When one looks back on history - and I am now old enough to look back upon a snippet of it - one sees that there are periods of vibrancy and periods of dullness. Unless I am missing something, we are currently in a dull period. There are also dark periods and these sometimes follow on from dullness.
By vibrant periods, I mean one when people are caught up in important and vibrant issues and movements in several spheres of life, there is a sense of hope and these movements are embodied both in general engagement and in charismatic individuals. If I think back to the time when I became involved in Buddhism which was in the 1960s there was not just an upsurge in spirituality, there was modern art, Picasso, existentialism, Sartre, meditation, the Maharishi, Buddhism, Chogyam Trungpa, political movements, Martin Luther King, they were putting up sputnik, Yuri Gagarin, and then landing a man on the moon, there were hippies, beatniks, mods and rockers, there was rock and roll, Elvis Presley and then Bob Dylan and there was Beatlemania, and so on. Many of these names are still well known and some will still be so after another century has gone by. Who from today will be remembered? What important contemporary movement will still figure? What are we doing that makes a difference? Will the new US president stand on a par with JF Kennedy in the history books?
It is a matter of interest to me that there are such peaks and troughs. The period 1885-1900 was, in Britain at least, also a period of vibrancy - Theosophy, Christian Socialism, Oscar Wilde, Pre-Raphaelite art, and so on - then culture dwindled and eventually there was the 1914-18 war - terrible catastrophe. Let’s hope we are not going the same way, though with the current signs of the unravelment of the European Union one cannot be too confident. Most countries in Europe that are not part of the EU have been involved in war or revolution during the period of the EU's existence - Bosnia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Georgia, Croatia, Serbia, etc.
Am I wrong in seeing a large scale process here? We have created peace and prosperity in Europe, motivated originally by memories of the terrible wars of 14-18 and 39-45. Now we have forgotten all that. We preserve our prosperity by exploiting far away peoples, especially those who live where there is oil. Now those areas are aflame with war. The people in the war zone want to leave. If they leave where will they want to go? Here, of course. However, the people here do not want them. Having bombed and impoverished them we do not want to share our wealth with them. Thus greed, hate and delusion all conspire together.So the most compelling public movement at the moment is xenophobia and anti-immigrant feeling. This could easily lead to the fragmentation of Europe and before we know it we shall all be at each others' throats once again. History sometimes does repeat itself. Times of dullness do turn into times of darkness all too often.
KEEPING A FLAME ALIVE
In this circumstance the important thing for people of goodwill to do is to keep a flame alive. Sometimes this is even more difficult in the dull time than in the dark time, because people are lulled into a complacency. They do not see where their actions are leading. There is no general sense of history, only of being mesmerised by comsumerism and celebrity culture - the hollow life. In some ways, the idealists of the 1960s and 70s have been too successful, bequeathing a life of indulgence to their children.
Even though we may be out voted and over ruled, it is important for those who see further and remember longer to preserve islands of sanity and compassion, wisdom and tenderness. There have been many times in history when it was people of faith who kept the flame of civilisation alive. In present circumstances, many may judge that I am being alarmist. I hope they are right. I hope I am wrong. I hope. However, I may be Cassandra.
I'm afraid that your take on current events is more optimistic than my own.
I feel like the the appropriate historical parallel is not necessarily 1913 or 1938 but instead the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. I am worried that thanks to, e.g., the clathrate gun that most of the world that we knew growing up (trees, animals, those sorts of thing) will be dead in our lifetimes and the environmental catastrophe will swamp all these other concerns.
Do you see any reason to hope it will be different? I've basically shifted gears from hoping/trying it will work out any other way to preparing my psyche for it.
Yours in Namo Amida Bu,
Thanks, Neal. Well, of course, these are two different subjects - two different kinds of threat, if you like. I was writing about war and peace and you are writing about the ecological problem. Both are serious.
I am not a climate scientist and so, in regard to the global warming issue, like most people, I have to rely upon what I read and it is a subject upon which there is a very wide divergence of opinion. Global warming does seem to be a fact and human activity is probably the main cause. There are some hypotheses about the whole thing getting completely out of control and running to an extreme resulting in all life getting wiped out and it is true that there have been mass extinction events in earlier geological periods (though not a lot and the time periods are enormous). Generally speaking the planet does seem to have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to maintain some kind of overall homeostasis. I think there is something in the Gaia theory. We humans are both beneficiaries of the wonders of this world and also, perhaps, a kind of cancer or pest upon the planet. I really do not know, but my inclination is to think that humans are not as powerful as they like to think they are and if we become a danger to the planet it is likely to exact some kind of cull upon us rather than that we shall be the ones to destroy the it. Malthus will probably be proved right once again.
In my estimation there is no escaping that war and ecological problems have been inextricably linked throughout history, especially in the recent past. Island nations, e.g., Kiribati have already begun to sink beneath the waves, and other coastal areas are feeling the impacts. Just today Hurricane Matthew is wreaking havoc in the Caribbean Sea. The poor health of the oceans is already causing problems with global food chains. Freshwater becomes scarcer, and so on. The current refugee crisis is merely a preview of our immediate future.
On the other hand, this has been an El Niño year and the current trend line does have some hope of breaking, but possibly only over the very short term.
I am intrigued by Andrew's reply. As a card-carrying GenXer, I can't really recall a time when our culture was terribly hopeful. In a way our generation is nihilist in a way that the Baby Boomers are hedonistic. These are oversimplifications of course. But we are scarred, I think, by the way reality set in after the brief joy of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Third Way neoliberalism, the war on terror, climate change. Our view is very different than our parents'. I've been impressed by the "woke" Millennial generation, but tolerance can turn into intolerance and despair too easily.
In some real way it seems that Pure Land practice will play a "Last Ship" role for some of us emotionally and spiritually in these times. We are fortunate to have such a path open to us.
Yes, doom and gloom is a human norm. We all suffer from PKSD (post-karmic stress disorder).
I agree about there being connections between war/peace and eco-change. The Roman empries was overrun by tribes fleeing climate change in central Asia. The Mayan civilisation seems to have been struck down by eco-change. And where are the wheat fields of the Sahara now that fed Rome?