Another day, another political crisis in Australia. What is becoming clear is that the uncertainty that has been playing out for months in Canberra, the farcical machinations and media frenzy, are fuelling a growing sense of despair in the community.
As someone who pays attention to the news, I could be swept up in the media wash of events as they happen blow-by-blow, but I’m interested in going deeper to see what patterns or truths lie underneath.
To me the current volatility in Australian politics, perhaps unprecedented at federal and state levels, mirrors the volatility and shakiness of other societal systems and institutions. If the strength of an institution is measured by popular faith in it, few in Australia are not in trouble. Disillusionment, cynicism and outright hostility are commonly expressed not just at the state of politics, but the economic system, the media, large corporations like banks and mining companies, the legal and health systems.
More broadly, there is a global volatility that is unsettling the foundations of much that has held certain for a long time. Take the ongoing crises of capitalism and the dire economic circumstances of countries in Europe; or the Catholic Church with its urgent need for reform and reinvention.
And then there’s the rapidly changing and uncertain state of the Earth’s climate. In the currently dominant Western worldview, which emerged out of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, humanity sees itself as separate from, and masters over, nature. Yet the development of science has led to conclusions that, in fact, the planet is an interconnected web of systems and relations and no single strand of life is truly separate from any other. What happens in one part of the globe is related to, and in turn affects, what is going on somewhere far away. What one species does has ramifications for many others.
The volatility in human societies and global climate change are not coincidental forces. They are related by the simple fact that humans are a species on planet Earth and as such reflect and affect the whole. It’s a measure of our present culture’s narrow vision that we only see the largest impacts of climate change like extreme weather, droughts, bushfires and the like – the mundane reality is that as the planet changes, so do we. Our societies change, our institutions change, our psychology changes, our way of life and our way of seeing ourselves and the world changes. It’s merely a commonsense observation that if humans are not separate, we are subject to change on many levels.
One of the great potentials of change for us, I believe, is that very recognition of belonging to and being part of the Earth, its life and cycles. The old Western worldview which crowned humanity as independent and superior to all other creation has to give way to something much more humble and nuanced. And, indeed, change is already afoot: there is a growing view of humans as stewards or guardians of life and its diversity. This perspective appears in the most recent documentaries of David Attenborough and seems to be increasingly informing conservation work across the globe. While I welcome it, I think it’s an intermediate step to something else, that being a holistic, earth-centred paradigm in which we experience ourselves as one with nature. This can only come about with a spiritual awakening.
The recent summer in Australia was the hottest since records began. In some towns in the interior the temperature stayed above 40 degrees Celsius for weeks, while Sydney and Hobart had their hottest days ever. Heat produces flux and movement, and is the catalyst for transformation. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus saw “fire” as the primal element behind all change, an instrument serving the divine Logos.
Perhaps this country, becoming hotter year by year, allows us a privileged position to see and take part in transformation. Maybe this will be the cauldron in which the ingredients for the new paradigm properly cohere. Whatever happens in coming years and decades, we are in for a period of heightened volatility and change.