Following my short review of Active Hope by Joanna Macy, I wanted to take a closer look at The Great Turning and the important changes we are living through now. This is Part 1 of a series I’ll be writing as I work through the book. We start with stories…
Civilisation as we know it is on the brink of collapse and the choices we make today will have profound repercussions into the future.
The stories we tell ourselves about the future are shaped by the myths we have chosen to believe. Unfortunately, these myths don’t always match reality, and when this happens we run into problems – reality trumps belief. We use stories to make sense of reality and our experience, but if those stories are rooted in self-deception, misunderstanding or misinformation, we drift away from reality.
At best this will result in some mild humiliation – the old story of mistaking a rope for a snake comes to mind. Freaking out over a coil of frayed rope is embarrassing, but not life-threatening. But if your misperception of reality is extreme it can lead to insanity or even death – believing you can fly and jumping from a window while under the influence of psychotropics, for example.
(There’s a lot that could be said here about the policing of our perception and who decides what’s real or true – but that’s another post for another time…)
The Three Stories of our time
Active Hope tells three stories that describe our current situation and inform how we live. They exist side by side and run simultaneously:
- Business As Usual
- The Great Unravelling
- The Great Turning
Those who believe story 1 think we’re doing great as we are. We don’t need to change, we can fix all our problems with technology and investment, and we can continue to consume as much as we want. Business is booming. There is no crisis. Growth is good and nature is an abundant resource that will never run out.
Those who believe story 2 recognise there are problems with story 1. Our consumer economy is producing extreme inequality and environmental destruction. The problems we face seem overwhelming and we’re not acting fast enough to stop the decline. The economy will collapse and industrial civilisation will fail as it hits the limits of growth that reality demands.
Many around the world are already experiencing this collapse. Others teeter back and forth between stories 1 and 2. They may be in denial, distracted by the media and social networking, and think these problems don’t apply to them. Or perhaps they’re struggling to pay their bills while hoping things will improve soon. Even if they confront the reality of story 2, it can be too scary to contemplate. They may think: we’re going to die anyway, so we may as well enjoy ourselves. Or they give up, resigned to the worst. Paralysed into inaction, they sink into depression, despair and defeat.
Continuing with Business As Usual will lead to The Great Unravelling. These stories feed each other. If you believe story 2 but can’t deal with it, you might try to live in story 1 simply because you don’t know what else to do.
What a mess.
Thankfully, there is another way – story 3.
The Great Turning
This story leads us away from the destructive industrial model of civilisation towards a more life-affirming, sustainable model. It’s important to note that we don’t know what will happen in the future. Just because we choose to believe in story 3 doesn’t guarantee we will succeed. But it is important to try.
While the science of climate change is getting clearer all the time, the only thing of which we can be certain is that the future won’t look anything like the past. Whether or not the temperature rises as much as predicted remains unknown. There are many mitigating factors that we barely understand (the first of these being our own consciousness and how it interacts with reality). This means we have a window of opportunity to change how our civilisation works.
Even if the worst happens and story 2 becomes our undeniable reality, it is still better to live positively and with hope, upholding the values we care about. To do otherwise is to be complicit in the destruction of our world.
So what exactly is The Great Turning?
It’s a revolutionary change in how we think and live together on this planet. There have been many revolutions throughout our history and the Great Turning may well be our last.
Civilisation began with the Agricultural Revolution at the end of the Ice Age around 10,000 BCE. Also called the Neolithic Revolution, it began with the domestication of animals and crops, and lead inevitably to the organisation of people through power structures and hierarchy. The patriarchy overthrew the old goddess-based tribal cultures, one thing lead to another, and…
The Industrial Revolution exploded at the end of the 18th century. People left the countryside and farms to work in factories. Everything was mechanised and civilisation became turbocharged. We could feed millions more people and get more out of the land using coal and oil as accelerants. It is this industrial model of civilisation that has brought us to the brink of self-destruction.
The Great Turning is the response. As a revolution it goes by many different names: the Ecological Revolution, the Sustainability Revolution, the Consciousness Revolution, the Spiritual Revolution, and even the Necessary Revolution. (You may also read about it under the guise of The Shift, Ascension, or Awakening in New Age circles.)
The Tipping Point
Unless you’re playing a part in this revolution, you’ll probably not even realise it’s happening. Cultural shifts tend to rumble through the collective unconscious for a long time before breaking the surface. But if you take a larger view, it is clear things are changing. It’s happening on the edges of society. Gradually a tipping point will be reached and the shift will hit the mainstream. Paul Hawken describes The Great Turning as “the largest social movement in history.”
“I soon realised that my initial estimate of 100,000 organisations was off by at least a factor of ten, and I now believe there are over one – and maybe even two – million organisations working towards ecological sustainability and social justice.” – Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken
The Three Dimensions of the Great Turning
Active Hope identifies three dimensions to this revolution which feed into each other. You can get involved and participate in the change through any or all of these methods – there’s no hierarchy because they’re all equally important and necessary.
1st dimension: Holding Actions
Holding Actions include activism and choices designed to slow down and limit the damage being done by the industrial machine. They create friction and resistance, and make it harder for Business As Usual to continue. This is also about protecting natural resources and caring for social communities ravaged by war and exploitation.
Possible Holding Actions:
- raising awareness of the issues
- boycotting products or services
- non-violent protests
2nd dimension: Life-sustaining Systems and Practices
This involves rethinking and changing how we do things, finding and building alternative structures to create a sustainable society. Everything will need to be transformed: the economy, business, healthcare, food production, transport, communication, education…
Possible new systems:
- new forms of banking
- organic farming
- farmer’s markets
- community run projects
- social enterprises
3rd dimension: Shift in Consciousness
How we see ourselves and who we think we are affects the choices we make so people will only engage with these alternatives if their thinking changes. The shift in consciousness is moving us away from selfishness, alienation, and narcissism, into a larger view of the self as interdependent and connected to the whole of life. We all live on the same earth and breathe the same air.
None of us will survive alone.
“In choosing our story, we not only cast our vote of influence over the kind of world future generations inherit, but we also affect our own lives in the here and now. When we find a good story and fully give ourselves to it, that story can act through us, breathing new life into everything we do. When we move in a direction that touches our heart, we add to the momentum of deeper purpose that makes us feel more alive. A great story and a satisfying life share a vital element: a compelling plot that moves toward meaningful goals, where what is at stake is far larger than our personal gains and losses. The Great Turning is such a story.” – Active Hope, Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone
Next we explore The Work That Reconnects in Responding to Crisis: the Spiral of Transformation