Ed. note: Excerpted from the final two chapters of Jeremy Lent’s award-winning book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, (Prometheus, 2017) which explores the different ways cultures have patterned meaning into the cosmos, and reveals how various worldviews arose and shaped the course of history. The book uncovers the hidden foundations of our modern unsustainable worldview, and offers a potential vision for a more harmonious future. Jeremy is founder of the nonprofit Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering an integrated worldview that could enable humanity to flourish sustainably on the earth. More info: jeremylent.com.
The reasons our civilization continues hurtling towards a precipice are multi-layered. There are some readily identifiable factors; underpinning these are certain structural characteristics of our global system that lock in our current momentum; and underlying these are cognitive frames – mostly concealed – that form the basis for our collective behavior. Each of these layers must be addressed to make a meaningful course correction.
The easily identifiable forces propelling humanity on its current course are the special interests that gain financially and politically – at least, in the short-term – from continued economic growth and use of fossil fuels. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually in political lobbying and funding for those who deny the threat of anthropogenic climate change. They currently exert enough power over the U.S. legislative process to thwart meaningful legislation at the national level.
However, even without these special interests, some structural characteristics of our global system make it very difficult to change direction. One of these is known as technological lock-in: the fact that, once a technology is widely adopted, an infrastructure is built up around it, making change prohibitively expensive.
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