February Gloom

by Stan Hirst

Even though February was the shortest month of the year, sometimes it seemed like the longest -J.D. Robb

From my perspective on a dark and gloomy Vancouver North Shore being assailed by interminable chilly rain February absolutely seems like the longest month. And the whole world seems dark and gloomy. Environment Canada says we have just had the fifth wettest January on record. The trend is set.

Its actually a most appropriate backdrop from which to consider the world situation right now.  Its depressing and made more so by the unfettered barrage of negative news delivered non-stop from a multitude of TV talking heads and contained within rain-sodden pages of the daily papers.

News commentators view the US presidential decision to transfer the American embassy to Jerusalem as a strategic and political move. However, to many Christian evangelicals (who make up 26% of the U.S population) Jerusalem is of special significance. It is tied into the concept of the rapture — a time when, according to evangelical tradition, believing Christians will be suddenly and unexpectedly “raptured” up to heaven before the events that presage the end of the world. In most accounts of the rapture, believers go straight to heaven while nonbelievers are left behind to undergo a period of political chaos and personal torment.

Are we living in some kind of “end time” now?  Theatrics aside, we are definitely living in a highly altered world of rapidly and visibly changing climate, massive disruption of terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, and burgeoning  and shifting human populations. Its not just that so many of the basic physical, ecological, social and political parameters have changed and now approach breaking points.  The thought that we are at some kind of breaking point has now become a point of focus.

Its hugely ironic that we now sit in this situation while at the same time being in possession of more scientific knowledge and technology than at any point in the whole history of our Earth.  There is more computing power in the laptop in front of me than there was in the whole IBM mainframe computer I timidly used just a half-century ago.  We know what is on the other side of the moon, we have closeup imagery of the surface of Mars, we can dissect and manipulate strands of DNA to produce new forms of life.  But we can’t stop ourselves from destroying the very foundations of the global ecological system that gave us life in the first place.  The ridiculousness is all too much for an eldering brain to embrace.

In his book Cosmos and Psyche, Richard Tarnas addresses this very question.  He believes that we are fundamentally unable to comprehend the greater perspective.  As a global society we suffer from a profound metaphysical disorientation and groundlessness.  Something essential is  missing, and it is tempting for many to think it might be on the spiritual level.

Pope Francis, 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, took a brave chance at responding to this type of global challenge back in 2015 and produced his 2nd encyclical Laudato Si. This emphasized connectedness and the need for global action, both socially and politically. The document has been read by millions worldwide but seems to have become more of a polemic than a mode of genuine transition to something better.

Ken Wilber, the creator of Integral Theory (or The Theory of Everything), provides another type of framework for (the attempt at) the understanding of what is going on with our planet and ourselves.  Often difficult to understand, at least to this Elder brain, the theory postulates four levels of universal consciousness, coded ‘red’, ‘amber’, ‘orange’ and ‘green’.

The world was once at the red level (egocentric, self-referential, instinctual), followed by amber (ethnocentric, authoritarian, pre-modern) and lately at the orange level (world-centric, rational, individualistic, modern). Apparently back in the sixties we started to move onto the green level (world centered, pluralistic, post-modern)

Wilber postulates that, somewhere along the way, Green  began to wander off course, increasingly caught in some internal contradictions that were inherent in its worldview from the start (e.g. maybe there are no such things as the widely supposed universal truth and universal values in the first place).

This brings me to the point I feared when I started penning this piece in the first place. I really don’t know how to end on a positive note.

Certainly, the world will continue to unravel the complexities of our existence, from the very, very large (think deep space and black holes) to the very small (snippets of DNA being coerced to do magical things). New ideas will come and go, hopefully some will leave a residue behind. The kids will grow up and hopefully be much better at this existence business than we Elders.

But I fear the wars, greed, interminable bickering, and upsurges of horrible diseases and ecological afflictions will also go on.  Why will the search for the magic bullet not continue to be an utterly futile quest?

It has stopped raining. I’m going out to clean the gutters.



  1. Not often I see Ken Wilber referenced in an environmental piece. He seems to me to be optimistic “Greens” failed to integrate the egocentric / ethnocentric population into its global / ecological system and the plain folk got angry and voted for Trump to spite the “urban elites” who run things. Once they see that Trump is MORE deplorable than they are they will see that the way forward is not “America first” but the “we are all in this together” systems view. It is not so much Left-wing or Right-wing problem as it is – in the current vernacular – being “woke”.

  2. Interesting writings, Stan. And a great ending. Just think, cleaning the gutters allows the rain to get better distributed and to take on the job of keeping the gutters clean. There is a place and purpose to all this rain! And you have demonstrated that one can take a small but concrete action to help the water cycle continue. Now if only we could control world meteorology better so Cape Town wasn’t suffering a drought and we weren’t suffering quite so much for the continual rains here.

  3. Systems thinking gets you into boxes you can’t get out of. For designing an electrical or fluid system it has some use. The periodic table is useful. But people are too complicated. People today, some of them, are egocentric, ethnocentric, pre- and post-modern, individualistic and communal, etc. etc. To suggest we evolve or grow from one state to another is oversimplification. You’re on much more solid ground when you accept that new ideas come and go. Always have, always will. As to whether future generations will be better at “this existence business” than our generations – if they continue to exist they will be no better and no worse. Progress is not a useful concept to apply to human existence. You sound like someone in the late 1880s or 1890s upset by this new theory of evolution. Pish — ideas are just ideas. Our duty is simply to care for our natural world in order to increase the odds that future generations will indeed be able to exist.

  4. Neale: we humans have been systematizing concepts, information and data ever since our ancestors first scribbled things on cave walls. It’s the way we move forward. Simplification is the extraction of truth and basic principles from masses of observations and ideas. The social sciences and politics are no different to biology, earth sciences and astronomy in that regard.
    Future generations will be no better and no worse (than present generations)? I don’t believe there is any comparison between my life and those of my grandparents in terms of quality of life, health care, avoidance of civil and military strife, social progress, attitudes or opportunities.

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