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The Eclipse, Thinking Civilizationally, GDP 2.0, and the Next Step in Humanity’s Journey

The Eclipse, Thinking Civilizationally, GDP 2.0, and the Next Step in Humanity’s Journey

I’m Umair Haque, and this is The Issue: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported publication. Our job is to give you the freshest, deepest, no-holds-barred insight about the issues that matter most.

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How’s everyone? I hope you’re all doing really well, welcome new readers, and thank you for joining me.

Do you want to hear a joke? A full solar eclipse is the one day of the year I can…go out. Tres drole, huh? If you don’t get it, I kid about being a vampire sometimes, yet it’s true: I do have a rare condition where the light can kill me (yes, really), and it’s the historical basis for the vampire myth, too, all of which makes eclipses weirdly personal for me. My life is fairly normal now, by the way—but it took a long time to get there.

Eclipses. They’re a time of reflection, renewal, and rebirth, letting go of the old, shedding what’s not working anymore. Perhaps that’s why we’re so fascinated by them. And so it is, too, for the larger us. Civilization. Or at least it should be. Maybe this eclipse is a rare opportunity for us to begin to start…

Thinking Civilizationally

I’ve been wanting to express this idea for some time, so here’s a rough stab at it. The primary challenge for us in this day and age, this troubled time, is to begin thinking civilizationally.

What do I mean by that? It’s something so alien to us, still, that autocorrect won’t even accept the word “civilizationally.”

And yet we’re at a crucial juncture in the human story, all 300,000 years of it: the greatest turning point we’ve known yet. In the next decade or three, everything will be decided, for a very, very long time to come. Will we push the planet past breaking point, hitting tipping points, heading towards a hothouse future? Will democracy continue to implode? What are our economies going to be based on, now that they’re out of juice, for good? What about young people, the majority of whom think—no kidding, literally—that “humanity’s doomed”? Sorry—I’m not allowed to be a “doomer.” We’re all supposed to be cheery optimists these days. But let’s get real: 300,000 years of humanity have ended here.

Our civilization is not doing well.

And so we have to make a paradigm shift once again. This time, we must go from thinking in what I’ll call degraded terms, shrunken moral, economic, and social frames, dead ideologies, failed commandments, to thinking civilizationally.

Sorry. I still didn’t explain what the blazes I mean by that. So let me try again, this time using an example.

Part of my job is to teach you how to think civilizationally. 

I’ve been thinking about how to do that job for quite a while now. I’ve taught many people many things—in my past lives, I helped change how we think about the economy, and how institutions think about relationships and meaning. Now that we’ve entered a very different, far more turbulent era, I began to think…civilizationally. 

Only, go ahead and chuckle, nobody really understood what I meant. Apart from you gentle readers, I think, who intuitively get it, because you’ve been doing it too. So I struggled. I went away and thought and frowned and pondered and sort of internally groaned and moaned and do what I do best, which is sit at my favorite cafes and…

It finally occurred to me that the reason people had no idea what I meant was because the entire idea is foreign to them. It’s not real, yet. And so I reckoned I’d have to make it real.

GDP 2.0 and Paradigm Shifts

Did you read our GDP 2.0 report yet? That’s an example of helping you—maybe provoking you into—thinking civilizationally. Now, anyone should be able to understand what I mean—not just those of us who’ve been on the same wavelength for years now. The report shows that our economy, as a civilization is around 10% smaller than we imagine, once we include the costs of carbon, and it’s not “growing,” either, but shrinking, in real terms.

That’s an example of thinking civilizationally. It’s easy for me to say what it means—“in terms of civilization.” The problem is that because we don’t have the frameworks, tools, ideas, and even theories, yet, it’s very, very hard to even really sort of imagine. What the hell does this guy mean? What does this maniac want

So. Thinking civilizationally. Over the next few months, and maybe even years, I’m going to help us all sort of grapple with this task, in hard ways, that make it very, very real. GDP 2.0 gives us all a picture of our civilization’s economy, as it really is—and we all know that old-school numbers aren’t really capturing the distress and pain people are facing. Next up, we’ll publish updated measures of all kinds of stuff—risk, “profits,” a sort of index for the future itself, and plenty more.

All of these are tools to help us…you got it…think civilizationally. I think that part of my job now is to do the heavy lifting, so everyone else has the “data,” as we say these days. So now you can say, simply, something like, Umair says that our economy’s stuck, and here’s the hard numbers to show it. Pretty simple, right? But it makes the job of thinking—or at least it should—much easier. 

That part is about reflecting. The what-we-do-during-eclipses thing. How’s my life gone? Where’s it going? I’m just another frail, mortal, wounded thing, walking this earth, in ignorance, in pain. What does it all mean? 

This is how we are going to have to think of our civilization, the larger “we,” too.

The Narrowing of Moral Vision in the 21st Century

That might sound trivial, but let me assure you it’s not. 

Think of how successful the ultra far right has been not just at sort of wrecking democracy, but narrowing people’s minds. Putting blinkers on their moral vision, and even their ideas of selfhood. 

We call that process of the degradation of thought “nationalism,” sometimes, but the truth is it’s gone much, much deeper. People’s minds have been reduced from maybe, for a glimmering moment in history there, a few decades where minds opened, and they considered the world, or the planet, and so forth…right back to thinking just about…themselves. In smaller and smaller terms. So first, their countries. Then, their “nations,” as defined by blood and purity. Then, maybe even just their “races,” or “identities,” whatever fine-grained and arbitrary absurd distinctions lie beyond all that.

Over the last two decades, the world has undergone a shattering process of going blinder and blinder. You can hardly talk about “the world” or “the planet” or any macro-scale of organization anymore without instantly sort of getting vitriol in response from ultra-nationalists, or those who think that it’s their “race” or social group against all the rest, and so forth and so on. 

Humanity’s moral vision has been dramatically diminishing and narrowing. We have cataracts in our eyes. At precisely the moment that we need to open them wider and clearer than ever. Because how else do you think we’re going to get out of all these messes that add up to “polycrisis,” which is a term that understates the truth: 300,000 years of the human journey have led us to this point of worldwide breakdown, with fewer and fewer and ways out.

The future shouldn’t have been like this. And if we’re going to undo the shrinking of the human mind, the narrowing of moral vision, that humanity’s been victim to, pushed by fanatics and lunatics, aided by altogether too much money and power, then we’re going to have to teach everyone, or at least those who are still uncomfortable with the idea that this—violence, hate, ruin—is all there is left, that we must make a paradigm to thinking civilizationally.

Again, I want to emphasize that, so let me provoke you for a moment. How likely is it, if you met ten people just this day, that seven, eight, nine of them would be self-defined “nationalists,” or wedded to thinking in other ways that put fine-grained, artificial divisions first? And how many people would proudly describe themselves as sort of “human beings” or “members of civilization” first? You get my point, maybe. The narrowing of moral vision over the last two decades is intensely real—not just an opinion—because it’s what underlies the death of democracy, the reversal of progress, the stalled fight against climate change, the skyrocketing of inequality, and so much more.

The Great Regression

So. To think civilizationally is to expand one’s moral circle. 

Let’s define that quickly. The immediate moral circle: your family. Then comes, maybe, your town or city. Then your region. Then your nation. Somewhere in there, right past or just at that threshold, for many, lies your “race” or religion and so on. Humanity, nature, the planet, the future, the unborn, history—all these barely exist to people at all.

That is a set of values. An obsolete set of values. It has to change. Not just because I say so, but because the human journey cannot go any further than this unless it does.

I’m under no illusion that people will ever value, say, the lives of trees more than their loved ones. Nor should they, perhaps. But what does have to happen, for the human journey to enter a new chapter, is for that old hierarchy of values to finally shatter. That which is not valued at all anymore must now be seen to have intrinsic and inherent worth, whether it’s nature, the future, the unborn, each other, and so on. Isn’t Gaza a sort of demonstration of the horror that ensues when we allow our moral vision to narrow to the point that we forget what every life is worth?

The old moral circle is a kind of hierarchy, of gender, “race,” class, “nationality,”—all these constructs that have accompanied us through the human journey, and especially the stages leading up to this breakdown. Remember eclipses? We let what’s not working go. This time, in our civilizational eclipse, we are going to have to let these old values go.

If we don’t, the future doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just the past. See how history’s repeating itself, from the rise of fascism, to skyrocketing gilded-age inequality, to supremacism and demagoguery, to social rupture, right down to the horror of war, accompanied by the senselessness of hate? This is the anti-future, which means: our civilization’s tomorrows, on the path we’re on, are a turbo-charged rewind through history. Now, we can only go backwards, unless we change paradigms, values, choices, and then institutions, possibilities, and behaviors.

The Next Step in Humanity’s Journey 

We can—let me say it again—only go backwards now, if we fail this test. That is the turning point we’re at. There is no way forwards for us now without shedding the burdens that are no longer working for us. Our next step can only forged in the act of setting them down, because they are too heavy for us to ford the river and cross the mountain before us with.

All of that is why I’m beginning to publish all this research. You don’t have to call it that if you don’t want—it’s not sort of academic research, but I suppose at a level that should guide even that, a framework for aspiring grad students, bright minds, tomorrow’s PhDs, and whatnot, at the nerdiest level. Just think of it, perhaps, as a way to begin…

Thinking civilizati—sorry, let’s not even use that phrase anymore. Letting what’s not working go, so that we can take the next step in the human journey. 

Instead of simply retracing the ones that got us here, faster and faster, as we descend into the abyss of regress, accompanied by all the demons Pandora’s box ever opened, from greed to hate to vengeance to the politics of authoritarianism to inequality that’d put Rome to shame and beyond. We should have had a better future than this, and now, it’s to create one.

It’s funny. Most of the time, I’m watching, observing, thinking, reflecting. People think it’s funny, cute, and a little silly. The tough guy in the leather jacket and boots (that’s so the sunlight doesn’t kill me, but they don’t know that)…with a tiny grinning white dog on his lap, at his side, saying hi to them. Snowy and me. We’re a team. I didn’t know a man and a dog could be a team, until we met. I’m an idiot at being a normal person. My moral vision expanded because of the little guy—exploded outwards, like a supernova. And everything before? Looks kind of like an eclipse.

Maybe you see the point of my little story. Our moral vision is going to have to explode outwards at the speed of light for us to have a chance at taking the next step in the human journey. That’s not just my job. It’s all of ours. 

Thanks for reading, and here’s a big hug from the little guy.

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