The title of this post is a word that means “retrospectivity,” looking back and summing up. I think this is what we need to do, right now, with Western Civilization as a whole; and in saying so I am following in the tradition of Mark van Doren (a poet who basically invented the idea of Western Civ/Great Books curricula), and the great adult-education movement centered on Chautauqa, and many others. There are times in history when this is especially needed, in order to figure out how to chart a way forward, and I think the current ecological and political crisis we are facing means this is one of those times. (I am so grateful that we have social media, which enables me to put out this idea in a search for kindred minds/spirits, and not be limited by the negative response of the adult I live with, who thinks I’m being grandiose! Of course he also thinks it’s wrong to love Black Pink.)
I think it’s time to query our collective database and look back at what our philosophers, theologians, artists and scientists have thought, and see what, if anything, we have learned. It could help save the Earth; and even if it doesn’t, there might be a value to this reflection in itself, if–as seems to me to be possible–our planet and all life on it is part of a larger universal consciousness. Even if this human experiment could end any day (which has been true at least since the splitting of the atom), what has been learned from it could still contribute to a larger whole. But we have to learn it–to think it through; and then stress-test it by rigorous cross-cultural engagement with Eastern thinking and with the ontology of indigenous peoples. Basically humanity needs to get its collective intellectual property together and figure out what we’ve got.
There are a million ways to do this. My small contributions of this week: a forthcoming piece in Responsible Investor in which I imagine doing shots with the ghost of Adam Smith; and my continuing engagement, by YouTube video and blog post, with Yanomami philosopher Davi Kopenawa and the shamans of the Kogi people of Columbia. I was riveted to see, in the film “Aluna,” that the Kogi seem to have always known about dark energy, and believe there are important places on Earth where they can connect to it in meditation. Similarly, the Dogon seem to have known about binary stars long before the West. What would happen, I wonder, if we asked indigenous peoples about their views of the very small? What do they think of atoms, quarks, strings? In my dreams, I’d get shamans to somehow shoot the breeze with the cutting-edge physicists of our day, and see what happens when really diverse, great minds meet.