I may be wrong. I am not an economist and even the experts cannot predict with certainty. However, as I have said before, I think we are on the brink of an economic crash. What is different about this crash is that we have not really recovered from the last one. This means we are at a tipping point. Previously, there were economic cycles in which, after each crash, growth reached a new peak before the next down turn. This meant that although crashes occurred, we were on a stepwise upward trajectory, economically speaking. The exception was the great crash in the 1930s from which we did not “recover” until WWII. That failure to recover was due to a failure to organise ourselves well. War forced us to do so.

If I am right and we are about to have a crash without having recovered from the last one and if such a development were repeated then we would be on a new trend which was made up of downward steps rather than upward ones. This may be inevitable. The ultimate cause would seem to be that we are reaching an ecological limit. The scope for endless growth may simply no longer be there. In fact, our supposed growth may well have been substantially at the expense of our and our children’s future. We have created a climate catastrophe, eliminated much of the life of the planet, wasted a lot of resources, and, in effect, taken out a mortgage on the future which we will now have to repay.

It may not be the doing of wicked politicians, though many will no doubt blame them. Politicians will be in a quandary. They are used to a situation in which they promise prosperity and growth, even though they only have very little actual control. If the reality is that prosperity is diminishing, there is likely to be a good deal of confusion and blame, much of it unwarranted, yet consequential nonetheless. As people become enraged that they are not getting what they are used to, they will be liable to enter into conflict with one another. This will, in effect, be people competing and contesting over what is left. In particular, the rich will try to hang onto what they have and the rest will increasingly see this as an obsenity. On the other hand, there are already rising political movements that exploit the anger of the poor, but redirect it in such a way as to protect the interests of the rich, all the while pretending to be doing the opposite. It is easy enough to blame immigrants or foreigners. Wars thus become more likely. The ultimate cause of war is often that of protecting the over-privileged at the expense of the poor who are duped into going into the trenches.

This is a grim prophecy. If we had wise leaders, if people in general were capable of restraint and wise discipline, we could get through the transition to a smaller human population and a more sustainable economy without havoc and tumult. However, this benign path is not likely. What is more likely is that there will be increasing chaos and conflict and big areas of the planet will be laid waste until nature’s jungle takes over. We are unlikely to get through this time peacefully or with any dignity. Human nature being what it is and expectations being what they have been, we are probably on track for a tragedy of great proportions. I shall not live to see the whole of it.

I pray for two things. Firstly, I pray that I am wrong. That things will not turn bleak, that terchnological problems will be found to our problems, that we will find new ways to live in harmony with nature, that war will crease, wise leaders will emerge and kindly values will spread across the Earth. Secondly, I pray that if and as things take such a turn for the worse, that there may be at least some few who will understand. Those few who have but little dust in their eyes, may pass through the terrible times like small beacons of light, maintaining sane community, manifesting compassion and wisdom, resisting oppression, assisting the afflicted and demonstrating an alternative.

In my own case I have done my best to guide and foster a few such people. The transmission of the Dharma is alive in the world. We may be in a Dharma ending age, but there is still a faith and a way. The little bit of land over which I have control has become a small carbon sink, covered in trees, shrubs and nature in all stages of regeneration, a refuge for wildlife in the midst of vast acres of chemical agriculture. It probably won’t survive my own demise, but one does what one can, wherever one happens to be. I am aware that my own efforts can never be more than a drop in the ocean. Greater forces are in play. I hope that one or both of my prayers may be answered in time and we may go forward toward a better world, here or hereafter.

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Replies to This Discussion

Gratitude for your work, and also sadness, reading this.

Struggling to find any excess pessimism in it.

It seems to me we're entering a period where doing the right thing has to be ends as well as means.

No longer: we're all going to hell unless we act this way.

Rather: it would appear that we're going to hell, therefore we choose to act this way. 

The way these things work out for me is and has long been coloured by what I've learnt with and from Amida Shu, wherever I've been. Now more than ever.

Off now to walk in the woods by the sea, in a warm wind. 

Namo Amida Bu, thanks

A walk in the woods by the sea, in a warm wind - excellent.

I think it may prove worse than any of us has imagined for millions of people across Latin America, Africa, India, and Asia. Economic and political stresses will be exacerbated by climate change, pollution, water shortages, and famine. These unfortunates could be looking at the end of civilisation as we have known it. The impact on Europe and North America will be profound. There may still be time to mitigate the worst of this scenario - but where are the leaders who could unite mankind to achieve a better outcome?

I agree. When you read about how former civilisations ended, it all seems very familiar. We are destroying the world that we depend upon just as aphids destroy a rose bush. The aphids have other bushes to fly to, we do not. The difference with former civilisation collapses is that there were then in history other civilisations in other parts of the world whereas now the world is more or less integrated into one, so if this one goes we are all back to the jungle.

The thought I've carried several years now is the curious sense that encountering the possibility of a change so vastly beyond what I can control, 'be ready for', or protect those I love from, actually changes nothing very much at all, visa v what matters today. For this I thank Amida Shu teaching, above all. You know W S Merwin? This by him speaks powerfully to me:

Thanks, by W.S. Merwin

Listen

with the night falling we are saying thank you

we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings

we are running out of the glass rooms

with our mouths full of food to look at the sky

and say thank you

we are standing by the water thanking it

standing by the windows looking out

in our directions

 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

 

over telephones we are saying thank you

in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators

remembering wars and the police at the door

and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you

in the banks we are saying thank you

in the faces of the officials and the rich

and of all who will never change

we go on saying thank you thank you

 

with the animals dying around us

taking our feelings we are saying thank you

with the forests falling faster than the minutes

of our lives we are saying thank you

with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us

we are saying thank you faster and faster

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

thank you we are saying and waving

dark though it is

 

 

Thanks, Mat.

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