Ruminating on the 2020s

Padjelanta national park, Sapmi - Swedish Lappland
Padjelanta national park, Sapmi – Swedish Lappland

I’ve had good news. I talked on the phone to the haematologist at Treliske hospital in Truro (about 40 miles away) and she seems pleased with my results. Although the readings from blood tests are slowly rising – this is to be expected, but I could be worse than I am – the PET scan I had a couple of weeks ago, to see whether any further damage was being done, turned out well. So I do not need to go back on chemo right now. I’m glad, because I’m tired of getting poleaxed by medication and fatigue. I need to revive before the next round.

But that’s not what I want to write about.

As promised, here are my thoughts on the next ten years or so. There’s a combination of a historian, futurologist, astrologer and seasoned observer coming through here, and long hours in bed have meant a lot of time to ruminate on these things.

I think the 2020s are going to be both difficult and more encouraging than the 2010s. Covid is the beginning of a process, and there are more storms to come – that’s the difficult bit. It’s going to be an uphill grind. Or a different kind of grind than the one we had before.

Looking more longterm, this process started around 2008-12, when the overall balance of global trends tipped critically, and it has been ramping up over the last ten years: the world crisis is no longer a thing of the future but it’s now present and here, in all departments of life and coming at us in waves. We have entered the inevitable period of price-paying for the profligate lives we’ve led in the rich countries and the destructive aspects of the world system we’ve created. Some of us saw this coming way back in the 1960s, but the majority didn’t agree or want to look.

During the 2010s we needed to be given gritty, distressing challenges to get us engaged, to grind us down and prepare us for what happens next. It was in many ways a dispiriting decade, but a lot of good things bubbled underneath. Many revolutions failed, but many people were changed by them. Covid is in a way a climax of that phase and the beginning of the next one. It’s a punctuation point.

The issue is this: since the world has delayed action on necessary human and planetary issues, there’s a lot of catch-up to do, and a lot of damage has been done. We’ve lost fifty years, and things can’t wait. Events are taking over. This is no lnger a matter of opinion.

There’s a long way to go before we find the full range of solutions – it will take the whole 21st Century. To progress, we need to be accelerated into a process of change that will take us out of our comfort zones and confront us with hard facts. Humanity needs to get itself mobilised. Now it’s a time of consequences, imperatives and seeking solutions.

Though a few might think it’s the only option, an all-out catastrophe would not help. Catastrophes hurt, disable, stun and set people back, and they are not the best recipe for change. We need to make big choices and get behind them – even if we’re arm-twisted by events to do so. What’s needed is a deepening series of crises that tip us incrementally into change-processes, forcing us over a succession of thresholds and pushing us to get really real about our situation and its many details, nuances and implications.

It’s especially about human society. Without substantial changes in our group psychology and behaviour, we will not get through the century intact. This concerns cooperation and sharing, and it brings up collective emotional issues about identity, power, who decides, and how much we really care about nature and human nature. It concerns Us and Them.

So people across the world are variously cleaving into progressives and resisters, new tribes and old tribes, and this is the new politics. Ultimately, humanity has to realise it is one tribe, but this will come clear only when Ronald Reagan’s late-1980s Reykjavik Proposition comes true: humanity will unite when it realises it is not alone. But without humanity cooperating as one planetary race, there will be insufficient resolution of environmental issues, tech hazards and the wide range of potentially fatal issues that face us now.

So we’re being accelerated, and it is reasonable to expect further crises ahead, and particularly multiple crises happening at once, or cascading crises with proliferating implications – as Covid is with the social and economic issues it has precipitated. The urge to restore normality is an unconscious reaction to this acceleration, part of the process of letting go of the past. Normality will not be restored, no matter how many dollars and scientists you throw at it. But there are still options. It’s just that the new normal is going to keep changing.

The 2020s are likely to be very different from the 2010s. The shit will increasingly hit the fan. But something else has been bubbling up underneath to meet this and change the equation: a growing surge of new ideas, perspectives, attitudinal changes, technological advances and challenging situations that nevertheless prompt progress and positive developments – as in ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

Astrologically, an interesting and rare configuration is approaching in the later 2020s for which my best description is ‘cultural florescence under duress’. This will not be easy because we’ll be battling with more crises. But the difference is that the tide will be flowing more strongly then, and this loosens things up. It allows creativity, innovation, new ways of seeing things and new reality-configurations. There is likely to be a battle of ideas, perspectives and loosening positions, and a generational change in which Millennials will be coming to power (and my own generation will be dying off).

One of the big questions will be, do the people exist for the system or does the system exist for the people? Questions of systemic control, the rights of the individual, the needs of the collective and the balance of the three.

This will not be the old workers-and-capitalists battles of the 20th Century: it will be between progressive people and ideas at all levels of society, and resisters, some of them indisposed to change, some victims of change, some of them vested interests, and many who are older, marginalised and disoriented. These too need to be considered, because this isn’t any more about my side or your side of the argument, it’s about the complete outcome of all arguments, for all people and in all areas of life.

So we have come to a need to rehumanise society. Another issue concerns social willingness to cooperate. If change is imposed, and if governments and those at the top of society fail to act in people’s overall benefit and society fails to come together to cooperate, then resistance, exceptionalism and non-cooperation will ensue, complicating things terribly – this issue has been tested in the Covid crisis.

So we’re likely to get an escalation of both problems and solutions, and we’ll be challenged to see when solutions are actually solutions. If we judge events on the basis of past norms, there will be a plethora of problems, but if we judge them on the basis of the possibilities they offer, they become a solution. Much hangs on this. In the Covid crisis, from which everyone is so anxious to escape, we have been given multiple solutions but we fail to see them – we choose to focus on the problem side, on what’s being lost. And yes, things are hard.

This year we have wobbled over a tipping point, toward rehumanising society and making the world more fit to live in. Millions of people are thinking deeply about their lives and about life itself. The rich world is at last starting to become aware of its consumption patterns, which need to reduce radically. And the developing world needs to find new ways of developing from those that have existed before.

Then there’s ‘mental health’, a term based on the presumption that conventional normality is good health. Chaos has broken out in people’s lives, and for many people it’s really hard work. Many, including me, have also had to face being very alone. But calling it a ‘mental health crisis’ avoids the main point.

We’re in a rather necessary spiritual crisis, affecting everyone in varying degrees and ways. For some, this has been really tough – the bottom has dropped out of their universe and many people are flailing. It’s all about facing our demons and fears and, as individuals, communities and societies, we all need to face them. Old values, expectations, judgements and preferences are becoming obsolete, and there’s a lot of grasping at straws, blame and escapology going on. This is a transitional inner growth crisis for many, a time of what disaster professionals call ‘epistemic insecurity’ – confusion over what and who to believe.

In the later 2020s, specifically around 2024-2028, we’re coming into an avalanche period, a torrent of events and issues – but I don’t think it will be as blocked and struggly as the 2010s were. There will be pain and also increasing relief – relief arising from a cumulative adjustment to and acceptance of what’s happening. But the pain often comes first and the relief tends to follow. We’re in the pain bit for now.

Conservative forces from the top to the bottom of society are beginning to realise that things are changing anyway – and this applies also to that part of ourselves that prefers our comfortable routines, habits and security. The part that wants to be the exception. The part that says, ‘I’m up for change as long as it doesn’t affect me’.

There’s a rule in geology: the erosive power of a river increases as the square of its volume. That is, when volume of flow increases three times, erosive power increases nine times. That’s what we’ll see in the 2020s: the erosive power of events. The flow and volume of change is increasing, and it’s eroding anything that gets in the way. Whether we like it or not, it’s coming at us.

But the good news is that a flood also clears out the channels and generates energy. The challenge for us all, for individuals, communities and nations, is to get used to living and operating in a far more tumultuous and challenging world.

What is the gift in that? It will make it easier to face the 2030s and 2040s. Because things are not going to slow down.

But there’s an extra issue here. Whenever the world fully accepts change, things will progress faster but it will still take time. Forests take half a century to grow. People need time to adjust and sort things out. Innovations need trialling. Cities take years to redesign. Soil takes time to reconstitute. This means that, even when the big decisions have been made, it will take decades to find out whether it will actually work. By the 2040s this could raise world neurosis levels to a peak – or it could bring a new kind of sanity. This is new territory – we’ve never done this before and we don’t know what will happen. So the decades following 2030ish could be a nail-biting period.

To put a time-perspective on all this, the two big dates of the 21st century are these: 2048 and 2065. The changes we’re in now are operating in a time-frame from 2012 to 2048ish. I won’t go into that now (my book Power Points in Time tells all), but it’s worth flagging up here.

The 2020s are part of the run-up to 2048 – astrologically a Uranus opposition Pluto. The conjunction, the beginning of the cycle, was in 1965-66, and the square, the growth-crisis, was in 2012ish. So 2048 is the climax of all that started in the 1960s. The 1960s were a time of dawning awareness that all was not well on our planet, and that we faced daunting times. Times that we now are in.

2065 I would call the beginning of the start of the future. The time of nail-biting might well be over, and we’ll know the facts of our situation – the crunch-time is likely to have been around 2048, followed by a rather shell-shocked post-crisis period following it, dealing with pressing realities and taking stock. By 2065 I would imagine that, whatever the state of the world, we’ll have a clearer sense of what comes next. It’s a Neptune square Pluto, the crunchpoint of a cycle starting in 1892.

So Covid has upset the apple-cart. The starting gun has been fired. And, to be honest, even though things are hard, do you really want normality restored? Do you really want to go back to the way things were before? It’s strange to say this, but in some respects, since cancer took over my life a year ago, it’s been coming clear that it’s the best thing that could happen to me. But I do also choose to see it that way – not just in my head but in my bones.

Well, that’s what I think anyway. Whether my prognoses resemble the reality to be, we shall see. None of us can presume to know the big answer. That’s quite amazing, really.

Some links:
www.possibilities2050.org – my free online report on the state of the world in 2050 (not astrological) – free online
https://www.penwithpress.co.uk/product/power-points-in-time/ – my book Power Points in Time, and how time passes
http://www.palden.co.uk/living/lit16-makinghistory.html – if you’re interested in astrological cycles in the 19th and 20th Centuries – free online
http://www.palden.co.uk/ephem/The Historical Ephemeris, for serious astrology and history wonks – free online