- The first was the
Age of Unpeople
You could also call
it things like the age of tribalism, feudalism, servitude,
hierarchy, or dominance, if you like.
What I mean by it is this. In this age, some human beings were
considered people, and others were not.
Those who were not were
different things in different places.
Untouchables. Peasants. Serfs...
These groups had
varying degrees of freedom - between absolutely none, to very
The common thread in
this age, though, was that some human beings were "real" ones -
anointed by the gods, blessed by nature, and so forth - and
others were not.
Let's do a few examples.
In what today are India and Pakistan,
caste societies developed, with untouchables at the bottom -
In Europe, feudalism ruled - with those
of "noble" blood above serfs and peasants with no rights - again, unpeople.
In ancient Rome and
Greece, slavery was commonplace and acceptable - in a way, it
was more "civilized" than later slaveries, because there, the
unperson could buy his way out of subjugation.
Do you see the common
For the vast span of
human civilization, a common thread united societies:
the idea of
They were to be ruled
and subjugated, turned into machines of labour and servants of
pleasure or gladiators.
You might think of all this as ancient history. But in fact -
and this is the point - the Age of Unpeople didn't end
until very, very recently. Within the span of existing
lifetimes, in fact.
Until 1971 or so, the
world's most powerful and richest society was also the world's
biggest apartheid state:
Americans hate it
when I say that - because they've been taught, erroneously, that
they're an especially 'noble' and 'special' people.
In fact, America is
the society that brought the Age of Unpeople to its culmination
- creating the most sophisticated, largest apartheid state the
world has ever known.
- What followed the
Age of Unpeople? The Age of Unpeople was followed by the Age
Now, you shouldn't think of these ages of linear, discontinuous
More like gentle,
gradual strata, which coexist. That means that while America was
trapped in the Age of Unpeople, segregating blacks after
enslaving them, unable to act like a decent society, Europe and
Canada had forged ahead.
They built something like the world's first genuinely free
Everybody in them was
to have the basics of life:
healthcare, education, retirement,
income, a roof over their heads.
This isn't the American
definition of freedom:
a thousand flavors of toothpaste at Walmart, while you can't afford healthcare - it's a more
People weren't yoked to jobs, to menial labour, to wasting their lives, so much anymore - like unpeople
People were genuinely
free. If you had healthcare, retirement, education - you could
realize much, much more of yourself than if you didn't.
Canadians soon - within the span of a single human lifetime -
began to enjoy history's highest living standards, ever. And
that was because people gave each other the basics of life -
which freed them all.
And that brings me to now...
Even the massive
breakthroughs pioneered in the Age of Freedom - a new, radical
set of human rights for all - aren't enough to solve the
problems of now. They don't help when the planet's melting down.
They aren't going to
bring the insects and bees and trees and fish, all fast going
extinct, back to life. If the ultra rich have embezzled,
extorted, and siphoned of all a society's gains… what's left to
pay for everyone's healthcare, education, and retirement? And so
And so the Age of Freedom appears to be coming to an
end, crashing down around us.
Even in Europe and
Canada, regressive movements are gaining power and strength by
the day, week, month. And many societies in the world have never
even made it this far - no matter how rich or powerful they got.
Take America. It's
struggled for half a century now to get past the Age of Unpeople,
and move into the Age of Freedom. But there it is, still unable
to provide its people with healthcare, retirement, education.
will probably never make it to even the second stage of
See the point,
though. American regress is just one example of global progress
beginning to shatter and fall apart.
What are we to do, then, about the great challenges of this
stagnation, mass extinction, fascism?
I think that they
will require us to move into a new age.
Let me simply call it
the Age of Dignity. I mean it in a
curious way, a strange way, a novel way, though. In this age,
the central challenge is dignity.
Dignity means something like:
every life realizing its possibility, its potential.
The potential of a seed is to become a tree.
The potential of a
river is to reach the sea.
The potential of a glacier is to flow
The potential of a
forest is to breathe, and the potential of the soil is to
nourish. That of a little cub is to become a wolf.
Of a child,
to become an adult - and that of the adult, to become their
fullest, truest, authentic self, the one most capable of
emotion, knowledge, truth, and grace.
Do you see how different all this is from the way that we think,
trained by capitalism to be selfish, aggressive,
insatiable little balls of ego and appetite?
So by dignity I don't just mean:
"giving people healthcare."
mean something much, much deeper, much more radical, much more
daring. I mean something like giving every life the right to
realize itself as fully as it can.
And that means
investing in every life...
That means investing in forests, rivers, oceans, animals. It
means investing in ourselves and our children.
The key word is
investing - a cold, capitalist term, that's better simply called
nourishment, care, tending, cultivation.
It means building institutions for all that investment.
Am I talking
about a global fund to plant trees everywhere humanly
A "bank", run by
many counties, that invests in fish, forests, and seeds,
around the globe? Sure.
institutions that provide cutting healthcare, education, and
retirement for every single child on planet earth, whether
American, European, or African? Sure.
Am I talking
about making all these things basic rights - not just for
human children, but for forests, rivers, animals, and trees,
You get the scale of
We don't think this
big, do we? But we need to.
I don't mean playing at the same
scales, in the same way. I mean building new global institutions
to invest in the rights and obligations that underpin the
realization of every single life on planet earth. Whether that
life is flora, fauna, or us.
We are learning that what the hippies said, quoting the
Buddhists, was eminently true. All these are "interconnected."
It's better to say, in way of different, that there is no
difference between them.
The sunlight can kill me. It hits my skin, breaks my blood
apart, which overloads my liver. Bang! I'm dead. So I live a
vampire life. Leather jackets at midnight.
But if the sunlight
can kill me,
who can say where the "sun" begins, and "I" end?
Is it when the photon crosses the collagen of my skin?
when the photon crashed into a blood cell?
Is it when the photon
leaves the sun, and I begin walking into it's very path?
We are one and the
same, my friends. All of us. All things...
river, animal, plant on earth is our equal.
and every grain of dust is, too.
That's not just idle
philosophy - that's pragmatic reality, at this juncture of
It has taken us millennia - long, painful, difficult, bloody,
tormented centuries - to get this far.
To realize just this
all human beings
understood - and they prospered, like Canada and Europe.
Some never did - and
imploded right back into fascism, like America. They stayed
stuck at stage one - never making it to stage two.
- But what about
The next phase,
stage, of this
process of awareness growing should be obvious.
It isn't just human beings who are equals. All life is equal.
(And stage four is that all Being is equal.)
This century asks of us things that we have never been very good
at as human beings.
Humility. Wisdom. Truth. Mercy. Justice.
These things come to us in the form of prophets and sages
- whom we then invariably kill.
And after we kill
them, perhaps we remember their message, too late, and too
little. We must understand ourselves genuinely now.
The greedy, cruel, and foolish among us have ruled us too long.
We feared the most violent among us - and called them kings.
But they were never kings. They were just violent, stupid men.
Do they rule us still...?