1.2 Civilizational Transformations


It is always the Caterpillar that has eaten its fill that is ready for the final Metamorphosis into a Butterfly. As a species, if we recognize that we need to become Butterflies, then clearly the onus is on the well-off people to take the lead. Specifically since you are reading this book, you are definitely a candidate to undergo Metamorphosis regardless of where you live, if you aren’t doing so already. Such a mass civilizational transformation accompanied by a change in human consciousness is surely necessary to turn things around.

As Jeremy Rifkin has pointed out, in the past, mass civilizational transformations such as this have always been accompanied by a revolution in the energy infrastructure used to fuel the civilization along with a revolution in the means of communications[18]. The original civilizational transformation occurred when humans harnessed fire and began to cook food. This increased the variety of foods available to human beings, for example, by making meat edible, and greatly fueled a growth in human population. Therefore, fire on-demand through the burning of wood was the original energy revolution. The corresponding communications revolution was the invention of language.

Agrarian societies developed when humans were able to harness the energy of animals to plough their fields to plant crops. The agricultural revolution was fueled by Animal energy and the corresponding communications revolution was the invention of writing. Just as cuneiform emerged in Sumeria, hieroglyphics in Egypt, writing emerged in the Indus Valley, in the Yangtze valley in China and in Mexico independently so that agrarian societies could tabulate their crop yields and transact with each other. This fueled the growth of cities where people were freed from the burden of procuring food for their sustenance and started exploring other intellectual pursuits such as music, art, poetry and philosophy.

The First Industrial revolution was fueled through the burning of coal and the invention of the steam engine to harness the energy of coal. The communications revolution that accompanied this was the printing press that allowed for the rapid dissemination of information among the learned classes, which led to a great acceleration of scientific knowledge and a rapid growth in human population as death rates began to decline. One of the greatest contributions of Western civilization to humanity, the invention of the Scientific Method, occurred in this era.

The energy infrastructure transformation that triggered the Second Industrial revolution was the use of oil, natural gas and uranium. The corresponding communications revolution occurred through the invention of telephony, telegraphy, radio and television.

Now we are in the midst of a great revolution in communications with the advent of the personal computer, the internet and wireless communications technologies. What Jeremy Rifkin calls the distributed communications revolution is already in place as individuals blog, post videos and information online and act as distributed news sources. With social networking, individuals are also reaching well beyond their immediate circles and can potentially influence opinions worldwide. While all previous communications revolutions increasingly aggregated power in the hands of a few, this time it is fundamentally different as individuals are empowered. While it is true that the distributed communications infrastructure is still being controlled by a few corporations or the power elite and their intent in providing this infrastructure is to reach out and persuade us to buy things that we don’t need, nevertheless, the infrastructure is there for us to utilize. As Michael Moore, the documentary filmmaker said[19], “Everybody is a filmmaker now. Everybody has a camera!” And the poor people on the planet, who had not even enjoyed the benefits of the printing press, the communications revolution of the middle ages, are suddenly leap frogging everything and using cell phones and wireless technology.

As Kishore Mahbubhani wrote in the Financial Times[20], “Dictators are falling. Democracies are failing. A curious coincidence? Or is it, perhaps, a sign that something fundamental has changed in the grain of human history. I believe so. How do dictators survive? They tell lies. Muammar Gaddafi was one of the biggest liars of all time. He claimed that his people loved him. He also controlled the flow of information to his people to prevent any alternative narrative taking hold. Then the simple cellphone enabled people to connect. The truth spread widely to drown out all the lies that the colonel broadcast over the airwaves. So why are democracies failing at the same time? The simple answer: democracies have also been telling lies.”

A distributed energy revolution is also underway with solar and wind energy solutions getting deployed world wide, but it hasn’t attained the same reach as the distributed communications revolution yet. When people are able to tap into the energy that’s literally falling on their heads and blowing on their faces everywhere, they will truly become untethered from the clutches of another and be free to act independently. Once again, the poorest people on the planet have the opportunity to leap frog all the past energy revolutions that never reached them, coal, oil, natural gas and uranium, and move straight from animal power to the solar age.

Our present world situation is ripe for the Metamorphosis, the civilizational transformation that can occur on the basis of the distributed energy and distributed communications revolutions. As individuals are empowered and hierarchical power structures are weakened, the Butterfly can emerge en masse, as our expectation of what constitutes an average human being in society changes. Until now, all major civilizational transformations had increasingly separated humans from Nature, because they had increasingly concentrated power in a few elite institutions or corporations. But the Metamorphosis aims to reconnect humans back to Nature, so that the Butterfly can help repair and heal the damage that was done in the past. To facilitate this transformation, a new political mindset is emerging among the Miglets who grew up on the internet and socialized media. They are no longer interested in the authoritarian, Right vs. Left type judgmental, hierarchical political structures of the past and are increasingly seeking the distributed, collaborative political structures of the future.


[18] Jeremy Rifkin, “On Global Issues and Future of the Planet,” Interview with Een Vandaag, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9wM-p8wTq4

[19] The quote is taken from a Democracy Now interview of Michael Moore on September 28, 2011 regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement. http://www.democracynow.org/2011/9/28/something_has_started_michael_moore_on

[20] Kishore Mahbubani was quoted in Tom Friedman’s column in the NY Times on September 7, 2011 at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/07/opinion/friedman-the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but.html . The original article is in the Financial Times behind a pay wall.

1.1 The Population Conundrum
1.3 Who are We?[21]
Sailesh Rao
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