Tone Magazine: 
January 2008: A Failed Genetic Experiment

This is a brief excerpt from Part Two of Ian’s new work “Failsafe” – published in 2008. 

The Failsafe in Consciousness concept was created in my 2002 work The Essential Spiral to describe how consciousness expansion will be held back by a deliberately cultivated ignorance about better knowledge. That is until the global ecological situation deteriorates to a breaking point. This breaking point will then act as a catalyst, exposing such ignorance. At which point consciousness is propelled into expansion, deliberation and change. My vision is a positive one, as I believe that humanity, drawing on a new consciousness, can create new structures and organizations out of which emerge the radical solutions to address the endemic environmental crises facing us. We have the knowledge to create this, but the obstacles that stand in the way are not technological. They are the attitudes, values and concepts that define the present dominance of corporate values, rampantly consolidated through “turbo-capitalism.” The necessary clarity to deal with the global environmental crises will emerge, once our thoughts, values and attitudes shift and no longer sustain and feed our internal pollution. This is the radical internal Climate Change necessary to engage intelligently with the external Climate Change.

To make Failsafe a robust concept I identify three major interconnected components: 

1.Innate Earth Wisdom, 
2.Counter Culture and 
3.Tipping Points in Consciousness. 

We do in fact possess innate earth wisdom. Ninety-nine per cent of our evolution as a species relied on a hunting and gathering adaptation known as foraging – a strategy of adaptation based on sophisticated ecosystem knowledge, which was integrated into harvesting patterns through a spiritual understanding of the world. That is still hardwired into our brain and it is simply a matter of re-accessing what we already possess. It is the radical remembering of this mindset that activates the feedback needed to prevent further degradation of the global ecosystem. The counter culture pulls together the Ecology of Ideas from Gregory Bateson, Rachel Carson’s Radical Ecology Movement and the fostering of Gaia as metaphor and social movement through feminists, environmentalists, and the New Age beads and incense set. This strange coalition established a broad consensus that provided a foundation for the new science of Ecopsychology. The counter culture also touches base with a responsible corporate response and the emergence of the powerful anti-globalization movement. Tipping points in consciousness are about achieving a critical mass for radical change and draw on the new science of Neuroplasticity that clearly demonstrates we are not necessarily stuck with present mindsets. Our mindsets can be changed but that does take extensive and diligent internal work. Just as there are tipping points in the external ecology of Gaia, so must there be tipping points in the internal ecology of consciousness. 

Should a Failsafe in Consciousness prove to be unfounded, we are faced with the likelihood that humanity is a failed genetic experiment. If we continue to turn our beautiful rivers into sewers because of our endless greed and neglectful ignorance, it is obvious that there is no place on Mother Earth to support our present civilization. That too will join the trash heap collectively created by mindless generations of humanity. If consciousness change is too slow to make the quantum leap then there are drastic consequences to contemplate. Our ancient ecologist on Mars studying a million years of earth history would note a parasitic infestation of Planet Earth that was not very intelligent. An intelligent parasite would ensure the good health of the host that supports it. And so the Martian biologist would factor in an inevitable elimination date for our species in her star-date log.

This is a sobering metaphor, yet we have to accept it as a potential reality staring at us from the very near future. Our present values and patterns of consumption are the architects of the present global ecological emergency, as we remain ignorant to the consequences of the fact that everything interconnects. We are, in fact, our environment. It is our collective habits, thoughts and patterns of mindlessness that have created a flimsy, uncertain future for our species on planet earth. Yet civilizations rise, civilizations fall. Once we can accept that we have created the conditions for the present global civilization to die, then and only then can we find a respite. During this respite it is possible for insights to emerge that will bring radical change to our values, habits and mindset. It is very difficult in our western culture to accept death – whether it be of a loved one, ourselves or the planet. The usual response is fear and denial. We have to re-educate our minds to get past these two obstacles. For once we can clearly recognize the reality that our present form of civilization is dying, we know for sure that despair and denial will do us no good. Instead, a window opens in our mind for peace and steadiness to enter, which could then propel our species to live differently so that we may create a future on planet earth. This requires a mass awakening of attributes that run counter to the bottom line of turbo-capitalism and the ecology of greed. It does require a candid acceptance, without fear, that our global civilization in its present form is coming to an end. Such an acceptance can actually free the mind from its chains and enable a mindful mode of existence to naturally arise. Such a way of life, such an acceptance of our true reality on the planet, can be the springboard to alleviate the course of environmental collapse. The energy and power to avert the disaster facing us rests in our minds and in a new collective choice to live very differently.

Because of all the warning signals to humanity, however, allow me to be starkly realistic. If the Failsafe in Consciousness does not kick in, the field is open for James Lovelock’s conclusions to take root – remember his epitaph for modern civilization as a few breeding pairs in the Arctic Circle. But perhaps after all the Arctic Circle may not be such a bad evolutionary staging point, as digital records, carefully preserved as archaeological relics, could provide clear guidelines for future civilizations to conduct themselves more appropriately with respect to the Earth Mother. A million years from now is merely a blink of an eye in geological time. After Global Warming destroys the present habitable econiche, any future civilization that evolves will be able to draw on the triumphs and failures of our present civilization. As a counter to this possibility allow me to reiterate that the Failsafe in Consciousness concept and its components all refer to attributes of mind. They are seeds of potential stored in our minds, buried under a general amnesia from which, as a global community, we are just beginning to awaken. It is simply a question of whether we are out of time. Without this quantum shift in consciousness as a species we destroy all our life support systems and in becoming totally alienated from the earth, we become totally alienated from ourselves. Nevertheless, I remain an optimist - for historical time is on my side. Even if the horizon is a short ten years that is a very long time for mindful behavior to take root. The methods for doing this rapidly are laid out in the following chapter. We have 3,650 days within which to make a change – and until these days expire I choose to remain an optimist. 

Ian is the author of “The Essential Spiral: Ecology and Consciousness After 9/11”. Also the resident dharmacharya (teacher) at Pine Gate, a Zen Buddhist community in Ottawa.