Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What If?

End of the world by 2012. Heard that one before? Research any New Age writing and its bound to crop up. Largely based on the Mayan calendar which does not continue beyond December 21 of that year, despite being an astronomical masterpiece of the ancient world. Thanks to the Spanish conquistadors the Mayan libraries were destroyed, some 2500 sacred texts according to the consensus view. So, no corroboration there although inscriptions on tablets and monuments have provided some information. This has led to divided views that the calendar may also depict the start of an enlightened age, on the date in question. Whether this will turn out to be a self fulfilling prophecy remains to be seen.

Its also commonly accepted amongst alternative thinkers, that, a "quickening" manifests in the immediate period preceding great change. This convergence of issues usually provides the critical mass to then effect understanding and acceptance of a new order. When we look at the planet today these issues abound: rising prices and dwindling resources in the agricultural and energy sectors, deepening antagonism and confrontation regarding geo-political questions, massive increases in development projects for water and housing, the continued infra-structural demand for transportation, reckless financial operations fuelled by globalization, increased consolidation of media and information outlets into fewer hands, greater unemployment thanks to mass manufacturing and distribution, sharply climbing inflation due to macro mismanagement, continued political corruption and civil unrest. The list goes on.

Globalization is, of course, increasingly being blamed for most of these ills. Globalization is very often used to refer to economic globalization, that is integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, and the spread of technology. In short, a world system that places economics above anything else and which now effectively controls most areas of human activity. If that sounds like a conspiracy theory, consider this: what can you achieve today without money, education and technology? The odds are stacked in favour of the system, but the system is not sustainable. Far more people are being excluded, while fewer are benefitting. Often with obscene accumulation of wealth.

Looking at those Mayan extrapolations again, it seems there might be something to it after all. We don't have to be economists to figure out that the issues described above, are fast driving our world towards the moment of truth. The moment when you lose your house or your car is repossessed; your job long sinced downsized, outsourced or eliminated through mechanization. Maybe the moment arrives when money can no longer buy food and water because it has been exhausted. With money no longer the instrument of control, the moment is defined when societies start using guns to ensure their primacy. Some scenario planners predict environmental catastrophe will be the moment when the planet readjusts the imbalance. Most agree that large loss of life will be an inevitable result, perhaps even extinction. Whichever way you lean, many people in the third world already experience these condition on a daily basis.

Ironic then that Africa seems to be the "canary in the coal mine" when contextualizing these complex issues. The world looking at its future, so to speak, when observing the continent. The captains of industry all admit that corporate governance has become a priority, but also claim that globalization is still the way to go... it just needs a human face. Their trump card being that there doesn't seem to be a ready made solution in the wings. So, a ticking clock with less the 4 years to the Mayan deadline; perhaps even social disintegration before then if current global trends intensify.

Still, we can't die en-masse and then blithely start all over again with a small band of survivors. Einstein famously said: "...we can't solve problems with same understanding that created them." Clearly, then, a new understanding is called for; but where do we turn when our global system has created these problems? If first nation peoples were capable of creating complex societies built on astronomical calendars, what other ideas of wisdom may their history contain? Some say its impossible to integrate knowledge of this nature with modern societies, that urban culture is impervious to it. Well, history shows that resistance to change disappears pretty quickly when a crumbling system collapses. Self preservation is still the oldest concept known to man.

The talking shops of our planet can do with fresh perspectives too. Imagine for a moment the impact of recent Amazonian tribal protest over a hydro-electric scheme, if it had taken place on the floor of the UN general assembly. How arresting will it be to see Congolese pygmies and Namibian KhoiSan walk through the snow to address the World Economic Forum in Davos. Alaskan Inuit and Indonesian aborigenes appearing before OPEC about the effects of oil drilling on their environment. Its a safe bet that the message will be same; we need this planet, not the other way around.

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