It is notable how symptoms of social disintegration have been multiplying recently. The politics of the UK and of the USA have not been so turbulent for a long time; France is in the grip of rather chaotic public demonstrations the objective of which is distinctly unclear; Italy has almost always had turbulent politics, but it is certainly not getting any better; the European Union is under strain; the problems of China are somewhat hidden under its autocratic veneer but are considerable with apparently millions of Uighurs in prison camps, and so on.

More generally, the ecological problem gets steadily worse, like a slowly tightening noose. That alone seems to have been sufficient to have extinguished several historical civilisations and its severity now seems greater than it ever was then.

Our society gets more and more complex. In some ways this is a blessing and an achievement, but studies of cybernetics and systems theory tell us that the more complex it gets the more vulnerable it becomes, since the ramifications of whatever breakdown may occur spread through the whole.

Humankind is, only half consciously, battling against the very forces that have ruined many previous hubristic projects and the danger that the whole Tower of Babel may soon come tumbling down is real enough. No doubt if we were to all pull together we could meet and surmount the challenge, but this seems to be an extremely unlikely scenario.

Far from pulling together, the signs of us pulling apart grow stronger. The most obvious symptom is the way in which the rich-poor divide is growing wider to an alarming degree. Even the official figures that tell us that the top 1% of wealth holders hold 40% of the wealth of the world is probably a considerable under-estimate since so much laundered money seems to be hidden in off-shore havens.

I can't help thinking that, at the very least, a significant economic crash cannot be far away and that this time it is likely to prove to be more than just a cyclical adjustment. Restoring the endless economic growth norm is likely to prove impossible unless there is some unexpected major technological breakthrough or an even more unlikely radical positive change in the political climate.

It is much more likely that the politics will get worse, cooperation will become more difficult, and we will, before long, find ourselves in a situation of absolute economic decline - something that almost nobody in Europe or North America currently has the skills or attitudes to deal with.

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My sense is that this situation is realistic and not pessimistic. It does matter because while I so very often am labelled a pessimist that is simply another mechanism of denial. Though it seems that reality is now meeting the most pessimistic view possible. If we actually did manage to pull together and act with the greatest of wisdom, we can only minimise the suffering to come. We cannot refreeze what has melted, we cannot cool this rapidly overheating planet, we cannot repair the toxicity we have spread through land and sea. The very belief in human exceptionalism created this catastrophe. Perhaps though optimism, hope are mechanisms we need because the view of highly likely extinction in our lifetimes is simply to dark to keep ones sanity.

Yes, Buddhism - and real spirituality generally - begins with realistic confrontation with the existential situation. Worldly life is much concerned with avoiding and posing, distraction and projection onto others.


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