Age of Anxiety – Part 3 – The Renewal of Faith

by transitionalism@gmail.com on September 8, 2014

Man saluting the sun with passion for lifeIn Part 1 of our critique of the film “There is No Tomorrow” we saw the expression of hopelessness for a technical solution as being overly pessimistic. In Part 2 we criticized the film’s lack of belief in people’s ability to perceive and react appropriately and in a timely fashion to the threat of peak oil and climate change. In Part 3 our objective is for us to conclude this series by examining the basis for the pervasiveness of negativity and how it could be transformed into positive action.

Social collapse due to peak oil and or climate change need not be a reality. If it were to occur, it could have only transpired due to our unwillingness to take the steps needed to avoid a downward spiral. This sense of pending threat and apparent inability to affect a suitable response doesn’t reside with the problem of peak oil alone. It is due to the feeling of pending threat and lack of responsiveness to a broad spectrum of existential challenges, of which peak oil and climate change are only two, leaving us with the sense of being hopelessly overwhelmed. Because these problems exist as a consequence of our actions, it has become somewhat fashionable to be self-negating, where some go so far as to characterize human beings to be a ‘disease’ afflicting the environment. Even if such extreme views are not prevalent, at its core the pervasive negative tone reflects an expression of the lack of trust we have in ourselves engendering cynicism and passivity to do what is best in the long run.

Deep levels of anxiety are to be expected during any time of momentous change. This is reflected in the media, which already generally impresses people as a purveyor of scandal and bad news. There are unique issues pertaining to the 24-hour news cycle and the complications of media being a business; however, there remains the basic matter of people’s propensity towards a greater interest in bad as opposed to good news. The media outlets, being commercial enterprises, have long recognized this and so give consumers what they are looking for. The internet represents a media in broader terms providing a forum whereby any one can share their sense of uncertainty and fear, as well as faith and hope, with all corners of the globe. If more contributors view the course of developments in a negative light, this becomes the dominant sentiment. This is irrespective whether their opinion reflects a more sober, objective assessment of the state of things. On the other hand, belief in what is or is not the case does become part of objective reality requiring it to be taken into account. Such is the case where faith in institutions is at an all-time low. Reasons for this reside in the problem faced by any institution during times of fundamental change with their inability to adjust to changing circumstances with sufficient alacrity not only due to their size and structure, but specific to the case of political institutions, government’s intrinsically conservative nature and its role to represent and perpetuate society’s value structure. Less fundamental, but still crucial, is the quality level of governmental organization, and the performance of those who act in functionary as well as leadership roles.

Particular to modern democratic institutions is a further problem of a large number of citizens failing to take responsibility for their part in the political process when ultimate political power is supposed to reside in their hands. Instead, they blame politicians, companies, the rich or all three as sources of the problems, showing a glaring blind spot when it comes time to evaluate their own lack of commitment and participation, exhibited when people fail to go to the polls or otherwise contribute to making their institutions or communities better. Moreover, most often failure is not due to the inability of institutions to come to a decision but the inability to come to an outcome favored by one group or other and if they can’t have what they want they make sure the other side doesn’t get what they want. A core weakness of democratic institutions is that to function they must reach a consensus. To form a consensus there needs to be a sufficient asymmetry of opinion among the voting public for or against a particular point of view. In times of social upheaval and transition, conservatives feeling threatened, strive to arrest if not roll back change, as progressives do their utmost to advance it. If both sides have relative parity, systemic paralysis is inevitable. Paralysis is only temporary however, lasting until such time when conditions shift sufficiently, thus allowing the progressive perspective – if not in the short-term then in the long-term – to dominate and realize its agenda.

The antidote to the pervasive sense of negativity is faith, not in a religious sense, but in terms of the common usage where we – as individuals and as a society – make our present and future a better place to live by committing to rebuilding belief in our own abilities to do important and wonderful things. This can only be accomplished when people begin to take responsibility for themselves and their actions and for society. This means an appropriate response on the part of each of us to:

  • Be informed about issues of consequence whether they are global, regional, national, or local in scope.
  • Being unwilling to consider ways of thinking other than one’s own is another way in which people avoid taking responsibility. Instead, one should be willing to examine problems and accept solutions based on a balanced and reasonable perspective, recognizing them to mean a positive gain for society, even if one might personally disagree with it.
  • Make an objective assessment of one’s own contribution to a situation and be willing to make the necessary changes to improve it.
  • Participate socially in some way: do some form of volunteer work or generally taking part in some capacity to improve the lives of others and promote the well-being of the community.

Such calls to action are nothing new and, while the suggestions should be familiar, they assume a different meaning when viewed and pursued from within the spiritually holistic Transitionalist worldview. One in which maintains a perspective of the environment to be humanity’s physical substructure being the source of its origins, and where its continued integrity is necessary for its survival, while the environment is dependent on humanity to give its existence meaning.

Environmental degradation as an issue is seen to be essentially indistinct from every other issue, whether the focus is social or individual. Since each issue relates to our existence, rendering all issues as necessarily interconnected – central to the Transitionalist social agenda -is to formulate and execute long-term solutions. In this way, while moving forward in resolving one problem, we are able to concurrently advance the solutions to others, even those that might appear to be unrelated when seen from the perspective of a world composed of distinct entities. Moreover, Transitionalism sees how individuals and society respond to challenges as indicative of their potential for self-actualization, defined by their capacity to mature and acquire the tools necessary to negotiate a path towards a positive outcome and growth.

Nobody can know the future however, in spite of the wars, pestilence, and chaos over the centuries, the trajectory of human history overall has been positive rather than negative. As European civilization emerged from the Middle Ages it was able to build and enjoy the benefits of a greatly expanded, more progressive, and enlightened society. For us, the 21st century will be difficult, possibly involving a significant human toll. However, due to the kinds of changes humanity must undergo to survive, once this period has been negotiated successfully, a brilliant future for humanity lies ahead, carrying with it the potential of a radical expansion of possibilities.

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