The Fierce Urgency of “How”
There is only one pathway to avert the crisis humanity is heading toward, and it is to deeply feel the connection with the ecosystem we are a part of. But understand, this is not an ecological argument, this is not about the climate or other environmental systems.
The latest exposure of the predatory behavior of some men is much closer to the core. I’m talking about the massive weight that has been holding our species frozen in a seemingly intractable structure of power and control.
But it’s melting. The climate is changing. The culture is shifting.
This may take decades, it may take weeks. It took thousands of years to get to this point in time. It may rip people and the planet apart as the future unfolds. Or it may bring us together in some sort of evolution of consciousness. The truth is somewhere in the middle as both extremes play out their respective parts in this latest version of the tale of our species.
In the beginning was the word. And the word was used for naming. And naming was used for possessing. At first, possessing meant survival. And then survival meant power—power to acquire more for more people. It was land first, then animals and slaves.
Of course, before the word, humans were on the planet for roughly 200,000 years. It would be no surprise that those years have left an indelible impression on our collective psyche.
Technology has played a central role in every step along the road of “progress.” Language, fire, mathematics, the printing press. And here we are. At another Gutenberg moment, with infinitely more complex implications not just for humans, but for all life on Earth.
Five hundred years ago, spurred by the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, human consciousness began to expand in manifold ways that we are still integrating. Unfortunately, our consciousness does not evolve at the speed of our technological innovations. We have flown to the moon, but we still can’t love our neighbors as ourselves.
We have been survival—and communal—based creatures for many thousands of years. Our ancestors knew very little about life beyond the clan and the world that sustained them. We now live in a land of grocery stores and airports.
As The Land Institute’s Wes Jackson has said, “We are a species out of context.”
Homo sapiens and our modern culture of doing/consuming/acquiring has created an insular bubble that is about to burst. We are pillaging like hungry ghosts. We are aimlessly searching for meaning and identity in a commodified world. What began as a means to survive—cultivate, collect, and consume—has become a suicide pact for our children.
There is nothing to make great again. There is only a future.
In the very age that interdependence needs to be restored, technology is providing tools to do it. The painful irony, though, is that these tools are being used just as all new tools are used: both to bring us together and to separate us from each other and the natural environment.
When resources were scarce and survival was a threat, fear was an understandable reaction. This is part of our ancestral memory. But today there’s enough to go around. We don’t need to hoard vast amounts of anything. Yet fear is firmly rooted in our psyche, and that keeps the money flowing. It keeps power in place. What’s the greatest fear power has? Losing it.
As power becomes increasingly centralized, there becomes an equal increase in the ability to disrupt it. Right now, the meltdowns are everywhere, and assuredly more will come, fueled by predatory behavior in every context of life—sexual, economic, social, political.
There is nothing to make great again. There is only a future that’s coming—and that we can help create through re-establishing our connection to nature, to remembering our interdependence with all of life, by choosing cooperation, altruism, and generosity over the psychotic logic of the invisible hand and individual opportunism.
Technology will not get us there. Algorithms are entropy engines—making decisions based on past behaviors, they can only lead to more of the same.
Identity politics will not get us there. Identity politics is an atomizing engine. How we claim ourselves is necessary, but how we honor each other is critical to survival.
Solidarity around a flag, a god, a market system will not get us there. These abstractions have all been poisoned by power. They don’t need to be reformed, they need to be reconsidered altogether.
Reconsider. Everything. Is it feeding fear? Is it feeding off trauma? Is it simply creating more pain and suffering? Most of our institutions will crumble under the weight of these questions.
And when we have reconsidered the lives we have built, how will we live? Look to the people and communities that are weathering the early storms—Jackson, Detroit, Immokalee, Oakland. And thousands of communities around the world from the farmer activists in Chiapas, Mexico, to the women’s movement of Rojava, Kurdistan.
When the “world” ends, the Bangladeshi farmer will get up to start another day.
Peter Buffett is a musician, songwriter, author, animator, and philanthropist. He is the host of the What's Next? Podcast and the co-founder and co-president of the NoVo foundation.