Although many recognize that individuals can be conscious of themselves, we seldom consider whether a whole society can be conscious of itself. Certainly at moments of great tragedy or great triumph there seems to be a capacity for millions of autonomous individuals to awaken to a collective consciousness. For example, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, an entire nation went into mourning and for several days, collectively acknowledged the passing of their leader. Another moment of shared consciousness occurred with the first lunar landing. For a few hours, much of the world paused to collectively watch the first humans walk on the moon. In recent times, the terrorist strike on the World Trade Towers in New York City shocked the world's consciousness into a time of collective attention.
The power of each of these events was not only in the sense of tragedy or triumph experienced by each person, but also in the awareness that this personal experience was being shared simultaneously by millions, even billions, of other persons. In the example of the moon landing, nearly the entire species was aware that it was passing through a historic moment in its evolution. Clearly, a society can be conscious of itself. The tools of mass communication make possible the awakening of our collective consciousness at scales ranging from person to planet. These tools can provide vitally important, realistic communication during our time of great turning and transformation.
The human community now confronts a whole-systems crisis as powerful trends converge and reinforce one another: Climate disruption, the depletion of cheap oil, a growing chasm between the rich and poor, unsustainable population growth coupled with the extinction of other species, global food shortages, and many more. Within this decade, citizens of the Earth will be pressed to awaken to the actual condition of the Earth and begin to make profound changes in our manner of living, consuming and working in support of a sustainable future.
To realize a fundamental shift toward a life-affirming future in a voluntary manner, hundreds of millions of persons will be called to act in conscious cooperation with one another. Can we accomplish this leap to a new level of functioning in our collective consciousness as a local to global community? In my estimation: Absolutely yes! Our core evolutionary potential as a species lies largely unnoticed in the scientific name that we have given to ourselves as a species. Technically, our name is not homo sapiens or "wise humans;" instead, we are homo sapiens sapiens or "doubly wise humans." In other words, where many animals have the capacity "to know," humans have a distinct capacity "to know that we know."
Personal reflection refers to seeing ourselves in the mirror of consciousness and using this mirror to observe the unfolding of our lives. By analogy, social reflection refers to seeing ourselves in the mirror of collective consciousness by using tools such as television and the Internet. It is important to recall that it was television that enabled people to share in the large-scale, collective experiences described above. We were all looking through the window of television at the assassination of JFK, the landing on the moon, and the collapse of the World Trade Towers.
The bottom line is this: If we are to take practical steps to awaken collectively, then we must create a more reflective and responsive media environment. Although many people have turned away from television in disgust with its excessive commercialism and adolescent programming, the reality is that in the U.S. and around the planet, the overwhelming majority of people get most of their news about the world from this source. At this pivotal time in human history, we cannot afford to turn away from the primary technology that supports our collective communication and consciousness. To illustrate, here are adult alternatives to the adolescent programming that now dominates television:
- Authentic reality shows that dramatize a future of climate disruption and species extinction;
- Situation comedies that explore the humorous side of life in an "eco-village" of fifty or more people learning to live together, presenting both the challenges and the joys;
- "Electronic Town Meetings" where we discover ourselves as a community, nation, and world, and learn to collaborate together for a creative and promising future;
- Genuine survivor shows that take us inside of lives of the world's poorest citizens where we discover their humanity and their struggles.
Our challenging times call for we humans to step up and create a mainstream social movement concerned with media accountability for a new social consciousness: As citizens, we would give ourselves, and future generations, an enormous gift by consciously taking back the public airwaves. We are massively under-utilizing our powerful communication technologies and as a result, we are losing the race between awakening and catastrophe. The core challenge of this generation is to mobilize our extraordinary tools of local-to-global connection and consciously communicate our way into a sustainable, meaningful, and thriving future. As the media goes, so goes our mass conversation and consciousness and, in turn, so goes our future. Let's take back the airwaves and our future.
Duane Elgin is a speaker, author and non-partisan activist for media accountability. He is the author of "Voluntary Simplicity," "The Living Universe," "Promise Ahead," and other books. Please visit his website, www.DuaneElgin.com for free articles and videos on thriving in these challenging times. Your comments and suggestions are much appreciated