When we consider the concept of evolution, we often get lost in the debate between religion and science. Regardless of which side of the debate one agrees with, it is clear that our planet, our various species, and our societies have experienced significant evolution over time.
Oxford Dictionaries defines evolution as "the process by which different kinds of living organisms are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth". In our own lives, I am sure we all would acknowledge the evolution evident in our own development as we come to evolve, adapt and develop further understanding of our character and self-identity. Life unfolds in a fairly consistent evolving sense of self as we grow and are shaped by life experiences.
While evolution can happen gradually, it seems as if some of the most dynamic evolutionary leaps happen in dramatic spurts. Arguably, we are living in an extremely disruptive time that most likely will result in dramatic evolutionary changes in our lives, societies and environment. While we mostly equate evolution with a forward-moving positive progression, I do think evolution can also be negative or regressive.
In Jane Jacobs' Dark Age Ahead she outlines declines in community/family, higher education, economically oriented science, corrupt or diminished government, and shriveling culture as indicators that we are about to slip into a modern "dark age". Jacobs' dark age seems driven by society as a whole choosing to and actively participating in placing the economy as our prime focus and running everything as if it were a business; i.e. the role and goal of everything in life is to produce a profit.
Niall Ferguson took a similar approach in his The Great Degeneration by identifying fading institutions and civil society, cronyism of our economic structures, and the deterioration of government as the drivers of our degeneration. Perhaps we need challenge and hardship - even a Dark Age - to spur on a next period of enlightenment or growth.
We are living through a rapidly and at times overwhelmingly disruptive time, but this doesn't need to be feared. We have seen disruptive periods before.
Think of the advancement of human life brought on by the introduction of the wheel, paper, type, electricity, radio, telephones, automobiles, television, airlines, computers etc. We humans invent and with invention and ingenuity comes change -- at times moderate, at some times extreme.
I believe our current discomfort with change comes from an artificial desire for stability instead of chaos, rigidity over uncertainty, or the known to the unknown. This way of thinking leaves little room for possibility. We want to control everything, but that amount of control leaves no room for something incredible to happen out of the seemingly chaotic.
However, times of rapid change often set the stage for a radical evolution and certainly our various global system and environmental crises seem to suggest the necessity for change.
I firmly believe that our ability to evolve as individuals and as a society depends on our willingness to be open to seeing the possible in the seemingly impossible, the beauty in the chaos, and to abandon the notion that the unknown is something to be avoided.
This will demand more from us than just thinking outside of the box, it will require looking into ourselves and our world for creative possibilities and evolutionary potential. We need to see more, expect more, be more. We need to evolve.
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