A reader wrote giving voice to a central concern of this column. "There is a spiritual evolutionary process taking place, but that process takes millions of years and our little bit of consciousness just can't comprehend the enormity of it."
His mistaken use of the word 'enormity' (which means "extreme evil or moral offensiveness") belies the optimism that he intended to convey. The reader's premise is that "crises come and go and after each crisis there is a lift in human spiritual evolution."
To my mind, that's wishful thinking, and a deeply inaccurate perception of the human condition and the present crisis.
As I see it, the human crisis is coming to a head. The present "world chaos" isn't, as the reader suggests, just another "dip in the very long road to enlightenment." But how momentous is the present human crisis?
It is complete - a crisis of human consciousness itself.
Consciousness as we know it is only about 75,000 years old. Prior to the "Cognitive Revolution," art was unknown, and stone technology slowly changed over hundreds of thousands of years. And speech, to the extent it existed at all, was crude and lacking in the diversity of tongues we know today. In short, culture as we know it didn't exist.
Genetic studies indicate the human population dwindled to just a few tens of thousands of people at most, though the cause of this "bottleneck" remains unknown.
Apparently the pressures on this small population of early humans produced an explosive breakthrough in the human brain, a transmutation that yielded the cognitive capabilities that define us as human, which in turn formed the world as we know it, for better and worse.
All nearly 8 billion people on earth are descended from that breakthrough group of people in Africa. In our age, the cumulative, self-made fragmentation from the cognitive capabilities that emerged about 70 millennia ago are putting tremendous pressure on the individual and human species to radically change, this time consciously rather than unconsciously.
Can a breakthrough in the individual, and a revolution in consciousness that changes the basic course of humankind actually occur at this time?
Without respect to technology and the evils of virtual reality and augmented reality, the new human being will be as different from devolving modern humans of the present day as modern humans were from the proto-humans 75,000 years ago. Now, as then, people will look the same, but be different.
So what characterizes the new human being?
Whereas separation and division are the hallmarks of modern humans since the Cognitive Revolution, awareness and insight will be the hallmarks of true human beings after the Insight Revolution.
Even in human evolutionary terms, the time periods we're talking about are brief, only a factor of 6 or 7 older than recorded history. And to the extent that our evolutionary history becomes an open book to us, time scales shrink even more.
Combine that growth in our knowledge (a very different thing than non-accumulative self-knowing) with the pressures from global warming, the Sixth Extinction (being brought about by the planet's only self-aware species), global pandemics and terrorism, as well as the dangers from rogue superpowers such as America, Russia and China, and the fault lines come into sharp relief.
Clearly, humankind has a limited number of chances to change course, and this may well be the last one. No teacher, however illumined, has changed the basic course of humankind. Jesus clearly failed in his mission to fundamentally change the human heart, though of course the failure wasn't his but that of his disciples and the people of his time. It appears only Siddhartha ignited a creative explosion, and that was regional, following his death.
Besides, the era of "great teachers" is over. It represents lost opportunities for humankind to move in a new direction.
Why do we have to presume that this is the last chance for humankind to change course? Because to think otherwise is to erroneously obtain solace in the comforting idea of time/gradualism, which is inimical to inner growth and radical change.
The hardest thing to learn is that there is no 'later.' It's always now or never.
Without radical change in the individual, the future will be like today, only more so. When one feels the enormity of the crisis, that perception mitigates self-centered activity, and summons the energy to meet the enormous challenge posed to each and all of us in the present.
A diagnosis is not a prognosis. Will enough human beings awaken to finally, 'at the last trumpet,' change the course of humankind? All we can do is fully awaken ourselves, with an eye to the whole and future of humanity.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. firstname.lastname@example.org
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