Monday, April 29, 2013

A Rise of Planetary Consciousness is Just Another Version of the Old Religion of Progress

How many times have we all heard that economic growth was going to take care of resource depletion and environmental degradation, or that scientific and technical advances were going to take care of them, or that a great moral awakening—call it the rise of planetary consciousness, or any of the other popular buzzwords, if you wish—was going to take care of them.
As it turned out, of course, none of those things took care of them at all, and since so many people placed their faith on one or the other kind of progress, nothing else took care of them, either. - John Michael Greer
Another excellent article from John Michael Greer's ongoing series of essays about civil religion and the faith of progress:

The God with Three Heads

An excerpt:
Far more often than not these days, as a result, the mainstream American version of faith in progress fixates purely on the supposedly unstoppable feedback loop between scientific and technological progress, on the one hand, and economic growth on the other, while moral progress has been consigned to bit parts here and there. It’s mostly on the left that faith in moral progress retains its former place in the blend—one of the many ways in which the leftward end of the American political landscape is significantly more conservative, in the strict sense of the word, than those who call themselves conservative these days—and even there, it’s increasingly a fading hope, popular among the older generation of activists and among those who have moved toward the fringes of society and mix their faith in progress with a good solid helping of its erstwhle antireligion, the faith in apocalypse: it’s from this unstable mix that we get claims that the morally better world will arrive once evil, and most of the planet’s population, are blown to smithereens.

It’s by way of this latter process, I think, that faith in moral progress tends to pop up in the literature of peak oil, and even more often in conversations in the peak oil scene. I’ve long since lost track of the number of times that someone has suggested to me that if industrial civilization continues down the well-worn track of overshoot and decline, the silver lining to that very dark cloud is that the rigors of the decline will force all of us, or at least the survivors, to become better people—“better” being defined variously as more ecologically sensitive, more compassionate, or what have you, depending on the personal preferences of the speaker.

Now of course when civilizations overshoot their resource base and start skidding down the arc of decline toward history’s compost bin, a sudden turn toward moral virtue of any kind is not a common event. The collapse of social order, the rise of barbarian warbands, and a good many of the other concomitants of decline and fall tend to push things hard in the other direction. Still, the importance of faith in progress in the collective imagination of our time is such that some way has to be found to make the future look better than the present. If a future of technological advancement and economic growth is no longer an option, then the hope for moral betterment becomes the last frail reed to which believers in progress cling with all their might.

To many of my readers, this may seem like a good idea; many others may consider it inevitable. I’m far from convinced that it’s either one. For more than thirty years now, the conviction that progress will somehow bail the industrial world out from the consequences of its own bad decisions has been the single largest obstacle in the way of preventing more of those same bad decisions from being made. How many times have we all heard that economic growth was going to take care of resource depletion and environmental degradation, or that scientific and technical advances were going to take care of them, or that a great moral awakening—call it the rise of planetary consciousness, or any of the other popular buzzwords, if you wish—was going to take care of them. As it turned out, of course, none of those things took care of them at all, and since so many people placed their faith on one or the other kind of progress, nothing else took care of them, either. - John Michael Greer

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