David La Chapelle
Juneau, Alaska, USA
"Carriers, Messengers & False Gods"
Wednesday, January 5, 2000
By David La Chapelle
Last winter, as I sat in the room at the Fetzer Institute Y2K meeting I was struck with the gathering of midwives I saw before me: a group of committed humans who were gathered together by the thread of what we supposed was Y2K. I left that gathering feeling that it purpose of our gathering was not about Y2K at all, which is why I believe, there was so little discussion about the specifics of the issue in the meeting. We were gathered to witness the articulation of values and energy for a movement to sustain the well being of life upon our planet. Whether we were successful then, or will be the future I cannot pretend to know, but the intention was at least clear.
I believe that the great perplexity which is sweeping the Y2K movement is because a call was answered but the messenger turned out to not be dressed in the clothes we thought. As I examine my own response to the Y2K issue I realized that the invitation to extend my awareness to global systems was a powerful doorway to what I believe is an authentic and even painful call from the planetary systems for our increased human awareness.
I also will add Bill Urlich's admonition that if you are seeking to change a complex system go to the people who understand the system and have lived and breathed it. This is one of the most sane bits of wisdom I have seen emerge in our post mortem emails.
I will indulge in a bit of storytelling here. If I were the voice of the planet which is under siege and I wanted to communicate to the human realm of my predicament what could I do? The human community shows little capacity to fundamentally respond to the visible evidence of degradation. Becoming immune to the erosion of ecosystems the human sensibility has become more and more truncated and focused upon the electronic media and the computers of the world. If I were fighting for the health of my home world I would be tempted to use whatever means I could to communicate with the human communities. What better way than to infect the computer systems with a meme of impending destruction? All who use the systems would be forced to consider that their way of doing business was in peril if they did not pay attention. If I wanted to flag my message to the humans of the planet then I would create the suspicion that their computers may be in peril. As the humans responded they would begin to sense and feel the lack of sustainability of the present system. Perhaps if enough of them listened a new level of action might take place.
Imagine my frustration when I realize that the humans focused on the content of the message: ie the computers were in peril and not the underlying energetic of the message: the earth is in peril. The technological possibility of computer crashes was a real possibility, but that was not the essential message.
Many wise and good humans found the call and began to answer in their own stumbling ways. When the computers rolled over and the world still worked they were left with the energetics of their engagement, but without "proof".
Let me leave the storytelling behind for a moment and talk about "reality".
How much proof do we need? When the wealth disparity of the planet increases daily, when supertorms hit Europe, Venezuela and the Atlantic in the last few months, when new and virulent flues appear across the nation, when a 23% of the school children in a single middle school class are failing, When students are gunning down their peers and elders, when nearly two million of our fellow citizen are incarcerated and prison spending it outstripping nearly every other sector of publics works, when media is increasingly controlled by the economies they serve, when species extinctions have reach the greatest die-off level since the last major crash of life forms on the planet. The list is longer than my heart has patience to reveal when all this is before us, how much proof do we need?
The energetics of the call that Y2K set forth is completely accurate. The messenger simply did not deliver the goods. The triage of world computers will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the great engineering feats of all time. A miracle born on the backs of hard work and enormous expenditures of money.
Someone once told me that if something doesn't feel right then follow the money. Where did the billions of dollars come from to fix the computers? And what are the implications of its expenditure?. One of the most brilliant contributions that Doug Carmichael has presented in our ongoing discussions is the observation that the fall of the Roman Empire was presaged with a gluttony of spending on the infrastructure of the Empire in order to keep the public works programs going. This drawdown of resources helped weaken the overall system and ushered in its collapse. The enormous armies of the empire needed something to do other than create discord. So taxes were raised to feed the insatiable capacity to build which created the Internet of the time: the roads and aqueducts of the Roman Empire. Y2K has been a hidden tax which will have unforeseen effects. But the story has many twists and turns.
The turning point in my understanding of the true potential of Y2K breakdowns came last summer. I was reading an excellent book entitled, "Beyond Engineering, How Society Shapes Technology", by Robert Pool when I came across a fascinating portrayal of the culture which exists onboard aircraft carriers. I am going to quote from some key passages because I think it will help us understand the immediate reason that Y2K was such a non event:
"On the surface, an aircraft carrier appears to be organized along traditional hierarchical lines, with authority running from the captain down through the ranks in a clearly defined pattern. But, the carrier's inner life is much more complicated. When things heat up, as during the launching and recovery of planes, the organization structure shifts into another gear. Now the crews members interact much more as colleagues and less and superiors and subordinates, and negotiations and accommodations take the place of giving and following orders. The people who have the most knowledge and experience in handling a particular chore take the initiative, with others following their lead. At the same time, cooperation and communication amongst various units become much more important than orders passed down the chain of command and the information passed back up. Even the lowest rating on the deck has not only the authority, but the obligation to suspend flight operations immediately, under the proper circumstance and without first clearing with superiors."
What is being painted in this description is amazing: a self organizing system in service of technological platform that calls upon the strength, integrity, communication and team work of a group of humans. Reflect on this when you consider how many headlines we see of airplanes crashing into Aircraft carriers: a task as dangerous and prone to problems we can only just begin to imagine. Once I understood this passage the gestalt of Y2k reversed fields for me. Part of this perceptual shift was supported by my being on the Mayor's Y2k task force here in Juneau. The local representative of our power utility was a fine example of the skills and abilities necessary to ensure the deliver of a complex technological platform. He had energy, vision, organization, attention to detail and curiosity. Most important he had sprit. An intangible aliveness which let me know that my local utility was in fine hands.
I began to see Y2K as a defining moment of self organizing human collectives in service of technology. Now I don't mean to say that there are no larger implications in this process, some which may be troubling, but the elegance of the process still is quite astonishing and explain, in my mind, why the "miracle" of the rollover took place. I don't mean to I infer that all the software people across the planet were angels, and their managers spirit infused. I am sure that the requisite amount of egos, power trips and other hindrances appeared. But the job got done. And the self organizing capacity of the universe was, I believe, underneath the result.
That being said, let us turn our attention to what has been organized amongst those of us tuned to the planetary distress. Just because Y2K turned out the way it did does not in any way undermine the fact that we have been organized. And we are being called into service of the whole systems which support life and meaning on the planet. No minor job description. But to reject the job because the immediate messenger changed clothes on us would be a great failure of spirit.
Lessons are always there to be learned. This is mine in regard to Y2K. I must plead a certain spiritual materialism when it came to Y2K. I was hoping, somewhere in the recesses of my consciousness, that the disruption which Y2K might bring would be an opportunity for people to wake up and begin to change the structural problems which are damaging our greater good. This was a noble thought, but I made a serious mistake. One which I was projecting onto the consumer-technology culture. I was wanted the material world to provide the magic bullet for change. In doing so I short circuited the true evolutionary process of inner truths become explicit. Any emergence of wholeness takes time to achieve its goals and is the result of hard work and reciprocal relationship amongst all the parts. As long as I was focusing on the problems of the material culture I lived in I was in fact becoming a materialist myself. It wasn't until I was on the Mayor's task force here in Juneau that I truly began to realize that if we are too change the system then the we must become part of the system. Waiting for the demise of a system in order to improve it was a failure of spirit on my part. This failure of spirit is born of an anger. I was raised on a glacier and had the most remarkable connection with nature. Coming down to the human realm and seeing the incredible toll being enacted on my most beloved childhood companion was deeply embittering. My failure in regards to Y2K was to indulge this resentment in the act of elevating Y2K disruptions into a force for revolution. I believe one of the commandants which underpin our western civilization is "though shalt not have false gods before me.
Elevating Y2K to a carrier wave of cultural change has put a false god before us. Many had begun to discuss the lack of legs which Y2K had, so the feeling was in the air before the rollover, but the lesson is still clear. There is no substitute to the persistent and heartful attention necessary for personal and cultural transformation. No matter what the circumstances, opulence or oppression, peace or war, friendship or enmity, the task before us is to reach deep in the substance of our being and bring forth the truth we wish to become. No single success or failure is ever going to create a radiant self sutainining culture.. The discipline of continuing the journey is our greatest responsibility, no matter what the outcome or circumstances. What we build here and now in our actions and intentions are the food for future generations. Let us feed the children well.
David La Chapelle
Y2k: Creative opportunity on the edge of Change