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Collective Dark Night of the Soul and Climate Change

Individually and collectively we are facing more than a technical or human systems crisis in the knowledge that we have, and still are, creating a global climate meltdown through the continued expansion of a fossil fueled, industrial revolution driven, global capitalist consumption economy. Finding a new way to live in our world as a conscious super powerful species is going to have a huge impact on our identity. This isn’t trivial. When any individual has to pass through a profound transformation of their identity, the old identity passes away, dies, and that is why profound change is hard for all of us.

Most of us understand this dark night process through hitting irresolvable roadblocks in personal relationships, or our traditionally inherited institutional relationships. In circumstances where we are relating to an important person in our lives and that relationship becomes increasingly difficult over time, we begin to be aware of the need for a significant change. Although you can often clearly see what is wrong at this stage, you just can’t face shedding the old ways of relating and adopting new ones that would work better. Usually the persistence of this discomfort motivates a person to start making superficial changes to reduce the discomfort. This is somewhat beneficial but the deeper awareness that something is wrong persists. The evidence continues to mount that nothing fundamental has changed and something must change. The deeper need for change becomes more powerful, pushing against your attachment to your identity and then something different happens, you enter the dark night of the soul and there is a chance for real change, a transformation of who you are.

I think the primary reason this is so difficult is that for people, being self conscious creatures, our identity is perceived as being who we are. When we discover that the deep underlying premises of our identity are providing the foundation for the problems we are experiencing in a relationship it is a profound experience. At that point a person can embrace the insight or fight against it, often doing part of both. In the dark night there is light at the end of the tunnel, and opportunity for rebirth as someone new, and there is the death of the old ways of being and, more profoundly, the old identity of being.

As a collective we are in the early part of the process of identity death and rebirth, the dark night of the soul before the rebirth into an unknown new identity. For some individuals it is sudden, like the revelation of Paul on the road to Damascus. For most it is a prolonged period, not unlike labor and child birth. This passage is dark, difficult, passionate, and risky. A good result can be the highpoint of a life, a bad result can be devastating.

The more powerful we have become the more our identity has taken on a quality of immunity and separateness from nature. Our dark night is in realizing the fully delusional quality of that hard won way of perceiving ourselves and the world. This identity has reached such a height of absurdity that most of the intellectual leaders of our economic system, economists and their employers, view nature as part of the economy. Economists, like Herman Daly, that propose that the economic system is functioning within the larger system of a living natural world are viewed as radicals. When we realize that we are part of it, not apart from it, we will begin to understand what we have done and what we need to do.

With extraordinary power that isn’t individual and passed on in our genetic material we will have to find a purpose for the use of our power that is greater than our individual survival and social aggrandizement. We will have to take on a new role, a larger self identity and role, of being a conscious supporter of life in total, our high degree of power demands this. Our first task is developing ways of human living that do not destroy the life giving qualities of the planet we share with all other living things. We will also have to come to terms with the reality that we must devote a large portion of our imagination, will, and extra-biological power to restoring and repairing the damage we have caused so far in our deluded drunken drive of invulnerability and domination.

Just imagine having passed through our collective dark night. How would our daily lives be different? How differently shaped and purposed would our economic and political systems look and act, how would the rest of the life on the planet look and feel?

Could Al Gore, running and then becoming President of the U.S. be a collective tipping point that allows us all to pass through this dark night in a more rapid and productive way than if we wait for the incremental business as usual approach to social, political, and economic life to wait on full blown disaster to motivate a response? I think a Gore Presidency could be that Paul on the road to Damascus moment. The U.S. has been the driving force in the acceleration of global capitalist consumer economics. With Gore leading the charge the U.S. could turn and lead in the other direction, a lot like the story of Paul on the road to Damascus, turning from persecutor to prophet and working tirelessly to bring others to the light.

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