Brutal as 2023 has been, one lesson we have learned is not to assume the worst is behind us. The world has become a dangerous place, seemingly slowly at first, and then quickly. We are a world at war.
The media seems to be able to keep us focused only on one war at a time, but there are at least four wars raging. Front of mind as I write, of course is the reignited Middle East conflict that overwhelms our senses. A profile in courage but risking becoming last year’s hero, President Zelensky is learning some hard truths, including that our broken politics can be as deadly as Putin’s missiles. But let us not forget the civil war raging in Syria, so far hundreds of thousands killed, and thirteen million people displaced. Thirteen million according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Then there are the Sahel Wars, over a decade unfolding and even more out of sight of the Western press. Escalation of any one of these conflicts, including the use of unthinkable weapons, is well within the scope of possibilities at any moment.
As we leave 2023 behind, the earth is hotter than it has been in over 125,000 years. We are at war with life itself, with fires, floods, droughts, unlivable heat, and hurricanes that have sowed the feeling that we are losing our ability to cope. The Petro States and the fossil fuel industry just staged a masterful coup at COP 28 in broad daylight, as if it’s all a game. The corruption behind the scenes must be staggering. These men are scoundrels; they play us like fools.
Meanwhile back in the USA while the Earth burns, our technology leaders are focused on addictive apps, driverless cars, life on Mars, the so-called meta-sphere, crypto speculation, and now the greatest “opportunity” of all, artificial general intelligence. Wall Street focuses on what they have always focused on. What they refer to as “climate” is just one item on a long list of problems to solve for the technologists, and just a new asset class for the bankers. They are both dangerously wrong.
Arrogant ignorance. Greed driven corruption. Failed leadership. Any one of these qualities alone can sink a person, a family, a company, or a nation. In combination, they can sink civilization. So beyond dazed, where has 2023 left my thinking?
Drawing on Robert Frost, “I can see no way out but through.” Get clear on root causes not symptoms: stay focused amidst all the distractions.
A New Way
I’m focused not on problem solving, as strange as that must sound. I’m focused on seeing afresh, a revolution in perception to be precise. And I’m focused on how we make decisions. Our vision is limited, our decision making flawed. The consequences all flow from there.
For over four centuries now, Western thinking has honed the reductionist perspective and reductionist decision making associated with the left hemisphere of our brains to great effect for building machines and technologies, and for extracting profits. We like to call this “progress,” and progress we have made. Yet it is also true that we find ourselves increasingly traumatized, overwhelmed by the series of interconnected and accelerating, yes accelerating, social, health, political, economic, financial, and existential ecological crises we now call the polycrisis. Expect further acceleration in 2024 and beyond.
More accurately, we should call it a unified meta-crisis, since all the crises we experience are rooted in how see and how we think. We see parts, not the complex, interconnected whole, even if we use the right words.
Reductionism as a method to see the full complexity of reality is dangerously insufficient. One plus one can’t see three, but you and I most certainly can see three. If we close our eyes, perhaps we can even imagine 300! To borrow from Wes Jackson, there is nothing wrong with the reductionist method so long as we don’t confuse the method with the way the world actually works.
In The Master and His Emissary, brain scientist Iain McGilchrist writes, “The left hemisphere is a wonderful servant, but a very poor master.” It is time for a changing of the guard in where our critical decisions are made. Today’s masters of the universe, be they in technology or in finance, tend to be champions of the left hemisphere. I can think of nothing more urgent than to develop in each and every one of us, and to promote to “master” our right hemisphere’s imagination, creativity, and wider perspective. It is actually quite natural. It feels amazing to unshackle our whole mind, and to fully see again. We absolutely can reclaim our full capacity, we can relearn how to be our full selves, while gently placing our well-honed left-brain thinking, and our dominant left-orb “heroes” in their rightful place as servants to the common good.
That will take vision, wisdom, and courage. We will need to grieve as we let go of our limited, and, we must acknowledge, often violent identity that we think has been necessary and even natural. We can see it’s no longer serving us well. That letting go is necessary to make room for a revitalized, peace-full identity aligned with how life works.
I am privileged to participate in this changing of the guard within our minds, the Great Work of our time. It’s a true honor and joy to be walking with all the brave pioneers and beautiful souls around the world who participate in our learning community, an island of coherence in the storm.
Unlearning, and learning to learn together. All 8 billion of us. That’s the “opportunity” I’m excited about.
About Capital Institute
Capital Institute is a non-partisan think tank working to create a more just and sustainable way of life on earth. Together with our collaborative network, we combine modern science, storytelling, and the knowledge of timeless wisdom traditions to illuminate the path from an extractive economy to an emerging regenerative economy that supports the long-term well-being of people, planet and business.