HOW CAN WE FACILITATE EVOLUTION?
"We have to promote a spiritual turn amongst those who are in the system and a systemic turn in those who are spiritual."
– Ronan Harrington
There are individual ways we can facilitate evolution, and there are collective ways in which we can restructure society so as to maximise our evolutionary potential. There are ways to participate actively in the evolution of human consciousness and culture or ways to safeguard the evolution of the biosphere on which human consciousness and culture depends. All are equally important.
And even within these four different approaches you can play a static or dynamic role. You can attempt to preserve, maintain and conserve the evolutionary gains made in the past, or you can attempt to innovate, iterate and create new variants for the biological/cultural melting pot.
From all these possibilities we can make a list of evolutionary behaviours or vocations. Conscious Evolution claims that following this list, and crucially, understanding why, will provide your life with meaning and purpose. The psychological studies are there to back up this claim.
The list is far from exhaustive. Some of these ideas may seem impossible to achieve, but the transition to Conscious Evolution brings unprecedented change within our reach. Just like a baby being born or a caterpillar emerging out of its cocoon, the patterns which came before are not predictors of what can come in the future.
The moment at which change becomes necessary for survival is the exact moment at which change becomes possible.
WHAT YOU CAN DO AS AN INDIVIDUAL
1) Take up a spiritual practice
If consciousness is evolving, then the first thing you can do to help this process along is to cultivate your own consciousness. Meditation, yoga, plant medicine, tai chi, qi gong, Sufism, ecstatic dance, all of these are tried and tested methods for enhancing consciousness. This will make all of the steps below far easier, if not completely natural. There is little more of use that can be said about spiritual practices here except, try them for yourself.
2) Free yourself from maladaptive behaviour
By cultivating our awareness we also help free ourselves from the dictates of our biological programming. We are saddled with all sorts of drives that evolved to help us survive and reproduce as hunter-gatherers, but many of these are no longer helpful in our radically altered modern context. In fact many of them lead us to behaviours which are directly detrimental to our evolutionary fitness, but because biological evolution is slow, it will be many generations before we lose these drives altogether.
Our love of sugar or meat are classic examples. Reward circuits in our brains evolved to reward us for eating meat and sugar because both were scarce – a hit of dopamine ensured that our ancestors ate as much as they could whenever the precious opportunity presented itself.
But now that meat and sugar are readily available, we eat too much; our taste for meat and sugar has become maladaptive. And so many people choose to override their taste for sugar or meat because they now know that it is not only injurious to their individual health, but catastrophic for the survival chances of our species as a whole.
If we want to put distance between ourselves and our maladaptive drives, we need to cultivate an awareness around our choices. Awareness creates choice, and choice creates change.
Although there are plenty of wrong turns and setbacks, the scale of cooperation tends to increase over the long term, spanning the history of life on earth from primordial soup to globalised human society. Simple prokaryotic cells worked together to form eukaryotic cells, competing eukaryotes got together to form co-operating groups of cells called multicellular organisms, groups of these multicellular organisms got together to form hives, shoals, and herds.
The process was repeated with humans. Bands got together to form tribes, tribes got together to form city states, city states got together to form nations, nations got together to form trading blocs and global institutions.
If we’re going to survive into the next century we need to take this all the way: either we go beyond nations and find a way for our species to work together as a single planetary organism, each of us like a cell living and working in the interests of the whole, or the ecological tragedy of the commons and international war tears us apart.
When you help out a stranger, or you donate effectively to charity or you break down cultural barriers, you bring the world one step closer to the united global society that alone can resolve the global problems which threaten our existence.
Nations only exist because we say they exist. They’re collective fictions. If we tell our children a different story, a story about the universality of mankind, a story which unites us in a great common enterprise, a story which speaks to the deep need we have for meaning and purpose, then that is the reality that we will create.
Conscious Evolution is that story.
As Terence Mckenna said: “Launch your meme boldly and see if it will replicate.” Evolution is a creative process, and cultural evolution is powered by human creativity. But you don’t have to be an artist to be creative. An entrepreneur hatching a business plan, an academic arguing a new thesis, a scientist coming up with a theory to test; these are all acts of creation.
Even in the very act of living, laughing and loving, we can be creative by being fully present and alive in the moment.
5) Discover & spread adaptive information
This covers a whole range of actions and vocations from sharing an article, to scientific research, to teaching primary school children. The point is this: a great new song, a medical cure, or a valuable philosophy can only benefit us all if it spreads. You can start by spreading Conscious Evolution!
Equally, co-operation can only evolve in large societies when we are given accurate information about whom we can trust and who we cannot. When all we get is lies, then evil can be allowed to flourish.
This can be reduced to a simple commandment: tell the truth.
6) Cultivate radical openness
Life is inherently unpredictable – rather than trying to predict the future, let’s aim to be as adaptable as possible. Travel, try new things, learn from different people. Hold your beliefs and habits lightly. Be prepared to be wrong about everything you know at the drop of a hat.
The more open-minded we are as individuals, the more adaptable our species becomes.
7) Live sustainably
We are currently living through a sixth mass extinction. A look at the latest climate change science suggests that man-made climate change could result in our extinction within the next 200 years. Whatever your views on climate change, the fact that this is even up for debate within the scientific community is sobering. The evolutionary process could be set back millions of years.
Many people are making noises about sustainable living, but information about what constitutes an effective intervention is not widely understood.
One of the most dramatic ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to eat less meat and dairy, particularly beef. Another way is to switch your home to a renewable energy provider. This can actually save you money. Flying less and driving less also have significant impacts.
WHAT WE CAN DO COLLECTIVELY
1) Form a united global society.
All of the most threatening problems humanity faces: inequality, climate change or nuclear war, are supranational problems which require international cooperation. As individual nations, the tragedy of the commons renders these problems insoluble. As a united humanity these problems disappear.
There are many schemes as to how a global society might function from the Venus Project to One Global Democracy, to Simpol and I won’t debate their merits here. But one way or another we must unite. Either we stand together or fall apart.
2) Debt Jubilee
Global debt is now more than three times the size of the global economy. There is more debt in the world than money. Third world countries are kept on their knees by an endless cycle of debt repayments, and Western governments spend vast proportions of their tax receipts on servicing debts instead of building hospitals or helping the poor.
Debt and compound interest puts individuals and governments on a treadmill. This has several disastrous effects: firstly it results in a boom and bust cycle, secondly it makes inequality a mathematical certainty, and finally it makes sustainability impossible.
Worse, if the economy does not grow to keep pace with the interest on the debt then the threat of depression, starvation and as history shows us, war, is always lurking in the background.
Central bankers are increasingly desperate; all the levers they normally pull are no longer working. A global debt jubilee would reset the clock and give us all some breathing space. Past civilisations have made use of periodic debt jubilees, there’s no reason why we couldn’t do the same. To find out more about the problems of debt and interest I recommend Charles Eisenstein or Bernard Lietaer.
3) Change the monetary system
Once we have wiped the debt we need to instantiate a new way of exchanging value which does not depend on the cancerous mechanism of debt and interest, and which is in harmony with the natural world. As Silvio Gesell said, “Only money that goes out of date like a newspaper, rots like potatoes, rusts like iron, evaporates like ether, is capable of standing the test as an instrument for the exchange of potatoes, newspapers, iron, and ether.”
There are many possible monetary system designs, the most prominent of which being a sovereign money system advocated by Positive Money.
4) Tackle Inequality
How many Shakespeares have we stifled because they were never taught how to write? How many Mozarts have we missed out on because they couldn’t afford a musical instrument? How many Ghandis who didn’t have access to a university?
As Abraham Maslow illustrated with his hierarchy of needs, when people are struggling to meet their basic needs, they do not have the time or resources to be creative, and this costs us all.
Furthermore inequality has been correlated with just about every social ill that we care about, including civilisation collapse.
The only way to tackle tax avoidance is international cooperation - otherwise a race to the bottom ensues with countries vying to have the lowest corporation tax.
This would pay for a social security net of basic human needs: a universal basic income provides a minimum level of material comfort so that no-one’s creative potential is being suffocated by poverty. When nobody is forced to work to survive everybody is free to do that which inspires them most. The world will be the richer for it.
5) Creativity in education
As Ken Robinson said in his famous TED Talk, “Creativity is as important as literacy, and it should be treated with the same status.”
In an age of automation we do not need to educate everybody so that they are capable of working in twenty different industries. However we are a long way away from machines who can replicate human creativity - that is where all the jobs will be.
Instead of trying to fit every child into the same box, we should be asking children what they enjoy doing and then encouraging them to go as far in that direction as possible. This means removing standardised testing and having far more flexible tailored approach to each young person’s education.
6) Aligning incentives
We can no longer afford to live in a world where the incentives of any agent in the system are misaligned with the incentives of the collective. Where a lack of accountability means that the rational thing for an individual to do is steal or cheat, when companies are free to externalise the costs of production to the environment to the point where we are destroying the very systems which sustain us, when the geopolitical cost of disarmament is potentially so high that governments are forced to compete in an arms race to the point where we now have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the entire population of the earth many times over…and yet still we keep building nuclear weapons.
Humans are evolutionary beings and as such we respond to incentives. You cannot expect us to make the ethically right decision when that decision is directly against our self-interest. The cells in our bodies do not cooperate with each other out of moral obligation to your body, they do so because the interests of the cell are totally aligned with the interests of the body as a whole.
Taxes, subsidies and well-designed currencies are all practical tools we can use to start aligning these incentives so that behaving rationally is synonymous with behaving ethically, so that what is good for you is good for humanity
7) Free exchange of information
When all information is available to the creative commons there will be a vast leap in creative output as we are able to draw freely from the shoulders of giants. Newly developed cures and technologies will be available at cost price, information and ideas can spread freely and artistic achievements will be available for next to nothing.
The first argument against abolishing intellectual property is that if you can’t financially profit from a new idea, then why bother investing any time or resources in developing it?
The really valuable contributions made to society are not done for money alone. A physicist does not get into physics for the money, a writer does not write because it will make him rich, and as for pharmaceuticals, if you could discover a cure which could save lives without personal financial gain are you telling me you wouldn’t bother?
With universal basic income no one would go hungry, but all of us still need meaning and purpose. Along with recognition and status, this would be the incentive for creatives and entrepreneurs to pursue their goals.
The government may have to fund some projects which require resources to be developed, but this would be recouped by the savings they make from purchasing medicine and technology at cost price.