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A fundamental change in worldview and ethical consciousness is currently taking place. You and I and millions of others are coming to a deep and comprehensive understanding of ourselves as human beings, the systems of which we are components, and the web of relationships in which we participate. The desire to understand is, of course, nothing new. As far back as history allows us to look, we human beings have wanted to understand the world around us and our place in the scheme of things. Then and now, the same questions have troubled us: "What is going on?" "What does it all mean?" "What should I do and not do?" Each culture has struggled with these issues of fact, meaning, and ethics, and in each, systems of belief gradually coalesced. Historians of culture, in commenting on the evolution of these belief systems, have noted a progression of stages rooted in a progression of modes of consciousness. Using the terminology of Jean Gebser, Allan Combs, and Ken Wilber, the historical movement from archaic to magic, to mythic, and to rational ways of understanding the world has now brought us to the threshold of transrational ways, which incorporate these others but go beyond them. In this introduction, we look back at the historical shift from mythic to rational, at the gains in fact and the losses in meaning that accompanied that shift, and at the opportunity to rediscover meaning and ethical grounding by developing a transrational deep understanding perspective.
Judaism is a belief system that arose during the period when the mythic form of consciousness prevailed, and both Judaism and Christianity present their beliefs using the vehicle of myth (the Garden of Eden, Noah's ark, Revelation, etc.). Small subgroups in each religion-Kaballah in Judaism and various gnostics and mystics in Christianity-involved themselves with seeing through and beyond the details of the myth to the underlying reality. But for many centuries after the founding of these religions, most people took the myth literally. Many still do, even today.
During the first half of the 1001-2000 CE millennium, the mythos of Christianity dominated Western thought, and most people looked to organized religion for truthful answers to those all-important questions. From a mixture of scripture, tradition, and Greek thought, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church developed a set of doctrines and laws that they held to be absolute truth. For a long time this worked. The church maintained its authority as truth provider, and people had the warm feeling that they understood. A personal God had created the world in six days and now ran things-intervening in human lives in ordinary, and occasionally miraculous, ways. Earth was the center of the universe. And the really important rules of the game were clear enough: Live a moral life, and you will spend eternity in paradise. Live an immoral life, and you will spend eternity in hell. This medieval worldview is magnificently articulated in the Divine Comedy, the epic poem that Dante Alighieri wrote in the early 1300s.
In Europe at the end of the Middle Ages, the average person found life physically difficult but relatively understandable. Religion served as interpreter and guide, and life had a certain regularity. Change was cyclical, for the most part, rather than linear-progressive. The seasons came and went. War alternated with peace. Health alternated with sickness. Bumper harvests alternated with lean harvests. Good times alternated with bad. Round and round it went, all under the control of God in Heaven, who doled out the good and the bad.
A progressive decline in adherence to mythic models of reality and a rise in the acceptance of rational models characterized the second half of the millennium. Here, modern science was the central player. In the 1530s, Copernicus figured out that Earth was not the center of the universe. Rather, Earth and the other planets traveled around the sun. He wrote all this down, but fearing reprisals from the Catholic Church did not publish his treatise until the year of his death, 1543. Once published, influential people read it, saw truth in it, and at the end of the century Galileo and Kepler were solidly in the Copernican camp-so was Giordano Bruno, whom the church burned at the stake in 1600 for holding this and other heretical positions. Sixteen years later the Inquisition put Copernicus's treatise on its list of prohibited books and warned Galileo not to hold or defend the doctrine. (It was not until 1922 that the Catholic Church finally stopped denying the validity of Copernican thought.)
During the remainder of the seventeenth century, experimental science gained a secure foothold. Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, and others linked mathematics with experimentation, and they derived predictive laws of nature, which in turn gave birth to the profession of engineering and the ordered application of those laws in the design of machines. Science led people to a radically different way of seeing and dealing with the world, and in the eighteenth century this new perspective led to an explosion of social phenomena: the industrial revolution, capitalism, the Enlightenment, political democracy, and the birth of a transmedieval modernist culture.
Newton and his contemporaries had unleashed the powerful ideas of mechanism and cosmic lawfulness, and during the eighteenth-century doubts about the validity of church teachings spread and deepened. In situation after situation, the new laws successfully explained and predicted. Those who understood these laws and saw mechanism at work in the universe rejected the idea of a capricious God capable of negating or overriding the lawfulness. Materialist philosophy and reductionism arose, and Diderot and other philosophers in this camp denied not only the biblical God but any sort of spirituality. They took the position that some day it would be possible to reduce happenings of every kind to the functioning of mechanistic physical laws.
Romanticism, particularly the Naturphilosophie of Goethe and Schelling, arose in protest to this extreme materialism. This did not, however, signal a return to a personal, interventionist God. These German philosophers were holists. They saw nature as one integrated whole, animated by an absolute spirit that had brought everything into existence in accord with fundamental laws and forces. For them, too, reality and the God of the Bible were at odds. In France, Rousseau, Voltaire, and others criticized the immense power of church and state over individuals, and their writings contributed to the movement for individual freedom that culminated in the American and French revolutions.
The science of the nineteenth century-particularly Charles Lyell's theory that the earth was extremely old and Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection-further undermined the credibility of traditional religious doctrine. As the twentieth century approached, an increasing number of people lost confidence in mainstream religions as the central repository of truth. New religious denominations-those having doctrines more compatible with scientific knowledge-provided an answer for some people. Reform Judaism, for example, abandoned dietary and other practices for which there was no longer a compelling need. Another, New England Unitarianism, abandoned much of the traditional Christian doctrine-including the divinity of Jesus and eternal punishment. But for some people in the late nineteenth century and for many more in the twentieth, watered-down religion was too little, too late. They turned away from religion entirely and looked to contemporary science for the answers to life's important questions.
In the end, science also failed them. Although science was doing much better than religion at answering the first of those big questions-"What is going on?"-that was all science was good at. Science wouldn't even touch the other two: "What does it all mean?" and "What should I do and not do?" One reason for this was that the investigative tools and modus operandi of second-millennium science weren't suited to ferreting out these other answers. Another was the position taken by some scientists that whatever can't be detected and measured by scientific instruments doesn't really exist. Some people came to believe this, but many with a humanities orientation did not. For them, just because science ignores certain aspects of existence doesn't remove them from the universe. Other methodologies reveal to us the various philosophical truths, aesthetic truths, ethical truths, and matters of meaning that are associated with higher-level physical phenomena, such as human beings. Without these truths to supplement the scientific view, our understanding of reality is incomplete-a sterile construct of measurement and rationality that does not tell all.
The central focus of modern society during the first half of the twentieth century was progress, and for most North American workers this meant doing things that promised to improve the conditions of everyday life. These workers produced steel; built automobiles; built roads; built power, water, and sewage systems; built homes and office buildings. They completed countless infrastructure projects, and they produced manufactured goods in abundance. Farming became increasingly mechanized and more productive. Pharmaceutical companies began producing insulin, new vaccines, and infection-curing antibiotics. This sort of activity continued through the 1950s, and to most people of that era it looked as if progress-in the sense of creating ever-better products and an increasingly more comfortable life-might have no limits. People loved the idea of progress: Life was good today and would only be better tomorrow.
There were, however, a few people who looked at the same reality and saw serious problems. Among them was Walter Prescott Webb, a history professor at the University of Texas. In 1952, Webb warned that Western society had for a long time been spending its capital. He theorized that we are nearing the end of a 500-year-long, one-time only blip of affluence fueled by a rip-off of "free" resources: easy to get oil, rich ores, old-growth forests, soils that took millennia to develop, etc. A decade later, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring sounded another environmental wakeup call. Soon after, Paul Erlich pointed out the extent to which world population growth worsens all other global problems. The authors of the 1972 Club of Rome report, The Limits to Growth, made a convincing case (computer-modeling deficiencies aside) that resource depletion, population size, pollution, food production, and industrial output cannot be treated as independent problems, but rather, are aspects of one global problematique. Through the 1960s and early '70s it became increasingly clear that "progress" was not a flawless boon for humanity-nor for the multitude of other species required for a life-filled, life-friendly biosphere.
In the industrialized nations, something else happened in the 1960s and early '70s: a generation reached adulthood that had a very different take on society than that of previous generations. The task of the first half of the twentieth century was to build a societal system that would allow its members to live a comfortable life. In the eyes of many, that effort succeeded. Middle-class children born in the 1940s and early '50s grew up in the most affluent society that had ever existed. They accepted this level of affluence as a given, as the to-be-expected platform from which to launch their own lives. For their parents and grandparents, however, that affluence was the culmination of a lifelong struggle for betterment, which was not to be taken for granted. Tension arose between the generations and increased significantly in the 1960s as these young people-now in their late teens and early twenties-rebelled against the flaws they saw in the society their elders had created. Several things, in particular, bothered them: uptight sexual mores, a work ethic that might have made sense in the first half of the century but no longer did, racial inequality, and a senseless war in Vietnam.
During the 1960s, many young people worked to change "the system," but most found their efforts frustrated. They saw nonviolent protests being met with repressive force. And they saw that when some advocate for change got too powerful-powerful enough to actually change things-that person was likely to be assassinated. As the '60s ended, images of John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King were fresh in everyone's mind, and many young people concluded that the system was change-proof.
If you couldn't change it, perhaps you could step out of it and build a more humane system alongside it. In the early 1970s, a modest "alternatives" movement arose. Some young people formed intentional communities. Others went back to the land and subsistence farmed. But although some of these experiments had local value and fostered the growth of the people involved, industrial society continued to be a juggernaut heading toward MORE. Alternatives had not replaced the mainstream, and by the late 1970s, most North Americans concluded that the only practical way to lead one's life was to be involved-in some way, to some degree-with the mainstream system.
From a meaning-and-ethics perspective, the second half of the twentieth century was a mixed bag. As North American society moved from the 1950s to the century's end, more and more people began seeing the world through "me first" and "me only" eyes, and fewer had that strong commitment to "the good of the whole," which was prevalent in their parents' and grandparents' generations. Missing in many quarters was the sense of working together to build something worthwhile, something that would benefit everyone. There were exceptions, of course, important exceptions, and later in this book we'll look closely at some of them. But as the century progressed, fewer people seemed deeply committed to the ideals of a caring society. The acquisition of material things had become the central cultural value, and in their search for personal satisfaction many tens of millions of North Americans committed themselves to the path of consumerism.
Paradoxically, during this same period other quite different trends also took root. One was the increased ecological and whole-system awareness already mentioned. Another was what has come to be called personal spirituality. Back in the 1950s, a few Americans became interested in "go-see-for-yourself" spirituality, and in the decades that followed, interest in the subject has grown exponentially. Aided by a few pioneers who wrote about their experiences-Alan Watts, the Beat Poets, Krishnamurti, Ram Das, to name a few-North Americans began to discover the direct-encounter spirituality of the East. Interestingly, the Eastern approach made perfect sense to many of those who trusted scientific methodology. Don't believe anything. Don't take anything on faith. Run a personal experiment. Immerse yourself in Eastern practices for a while and see what happens.
Many of these practices help cultivate a direct and immediate perception of one's internal and external reality, unmediated by language and concepts. Seeing the world in this fresh, direct way is in no sense a regression from rationality to pre-rational archaic, magic, or mythic modes of knowing. Rather, it is a movement toward vision-logic and transrational modes (in Ken Wilber's terminology)--or deep understanding and wise comprehension in mine-modes that embrace and utilize rationality while going beyond it.
Rationality is insufficient, because it is technique only, applicable to any set of values. John Ralston Saul, in deploring "the conversion of Western civilization to a methodology devoid of values," notes that "reason is no more than structure" and innately amoral. The transrational modes add meaning to the rational as well as to the residue of archaic, magic, and mythic consciousness that still operates within all of us. Ken Wilber is one of the most insightful practitioners of deep understanding, and he put it this way: "vision-logic adds up all the perspectives, privileging none, and thus attempts to grasp the integral, the whole, the multiple context within contexts that endlessly disclose the Kosmos...." Eastern practices allow a science-compatible exploration of meaning and values issues, and facilitate the establishment of transrational modes of cognition.
By the 1990s, global life-support systems-atmosphere, oceans, forests-were experiencing major problems. Most of the negative changes resulted from world population growth and high-consumption lifestyles, and most seemed likely to get steadily worse. Some of the early-warning messages heard back in the 1960s and '70s had proved to be right on target. Others had missed the mark. But now, there were serious new problems: a hole in the ozone layer, global warming, shrinking rain forests, quickly diminishing biodiversity. Also, important new players on the international stage were changing the socioeconomic game: the large transnational corporations. Many of these corporations-as the result of mergers and remergers during the 1980s and '90s-exercised great economic power. Of the world's top 100 economic entities in 1995--as measured by corporate sales or national gross domestic product (GDP)--fifty-one were corporations and forty-nine were nation states. The growth of corporations in size and wealth, combined with a major globalization of the economy through trade treaties and electronic fund transfers, had brought about a shift in power from nation states to big business-to the transnationals and the world financial industry.
Awareness of these realities has now become widespread, and this has led many people to experience ethical discomfort and consequent calls to action. When psychologically mature people see what is, they also tend to see what should be--and, in some cases, what must be. This kind of seeing has made it clear that we must transform some of our present modes of personal, social, and economic functioning into modes that are compatible with a sustainable and more equitable world. At stake is long-term human well-being, the well-being of other life, and the optimal playing out of the cosmic experiment called Earth. Since the alternatives are utterly bleak, I believe that humanity will meet the challenge and bring about the needed transformation. Human understanding, caring, and vision will guide it. And a much-revised world economy will power it.
The central thesis of Matters of Consequence is this: If we come to understand the human situation deeply, comprehensively, and clearly, then what needs to be done-both in our personal lives and the world around us-becomes clear. Toward this end, the book advocates the development of deep understanding--a variety of wisdom in which we integrate broadly based contextual knowledge (the humanities plus the sciences plus economics) with introspectively acquired self-knowledge. Thus, for most people, deep understanding is the product of two activities:
The Acquisition of Relevant Intellectual Knowledge
Science and the humanities form the twin pillars of Western higher education, yet many people stand on only one. Just as many scientists and engineers lack knowledge of the humanities, many "well-educated" people have a largely humanities-focused background and lack scientific knowledge. Economics also stands alone: Mainstream economists ignore many human and scientific realities, and most scientists and humanities-oriented people lack clarity about economic realities.
Unfortunately, none of these one-pillar stances will take us where we need to go. To come to grips with the major scientific, social, and economic issues that bear on the present world situation, we must all become more holistic knowers. Very simply, we can deal effectively with humanity's problems only if we have a deep and comprehensive understanding of the context in which those problems are set. This includes knowledge of the systemic nature of the cosmos, the evolutionary process in its most general sense, consciousness, human cultures, economic systems, and some of the more important principles, laws, and regularities that underlie functioning in all these areas.
The Intentional Pursuit of Self-Knowledge
The exploration of one's own psyche leads ultimately to an appreciation of the laws by which our inner, subjective lives operate. It also leads to ethical understanding, moral behavior, new levels of inner peace and freedom, and even insights into the nature of primal reality. Many people today are developing this largely intuitive aspect of deep understanding through psychotherapies, intentional solitude, and direct-participation spiritual practices, such as meditation.
Today, people have developed deep understanding to different degrees and with different emphases. Some have made intuitive breakthroughs; others have done highly significant intellectual work; still others have excelled at integrating the two. Remarkable advances in the sciences of information, complexity, evolution, and consciousness-when coupled with the intuitive insights of a developing personal spirituality-give us a way of looking at reality that is compatible with scientific knowledge, yet goes beyond it to help satisfy our spiritual longing for a meaning-and-ethics perspective that rings true.
How deep understanding translates into changes in power-structure agendas and policies is addressed in the latter part of this book. In general, such changes happen because those who understand deeply end up influencing others. On the one hand, their clear-seeing is infectious. On the other, those who see are inclined to act. Some become leaders-perhaps political leaders, enlightened corporate leaders, or leaders of private-sector organizations involved with aspects of the world problematique. Others become communicators and teachers-writing, creating art, or becoming involved in existing organizations-and in those ways, attempt to share their understanding with others. Ultimately, as many people recognize that the deeply understood view fits reality so well, the world community comes to see things that way and acts accordingly. Past changes of this kind include the Copernican revolution and the widespread acceptance-within just a few decades-of Einstein's relativity theories. History confirms that when a large-enough community of respected people adopt a new worldview-one that models reality in a more useful, accurate, and explanatory way than the old one-then most educated and intelligent people quickly accept it.
In summary, this book postulates that the better we understand what is really going on-intuitively and rationally-the better we can guide our own lives and the more we can benefit our world. It makes the case that deep understanding of ourselves and of the universe is the sine qua non of personal and global fulfillment, and it will be at the heart of the emerging "next phase" in the evolution of world culture. The book's four parts and fifteen "matters of consequence" piece together the amazing picture of where we are today-as a universe and a species-and where we are heading. Parts I and II explore the context in which human lives are embedded. Part I discusses the nature of physical and mental reality and the question of cosmic purpose. Part II focuses on three close-to-home realities: the sociocultural, the economic, and the biospheric. Part III looks at our inner lives: self-knowledge, freedom, responsibility, identity, developing ethical sensibility, and creating a life characterized by meaning, purpose, and significance. Part IV deals with the future: Given the reality described in Parts I, II, and III, where do we go from here? Where must we go from here? Discussions about predicting the future and creating the future provide background for considering the vision of a year 2050 world worth creating. That world is characterized by economic equity, physical sustainability, vibrant local cultures, an electronically facilitated world culture, and sufficient time in people's lives to pursue a full, rich life of the mind. The appendices at the back of the book introduce the reader to a variety of print, Internet, and organizational resources in support of personal efforts to develop deep understanding and live toward the vision. Matters of Consequence is an exceptionally wide-ranging book, and almost every reader will find some sections of it smoother going than others. No author wants their readers to give up on a book because they get bogged down in some section of it; I certainly don't. If you get frustrated because you're not understanding something, please move on to the next topic. Then, after reading all or most of the book, go back to the material that caused you trouble and try reading it again. With the additional context acquired from reading what you do understand, it might now make much more sense.
Have you heard the quiet pleading of future generations to leave them a world worth inhabiting? Action is needed, but in today's ultra-complex world, the only action that has a chance of succeeding is action guided by a deep understanding of the human situation and a broadly compassionate heart. In the pages to come, join me in exploring the human reality, the deep-understanding approach, and where all that might lead us.
 Gebser, 1985; Combs, 1996; Wilber, 1995. Here, instead of using the broad term mental that Gebser's English-language translator used to identify modern consciousness, I use the terms rational (as Wilber does) and intellectual. (Gebser's translator assigned the term rational to a much narrower, more specialized meaning than most of us give it in everyday use. See Combs, 1996, pp. 109-111 for a discussion of Gebser's use of these terms.) Detailed descriptions of Gebser's schema can be found in Chapter 5 of Allan Combs's book The Radiance of Being (Combs, 1996) and in Chapter 5 of Sally Goerner's book After the Clockwork Universe (Goerner, 1999).
 Webb, 1975.
 See Wilber, 1998, pp. 131-32, 212.
 Saul, 1993, pp. 16, 18.
 Wilber, 1998, pp. 131-32.
 Anderson and Cavanagh, 1996, p. 6, Table 1.