I love butterflies. They remind me of the fragility, randomness and beauty of life on this blessed planet. And wow, are they ever a mess in the middle of a metamorphosis!
As each day passes, it seems to me, the beauty of our world is undergoing some kind of radical transformation that seems impossible to sort out from our position inside the process. The Industrial Age is passing and everything we take for granted is changing rapidly, natural systems and human systems alike. Like all previous ages, the Industrial Age will leave a permanent mark on future ages: upon our environment and upon human consciousness.
What is that mark to be?
I started out as an absurdist. Since my teens, I have often been knocked on the head by the absurdity of modern life. As a tenth grader I went to an American high school in a barely converted, World War II Italian prisoner of war facility in England. There were still shower heads in the walls of our science lab. It was located next to a US nuclear weapons air base in the beautiful rural community surrounding Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire. We had to pause during our classes when the after-burners of the F-111 strategic bombers kicked in. This was during the first wave of “Arab” terror attacks in the 1970’s and a decade before the massive civil disobedience actions of CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in the 1980’s. There were rolls of razor wire surrounding our school to keep terrorists at bay, completing the Prisoner of War aesthetic. My young mind had a lot to process and understand.
I published a satirical underground newspaper with my friends entitled: UGH! (Underground Hayford). We printed it surreptitiously on the hand crank mimeograph machine in the school office. It featured hand-drawn cartoons with images of mushroom clouds and the razor wire that surrounded us.
Even then, the pressing questions were: Are we being kept safe from terror or are we in prison? Is there any difference between safety and prison in the nuclear age? How do we rationalize nuclear weapons? Mutually assured destruction? What is that? Why is the beauty of nature cut down, covered over, poisoned and converted into all this unnecessary stuff we consume? Is this what humans are here for? Do we truly thrive as servants and captives of industry and war? Does the earth?
I have held these questions for half a century, following my passions for social change, history, culture, plants, farming and nature, while trying to make a difference and keep my head above water. I have been blessed with good fortune, amazing teachers, mentors and experiences. I believe that although it is not probable, it is possible to successfully cultivate our collective will toward ecological restoration and human peace.
The way forward exists. But our awareness of the path is overgrown with centuries of neglect and invasive ideas. Our will to push through the overgrowth, or crawl beneath it, seems weak.
How can we develop our collective awareness of the path forward and with it the social will to MOVE?! A regenerative and just future is awaiting our great, great, great grandchildren. We must drop down, close to the ground to hear and answer its quiet call.
“The New Old Way” is a phrase introduced to me by a respected and beloved Hawaiian elder and friend, Al Lagunero. To me the term has come to signify the search for ancestral continuity in a time of potentially cataclysmic global transformation.
As we move into a new Technological Age of human activity and community on this living planet, what do we most need to renew from our cultural and ancestral pasts as well as the ancient experience of being human that lives in everyoneʻs genes? The New Old Way forward is not an attempt to turn back the clock. That would be futile. But to move forward in a good way we must be willing to reach back to access human resources that are only very marginally in play in the modern social, economic and cultural paradigm.
I hope you will join me in imagining and creating a future with economic justice and cultural respect for all, without war and committed to the regeneration of nature. This future lies outside of our present collective grasp, but not beyond our reach. I believe that the mystery of how to extend our reach lies dormant within us, accessible by practices cultivated by our ancient ancestors and kept alive among the peoples who have managed, against terrible odds, to continue to live close to the earth and their ancient cultural roots. Our modern scientific and technological cleverness can undoubtedly serve us well on our collective journey, if we put it to wise purpose, but it cannot serve as our guiding star. We must reach past the arrogance of conventional contemporary culture for something deeper and older to liberate us from the tangled mess we have made of modernity. Together we must face the most difficult navigational challenge of human history. How do we get from where we stand to the future our grandchildren deserve?
We are already inside the chrysalis of transformation. What butterfly is to emerge, or not, is up to each one of us.