February 5, 2011
And slowly answer’d Arthur from the barge: “The old order changeth, yielding place to new, And God fulfils himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world. – From Idylls of the King, The Passing of Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson
In light of what happened in Tunisia, is happening in Egypt and might happen across the Middle East, politicians across the West have made much this week of the need for stability and orderly transitions in those countries. To this, I say an unequivocal, “Bah, humbug!” Why? Because it’s not natural.
For millennia, man, seeing itself as the “superior species’, has squandered the world’s resources trying to impose stability and enforce orderly transitions on what is inherently unstable and disorderly – nature, itself. (Ask any gardener.) Now, nature is fighting back.
For centuries, the developed nations, seeing themselves as the superior nations, have squandered the resource of their own young in wars and meddlings that try to create stability and enforce orderly transitions on what is inherently unstable and disorderly – youth, itself. (Ask any parent.) Now, the young of those nations we created are fighting back.
We “developed” nations have maintained our power by imposing global capitalism on the developing nations in the guise of spreading democracy. And, that once good custom has now corrupted the world. In trying to maintain that unnatural state, we have begun to devour our own middle class and supported those who maintain their own power by standing on the necks of the poor, both here and abroad. Now, the poor are fighting back.
Whether we like it or not, the old order is changing, yielding place to the new. The leaders of globalization may impose their stability for a while longer, but nature will out. The geophysical realities of peak oil and climate change have already begun to destabilize that old order and started the next disorderly transition.
Should we fear it? I suppose it depends on how we see ourselves as a species.
When my son was three, he loved going to Lincoln Park and the zoo. We always ended the trip by getting him a helium-filled balloon. As a mom, I’d learned the hard way to tie the string to his wrist until we arrived home, because he also loved to turn it loose and watch it soar into the sky.
Once we were home, we began “the game”. If you are a parent, you know the one I’m talking about. I would untie the balloon from his wrist; he would take it into another room and release it to rise to the ceiling, out of his reach; he would then come and tug at my slacks until I went and fetched it and the game continued. I, of course, tired of the game much quicker than he did.
On one such day, needing to stop the game and fix supper, I said, “That’s enough, now.” He went into another room for a while, before returning with the balloon.
Tugging at my slacks, he pointed to the ceiling and said, with that wide-eyed, teasing smile that three-year-olds find so useful, “Mom, I’m going to let my balloon go up to your sky, again.”
I looked down at him without stopping my chore, and replied, “If you do, I will take your balloon outside and let it go up to your sky.” Checkmate. Before he sat down to eat supper, I tied the balloon to the knob on his dresser drawer, where it remained until he woke the next morning to find it deflated on the floor.
I’ve thought about that little incident a lot as I’ve aged. When I was three and in love with the novelty of a world that was mine to explore, the sky was my ceiling. At some point, I transitioned to adulthood, found a job, acquired property, had children of my own. In my need to protect all my “things,” somehow, the ceiling became my sky.
Something similar, I think, has happened to us as a species. When we were a young species, the sky was literally our ceiling. We were birthed by and evolved within Nature’s instability; we are one of Nature’s disorderly transitions, whether we admit it or not.
Now, in our certainty that we, at least we in the developed world, have reached adulthood as a species by conquering nature rather than transitioning within it, we protect our power by imposing ceilings and telling ourselves we can still reach the sky.
If we continue to see ourselves as a species outside of nature, then to answer my own previous question, yes, we should fear the coming instabilities and disorderly transitions.
The economic power structure the developed nations have built on oil and other non-renewable resources, at the expense of the rest of the world, simply can’t last. If we continue to squander them to maintain our power and wealth through this false stability, we have set our own ceiling as a species and lost the sky. Whether what is currently going on in the Middle East has set the next disorderly transition in motion or not, the old order can no longer transcend its own ceilings. Nature has spoken and New is on the way. Get ready.