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The Early Roots of a Modern Crisis

The Early Roots of a Modern Crisis

This is our challenge: to move a world of almost 8 billion people, most involved in an economic system with tremendous inequality, a clear imperative to expand, and a chronic tendency to stagnate, toward some real rapprochement with earth. This is a monumental challenge. If nothing else, the Anthropocene idea is the truth of the moment encapsulated as a geological epoch. Yet it explains little of the cause.

The question is how to explore social evolution in order to give insight appropriate to the historical moment. Engage for a moment in an exercise to reveal the complexity of social evolution. Begin with what we know about exponential growth—that it starts out slowly and finishes very rapidly. We are on the upper neck of an exponential flight but the structure and dynamic of this trajectory were in place long before the twentieth century and even long before the present world system (capitalism) took hold. We have to ask ourselves where we mark the inflection point where we entered this present phase of our social evolution. It is important to go beyond the Capitalocene if we are to understand how we ultimately landed where we are.

Let me offer two stylized economic systems in order to highlight something about the complexity of our social evolution as it pertains to this matter. The first is a hunting-and-gathering economic system where homo sapiens lived as minimalists, surplus did not exist, feedback loops prevented expansion, and humans were mostly independent and self-reliant (most could quite literally fend for themselves). Each human had an expansive knowledge of the more-than-human world, and they used that knowledge to garner their material necessities (food, shelter, clothing). One can argue that it was an economic system embedded in the rhythm and dynamic of the more-than-human world and did not have feedback loops of expansion.

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Lisi Krall, anthropocene, great transition initiative, economic systems, hunting-and-gathering, complex systems, feedback loops, exponential growth, evolution, social evolution

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