Crisis of Growth, Crisis of Consciousness
an address to the World Goodwill Seminar, UN Headquarters, Geneva. 28 October, 2016
Consciousness leading to world understanding
There are two ways of approaching humanity's evolution.
The first starts from a consideration of form and depicts evolution in society, behaviours, and so on. Such inquiry is interesting, although it leaves many questions unanswered: Where does it lead us? In what direction are we proceeding? Is our society proceeding towards its own self-destruction? Or towards a superb outstanding society? Nobody knows, as in this approach there is neither a vision of future possibilities, nor any sense of direction.
Secondly, we can consider humanity’s evolution from the standpoint of consciousness, particularly the evolution of states of consciousness. This clarifies understanding of the present experience of humanity and its paradoxical progression, leading both to better conditions of life, and to planetary deterioration. It also shows us where humanity is heading...
This second approach conveys a better understanding of the prevailing obsession with economic growth, a problem that economists and politicians are seeking to resolve, although they contradict each other to produce a stalemate. The absence of growth is often presented as the cause of all our difficulties. Yet in order to resume growth, some observers are ready to sacrifice whole generations of workers, as well as the entire framework of planetary resources.
Economics often neglects the fact that it is a human science, and therefore remains dependent upon the evolution of consciousness. What are the different states of consciousness presently existing on the planet?
Consciousness of dependency
If we observe our present humanity, we notice that those human beings who have not yet developed their mind through schooling and education, who have not yet developed "modern civilization", actually live in a state of consciousness which we could characterize as a state of instinctual interdependence. I say “instinctive” since it concerns an unconscious process, not thought through at all, but instead arising as self-evident, inherited from some far away past.
Nothing can stand as separated or independent in such societies. There exists an unavoidable interdependency between man and nature. Under no circumstance could they have an idea of being separated from nature, or consider themselves as superior to it. They respect nature and avoid any destruction; they feel themselves as an integral part of the environment. They represent a wisdom which we have lost, we will shortly see why.
Often we may dream about such societies,as if they are some lost paradise, offering a natural wisdom, and a tranquillity of life which incites us to consider some possible return to the sources...
The drawback of such consciousness lies in the absence of individualisation. It presents neither independence, nor autonomy. The personality with all of its potentialities has not yet been developed. Each individual exists in relation to the tribe, the people and their customs. Each person exists within a dependent sort of consciousness, since a reliance on someone else is ever present: be it a leader, a tribe, a family, customs, a place, and so on. Such forms of dependence are always accepted, each person has their place, and their role. There is a willing submissiveness to ancestral laws, without being able to affirm any sort of individuality that could oppose such traditions.
Such a state of consciousness avoids considerations about growth, which remains extremely weak and slow. Economy is essentially centred upon survival as well as upon a progressive growth of a minimum of comfort. Most of the time, such populations depend upon agriculture, hunting, fishing for subsistence.
Awareness of independence
The more a society promotes mental development through schooling, the more individuals begin to individualise and distance themselves from traditions. Consequently instinctive interdependence with nature gives way to exploitation; where there was formerly a sense of solidarity, now each one seems to seek his or her own benefit, leading to competition; egoistic attitudes become prevalent in all ways of life. This solidification of the ME brings us gradually towards the bottom of the curve of involution, until the state independence and conscious, fully affirmed autonomy is reached.
“I, me, I exist, and me in my life, I do whatever I wish with what I want, whenever I will, and with no justification to give to anyone!”
Such state of consciousness promotes the importance of oneself and its felt needs. Love of possessions and power, emphasis given to the pleasure of consuming; all this comes on to the foreground. The personality is endowed with entrepreneurship; liberalism becomes the rule. The net result represents our "modern" society. An affluent society characterized by poor distribution, and all the time consuming our planetary resources without discrimination. Growth becomes a fundamental dogma that everyone is asked to comply with. Such is the key to our civilization! This looks like a fall as well as a degradation of society...
We could also consider this situation as an involution, or an empowerment of the personality, with a gradual shifting of collective consciousness towards the individual and individualistic consciousness.
We can trace a curve moving from the left to the right side to represent this movement of consciousness. The first, descending limb of the curve, represents involution. While gradually losing the consciousness of instinctive interdependence [a mass-type of unitary consciousness], humanity builds itself successive bodies. Towards the bottom of the curve – the remotest point from the collective – individualism is powerful. Thereafter on the ascending limb both evolution and global awareness progress.
Essential distinctions between the various types of consciousness
Individuals characterized by mass consciousness tend to sustain traditional past values in the present. They invariably seek to bring any past values that ever existed back to life in the present. As a result, each child has the duty to fully learn what parents seek to transmit from their ancestors, so that this unaltered patrimony can be passed on again to future generations.
However, it is obvious that within the consciousness of independency there is less concern about the past. Indeed, personal values of the present are promoted without consideration of the past. Consequently, we might ask if this does not represent the end of history, the end of humanity in the short term as some have predicted, or even the end of the planet Earth, caused by the prevailing egoism which relentlessly grows and becomes more elaborate. While pioneering populations knew how to preserve nature through long time periods, our present society characterized by individual consciousness is speedily destroying nature.
Fortunately, as a result of the third state of consciousness, a perfectly conscious awareness of interdependence, the curve is ascending! This has nothing to do with instinctual interdependence since it now includes an autonomous type of consciousness. It would more correct to call it inter-independent consciousness. Such a state of consciousness gradually arises out of the variety of questions which individualism generates. The net result of these questions is the discovery of the existence of the other. This can be the other Self, or other humans, other kingdoms. We gradually become conscious of one another, and of the necessity to live together globally, in interrelationship. We realize that living as if we were alone is no longer possible. We also have to acknowledge the existence of animals, plants, and minerals. A state of consciousness is arising which both opens us towards others, and which induces us to think and act in terms of cooperation. Such a state of consciousness seeks to promote within the present the anticipated values of the future.
In this third state, egoism is gradually left aside in favour of a globalized consciousness. Material growth is progressively forsaken in favour of inner growth. Consumer societies become fully re-evaluated. In all domains, from agriculture to culture and health education, from currencies to political behaviours; all become enfolded by a thought giving prominence to the collective. Such is the observed emergence within our present society. All paradigms of an individualistic society are put to the test, in the same way that beliefs and behaviours of the previous, dependent society had been tested.
Can we have confidence that the curve is now actually ascending?
From a planetary standpoint, we can observe that a massive number of people are arising into individual consciousness. Thanks to educational progress all over the world, many emerging nations are experiencing high levels of growth; more and more individuals are dreaming about a consumer society and reaching the bottom of the curve. But, you could ask, will the risks of conflicts over primary resources, water scarcity, pollution and climate change jeopardise the future of mankind itself? Is there a threat that the curve will transform itself into an endless descent leading to the demise of humanity?
About fifty years ago we might have responded by saying that:
“Wise men, philosophers, scientists and politicians are among the many harbingers pointing to the need for global consciousness and a sensed interdependence”. The question then would have been: “will humanity be ready to follow them?” Nobody would have known the answer to this question then. There were few signs to confirm that humanity would respond, and danger was constantly present.
Today an ever-growing fraction of our society is coming, step by step, into this state of awareness of inter-independence. Every day we can see a growing prevalence of this state of consciousness manifesting in the international, societal, and ecological spheres. Every day the first signs of a new world consciousness can be seen in books and movies. Pioneers conscious of a new world are becoming more prevalent. They indicate for us the future and point to the proper direction.
On the other hand, an overdose of egoism, with its dogmas about consumption and promotion of a non-egalitarian culture is also manifesting everywhere. This explains how for half a century a double development has been taking place. While more and more people are reaching the bottom of the curve, and developing individual consciousness – with all the implied consequences of consumption – another parallel portion of society is breaking out of this state of consciousness and moving into a growing awareness of interdependence. Let us explore the consequences of a threefold curve.
The three continents of consciousness
We will compare the three states of consciousness upon the curve with three continents. The first continent represents a consciousness of dependency. Several billion individuals live on this continent, fully representing this particular state of consciousness. The second continent represents full self-consciousness, individual consciousness. About one billion people live on this continent. They proceed with their lives, as well as their creativity, without being overly disturbed by existential considerations. The third continent represents global consciousness and concerns some hundreds of millions of individuals.
This diagram differs from the previous one by highlighting two zones where the sequential merging between the three continents is occurring. Through events in time two states of consciousness are mutually interfering; and this is being experienced both within us as well as within society and the world. In zone A, we have a sequential merging between mass consciousness and independent consciousness. And in zone B the merging is between individual consciousness and the consciousness of inter-independence. Quite a few earth dwellers now find themselves in these two zones.
As you know, in continents undergoing tectonic plate processes, different plates tend to plunge onto one another, creating so-called ‘subduction zones’, such as the Japanese fault. When continents gradually glide relative to each other, we might expect that the progressive sequential merging would lead to fewer complications. But this is not actually the case, as frictions and rubbings lead to a sudden release which manifests on the surface as an earthquake. Consequently any zone of subduction can cause earthquakes leading to destruction and “natural” disasters. From the point of view of consciousness the same process is present. There are three continents of consciousness. Within each one of these “continents” crises are not very frequent, everyone being well grounded within their own state of consciousness. But the transfer from one state to another takes place as sequential merging, producing zones of subduction which trigger civilization earthquakes on a world scale. These are high amplitude crisis zones, both within society as well as within the individual.
Zone A and world quakes
At present, subduction zone A is very active in the world. It triggers the bulk of conflicts on our planet and will remain very active as long as most humans have not found their place on the second continent of consciousness. This concerns all the nations where the bulk of the population seeks liberation from autocratic rule and religions, non-egalitarian social habits, and from any factor opposing freedom of individual expression. Such nations are deeply divided between promoters of religious, nationalistic or social traditions, and those who encourage individual liberty and equal treatment before the law regardless of sex or social condition. The complexity is compounded by the fact that the subduction of two continents of consciousness has its counterpart within individuals. A point will always arise where tradition and modernity meet in inner conflict. How could we evolve without also denying our roots? This is not so simple to solve!
Frictions between mass consciousness and independent consciousness can be seen everywhere in the world. This includes all forms of economic colonialism; the reliance of Indian farmers on genetically modified food seeds from agro chemistry; multinational profits relying on a cheap workforce; rural migration enlarging industrial worker populations, and so on.
While the merging of these two continents of consciousness allows the second to produce more and more, it also magnifies an ever unsatisfied growth! The more powerful is the earthquake, the greater the destruction. This could lead to the end of a society, a form of civilization, or a state.
Zone B and world quakes
This second zone of subduction takes place between those still involved with individual consciousness and those who are moving on to global consciousness. It encompasses all the disagreements in the so-called developed world about the liberal society that has existed for the past one and a half centuries. Consciousness of growth on the third continent focuses on: growth of the quality of life rather than the quantity of life; promotion of right relations between individuals, rather than the paternalistic imposition of an exclusive type of thought; and recognition of all types of life upon Earth, avoiding cruelty and exploitation in relations with animals and plants.
The crisis of growth is a result of the massive forces at work within the zone of friction. Growth concerns all individuals on the second continent of consciousness. Wherever they dominate there will be growth. On the other hand we have to realize that when the consciousness of inter-dependence develops, quantitative growth will be only minimal! It has become urgent for politicians to accept that growth will no longer continue as before. From now on it has become vital to promote new ways of consuming, of sharing, and of working.
There are already numerous earthquakes in Zone B, for example in the deterioration of democracies, unemployment, and the 2008 financial crisis. The monetary system that was barely rescued at that time represented only a small warning of what is to come. The big quake that rapidly approaches seems unavoidable. Just as no one can prevent a continental plate from subsiding beneath another plate, nobody can prevent the new state of consciousness from developing, and the subsequent elimination of the previous one. It is unavoidable.
Why does change not proceed faster?
Because the pulling forces and the contradictions also involve our inner being! One part of us seeks to think and act within the group, from a planetary perspective. Yet we should also recognize the presence of our powerful individuality which continues to depend upon emotions... The contradictions and dualities within our very being regularly cause earthquakes.
Observing planetary evolution from the standpoint of crises of consciousness allows us to understand the crisis of quantitative growth. This highlights the cause of all the other crises, whether political, religious, societal... including individual ones! If we look only at the events, human history seems to unfold in a mysterious manner, but if the events are interpreted in terms of the evolution of consciousness we will get some clarity. It is good to be aware of this.