For those who have been fearing that things have gotten so crazy that civilization might collapse, take heart! It has already happened. You have survived. We are now in the ruins of civilization. Each action we take, large or small, is shaping the new world that will grow up out of the ruins of this one.
In 1851 Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, “We should see the scientific, literary and artistic Zeitgeist declared bankrupt about every thirty years: for during this period the errors contained in it have grown to such proportions as to crush it by the weight of their absurdity, while the opposing view has at the same time been strengthened by them.”
This is what has happened. This time it’s not a world war that swept away the previous civilization, it’s a deadly viral storm. But it has already killed more Americans than World War II. It is laying the foundation for the next world. It already has changed the world, fundamentally, at its core.
In America, in the world at large, we were ready for big change. We had outgrown the last cycle of history. The old system became ingrown, with useless vestigial organs, overburdened with baggage from the past, old ways of doing things that were outmoded, ineffectual, due for overhaul.
Michael Moore in 2016 reported that many of the people who voted for Trump didn’t particularly like him or agree with him, but were just so frustrated with the political system they wanted to throw a bomb into it. And Trump, probably even more so than many of his supporters would have actually wanted, came through with that promise. He has blown it all up.
So here we are in the ruins. And many people will confess to you now that they don’t want to go back to the old normal, even if it were possible. And it clearly is not. Every day we get further away from that old normal, that now-extinct world, and the new world continues to take shape around us.
It’s a volatile time, a time when there is tremendous energy crackling in the air, like an electrical storm, but not the regular meteorological kind, but rather a storm in human affairs.
It is a time that is ripe for new ideas, new ways of doing things. It seems that if someone has a good idea, now is a good time to come forth with it. The world has been exploded into fragments, and as the pieces fall back to earth and the dust clears, we will see that the foundation of the new world has been laid while our eyes were blinded by flying debris, while most of us were not aware that the old world was just a ghost.
The global viral attack that has beaten humanity into submission has brought to mind a term I have not heard for a long time: Noosphere. The concept was developed by the Jesuit Priest, paleontologist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and the Russian-Ukrainian geologist and geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky in the 1920s. It refers to the realm of mental activity, the field of consciousness that surrounds the earth.
Linguistically, the word “noosphere” is analogous to terms from the earth sciences: atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water) and lithosphere (land). The term “biosphere” was coined in 1875 by geologist Eduard Suess, to refer to the realm of living things on the surface of the earth.
Vernadsky saw the noosphere as the third stage of the earth’s development after the geosphere (inanimate matter) and the biosphere (biological life).
The term “cybersphere” came much later, after the development of the field of cybernetics in the 1940s. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it refers to the realm of information technology and electronic communication, especially the Internet.
The emergence of the cybersphere amplified the evolution of the noosphere. It created an infrastructure for a sort of world brain, which we now experience through the Internet.
Now the global pandemic of COVID-19 has provided a focal point for the world’s consciousness.
Never before the emergence of COVID-19 has so much of the world’s consciousness been focused on one single thing. If the noosphere is the layer of mental activity in the world, surely it reached a new level of development with the shockwave launched by COVID-19.
That’s what put us in a new world. Now were are watching the manifestations of that change unfold. The Black Lives Matter movement was catalyzed by the death of George Floyd, but it represents an explosion of anger, frustration and heartbreak of countless such incidents going back centuries.
This explosion leading to a new level of intensity and focus in civil rights consciousness happened in the midst of the COVID crisis that we’re still in the middle of. Whether it could have happened without the COVID crisis no one can know. But the explosion of the long-simmering issues did actually happen in the aftermath of the shockwave that COVID shot around the world, in the new environment created by the pandemic.
The change is already manifest. Now we are just watching the chain reactions of that seismic shift in human affairs.
The new civil rights movement took place in what is already the new world created when COVID shattered the old one.
Here we are.
It’s going to be really interesting.
David Cogswell publishes HeadBlast.