Everywhere I look, I see wrecking balls: worldwide cataclysmic natural climatic events that seem more appropriately to be found in disaster movies like 2012; the collapse or wobbling of many of the political structures and systems our generation has taken for granted; massive global unrest; a great deal of nuclear sabre-rattling. But I’m taking all of this as a positive sign.
For the last decade, commentators of every variety have been scratching around, trying to get a handle on the collective significance of the continuous crises besetting us in modern times: banking crises, terrorist crises, sovereign-debt crises, climate-change crises, energy crises, food crises, ecological crises, manmade and otherwise.
"The world as we know it is going down,” a Wall Street broker told reporters nearly 10 years ago, in September 2008, after Lehman Brothers collapsed and Morgan Stanley threatened to follow suit.
And the short answer to this is, yes it is. And the other answer to that is: hey, that’s not such a bad thing.
From my perspective, the crises we face on many fronts are symptomatic of a deeper problem, with more potential repercussions than those of any single cataclysmic event. They are simply a measure of the vast disparity between our definition of ourselves and our truest essence.
For hundreds of years we have acted against nature by ignoring our essential connectedness and defining ourselves as separate from our world.
We’ve reached the point where we can no longer live according to this false view of who we really are. What’s ending the story we’ve been told up until now about who we are and how we’re supposed to live — and in this ending, lies the only path to a better future.
And the reason I’m so heartened about these wrecking balls is that they are simply magnifying this end to our current way of thinking and being – and the younger generation completely gets this.
During a trip to New York in early December, I read an article in the New York Times describing a debate concerning whether we should scrap capitalism. The case against capitalism was offered by its hosts, the socialist magazine Jacobin, and the argument for the defense was represented by editors from the libertarian publication Reason.
Now, ordinarily, this kind of worthy event, held by a niche magazine, might draw a respectable, but modest crowd. In the event, tickets for the 450 seats in the first venue sold out in a single day.
When Jacobin moved it to a venue twice as big, all those extra tickets sold out in eight hours.
The author of the article, Michelle Goldberg, was the moderator, and when she arrived, she said, the line to get in snaked around for blocks. “Walking to the door,” she wrote, “I felt like I was on the guest list at an underground nightclub.”
Most of the attendees were in their 20s and 30s – the millennial generation – searching for a system that works better for their generation than the one that prevails at present. And this wasn’t a one-off situation; millennials are flooding into political meetings too.
To young people in the US and the UK, faced with an inability to afford the skyrocketing costs of property ownership or education, or enormous personal debt if they do manage to, and the prospect of higher taxes over most of their lives to pay for skyrocketing national debt, “capitalism, says Goldberg, “looks like the god that failed.”
What they see – in fact, what increasing numbers of people see – says Goldberg, “is the raw exercise of power by a tiny unaccountable minority that believes in its own superiority.
“You don’t have to want to abolish capitalism to understand why the prospect is tempting to a generation that’s being robbed.”
Searching for a new system
Given the big support that millennials gave Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, it seems increasingly clear to me that this generation is desperately searching for a new way forward by questioning the very foundations of our current story, not only about our economic system, but all our ways of doing things.
The very systems we have taken for granted as imperfect, but something we’re essentially stuck with, are now completely up for grabs.
The other reason I’m heartened is that millennials are trying to see what else is out there. We hear that millennials are losing their ability to concentrate on anything longer than a text message, but it's emphatically not true. Millennials are reading in record numbers - and reading more than people over 30.
They get that we’re writing a new scientific story, demonstrating our interdependence and interconnectedness, which has implications in every regard.
As I wrote 10 years ago, if we’re not separate, as the new science shows us, “we have to imagine another way to live, an entirely new way to be. We have to blow up all our societal creations and begin again, building over scorched ground.”
The wrecking balls are doing the job for us more efficiently than we could on our own. And now, with the sudden engagement of this new generation, we’re being introduced to the new architects.