As we continue our exploration of the Powers of the Universe, as described by Brian Swimme in his DVD series of that name, we come to the power of synergy. This power is magnificently illustrated in the behaviour of the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica for whom a learned behaviour has meant survival. They form a tight cluster with the outer circle exposed to the frigid cruelty of the weather while the inner circle is held in warmth. Then in a shifting soundless dance, they change places.
The power of synergy has brought forward some of the most wondrous and crucial developments in the 13.8 billion year history of the universe. Plants that need nitrogen to survive, but are unable to draw it in, form a synergistic relationship with nodules whose bacteria can draw in nitrogen. Flowers, plants and trees that need to be pollinated thrive through their synergistic relationship with bees.
Swimme describes some great moments in synergy throughout the life of our planet:
(a) single cells learn to trade aspects of genetic information, enabling the spread of ideas across the earth;
(b) photosynthesis occurs when, in a synergistic relationship between life and the sun, cells learn to interact with sunlight to draw in energy;
(c) life learns to get hydrogen from water, releasing oxygen, but as oxygen is destructive to life, those forms of life that learn to draw in oxygen, creating through synergy new structures, survive, while the forms of life that do not learn how to do this, sink down into the swamp ;
(d) organisms learn how to mate: the discovery of sexuality 1.5 billion years ago enables an explosion of possibilities and new life forms as sexualized animals cover the planet.
Synergistic relationships enable survival and endurance. In order for life to endure two great challenges need to be met: find energy and create offspring. Life rewards creativity in these two crucial areas with survival. Synergy flowers as life finds creative response to this dual challenge. The quest, according to Swimme, is not to eliminate the challenge but to respond to it.
Seeking a synergistic response to life’s challenges has led to increasing complexity in the human. The challenge of finding energy relates to finding food. Swimme cites an aboriginal tribe who depended upon rabbit for survival. Regularly a group of fifty hunters came together to catch an abundance of rabbits for a steady food supply. Their social cohesion resulted from this need to work together to catch their food. In Inuit societies, the whole community comes together to capture a whale, something impossible for a lone hunter to achieve.
When humans learn to interact with seeds and plants, the nomadic way of life of the hunter/ gatherer societies is altered. A settled way of life emerges with the development of agriculture, pushing to the margins those who remain with the old ways, continuing to hunt and gather. The settled way of life intensifies through classical civilization and into industrial society where productivity increases, again with a crowding out of the earlier forms.
In our time, we see contemporary industrial society around the planet crowding out earlier forms of life, with the evaporation of indigenous groups everywhere. The factories and sweat shops of India and China lure workers into cities, where in order to earn small wages, they sometimes have to live separated from their families in barrack-like conditions. Understanding the process that has led to this moment in the earth’s history frees us to question whether this intensity of production is what we really want. Does the revelation of the appalling, life-threatening conditions in factories such as those in Bangladesh lead us to question our societal thirst for more and cheaper goods? Is this really an enhancement of life on our planet?
Do we see the phenomenal rise in community gardens and farmers’ markets as a sign of hope that we are shifting away from a production/transportation model that brings food to our table from across the planet? A recent CBC story told of an organic garden being created atop a high-rise building in downtown Montreal, a prototype for a whole new way of imagining how to grow the food we need.
The challenge for our time, as Swimme sees it, is for synergy to operate through conscious self-awareness. The movement now needs to be from an industrial to a planetary civilization, requiring the birth of the planetary human. Once we accept our true identity as earth community, sharing genes with oak trees and oysters, this becomes much easier. If we see our humanness from the perspective of biology rather than from religion or politics or culture, we can begin to imagine a planetary society. If we open ourselves to what other species can teach us, our learnings are greatly enhanced. What might fish be able to teach us about keeping the oceans healthy? Finally, war, once a form of social cohesion, has to be replaced. We take on instead the challenge of a synergistic relationship with others in order to deal with a wilting planet and a failing eco-system.
The death throes of Western civilization can be experienced as birth pangs as a new era of humanity is about to emerge. To move towards an abundance of life for all children, for all planetary life, demands greater synergy, deeper power, new technology and moral wisdom to guide us forward, Swimme believes. As with other new developments, the older nationalistic forms of life will not disappear but will hang around as they gradually make their way to the bottom of the swamp.
A message about the power of synergy comes in this email from Ricken Patel of Avaaz.org, a planet-wide movement, inviting individuals to study and respond to issues that affect all of life, such as Monsanto’s pesticide:
This has my head spinning. In months, Europe could actually ban the killer herbicide that Monsanto’s entire business model is based on!
Glyphosate kills *everything* except Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops, transforming our planet into ecological wastelands where nothing can live but one GM crop. It’s apocalyptic.
Even worse, its use is skyrocketing, has been found in 90% of our bodies, and a new study says it likely causes cancer!
Last week, we won a massive battle to block renewal of glyphosate’s license in Europe. Everyone told us this was impossible, but we changed the game! Leading EU politician Pavel Poc said: “Avaaz is indisputably the driving force on glyphosate”.
(As) with climate change and the Paris agreement, Avaaz has mobilised people on this issue at an unprecedented scale – we’ve taken the fight against Monsanto to a whole new level, and now it’s up to all of us, over the next 18 months, to win it.
First big oil, now Monsanto. We are taking on the dragons of our world. But if we stick together, and choose to believe and act, we can do anything.
With hope and determination, Ricken, Alice, Bert, Pascal and the whole Avaaz team
This movement towards newness and rebirth is beginning. When we align our personal energies with it by creating mutually enhancing relationships, we align our human energies with this cosmological power called synergy.