INTRODUCTION: Using the Year 2000 Problem
for Cultural Breakthrough and Transformation
Modern industrial and information-age societies are quite powerful at manipulating
the material world and human psychology. This power has brought us unprecedented
affluence and the globalization of culture.
It has brought us other things, as well. Material success has eclipsed Spirit
and Nature -- and has undermined the quality of our lives. While many of
us are surrounded with stuff and comforts, we don't feel satisfied, fulfilled,
fully alive. We are uneasy. Something is wrong.
Every now and then we glimpse through the veils of economic growth and technological
wonders, another world, where millions of people are suffering, species
are vanishing, the climate is growing more uncertain and wild. Deep inside,
we know that world is the same as ours. Anxiously, unprepared, we can feel
ourselves slipping into an Age of Consequences. All those phenomena we've
dismissed as "side effects," "externalities," "unintended
consequences" and "unscientific illusions" are combining
with our cultural pride and power. And from that mix, titanic global crises
-- socio-economic and ecological -- are rumbling into our awareness.
More and more people are waking up to this, noticing that our culture is
dysfunctional in some very significant ways -- unsustainable, unjust, unlivable,
unpleasant, destructive -- despite all its glitter, music, highways and
groceries. We're realizing especially, that the world we live in is not
healthy for children, and for their children, and -- even less -- for theirs.
Modern culture's very success is becoming its undoing. And at the same time,
we are discovering everything we need to do it right, to heal the world,
to sustain ourselves. Our potential for both good and ill grow daily. Things
are getting better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster.
As people become increasingly aware of the need for change, they come to
realize that what's needed is not a bandaid here and a tweak there, but
change at a deep level. We need to create, together, a liveable
society that can survive the challenges of the next century. This realization
is spreading rapidly. We cannot continue as we are. As the old Chinese saying
puts it: If you continue in the same direction, you will surely arrive where
you are going.
For better and worse, we are about to experience an event that will make
this crystal clear: The Year 2000 problem (Y2K).
I often use the word "transformation" to describe the kind of
deep change that's called for here -- the sort of change that we now face
(with Y2K), whether we're ready or not. "Transformation" connotes
a change in essence, as well as in form: What we end up
with will be very different from what we began with. A popular (and apt)
metaphor for transformation is the caterpillar that transforms itself into
a butterfly, passing through a sort of liquid mush stage in the process.
But transformation can be good or bad. And many people associate the word
with personal psychological self-absorption. So I'm often inclined to use
the word "breakthrough," instead. Breakthrough implies suddenly
moving beyond a stuck, dysfunctional state into new ways of being and doing
that really work. We need that.
The word "breakthrough" is often associated with the word "breakdown."
Often breakdown seems to set the stage for breakthrough. Breakdown may not
be necessary for breakthrough, but that's certainly the way life
On this site, we'll be talking about moving through breakdown to breakthrough.
I suspect Y2K will provide the breakdown. It is up to us
to provide the positive breakthroughs.
Turning breakdown into breakthrough requires that we build strong, resilient
communities able to get the necessities of life by working with their
immediate surroundings. In that fertile ground a new culture can grow. One
that can last. One that will be a joy to live in.
-- Tom Atlee