The Light at the End

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Review and Commentary on Nafeez Ahmed’s article, “The Light at the End,” Yes! Magazine (Summer, 2020)

Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s article.

We long for the familiar, to go back to the old normal, yet we know we cannot return. Clinging to the past has now run its course.   We are living in a tragic milieu. The enchanting myths that human progress has continued forward are contradicted by the interconnected global calamities investigated by Dr. Ahmed.  As a courageous British investigative journalist, he challenges political and corporate cover-ups.  As a consequence of his inquiries, he proclaims that COVID has been “incubated by the very structure of our civilization” in which stability requires endless growth that cannot be sustained. His reasoning is tight and every sentence deserves a second reading.   Global industrial civilization links complex interlocking systems supporting the current economy to require life threatening energy production, destructive food production and distribution, declining population health, disregard for the vulnerable, and endless war.  The rules to maintain these complex systems require material consumption for its own sake.  He offers many examples.  Western civilization is now stuck in unbearable contradictions.  As COVID lockdowns extend, the economy is crashing without workers and consumers.  Oil consumption keeps dropping and shrinking profits make it difficult to maintain supply.  The oil industry itself is under threat.  In contrast, as lock downs are cut back in favor of liberating individuals and business, suffering and crushing loss of life and health threaten the fabric of human society. The economy struggles as debt levels keep rising without collateral.  Ahmed paints a dark picture.  Its hard then not to yearn for the safety and security of the “normal” and hope he is wrong.  Of course, the treacherous delusion of normalcy has been further ripped apart by the disclosures of the Black Lives Matter movement. Black lives have not mattered.

Ahmed concludes with his vision of the Light opening us to a new world where “our capacity to love each other is integral to our survival….and we realize that our priority is not more material production and consumption for its own sake, but life itself.” He proposes creating an economy in service to life. This requires the transformation of industries to become renewable and recyclable, and business focusing on essentials with less dependence on far-flung supply chains.  Banks will need to stop accelerating debt and food must cease to rely on soil degradation.  Readers can create their own list of interlocking toxic systems that must be changed in this pivotal time.  Ahmed proposes life-affirming system transformations “designed for the protection and flourishing of the human species and all living beings.” Friends agree. But what can we do?

I turned to reread Friend Parker Palmer, writing six years ago in Healing the Heart of Democracy, who considers what we can do with heartbreak as our hearts are breaking open with the daily news and knowledge of system failures as Ahmed details.  How can we find the power of community when we find ourselves communicating over public networks in zoom-created squared faces, and the media defines reality as scandal and urgent tragedy over and over. How can we go beyond “How are you?’ “Fine thanks.”   Parker has proposed a system of small communication circles, based on Quaker worship sharing process, wherein participants feel safe to share their deep personal truths.  He calls these Circles of Trust which create safe spaces. At such a time as this, Friends speak to each other of the unspeakable and listen without interruption or argument. How can this be done?  How can it be creatively structured in these socially distant COVID times?   May we “keep some room in our heart for the unimaginable.” (Mary Oliver) Just imagine.

from Joyce Zerwekh, Multnomah Monthly Meeting, Portland, OR (7/7/2020)

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