Many there are, who seeing the violent turmoil raging throughout large parts of the world, together with the devastating impact of man-made climate change, fear humanity and the planet are on the verge of destruction. Those religiously inclined – particularly those sitting on the far right of the spectrum, point towards various passages in sacred texts, which they believe accurately describe these times and proclaim them to be “the end times.” Apocalyptically understood, through the prism of doctrine, to be not simply the annihilation of a sin-drenched humanity who according to the “judgment of the just” no doubt deserve it, but the obliteration of the Earth itself. This doom-laden interpretation of events cultivates fear, suffocates hope and fails to recognize the good amongst the black flags and chaos.
Fortunately there is an alternative, sunnier view of the present time, a common sense albeit controversial vision that creates hope (something that is in short supply), not fear and despair. In a quieter voice which remains largely buried under the worldwide blanket of anxiety and insecurity, it says these are not “the end times,” but transitional times; that we are not witnessing the “end of the world” or the slow demise of humanity, but the final cries of a crumbling civilisation in terminal decline. A civilisation built over the last two thousand years or so in response to certain conditioning influences promoting specific values and ways of living; an out-dated and in many ways, to many people, inadequate mode of organizing society that is now collapsing – and rightly so.
That there is great resistance to change is clear; those who have benefitted most under the present socio-economic model, fearful of lost privilege, seek to tighten their grip on power and silence those troublesome radicals demanding social justice, freedom, environmental responsibility and democratic participation. Regime response to social revolutions throughout North Africa – the Arab Spring – violent suppression in Turkey and Brazil, Thailand and Venezuela, are examples of governments’ unyielding brutal response to the united cries of the people. Cries that have echoed throughout the world, north south, east and west over the past thirty years or so, in an unprecedented movement of popular activism to claw back rights and liberties, confront government corruption and demand social justice, as well as standing up to corporate development plans led by ideologically driven international agencies (namely the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank) and environmental abuse. Huge numbers have marched, demonstrated and rallied: people power – the world’s second superpower – is perhaps the brightest spark of optimism in the world and one of the clearest signs of the times in which we are living: times of change, times of transition and action, times of opportunity and hope.
Perennial Values Re-Discovered
Sitting at the decaying heart of present socio-political structures, aggressively dominating all areas of contemporary life, is neo-liberal capitalism (or market fundamentalism). A product of the ideological environment of the time, it has cultivated certain values, which without fear of contradiction we might term materialistic: values promoting individual success and ambition, encouraging greed, selfishness and social division that condition motives and distort actions. Deep within the festering ground of inequality and division, the seeds of conflict and turmoil, watered by despair and exclusion, flourish. Nations, regions, as well as individuals, are forced to compete against one another, feeding nationalism, separation and conflict. Ideologically driven division has fuelled totalitarianism and extremism: political, economic, social, and, perhaps the darkest most dangerous manifestation, religious – as current events in Iraq reveal.
Die-hard devotees of the individualistic values of division – from which ideologies of all kinds have flowed – proclaim them to be the outcome of human nature. Sown into the genetic fabric of animal man, they are inevitable, have always driven humanity, and always shall, consequently neither materialistic values nor their elite exponents can be challenged much less changed. These believers, many of whom profit handsomely from the system, have sought to close down the intellectual space, to stifle debate and tarnish dissenting voices as naive idealists who lack the strength of character to compete with the high-octane sharp shooters, who, seduced by the promise of material reward, are content to destroy homes, cultures, lives and land in the fulfilment of their personal ambitions.
Life has been defined in increasingly unimaginative material terms: the pursuit of pleasure encouraged, selfish desire championed; wonder and mystery dismissed, the unexplained ignored. In the land of “the individual,” conformity insisted on. Nowhere is this more evident than in education, as Noam Chomsky says: “the whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on — because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.” Institutions – both state and corporate – that know well the dangers of independent thinking and daydreaming.
The nature of modernity itself needs re-defining, the purpose of life re-evaluated, a new civilisation built. And if one looks beneath the chaos and surface detritus, if one connects the diverse movements, developments and actions, the embryonic signs of a new time, of peaceful potential and unity can be seen – heralds of a new and just civilization. One rooted in altogether different values to the existing ideologically driven paradigm, based on perennial values of goodness known and extolled for millennia, but largely unexpressed: values of peace, brotherhood, freedom and justice, tolerance, cooperation and understanding. Nothing radically revolutionary, but ideals re-assessed, re-discovered, understood and pragmatically applied to the forms, political, economic and social, which draw the shape of the society in which we live.