Rebirth can follow breakdown, says best-selling author
MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO, Canada — Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of the Canadian best seller "The Upside of Down," says he has spent a lot of time working out a diagnosis of what is wrong in the world today. His conclusion, he says, is scary.
"We are in real trouble," he said in a talk at the 31st annual conference of the Association for Baha'i Studies in North America, held in mid-August near Toronto. More than 1,200 people from 16 countries attended the four-day conference.
He said five enormous pressures - demographic change, energy scarcity, environmental damage, climate change, and the widening gap between rich and poor - are bearing down on humanity. These problems are magnified by the interconnectedness of people today and the increased capacity for destruction, he said.
People want to turn for leadership to supposed experts - in finance, in science - thinking that someone at the top should know the answers, he said.
"But something tells us that the experts really don't know what is going on," said Professor Homer-Dixon, who is the director of the Trudeau Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto.
Although not a member of the Baha'i Faith, Professor Homer-Dixon said he agrees with Baha'is that individuals must become knowledgeable about problems and solutions rather than waiting for leaders to provide top-down strategies.
"It is time for us to stop expecting others to take care of us - those knights on white horses," he said. "As power has moved down the hierarchy, responsibility has moved down that social hierarchy, too."
Knowledge is key, he told his audience, many of whom were academics, scholars, or highly trained professionals.
Surveys have shown, he said, that a significant number of Americans of college age do not know that the earth revolves around the sun in one year.
"How can you have a conversation about climate change if you are talking to someone who does not know this?" he said.
Although Professor Homer-Dixon gives a pessimistic assessment of the crises in the world, he looks for hope in what he dubs "catagenesis" - rebirth through breakdown.
"This is the opportunity for you Baha'is," he said, proceeding to quote from the writings of Baha'u'llah on the subject of knowledge and hope: "Knowledge is as wings to man's life, and a ladder for his ascent. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words. ..."
(Sandra Bean contributed to this article.)
(For reports from the Canadian Baha'i News Service on the recent conference of the Association for Baha'i Studies, go on the Web to www.bahainews.ca. For information about the association itself, go to www.bahai-studies.ca.)