature, of course: Gaia, Terra, Changing Woman, Ala, Nerthus, and many other names and faces for the sacred presence around us. But until our time, none of our images of Earth could encapsulate more than a region or a small group of people. No one had ever seen Earth in all its glorious entirety, whole beyond any divisions of regions, borders, or territories. “Earthrise” did not create a vision of collective participation and interconnection so much as announce it in one stunning image.
In the famous Power of Myth interviews, mythologist Joseph Campbell explained the mythic significance of Earthrise–“myth” not as lie or archaic explanation, but as vital, living collective story–to Bill Moyers:
…The only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet, not the city, not these people, but the planet, and everybody on it. And what it will have to deal with will be exactly what all myths have dealt with—the maturation of the individual, from dependency through adulthood, through maturity, and then to the exit; and then how to relate to this society and how to relate this society to the world of nature and the cosmos…And this would be the philosophy for the planet, not for this group, that group, or the other group. When you see the earth from the moon, you don’t see any divisions there of nations or states. This might be the symbol, really, for the new mythology to come.
Evidence for a new worldview implicit in Earthrise has sprung up everywhere: in ecology, environmentalism, networks, hubs, Internet, theories of information, transmission across borders, sustainability, permaculture, post-colonial sovereignty, indigenous science, and other expressions of the rise of unified Earth into collective human consciousness. As the outworn worldviews of mechanism, traditionalism, fundamentalism, and consumerism break down from age and overuse, Earthrise heralds the time when we fashion deeper relationships with ourselves, each other, and the living planet below and all around us while pooling knowledge and resource across eras, cultures, and borders.
Like new myths, new eradigms do not emerge without a struggle. Those who benefit most from the old stories retain a vested interest in preserving them against change. What the preservers do not realize, however, is that they have no chance against the rise of the newer, stronger eradigm and the fresh perspectives and values it brings forth. The only question is how much futile resistance will cost everyone concerned.
When the Roman Empire left conquered Britain, Ireland remained unmolested. In the second half of the fifth century, however, a single man arrived and began promoting an eradigm in which a fatherly God rallied for the salvation of the human soul. This new celebration of individuality, personal importance, divine redemption, and trans-border community swelled to such force that it brought all of Ireland under religious domination, accomplishing without arms what Roman governors and armored phalanxes had failed to do since the time of Julius Caesar.
This does not mean that a new eradigm is more advanced or progressive or otherwise better than the old. But it does mean that, in spite of its limitations and potential misuses, the new carries a numinous charge, an organizational vitality, a glowing banner of hope that flutters in the hearts of all who resonate with its message of what life can mean. This message gains strength from confrontations with its aged, worn-out competitors.
Earthrise dissolves the ancient dualisms that propel such conflicts–self and world, West and East, spirit up and matter down–by positioning Earth itself in the heavens. If, that is, we remain conscious that the image of Earthrise is itself half-covered in shadow.
The shadow of Earthrise is globalization without regard to local needs, livelihoods, or habitats. Today we face not only Peak Oil, but Peak Pluto as millions rally against the petroleum-driven plutocracies whose noxious exhausts reverse Earth’s great geochemical cycles. It is not just a crisis of politics, health, or economics: big machinery is forcing the evolution of living things backwards in the wrong direction. To deal in petroleum now is to reset the hands of organic time from Life to Death, from Creation to Destruction.
Transition Towns, environmentalism, sustainability, biomimicry, Slow Food, permaculture, organic farming, ecopsychology, science regrounded in sacred relations, and the creative proliferation of nets, nodes, hubs, and ideas spreading unstoppably around the world unfold and express with varying degrees of consciousness the ascent of one networked Earth in human imagination. The emerging Eradigm Earthrise can charge all these and many other expressions of itself with enough transformative power to design a just and sustainable civilization, but only to the degree they align themselves within its blue vision, joining across borders, languages, and continents to illuminate and knit together ongoing experiments in how to be fully at home on our homeworld.
© 2010 Craig Chalquist.