From “the Long Emergency” to “a Long Emergence”

James Howard Kunstler has posited that we are entering a Long Emergency.  I’d like to propose that it would be useful to look at this as a Long Emergence instead.  While Kunstler uses system’s thinking as a basis for his critique of the current economic model and its inevitable failure based on its unsustainability in the face of Peak Oil, his predictions do leave out the potential for unprecedented change within cultures that are subject to the same principles.  Just as oil production and use, and climatic models, are capable of changing quickly after long periods of stability and a seeming inevitability of permanence of their current states, so too are we subject to tipping points within human consciousness.  If we look at that potential now, it can be categorized as the potential to face catastrophic change as a catalyst and stimulus to entering a Long Emergence.

The possibilities implicit in a Long Emergence versus a Long Emergency is a big topic, one that we’ll return to here, and one that is a tenet behind Horizons of Significance.  For now, here’s a micro-story teasing around how its principles could spread.

The Start of the Long Emergence

The message spread virally.  This metaphor is apt at every level.  A mechanism of “infection” spreads from nodes of “contagion.”  Replication, like RNA in a virus, copies the message.  Human networks were the pathways for its dissemination.  Its core ideas had grown from struggles to carve out a form, but then its insights spread rapidly, jumping from person to person and network to network.  It spread, throughout the fabric of an inimical host culture.  In part it took advantage of that body, in other ways it ignored its host, accepting that their inherent weaknesses generated their own decline.

Its  goal was its own dissemination, not the destruction of the failing culture it hoped to supersede.  The host’s demise was external to their interaction, as in one way after another it failed to adapt to changing conditions, of which this “virus” was only one, added late in it’s end-game.

It spread.  It popped up all over, seemingly simultaneously, as though the result of some coordinated, centrally planned effort.  In reality, it had been an interleaving of events as various centers grew, expanded and converged until they had achieved critical mass.

As with all viral spreads, it resulted from a loss of inhibitory control.  There had always been yearnings after this kind of change; but these had been held in check by fear.  So long as outbreaks were few and intermittent, they fizzled on their own as their force was dissipated by inertia within great reservoirs of fear.  Once a way had been found to neutralize crippling fear, inhibition began to fail.   Its greater spread can be dated from that moment.


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