Deep Restoration: from The Great Implosion to The Great Awakening

In this short essay Professor Barry K. Gills offers reflections on the three major crises wreaking havoc in the world today. These are: climate change and ecological breakdown; the systemic crisis of capitalist world order and the current global pandemic of COVID-19, which together will bring about a radical systemic transformation.

Editorial piece by Professor Barry K. Gills

We are living in a time of exception. A time when the existing order is open to question.

In this short essay (originally published in Globalizations) I wish to make some initial reflections in response to the present ‘triple conjuncture’ of global crises. This triple conjuncture is an interaction among three spheres or vectors of global crises, together constituting a crisis of capitalist world order. The three spheres of the global crisis are: climate change and ecological breakdown; a systemic crisis of global capitalism and neoliberal economic globalization; and the current global pandemic of COVID-19. The three spheres are deeply interrelated and now rapidly interacting. Their combined effects will bring radical systemic transformation.

What do these crises represent? How do we understand the meaning and causes of this comprehensive global crisis? Long-established patterns have produced all three vectors. None of them are simply short-term phenomena. The mentalities, structures, and practices that have produced the global climate change and ecological crisis are the deepest historically, but these have accelerated and widened in their destructive tendencies dramatically over the past few decades. That recent increase in scale and acceleration in the speed and extent of such destructiveness is closely related to the onset and deepening of neoliberal economic globalization over the past few decades, which has been a crucial driver of the climate change and global ecological crisis. The present pandemic is to some extent a consequence of decades of environmental degradation, and increasing destruction and intrusion by human beings into numerous ecological systems. Now, all the cumulative entropic tendencies of historical time are being combined and compressed into the present. The world as we know it is literally breaking down. We are living in The Great Implosion.

We shall need new forms of collective human consciousness; a new type of global social covenant; new forms of appropriate technology; and new forms of appropriate lifestyle.

But we have the greatest capacity for reflexive learning and communication in human history. Radical transformative praxis is both a product of this history and the only hope for the future. As the existing order begins to disintegrate a new social order must be built through deploying our collective radical imagination. We shall need new forms of collective human consciousness; a new type of global social covenant; new forms of appropriate technology; and new forms of appropriate lifestyle.

The most existentially threatening of the three crises in the long term is the climate change and ecological crisis: which itself is accelerating and deepening as a consequence of neoliberal economic globalization. As the current pandemic eventually recedes we must refocus our attention on addressing the climate change and ecological crisis with all urgency, and act together decisively to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by half by the year 2030. The fiscal and monetary response of numerous governments to the present pandemic may well be a factor leading to a similar and even larger emergency response to the global climate change crisis. The precedent has now been set for governments to mobilize resources in the midst of an imminent crisis that threatens the human security of their population. The pandemic is at present further accelerating a crisis in global capitalism: triggering steep economic contraction; rise in bankruptcies; sequential and large debt crises; very high unemployment; increasing poverty … Long-term crisis tendencies have been building in the global system before and after the great financial crisis of 2008. The ratio of debt to GDP at the global level is now at its highest level in history, and years of quantitative easing combined with austerity measures have weakened the capacity of both states and society to cope with a new global financial crisis. Serious disruption of globalized production and supply chains caused by the pandemic would be amplified in a systemic financial crisis, with severe damage to all economies and especially to those in the global south still over-dependent on natural resource extraction and primary commodity export.

The contraction in economic activity, however, in general, reduces local and global levels of pollution, e.g. the steep reduction in private travel, especially flying, brings some needed reduction in carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and even carbon monoxide emissions … thus slowing the rate of increase of cumulative GHGs in the atmosphere. The pandemic shutdown of polluting industries has graphically illustrated both the horrific extent of daily ‘normal’ pollution to the planet by our economic activity, while at the same time paradoxically showing us exactly how quickly and dramatically we could (and should) reduce global emissions to address the global climate emergency.

The time we had grown accustomed to feel -- as normality, and to regard as the only reality -- is now suddenly exposed as only one stream of time. And that Time is now decelerating … giving us a pause. Time to stop. Time to think. Time to awaken. A different reality is possible. 

The combination of all three crises brings the hitherto accelerating linear time of modernity into deceleration, into a pause. This space provides a time of awakening … to the deep malaise of our civilization. This awakening will generate a realization of common interests, producing social compassion and mutual aid. The crisis is producing a realization that a different social reality is possible. Where the experience of collective being starts to take precedence over egoistic individualism.

In conclusion, these are my hopes for deep restoration: how in the midst of deepening global crises there will emerge transformation:

A deep restoration of the spiritual inner life of humanity: towards a post materialistic philosophy. A deep restoration of the awareness of the necessity for maintaining ecological balance within the context of earth system dynamics. A deep restoration of the ethics of harmony with the web of life, including not only all species of creatures but also with the water, the oceans, the forests, and the soils of the earth, in which we are deeply embedded and mutually interdependent. A deep restoration of the Culture of Peace, including social peace, founded on bonds of kindness and mutual respect; and the final realization of international peace. This global culture of peace will be a historical necessity in the near future, as the great implosion of the existing capitalist world order produces ever greater danger and an urgency to refocus our resources on preserving life and transforming our life. Global de-militarization and disarmament will be a necessary part of this transformation, producing a new type of world order based on cooperation and mutual support. A deep restoration of the spirit of human solidarity and unity. New forms of social solidarity and global solidarity and internationalism are emerging: we must move now rapidly towards a post-nationalist mentality, based on our common human interests. A deep restoration of the idea and practices of the Commons: strengthening the principle of collective interests to take full precedence over egoistic individualism. The idea of the commons in the ‘economy’ and in society will bring into being a new form of economy, embedding greater equality and democracy, with decentralized democratic decision making, and post-patriarchal equality throughout society.

The time we had grown accustomed to feel and were socialized to understand as normality, and to regard as the only reality (i.e. the linear time of capitalist modernity) is now suddenly exposed as only one stream of time. And that Time is now decelerating … giving us pause. Time to stop. Time to think. Time to awaken. A different reality is possible. It is we who must respond to the crisis and collectively create a different future.