Peter Healy

The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History

This is the most arresting title I have seen on a book in a long while. I was compelled to read it. Richard A Slaughter has in my opinion written an important book here. It is about the “civilisational moment” we find ourselves in at the beginning of the twenty first century. Slaughter is a futures and foresight practitioner and this book is a pertinent piece of writing that shows the usefulness of this field when applied to our contemporary global challenges of climate change, global warming and peak oil. The author is clear about the challenge we face when he says, “Humanity has become a global force in its own right and one that is degrading the global commons at a frightening rate.” He notes that part of our wake up call will involve revising our favoured cultural assumptions: first that we are in control, secondly that the environment is a set of resources awaiting human use, thirdly that energy will continue to be available and affordable, fourthly that growth can continue without any limits and finally that technology will secure our collective futures on Earth.

What I enjoyed most of all about this readable book is the emphasis he places on the need for individual interior change. The civilisational challenge we face is ourselves: namely our perceptions, our values and our worldviews. The source of our pathologies is inside us and the solutions to these pathologies also lie within us. We need courage to face what we know and the energy and capacity to act. Slaughter makes considerable use of the Ken Wilber integral development / vision map. He elaborates on the different domains of this map: our internal experiences, our collective cultures, our external behaviours and our social systems and institutions. Slaughter sees this map as an aid in finding the necessary reserves for the civilisational challenge ahead. This map, in particular the individual interior domain, is one place where “courage, energy and capacity” can be found and climate research is only beginning to attend to these interior realities. He reviews the current literature on climate change and finds much of it wanting in the domain of individual interior life where we have our morals, our values, our spirituality and our interpersonal and aesthetic potentials. This inner world of individuals he calls, “the hidden landscape of human identity, purpose and motivation.”

Slaughter makes it clear we are in the midst of a planetary emergency. He talks about a “perfect storm” bearing down on humanity. Only open and prepared minds can see the dangers ahead. Slaughter talks about “social foresight” now being a structural necessity. We all have the capacity for it. Such foresight will enable us to see that we are much closer to the very brink than most of us realise.

Slaughter invites the reader to go beyond collapse to a new narrative. He thinks we still have time to design pathways that will lead to a civilisational escape route. We need to wake up to the fact that we are applying old solutions to new situations with decreasing success. We also tend to see ourselves as “masters of creation” with nothing but the laws of physics standing in our way. We take ourselves “out of history” seeing ourselves as exempt from the trajectory of collapse. Slaughter calls for a new narrative around “descent” knowing that this is a new way of being and acting that is currently outside the frame of most peoples thinking.

As we race towards our massively carbon producing / polluting rugby world cup I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a “wake up call” about what is really important for our world and where we need to go find the solutions for the civilisational moment we are all present to. You might also consider getting your local library to purchase this book.

From Tui Motu Inter Islands Magazine, New Zealand, July 2011, p. 28.