Monday, 21 April 2014

The Morrow Project, Chapter 2: Is the World coming to an End?

Is the wrong question. It's too vague as it stands. One obvious answer is Yes, it is. That is, the World (as experienced by any individual component of it)is in a constant flux, changing by the day, hour, minute. Some of these changes are cyclical, and some linear, the difference being that cycles repeat patterns (if not exact details) and lines do not; there is no going back.

Let's try to be more precise then: Is the World as we (humans) presently experience it in the process of entering a state of change which is linear, not part of a 'natural' cycle, irreversible?  And let's be more detailed; here, we are talking about 'the World' as a shared experience of a large system or set of systems which currently persist, whether these are natural, social or commercial. Furthermore, does this imply that the World and its systems as we experience it/them are coming to an end?

According to many observers, the answer to this question is also Yes. There is no shortage of evidence that the Twenty-first Century World is different in substantial ways to what came before, and contains within itself the seeds of a transformation to yet more changes in the years to come. According to some, and within the underlying anxiety and guilt of many, these transformations will be sufficiently dramatic to mean that the World as it is to be experienced by our descendants is likely to be very different to the World we know. In this sense, quite possibly, we can say that the World that we know is coming to an end.

Are we ,  then, one of the 'last generations' of 'civilised' humankind? In terms with which some will be familiar, are we living at the 'End of Days', not necessarily in a religious or moral sense, but also perhaps in a practical one?

Well, let's be clear; every generation is the last of its kind, and the first of its kind. Certain key stages in human social development stand out - for example the Fourteenth Century, during which plague and famine possibly halved the global population (the Sixth to Eighth century is probably also, arguably, another such period). Was this the end of the World? It marks a watershed - before and after this period, the World as lived in by us changed. But the World did not, as such, come to an end. It became something new.

The Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries also stand out. The Agricultural, Industrial and Scientific revolutions combined to create a whole new set of conditions, in the residue of which we now live. Does the present period of human society stand out as such a period of radical change? Or, more extremely, are we now at a stage where we actually are threatening our collective survival, our present state of civilisation, and heading for a spectacular collapse, on a scale previously experienced in those earlier periods?

This final question, then, is probably the 'interesting' matter for us, as one generation struggling with its own expectations and responsibilites. For there is one way in which we 'modern' people differ from those which preceded us. Before the 1800s, it was clear that radical and dramatically negative large scale changes were the consequence of outside forces, the Deus ex Machina, Fate. Since then, living a a World of science, medicine and large-scale agriculture, we have been relatively immune, collectively, to these (so far). Since the 1940s, we have also lived in a World where we are uniquely conscious of a new phenomenon - our capacity to destroy ourselves and our world through our own actions and choices. And this is where the matter of responsibility comes in, for we now live lives which contain an awareness that the 'End of Days' is more likely to be in our hands than from any outside force. As such, we bear a responsibility for our decisions about how we live, and what we do, which did not previously exist on a global scale.

So, the next chapters of the Project will start addressing this last question: through our relationship with the World (our home), it's natural systems, the biosphere, the atmosphere, the oceans and land, are we setting the conditions for a new 'collapse' of human society? This is not a simple question, and will take a lot of working out. So, here's a spoiler; simple observation suggests that the World as we know it is due for another dramatic set of changes, probably stimulated by our own actions, but we still have choices about the nature of these changes...