We are approaching the end of our Axial Age. Planet earth is warning us that our survival is conditional; that like any other organism alienating itself from the earth’s Biosphere, if we continue doing so, we will be rejected. Can we prevent this? Yes, but only if we change the way we think. First we must fully accept a new reality: Planet and cosmos are one. We are not separate but are part of a rhythm that is in a sense “the mind” of that oneness. The purpose of our lives must be redefined in this context by way of accepting new forms of thought that are concurrent with the forces of this planet and its rhythmic cosmic oneness.
We have reached a critical moment in human history. There is the possibility of a Sixth Extinction.
It is being caused by many of the Axial Age presuppositions that have been powering our thought process these last eight thousand years. We are now finding that they have come from the dark neurotic psychotic and self-destructive side of our human brain.
Past and recent history provide ample evidence of this. Today dysfunction societally within and between nations makes it obvious to the observer.
On the horizon is an even more ominous sign. It is the result of the ecological dysfunctionality of our world-wide economic system. In recent years it has become evident that this system is destroying our planet and is a threat to many forms of life on it, including our own.
The following essay will explore these issues. It will approach them by way of a discussion of the originating period from which we biologically emerged, the present Axial one and the one to come. Here they are:
The period before our Axial Age
Our Axial Age
The period to come after our Axial Age
First a definition of the term “Axial Age.” Karl Jaspers, a German philosopher writing in the middle of the twentieth century gave us that expression.
It began during this period in Egypt along the Lower Nile (Alexandria to today’s Aswan in the South) and with the prophets of Israel in the Levant and with the philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Greece. It also began in Asia with the age the Hindu and the Upanishad and the Buddha and Confucius and Lao-tzu, the philosopher whose ideas became Daoism, as well as with many others.
How critical today is it to have an examination of this change in human thought? It is very critical. It was more than just another biological evolutionary change. It was a philosophical/religious change that altered the thought process that had existed for over one million years.
It was a change that now in the twenty-first century could be spelling our end. Many of the most prominent scientists throughout the world are warning us that if we continue to think the way we think and live the way we live, there is a high probability we will be facing extinction. These warnings go back to the early seventies when the World Bank warned of the possibility of a Methane Hydrate Feedback Loop occurring in the Arctic that would bring on another Permian Triassic kind of planetary extinction event. Scientists are now warning us of other possibilities.
The world refuses to acknowledge this. Yes, a few enlightened individuals here and there, but they with only limited influence. The general population lives in a cloud of optimism bias. Over past generations it has been our strength. But now it has become our enemy. Because of this bias, few are able to grasp the fact that we humans have only limited control over Nature. For all our technological powers, we cannot escape the reality that we are subject to planetary forces beyond our control.
One reality we refuse to face is that we must reduce our population size. Earth’s supplies of habitable land, fresh water, arable soil, mineral resources at the present level are not able to satisfy our needs.
Another reality we refuse to face is that ocean acidification is threatening much of the marine food web. Rising carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution have caused the oceans to become 30 percent more acidic. The estimate is 150 percent more by 2100.
Another reality we refuse to face is that Capital markets have grown to a size where they are energizing ecologically destructive forces of a magnitude never before seen in human history. Negative externalities need to be measured and priced in up front so as to discourage, temper, or at the extreme eliminate trade.
Another reality we refuse to face is that religious extremism on a global scale is releasing deadly psychotic neurotic behavior with wide destructive social ramifications.
And we could go on with many others.
Where when do we begin? Far reaching changes must take place by the end of this century. They need to be of a magnitude like those that came with the beginning of our Axial Age. All of human society has to change the way it thinks. The changes need to be political, social, religious, philosophical and economic.
And if there are no changes, what then? The suffering of future generations will be extreme. First, those billions of humans who are living on the edge of survival will perish. We are already seeing this die off in many parts of the world. Then, the pain will move onto the rest of society.
Planet Earth is saying to Homo sapiens, using its unforgiving evolutionary language of rejection; you must change the way you think and the way you live and you must do it now.
Is there a way for us to break out of this downward spiral? There is. First we must examine many of those existing Axial Age patterns of thought believed today to be “inherent truths” that have become our enemy. The task will be daunting. It will require us to reinvent much of what we have believed to be sacred. We will have to change the way we think about everything; our lifestyles, our economics, our political systems, our social systems, our religions, ourselves.
Today’s patchwork of repairs and technological fixes will not suffice. A totally new societal design is called for; one leading to an entirely new societal structure, a structure designed whereby human activity can act in concert with nature itself. It will require a total metamorphosis of the twenty-first century human mind.
This new design cannot be implemented without first examining the core of our Axial Age weakness. It was a weakness that allowed us to alter our understanding of our relationship to Planet Earth and Planet Earth’s relationship to us. The former horizontal transcendental relationship that had successfully guided our biological evolutionary development was abandoned. We moved away from an understanding of what we biologically and ecologically are.
We alienated ourselves from the Biosphere of this planet without recognizing that like any other organism within its Biosphere that alienates itself from the Biosphere, the end result is rejection.
So, here is the question: Can there emerge a higher level of human consciousness with voices saying that we are not separate from the cosmic realm but are a part of a rhythm that is in a sense “the mind” of the cosmic realm, voices redefining the cosmic and planetary purpose of the human species by way of this new form of thought?
Let me end this essay with a quote from Albert Einstein:
“The problems in the world today are so enormous they cannot be solved with the level of thinking that created them.
David Anderson brings together a wide range of interests in his writings, namely; theology, history, evolutionary anthropology, philosophy, geopolitics, and economics.
He has written three books. A fourth is near completion. It is about a necessary geo political, social, religious, economic paradigm shift for human survival.
David is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Hawaii (Harvard Asia Pacific) Advanced Management Program. Over his career he was an international risk manager and senior executive at several of America’s premier multinational institutions. During that period he became increasingly aware of the underlying cultural, institutional and religious causes of past and present civilizational dysfunction and conflict.