Dream for Generations


In my dream, there are forty of us, gathered together, holding hands in a large circle. As a noted guest of the group, I am asked to say a few words before… I am not sure what — a meal, a conference, a departure? This is what I say:

Thank you to the organizers for your invitation, your welcome, for bringing us together.

As I look around this circle, I am struck by the fact that most of us here were around when the song The Times They Are a-Changin’ that we sang a few moments ago, was first written. We sang these words when we were preparing to shake the windows and rattle the walls, to end the war and usher in a better way to live:

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

And as I look at us, now mostly grey-haired and rapidly agin’ ourselves, I wonder: Where are the voices of anger and protest and determination of those who are now the age we were then? Why are those in their teens, twenties and thirties not angry, not protesting, not pledging to smash the system that is desolating our world and pushing our fragile civilization to the brink of collapse and precipitating the sixth great extinction of life on Earth? Are they just uninformed? Too busy struggling with their own needs of the moment? Hope-less that change is possible, or that they can precipitate it? Complacent that someone else will solve the problems for them, and do so in time? When will they be ready to fight the exhausting fight that we are still leading after all these years?

John Gray, in his astonishing book Straw Dogs, tells us that our idealism was understandable but misplaced. He writes:

We can dream of a world in which a greatly reduced human population lives in a partially restored paradise; in which farming has been abandoned and green deserts given back to the earth; where the remaining humans are settled in cities, emulating the noble idleness of hunter-gatherers, their needs met by new technologies that leave little mark on the Earth; where life is given over to curiosity, pleasure and play. There is nothing technically impossible about such a world…A High-tech Green utopia, in which a few humans live happily in balance with the rest of life, is scientifically feasible; but it is humanly unimaginable. If anything like this ever comes about, it will not be through the will of homo rapiens

Homo rapiens is only one of very many species, and not obviously worth preserving. Later or sooner, it will become extinct. When it is gone Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind. The play of life will go on.

On the basis of overwhelming evidence that I have examined in ten years of study of our civilization, I have come to accept that this civilization, like all those before it, will end, most likely through a Long Emergency that will consume much of this century, precipitated by a series of cascading economic, energy and ecological crises that will be beyond our capacity and resilience to survive. It will be ghastly and grim but it will be a drawn-out, generations-long descent that will be mostly peaceful, and accompanied by no more aggregate suffering than gaia, the collective organism of all-life-on-Earth, is enduring every day now, though most of us are afraid to see it because the grief of that reality, the knowledge of what is really happening in this terrible world, is just too much for us to bear. And post-civilization human society, with much smaller numbers and only rudimentary technology, holds the promise of being staggeringly diverse, exciting, responsible, connected, sustainable and joyful.

So what are we to do, we “elders” still holding the space for future generations who are strangely silent, absent, disengaged?

I would argue that our role, now, is to wait. That doesn’t mean we should do nothing. As we wait for those under 50 to take the torch from us, we should love with all our hearts, we should be generous to a fault, and we should continue to learn the truth of how the world really works, to hold a mirror of that unnatural present reality to the world, and to imagine how it might, if only in our dreams, be better.

Our role, I think, is to wait until the young are ready, because it is their fight now — they will be the ones who will have to face the darkest days and years of civilization’s slow collapse. And one day they will be ready, as ready as they can, to face that terrible truth and to do what they must. When that time comes, we must be ready to listen, to encourage, to counsel when asked, to facilitate. We must be ready to share what we know, to suggest models to help them cope and create a better way to live, to help them fight rear-guard holding actions to mitigate the worst excesses and atrocities of the industrial society we have, through our complicity and complacency and ignorance, thrust upon the world.

And beyond this, our role is to remove the obstacles to their fight, and to stay out of their way, to “get out of the new road if we can’t lend a hand”, because what we’ve shown, and done, for all our shouting and protesting for the last 40 years, is dreadful, beyond inadequate, pathetic. We have made the world, through our action and inaction, much, much worse than it was 40 years ago. It’s time we showed the humility and grace to acknowledge that failure, in our old age, and to accept responsibility for it and cede authority to those younger than we are, in the hope that they might do better.

So this is my plea, my prayer, my fervent hope, that we will stop trying to lead, stop hogging the limelight and the power and the attention of the world. Stop being preoccupied with ourselves and our own damaged egos and selfish needs. Just stop. Let go. And wait. The fourth turning is coming soon, and it’s time for us to yield, to get out of the way, to open and hold the space, to resign from authority and to contemplate and reflect self-critically on what we have done, who we are, what we owe. Listen to the young. Ask humbly how we can help them do what they think must be done. The future, dark and turbulent, is theirs. We must wait here, in the present, until they grasp it, like the string of a kite in a hurricane, and then hold them with every ounce of strength in our exhausted bodies and weary hearts.

We owe them no less.

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8 Responses to Dream for Generations

  1. Jon Husband says:

    Just stop. Let go. And wait. The fourth turning is coming soon, and it’s time for us to yield, to get out of the way, to open and hold the space, to resign from authority and to contemplate and reflect self-critically on what we have done, who we are, what we owe.

    That’s pretty much it.

    Eloquent post, Dave. No “fixing” things .. waiting, watching, weaving connections of support.

  2. Stephen says:

    Dave, I don’t think I’ve ever read a post where it has been acknowledged and more importantly accepted that this “our” fight in a meaningful way and that our elders have been unable to turn the tide completely.

    Most of the stances of the writers I read have been more about the author rhetorically wondering where the young are today, placing themselves as authors in a heroic light for continuing to fight, rather than actually engaging the young for the coming battles.

    Is it the damaged egos of our elders who can’t grasp their own mortality? Or the shame at their failures that continues to motivate them to fight when they would be better served by teaching and engaging with the young? Do they think that they could continue to fight forever without making way for future generations?

    Perhaps yet there is time enough to forgive oneself for past mistakes and move to better positions for the fight.

  3. Margaret says:

    Wow. I agreed with all of this until the “butt out” bit at the end. We can’t butt out. Far from hogging the limelight, we have been entirely marginalised and trivialised in recent years, and are looking at a future with ever diminishing public services, social cohesion, pensions and just about anything that might allow us to die in relative comfort.

    Far from butting out because we are a bunch of miserable old farts licking our wounds, we are having to re-skill and re-engage in finding, yet again, a new way of living that allows us to be healthy and self-supporting until we die, rather than a mere collection of useless eaters draining the wealth of the young.

    And because we are boomers, and because we have led every social revolution since the 70’s, we will not baulk at this challenge either. This is no idealogical leadership here; we are confronting our own and very real physical necessity. Our very marginalisation will force us to craft that new way of life we have been experimenting with for 40 years – and finally get it right. We have no choice.

    Don’t ask me to roll over and die. Its not what boomers do!

  4. Benjammin says:

    And of course “the young” are continuously coming of age to be taught such things. In other words there are millions of kids in a prime time right now to absorb wisdoms you may transmit.

  5. Carla Rodrigues says:

    Your words are very kind Dave. I agree with your interpetation but also with Margaret’s and Benjammin’s. It is important to be brave and admit what we did wrong and teach the youngest to analyze, think, question, revise, change, welcome what is new, fight injustice, learn to be human, to forgive, learn from the mistakes, respect nature and other beings. This takes action.
    But sometimes… I lack the energy. That’s why your blog is so important :))))


  6. I resonate strongly with the dispair you are feeling Dave. I often feel it too. And I also agree that it is now up to the younger generation, although I find that I can’t quite let go of trying too. (See my most recent vision of a sustainable future at http://disscommunity.net/ — much more widely applicable than to Diss, Norfolk, UK of course).

    But I don’t agree that the last 40 years have been such a miserable failure. Yes, it is the time that the fragmented, money-driven, consumerist culture has reached its fullest expression so that we are now at the limits of the Earth’s capacity. (And the worst possibilities are a massive extinction that takes out far more than just humans.) And those of us who saw it was wrong 40 years ago couldn’t stop that.

    But for those of us who hold a vision vaguely like the one John Gray sneers at, the most important change is from a fragmented, competitive world to one in which we are all working together for the benefit of humankind and the natural world. To that end, there has been a lot of progress during my lifetime. (I’m 67.) The racism, sexual and gender sterotypes that were completely acceptable and taken for granted by most people when I was a child are now mostly seen as a residual abberation to be removed. There was no sense of a global environmental threat when I was a child, but it is very strong now and unites very many people in a sense of planetary citizenship. And while the present communications technologies (global radio and TV, mobile phones, internet) are of course controlled by and for commercial interests, they do provide the potential of a connection and infrastructure for a decentralised collaborative world that was unthinkable when I was a child.

    I sometimes think that if there will be future something like a planetary scale organism with humankind as its nervous system, we will have to come right to the edge of disaster first before we are able to let go of our destructive ways. But there is no reason to expect that we will succeed at that. Perversely, I think the only prospect for ending our damage before a full environmental collapse is a major economic collapse, and I think that is likely and imminent.

    Yes, we can just wait and hope and provide support and compassion.


  7. Paris says:

    Boomers have proven that they forgot their dreams as soon as they got babies, a job, a house, a car…and hope WE would work hard to pay for their retirement.
    What should we learn from it? we shall not be parents/jobing? or we shall not fight this civilisation?
    Anyway the shit we’re in because our booming parents have messed this world big time leaves us even more helpless than you were 40 years ago.

  8. Randall says:

    “As we wait for those under 50 to take the torch from us, we should love with all our hearts, we should be generous to a fault…”

    There’s a whole generation of “kids” in the 30-45 range that are ready. More than ready actually. The problem as I see it is that those (boomers) who *can* and *should* step aside aren’t doing so. “It’s someone else’s problem.”

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