A Brief History of the Rise of Global Consciousness – Part 1 – The Pre-Internet Years

We are living in one of the most extraordinary periods of transformation in the history of Planet Earth, the depths of which will probably only begin to be widely recognised with hindsight, possibly many years from now.  In recent years we have seen the emergence of a true global consciousness.  

This planetary awareness has been growing exponentially for most of recorded human history, meaning that up until the 20th century it was growing so slowly that it was barely perceptible.   For much of early recorded history, the awareness level of most of the population was mainly at the tribal level and remained that way until well after the birth of nation states. Even with the early empires such as the Greeks and the Romans, the awareness level of most people barely extended beyond their immediate vicinity.

The growth of consciousness has been strongly linked to the growth in technology.  The invention of the printing press in 1440 was a small step, but the work involved in printing was still quite labourious and anyway so few people were literate.  The Industrial Revolution saw the invention of the first steam powered printing press in 1811, and with the coinciding increases in literacy and travel awareness began to slowly but perceptibly increase throughout the 19th century.

In the early years of the 20th century, World War I and the subsequent Great Depression were the first major global occurences.  It was World War II however that really precipitated the necessity for formal recognition of humanity’s mutual interdependence, when in 1945 the United Nations was founded in order to stop wars between countries and to provide a platform for dialogue.   The UN was the first and remains one of the few truly global organisations that represents virtually the whole of humanity.  Like any human organisation it has its flaws, limitations and corruptions, but has mostly been limited in its effectiveness  because it is not an independent organisation but an association of 192 member states who must reach consensus.  The general consciousness level of the member states barely extended beyond the national level for most of the last century.  But whilst its more powerful members states have strutted and postured on the front of the world stage the UN has been quietly working in the background, and with recent events such as the global financial crisis, climate change and the food crisis,  it will increasingly become the main forum in which to address global issues.

The 1960s was a time of revolutionary ideas and social and spiritual upheaval particularly in the Western world, when the doctrines and motives of ruling establishments were called into question on a large scale.  However despite the decade’s many advancements in areas such as women’s rights, civil rights, the Peace Movement, environmental awareness, technology, popular culture, spiritual awareness and social revolution, the subsequent backlash that led to the complacency of the 1970s and materialism of the 1980s has caused some to see the 1960s as a failure.  I believe however that this is only a short-term view that prevails as a result of the era’s inability to immediately address all of the the high expectations that the idealism of the period brought.  The sheer intensity of the period however was too much for too many to cope with, and a backlash was inevitable at the time, because not enough people – especially those in positions of power – had the level of awareness to integrate so many new ideas.  But not all of the old hippies became bankers – there were many others who continue to quietly pursue some of the ideals first brought to light in the 1960s.  Many of the ideas and movements that are considered part of the New Age movement first came to general awareness in the 1960s.

This week brings the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in the advent of global consciousness – the publishing of the first photo of the Earth from space, taken by the crew of Apollo 8 from an orbit around the moon on Christmas Eve 1968.   The now more commonplace image of the simple blue and green sphere against the vast emptiness of space helped many to grasp humanity’s essential oneness and the fact that this planet is all that we have.  It has become an icon for environmental awareness.  Click on the photo to go to The Independent’s commemoration article.  

The 1970s and 80s were a time when the focus of many was more on the physical and material.  But even though not much 60s idealism carried over into mainstream society over these two decades, the growth of consciousness was not stopped.  The focus on the physical body had the effect of raising awareness of health issues such that traditonal medicine’s focus on curing disease was no longer sufficient, and many opened up to ideas of alternative and holistic health and a focus instead on wellness. Increased knowledge of the debilitating effects of stress and its influence on the development of virtually all illness and disease led to many opening up to the positive effects of more spiritually oriented practices such as meditation, yoga and conscious breathing.  Awareness of the effects of different environments on human health also increased.

The 1980s was the decade that brought us Reaganomics, Thatcherism, business globalisation and economic liberalisation.  Multi-national companies and global conglomerates were no longer so limited by their national borders and collectively became more powerful players on the world stage than the nation states from which they emerged.  Globalisation for many became a dirty word.  But despite the damage done by bringing Western materialism to the people of developing nations, an upside has been a certain kind of stability to the world as a whole.  Business has contributed to the prevention of potential wars by diluting the self-interest of nation states in the name of continued profits.  Of course we are only now beginning to appreciate the long term negative effects though of many of the flaws of allowing markets to have free reign.  And even the capitalist triumph of the fall of communism with the Berlin Wall at the end of the decade will perhaps be seen as being more symbolic of the breaking down of what separates us from each other, and freedom from restrictive ideologies from whatever side of the political fence.


To be continued

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