This article was originally published in Conscious Choice.
When people in our culture want to be enthralled and inspired by a story, we run to the movies, where dramas of life, death, and redemption are played out at pulse-pounding high speed. Most of us do not fully realize that we are currently participating in a real-life thriller that could go as down-to-the-wire as any episode of Mission Impossible or Star Wars. The crux of this plot line is whether global humanity can awaken from its current trance — our fixation on materialist progress and economic growth — in time to salvage the biosphere, and our own future.
According to current calculations, 25% of all species will be extinct within 30 years, at present rates. All tropical forests will disappear within 40 years, as all ocean fisheries collapse within the same timeframe. As climate change accelerates, it is creating unpredictable feedback loops, potentially leading to global food shortages as droughts and deluges affect agricultural tables. Mass species extinction could also cause feedback loops that would make life on earth untenable for large mammals such as ourselves. The large-scale disappearance of amphibians, butterflies, and honey bees in recent decades seems an unambiguous warning signal.
Confronted with the frightening evidence of planetary decimation, many of us prefer to flinch away and retreat into our private concerns. We have to find the courage to overcome this tendency. Instead of inciting pessimism or fatalism, the dire predictions can compel us to deepen our commitment to transformation. If a few decades are all that separates us from cataclysm, then the “ecological U-turn” in global consciousness must be accomplished in the next few years
One way that massive change could happen quickly is through a paradigm-shift in the mainstream media. While the United States has lost much of its standing in the world in recent years, we still operate the controls of the collective dream-machinery for the planet. The blueprint for a better life now being pursued by the masses and entrepreneurial classes across Asia, India, and the Third World is the “American Dream” of unlimited affluence, promoted by our television shows and films over the last half-century. A transformation of values — a spiritual revolution — in the US could initiate a global shift in priorities. If we used our genius for marketing and storytelling to project a different vision and value system, we could repattern and reprogram the collective psyche in a very short period of time.
This new media paradigm would encourage participation over passivity, collaboration over individual success, attunement to local differences over acquiescence to mass marketing, and sufficiency over abundance. The “new news” would focus on trends that support sustainability and higher consciousness, and relentlessly expose techniques of fear-mongering, social control, and “greenwashing.” Rather than exploiting violence and sex to grab at the public’s fleeting attention, our media would present strategies of conflict resolution and nonviolent practices, while offering a positive revisioning of eroticism as a tool for personal growth.
Responding to the necessity of the planetary crisis, the reinvented mass media would promote the attainment of happiness through nonmaterial means. Such a proposition may seem unrealistic — but at a time when our future as a species is imperiled, we might want to reconsider our concept of “realism.” A drastic change in media messaging to align with the real needs of people and planet is preferable to system crash and biospheric meltdown. Corporate decision-makers are also parents and grandparents, who presumably want to see the world continue for their descendants.
We can also change the old paradigm through the accelerated development of new media channels and interactive formats on the Internet. Historically, when a major new media technology emerges, it leads to profound changes in the social system. Just as mass democracy was made possible by the Gutenberg printing press, a new politics with new organizing principles may arise out of the instantaneous interactivity and reputation systems of the Internet.
We are reaching that point where, as the social ecologist Murray Bookchin put it, our world “will either undergo revolutionary changes, so far-reaching in character that humanity will totally transform its social relations and its very conception of life, or it will suffer an apocalypse that may well end humanity’s tenure on the planet.” Despite the system’s inertia, we have the capacity to restore the natural systems we have corrupted, and create a new planetary culture based on communality of interest.
In my head, I keep writing my own movie or reality TV show of the next few years. In this gripping adventure yarn, the ticking time-bomb of ignorance and greed gets defused at the last moment by teams of stylish secret agents of consciousness and compassion, working in coordination across the planet. These tantric technicians create wilderness corridors for endangered species, end sectarian conflicts among warring factions, deploy alternative technologies at appropriate scales, and generally transmute negative vibes to harmonic frequencies. Our current world-movie appears to be moving toward a major show down. As the virtuosic director of this spectacle, God (or Brahma, or the archetypal Self, or whatever name you care to use) is sure to produce some great and unexpected plot twists in the final reels.
Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books, 2002) and 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006). His features have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Wired and many other publications.