February 29, 2024

Dear Friends,

My January newsletter column focused on the Earth Charter as a bridge between the conservative commitment to preserving the family and community values of our past and the progressive focus on moving forward to actualize our potential as a now interconnected global species. This February column takes on the discussion of human purpose and the implications of the changes we have experienced over the last 10,000 years.

My distinctive experience of living on four different continents exposed me to the extraordinary diversity of our human life choices. We are a truly distinctive species with distinctive potential and responsibilities.

Much of my life attention has focused on addressing the disastrous consequences of our obsession with money and our societal commitment to growing frivolous consumption and the fortunes of those who already have far more than they could ever conceivably use while billions struggle for survival.

I’m now 86. The recent deterioration of my heart and stomach put me in the hospital for nearly a week. Life-threatening experiences tend to focus one’s attention on the purpose of life and what lies beyond it.

I’ve been reflecting in a new way on my own life experience and the very distinctive nature of what has been unfolding relating to our human potential and purpose. I have suddenly realized that for all the harm our obsessive pursuit of money has caused, the invention of money has also opened new possibilities for our coming together in an Ecological Civilization. I am pondering whether these new possibilities suggest there is some form of guiding intelligence steering us in ways beyond our human knowledge and comprehension.

— David Korten


A Distinctive Species with Distinctive Responsibilities

David Korten | February 29, 2024

Let us be clear. Questions of purpose are ultimately spiritual. Our interpretations of the spiritual are inherently individual and often ambiguous. It is my guiding belief that to know creation’s intentions, the best we can do is observe what creation has done as it has unfolded from the Big Bang.

Humans are a recently arrived and originally uniquely vulnerable Earth species. Divided into scattered roaming tribes of diverse and often competing cultures, we lacked the basic defenses of fang and claw. Our prospects were not promising. Yet, we have since acquired such power that we now threaten both ourselves and Earth itself.

Humans also hold previously unimaginable ability to choose with conscious collective intention. Our fate now turns on our use of this ability to achieve a Great Transition—also known as a Great Turning—to an Ecological Civilization grounded in the Earth Charter principles of care for Earth, equitable care for one another, and peace.

The Great Transition began some 10,000 years ago as humans began to move to settled agriculture. Some 5,000 years later, with humans rooted in place and producing surpluses, great rulers emerged, spawning the age of imperial domination. It was a time of great pain and violence even for the rulers.

At the same time, the Imperial Era ultimately brought extraordinary technological advances that increased our global interdependence. And that, I am now realizing, has increased our ability to take the defining step to an Ecological Civilization. So far, the Great Transition has mixed love, violence, beauty, exploitation, suffering, and accomplishment. We must now complete the transition on which we embarked some 10,000 years ago or bear the ultimate consequence of our failure—human self-extinction.

Success depends on our embracing a simple truth. We are one people of one Earth possessed of a capacity to choose our future together. My wellbeing depends on your wellbeing, and yours on mine. And some of the rich, who currently presume to choose our future for us, are planning their escape to a less damaged planet. Yet so far, our scientists have not identified any planet with the air, water, and fertile soils essential to human survival. The simple truth is: We must learn to work together to create resilient life on planet Earth.

Over much of my lifetime, I have been so focused on the harms resulting from the human pursuit of money that I have ignored another aspect of the role of money. It has unleashed the technological advances that give us possibilities both for humans and for the further unfolding of Creation. Money drove much of the expansion of Empire, which brought much death and devastation. Yet those Empires and their accompanying technological breakthroughs also connected our species in previously unimagined global communication and interdependence.

Money, first used in Mesopotamia some 10,000 years ago, has evolved from a medium of exchange to become a purpose of our existence. We are witnessing a devastating competition among the already obscenely rich to continue to grow their fortunes. Money’s hold on the human consciousness is dangerously out of control. The servant has become the master. The result is killing Earth. And there will be no winners on a dead Earth.

Putting our current choice point into a deep evolutionary context highlights the extraordinary nature and implications of this defining moment. The cosmos was born of the big bang about 13.8 billion years ago. Earth appeared only somewhat more than 4.6 billion years ago. The first life forms appeared on Earth between 4.3 and 3.5 billion years ago. The first modern humans appeared between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago.

We are currently experiencing the final stage in a great 10,000-year human cultural transformation from living in isolated roving bands dependent on harvesting what the Earth provided to actualizing the potential of an Ecological Civilization of one Earth and one people. To reclaim our humanity and restore prospects for our species survival, we must free ourselves from money’s current hold on the human consciousness, recognize its utility and contributions, and reconnect with life in ways consistent with our nature as living beings with extraordinary responsibilities and capacities to learn and choose.

We cannot know Creation’s purpose. What we do know is that somehow, we are experiencing an incredible and wholly distinctive burst in potential, happening in the blink of the cosmic eye.

Let us call this recent 90-year period the Exponential Era—a time of exponential human learning and transformational change. In this brief Era, we have experienced dramatic advances in our human understanding of the cosmos and of life here on Earth. Our technological advances have connected us in a seamless web of communication. We have roughly doubled the human lifespan, which has increased the time available for great human minds to contribute to the extraordinary advances in human knowledge.

Creation’s purpose is revealed in its continuing unfolding toward ever greater complexity, beauty, awareness, and possibility. It appears that Creation may be preparing humans for a special place in a future stage of that unfolding. Perhaps we have an intended future role in ultimately spreading life throughout the cosmos through terraforming other planets, although we are far from ready to do it responsibly.

The next step in our long journey is to complete the Great Transition to an Ecological Civilization here on Earth. As impossible as that step may seem, if this is Creation’s intention, we bear serious responsibility to succeed. And we have reason to believe that Creation is on our side.


Noteworthy …

“As participants in and contributors to the ongoing process of creation, we each bear a sacred responsibility. Our lives take on profound meaning and purpose in relationship and service to the sacred whole.”

Read more in David’s paper, “Religion, Science, and Spirit: A Sacred Story of Our Time,” originally published by YES! Magazine.




From the Book Shelf…

Let us embrace this moment as an opportunity to claim and express our true nature as living beings inhabiting a Living Earth in a Living Universe. Let us accept responsibility for our self-aware agency and learn the arts of living in a conscious interconnected world. And let us rethink and restructure our institutions to find our place of contribution to creation’s continued unfolding.

We need not know where creation’s journey leads, or whether a final destination is even a meaningful concept. It is sufficient that we discern and celebrate its trajectory toward ever greater complexity, beauty, awareness, and possibility.”

Find it here…


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