Some ideas hit us in a way that is hard to shake. Last year that happened to me. I was in a public conversation with my friend and colleague, theologian Matthew Fox, when he made this observation: “Humans might be the first species to knowingly choose self-extinction.”
Most people recognize that our situation is serious, and many realize it is a choice, not a foreordained destiny. Yet the clarity and finality of Matt’s observation keep it ringing in my ears, along with the profound questions it raises.
Are we an inherently flawed species? Have we for some reason suppressed the higher potentials of our nature? If we have the means to choose our future, why are we on the path to a disastrous one? Might we have choices that would lead not only to survival, but as well to truly joyful lives for all? How might Earth’s 7.6 billion people come to agree on those choices?
This set of questions led me to the following thought experiment, based on three key assumptions:
- That we have the ability to choose our common future within the natural limits of Earth’s generative capacity.
- That we have the collective means to intentionally transition from competing for a declining base of Earth’s resources to cooperating to increase and share the capacity of Earth’s generative systems.
- That after the death of our physical body, our consciousness is reborn in a random infant body in the same world we just left.
These assumptions provide us with a natural incentive to join in common cause to create a world in which everyone, regardless of the circumstances of their birth, can look forward to a full and satisfying life now and in future rebirths. This contrasts starkly with our current situation, where, given our current trajectory, a future life might be anticipated only with dread.
The next step in the thought experiment is to examine three questions:
- Why does current global culture and its dominant institutions strip so many people of the opportunity for a fulfilling life that could and should be everyone’s birthright?
- What are the essential elements of a cultural and institutional transformation needed to assure that every person has that opportunity?
- How might we collectively advance that transition away from cultural and institutional systems that now fail so many so badly?