Angry crowds evoking the imagery of lynch mobs surround politicians’ town hall meetings meant to discuss health care reform that isn’t reform advocated by a president who ran for office on a platform of change but who bailed out the rich while neglecting those who suffer most and leaving real economy to twist in the wind. An H1N1 pandemic that almost certainly originated on a factory swine farm threatens a renewal, people starve, global warming is accelerating, we still have ridiculously large stockpiles of nuclear weapons, the U.S. still spends ridiculous amounts of money on its military fighting wars that can’t be won and to disproportionately imprison African American males, while fascists (dressed as police) patrol the streets.

I’m thinking of a Tarot card: Death. While I think of cards often used in divination, death appears in many cultures as renewal. The old must make way for the new. And I’d like to think that things cannot get worse, that a new beginning is at hand. This is, I am sure, wishful thinking. It seems like every time I look, the state of humanity has reached new depths of despair.

The program I begin today, a Ph.D. program in Transformative Studies at California Institute for Integral Studies is, for me, a new beginning. I approach this program from the perspective that if humanity is to survive, it must evolve socially, psychologically, and spiritually.

A fundamental concept in this program is of emergent phenomena, outcomes that could not be forecast from their origins. The example classically used to explain this is of water, a clear liquid vital for life, that emerges from the combination of two gases, hydrogen and oxygen. This is a universe that beginning with the Big Bang, has sorted itself out into galaxies and solar systems, that nurtured life from the chaos of at least one coalescing planet. Emergent phenomena are not always good: There is room for doubt that we as a species are truly better off with all our technological advances than we were ten thousand years ago. The ingredients of our situation are abysmal. But the outcome is yet to be seen.

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