the centre cannot hold

It is increasingly clear we can never return to life as we knew it several decades ago. It is difficult to know where we will go, where we can go from here. Difficult to make sense of what is happening.

After I had written this, I received the latest article from a thinker I follow, umair haque.

When I look at the world today, I see something chilling. Collapse is already here — and it’s spreading. And next to it is the curious juxtaposition of pretending that life will go on “normally.” I’ve warned for some time now that we’re entering an age of collapse, where our great systems will fail — and if you look around now, you can see it beginning to happen.

We’re going to talk about this in three forms — political, economic, and social systems — and on two levels, national and global systems. What’s alarming — oh no, am I an alarmist? — is that now our systems are visibly beginning to fail, and fail incredibly swiftly, in all of those ways.

Collapse Is Already Here — And It’s Spreading. I Don’t Know If You’ve Noticed — But Our Systems are Breaking Down by umair haque, Eudaimonia, May 19, 2022

sensemaking–the action or process of making sense of or giving meaning to something, especially new developments and experiences.

…there remains the most existential risk of them all: our diminishing capacity for collective sensemaking. Sensemaking is the ability to generate an understanding of world around us so that we may decide how to respond effectively to it. When this breaks down within the individual, it creates an ineffective human at best and a dangerous one at worst.

Threats to sensemaking are manifold. Among the most readily observable sources are the excesses of identity politics, the rapid polarisation of the long-running culture war, the steep and widespread decline in trust in mainstream media and other public institutions, and the rise of mass disinformation technologies, e.g. fake news working in tandem with social media algorithms designed to hijack our limbic systems and erode our cognitive capacities. If these things can confound and divide us both within and between cultures, then we have little hope of generating the coherent dialogue, let alone the collective resolve, that is required to overcome the formidable global-scale problems converging before us.

At the collective level, a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems like those described above. When that happens, the centre cannot hold.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

It seems we’ve reached the point where the centre cannot hold, is not holding.

  • Our government systems are being hijacked by those intent on dismantling democracy. And they are succeeding. We have lost our voice in governance.
  • Complex global supply systems and the economies dependent on them are breaking down.
  • Environmental chaos is rapidly escalating.
  • There is increasing denial of facts and science.
  • There is widespread spiritual poverty.
  • Almost everyone is paralyzed by the onslaught of these crises.

I pray and try to make sense of where we are now and how to get where we want to be. Where do we want to be?

The answer has always been, and will always be, we want to be members of a community, communities. So much of what is wrong today is rooted in the many things that isolate us from being in community.

Recognizing the decline of our communities is not much of an insight, but we sometimes lose sight of the broader picture when confronted by one crisis after another, or multiple crises simultaneously.

My questions these days are which communities are important to me, and what is the health of them now? As James Allen wrote above, “a loss of sensemaking erodes shared cultural and value structures and renders us incapable of generating the collective wisdom necessary to solve complex societal problems”.

This is why I’m so invested in my Mutual Aid community. And am trying to find ways to bring more people into mutual aid communities.

Something important happens when we gather in pursuit of a common goal. First we form rituals that help us relate to and negotiate each other, everything from a civic tradition that allows anyone with a voice to be respectfully heard, to sharing food and music in the local town hall every Friday night, to a labour system that fairly distributes the burden of work. Then, those rituals that stand the test of time become embedded in daily life. The ritual activities themselves and the good they produce help a community identity take root. As identity strengthens, so too does our sense of connectedness — our sense of affection, responsibility and obligation — to one another. When this happens, we then share a greater capacity for coherence and cooperation. And where we share greater capacity for coherence and cooperation there is also greater resilience: the ability to mobilise skills and resources to support the emergence of collective intelligence in response to crisis, enable rapid adaptation and ensure the continuity of the most important functions and structures of the community. This coherent togetherness and the collective intelligence that emerges out of it is the source of human strength and ingenuity. Within it lies our ability to transition from one evolutionary niche to another, even against the odds.

Pontoon Archipelago or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Collapse. By James Allen, originally published by Medium, June 18, 2019

The other community important to me is my faith community. I’ll wait for another time to talk about that.

Let this darkness be a bell tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29. By Rainer Maria Rilke

One thought on “the centre cannot hold

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s