Millennium | 8. Catastrophes and crises - Palden Jenkins

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Millennium | 8. Catastrophes and crises

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Many people anticipate some sort of catastrophe in coming times. Some people pin their hopes or fears on it, while some, in quiet anticipation, try not to think about it. Others ignore it all, or they inveigh against crackpots and doomsters. Much of this is not thought through. Whichever case is true, it’s still worth examining the possibility and value of crisis.

We honestly do not know what the future will bring. However, it pays dividends to assess what the future might bring, so that we are ready for most eventualities. Or are we already in a state of crisis – even if we’ve got rather used to it?

The great thing about crises is that they confront us with hard facts, in our faces. The cutting edge of a crisis usually concerns one crux issue, yet it also brings up many further interrelated issues, precipitating much wider and deeper questions. Crunches can be helpful inasmuch as they force us to get to grips with fundamentals. If we take a positive, open, committed approach, many matters can be resolved in one fell swoop. However, people and environments do often get hurt in crises. Thus we must address their causes. Why do we need them?

Crises usually bring up many uncomfortable, tangled questions which we have long avoided facing. An individual’s marital, career or health crisis often brings up much larger quandaries about the purpose and course of their life. It becomes a gift in disguise, an opportunity for change. It precipitates lots of soulquakes and showdowns, yet many are those who are glad they bit the bullet.

Crises accumulate when we ignore obvious signs, facts and clues that life presents us with. If beliefs (or cover-ups) and realities seriously diverge, a crash becomes increasingly necessary and inevitable. In the financial markets, crashes are frequently preceded by exceptional market highs. Market levels rely on traders’ shared belief and confidence – and yet when it collapses, there’s panic.

Crises make visible whichever suppressed and forgotten issues are hanging around, revealing naked reality. Underlying, lurking cultural stresses in Yugoslavia were cruelly exposed by civil war in the early 1990s. It confronted Europeans’ comfortable sense of security and decency too, revealing some old shadows. Many wider issues concerning free societies and social harmony were opened up, affecting the world. Largely, the world commuted facing the problem to a future time, to another generation - the same issues arose later in Kosovo. These things don’t just melt away.

This delaying increases the likelihood of crisis. The best way to avoid crises is to openly address issues as they come up or become visible. Some people speak for the public conscience – such as environmental campaigners, protesters or poets. Once crises strike, the best way forward is to look straight at what they spotlight, choosing to face the music. This changes things rapidly.

The brave though belated decision of white South Africans to liberalise racial laws and permit majority-rule in their country in the early 1990s spared a lot of grief and blood. Conversely, dictators such as Suharto, Mobote or Marcos prioritised their own self-interest over social necessity – as a result, they fell, without honour.

An honest appraisal might lead to the conclusion that large-scale world crisis is likely. How else to set the whole house of cards changing? However, global inferno is not inevitable. How much crisis does it take before humanity chooses to change? This is the billion dollar question!

Crisis is a psychological matter, not just a set of events. Relatively small events can impact dramatically, if they touch a psychological nerve: Princess Diana’s death in 1997 precipitated massive ripples by dint of its symbolism, not its magnitude. It prompted the writing of this book too!

Crises can be helpful if we respond positively, embracing the truths they bring. This will certainly be the case when we encounter the Y2K problem (the ‘Millennium Bug’) in early 2000. In crises people often pull together, helping each other out, strengthening the glue binding society or even achieving miracles. The recent Asian market crash reunited families and neighbourhoods otherwise ripped apart by economic growth and profit-driven self-interest – so was this crash really a loss or a gain?

At the Millennium, we are faced with vast numbers of interwoven issues, together constituting our planetary problem. To some extent, we’re reluctant to start an avalanche, so we hold back. In other words, unconsciously and by default, we require crises to goad us into action. This is a choice, not an inevitability. However, many people will also be deeply relieved when things really start moving.

NEXT: Human societies - where have we got to?

The Illustrated Guide to the Millennium

© Copyright Palden Jenkins 1998, 2012.
This material may be downloaded, printed out in single copies for personal use
and quoted in parts with proper attribution and a link to this site.
All other uses require permission of the author, Palden Jenkins.
The Illustrated Guide to the Millennium was partially written in 1997-98 and never published.

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