Out of the Darkness

By: David Miron-Wapner

In these dark days of winter we are reminded of the natural rhythm of time. Not the acceleration of constant information exchange, nor the intensifying pace of change in all aspects of human society; rather we attune ourselves to noticing budding winter flowers and events each coming in their season. All this reminds us that we are a part of, not apart from nature. Separation is an illusion.


Testifying to the power of human-influenced climate change, we seem to no longer be able to rely on events occurring in regular, relatively reliable patterns. Rains fall out of season, leaves change earlier or later, the dry season stretches on; so humanity has unintentionally imposed its own uncertainties on natural cycles.

All life follows patterns of birth, rapid growth, maturity, decline and finally death. Try as we might, the cycle of life appears immutable to change. Still we believe that our economy can grow forever without limits, driven by consumption, which is in turn fueled by a basic confusion between needs and wants. Many futurists tout the exponential growth in technology as heralding of a new era of human manipulation unprecedented in the history of our planet, yet I am not so sanguine about its potential to satisfy the real needs of an our expanding human population.

Needs for sustenance from agriculture, and the “services” of clean water, decent air quality and fertile soils we receive “free” from our planet. Though I remain a great believer in the ability of technology to improve many aspects we consider to be part of a quality life, we must be cognizant of resource limitations that may constrain such growth.

We should also ask ourselves whether more and better technology, more growth, more consumption, makes us any happier or satisfied with our lives. The winter holiday season seems to be just a time for adding to our accumulation of products, and this definitely does not bring more light into the world. Polls in many places disclose an uncomfortable truth – more stuff does not equal more meaning. Consumption does not bring us closer together in true communities that nurture the human spirit. Nor does Gross National Product truly measure human progress. As one of my great heroes Robert Kennedy said, GNP “measures neither our wit nor our nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything in short, except that which makes like worthwhile.”

As we celebrated our various holy days, and acknowledged the solstice, I trust that we also became a bit more aware of our limitations and were not completely fooled by false promises of never ending progress and growth. We must understand the extent of our power to alter the very basis for our existence and the limits of our wisdom to manage life on this planet as just some other commodity to be consumed and discarded or another industrial project to be brought in on time and budget.