Time is moving faster these days. On some level we all know that we live in a time when our earth and civilization stand at a crossroads.
What is going to change? The prevailing societal trends of unlimited economic growth and material consumption will not continue; they are not sustainable. On a global level, humanity will outgrow its adolescence, learning to become better stewards of the earth and its resources. Nations and cultures will increasingly come to honor one another as part of a global family, regardless of differences in race, religion, or nationality. Cooperation among nations will of necessity begin to supersede conflict. Such values and inclinations are now prevalent among 10 to 20 percent of the population, although they may not achieve a broad base until the challenges humanity faces reach a critical mass. Increasing problems posed by climate change, ecological disruption, diminishing resources (especially oil and water), population growth, and poverty are rapidly reaching a point where dramatic worldwide changes in priorities will be required to forestall global chaos.
The change in worldview coming about at this time can be described from multiple perspectives, both conceptual and practical. This new perspective is taking the place of the old scientific-materialist worldview that has dominated Western society for more than four hundred years. Some of the dominant themes of the new worldview include these:
It’s clear that this new image of the cosmos differs radically from the materialist one most of us grew up with. It is as radical a change from what has gone before as the Renaissance presented to the Medieval worldview. It is an image of the cosmos that exceeds the bounds of present-day science—although it’s not inconceivable that science itself could eventually evolve to embrace it.
The emerging shift in worldview is accompanied by a corresponding shift in values, in what we deem to be important. These new values share a common feature: a movement away from a materialistic to a humanitarian-spiritual orientation toward life. Greater self-awareness, attention to spiritual growth, and sense of responsibility to the environment are seen as equally important as—if not more important than—economic success and consumption. The following values are among those that reflect the changing landscape:
Shifts in our values ultimately lead to shifts in the way we act. Already many of us are beginning to change the way we behave toward ourselves, each other, our communities, and the larger environment and humanity of which we are a part. Vision and practice are inseparable. A shift in the collective worldview is likely to accompany (though not necessarily cause) the types of fundamental changes in values and actions required by humanity at this time. This worldview shift is part of a broader change that includes a far-reaching cultural, economic, and political restructuring of society. Such a shift happened in Europe during the Renaissance and also much earlier in ancient Greece. This time it is happening globally and, unlike the past, it may occur rapidly, over several decades rather than one or two centuries.
Some degree of deconstruction of the old world order is probably necessary for a new consciousness to emerge. Decay and rebirth are characteristic of all forms of evolution, whether biological or cultural. A global shift in worldview, values, and actions is inevitable. Whether it precedes and redirects humanity away from chaos or follows an epic global breakdown remains an open question. Either way, the shift is destined to come about.
What percentage of the population embraces part or all of these shifts in perceptions and values? According to Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson in their 2000 book The Cultural Creatives, about 25 million Americans (or 12 percent of adults) strongly endorse most or all of the above values, while another 25 million are concerned about the ecology and well-being of the planet without necessarily embracing spirituality or personal spiritual growth. Ray is now completing a new survey that estimates 30 percent of Americans to be Cultural Creatives. In Western Europe, he has found the number to be slightly higher—about 35 percent of adults. Although sixty million Americans is a large group, Ray and Anderson suggest that up to now these individuals have not become sufficiently aware of each other to form a unified political force that could promote change at the governmental level.
Certainly the group these authors describe exists, but its role may have shifted as a result of the global terrorism and political conservatism that have had such a broad impact on American society (indeed, the entire world) in the years since their book came out. While the Cultural Creatives have not yet gained significant political leverage at the national level, their strength may be gradually increasing at the grassroots level and in local communities. With the Internet available today to more than a billion users, these concerned citizens are now better able both to communicate with one another and to act as a unified force in developed countries.
Seven years after the appearance of The Cultural Creatives, environmentalist Paul Hawken explores a similar theme in his book Blessed Unrest. He believes the earth’s best chance resides in a vast network of nonprofits and community organizations dedicated to both environmental protection and social justice. Like the Cultural Creatives, many of these grassroots organizations are not aware of one another, yet collectively they are making a significant difference in the world on a wide array of fronts, such as climate change, species loss, poverty, disease, indigenous peoples’ rights, conservation, and the development of alternative energy technologies, to mention just a few. Hawken suggests that this vast humanitarian movement can be seen as humanity’s “immune system”—a pervasive response to the “disease” perpetrated on the planet by corporate values of unlimited economic growth and exploitation of natural resources. Although this diverse movement has no single ideology, Hawken believes that its basic values—respect for the earth and the dignity of all human beings—will gradually infiltrate the culture at large, ultimately including the very corporate and governmental institutions that the movement presently confronts. This will happen from the ground up and offers the basis for some optimism in a time when so many are sounding pessimistic warnings about the earth’s future.
A World in Transition” was excerpted from *Global Shift: How a New
Worldview Is Transforming Humanity* by Edmund J. Bourne, PhD (Noetic Books, 2009). It first appeared in the Winter 2008 – 2009 issue of *Shift:At the Frontiers of Consciousness*, the quarterly magazine of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), and is reprinted with permission. *Global Shift* was co-published by IONS and New Harbinger Publications. All rights reserved. Copyright 2008.
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