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Father John Walsh

Is there a dark age in our future?

Jane Jacobs in Dark Age Ahead wrote that first we must concede that things are awry. Jacobs identifies five central pillars of our society that show serious signs of decay: community and family; higher education; science and technology; governmental representation; and self-regulation of the learned professions. Jacobs maintains that they are in the process of becoming irrelevant. If that happens, we will no longer recognize ourselves.

Yuval Noah Harrari in Sapiens -- A Brief History of Humankind reflects that the family and community have been weakened over the last two centuries. The Industrial Revolution brought about dozens of major upheavals in human society and all are dwarfed by the most momentous social revolution that ever befell humankind: the collapse of the family and the local community and their replacement by the state and the market.

We are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seen to be more irresponsible than ever. We are accountable to no one. We are consequently wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the surrounding ecosystem, seeking little more than our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction. Harrari concludes: Perhaps the real question facing us is not “What do we want to become?” but “What do we want to want?” Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.

A dark age is a culture’s dead end. Attawapasit is a Northern Ontario Native Reserve where young people are committing suicide at an alarming rate, a dark age that may well indicate that culture’s dead end. In Alberta 100 young people in one year overdosed on fentanyl and that is a dark age that points to Canadian culture’s dead end.

Returning to Jacobs, she asks, What are the true harbingers of an unhealthy cultural base? Jacobs identifies the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next as vitally important, and sees the trend towards replacing intellectual mentorship with what she calls "credentialing" at universities and other institutions of higher education as very dangerous indeed. "My impression is that university-educated parents or grandparents of students presently in university do not realize how much the experience has changed since their own student days, nor do the students themselves, since they have not experienced anything else," Jacobs writes. "Only faculty who have lived through the loss realize what has been lost. A vigorous culture capable of making corrective, stabilizing changes depends heavily on its educated people, and especially upon their critical capacities and depth of understanding.

Oliver Munday in The New York Times headline A New Dark Age Looms writes, imagine a future in which humanity’s accumulated wisdom about Earth — our vast experience with weather trends, fish spawning and migration patterns, plant pollination and much more — turns increasingly obsolete. As each decade passes, knowledge of Earth’s past becomes progressively less effective as a guide to the future. Civilization enters a dark age in its practical understanding of our planet. Science has accelerated this learning process through advanced observation methods and pattern discovery techniques. These allow us to anticipate the future with a consistency unimaginable to our ancestors. But as Earth warms, our historical understanding will turn obsolete faster than we can replace it with new knowledge. Some patterns will change significantly; others will be largely unaffected, though it will be difficult to say what will change, by how much, and when. Reinforcing Jacobs take on communicating to the next generation he writes: Our grandchildren could grow up knowing less about the planet than we do today. This is not a legacy we want to leave them. Yet we are on the verge of ensuring this happens.

Jeremy Rifkin concludes his book The Empathic Civilization –The Race To Global Consciousness In A World In Crisis with an extremely pertinent question: Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?

Hope can reverse the signs that lead to a dark age. Hope is in our hands.

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