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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 usually works.

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