DISCOVERING THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NEW STORY
An excerpt from Conscious Evolution by Barbara Marx Hubbard.
It was a cold November day in Paris in 1948 during my junior year abroad from Bryn Mawr College. Somehow I had separated myself from my classmates and wandered into Chez Rosalie, a small café on the Left Bank. A wood fire was burning and the smell of Gauloises cigarettes filled the air.
I sat at one of the wooden tables and ordered my lunch. A tall, handsome young American man opened the door, letting in the cold. There was only one place left for him to sit, opposite me. I smiled at him, immediately attracted, and introduced myself. He told me his name was Earl Hubbard. He had such a special intensity that I decided to ask him questions that had dominated my thoughts ever since the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Japan three years earlier, when I was fifteen years old, in 1945. My horror had stimulated these questions: What is the meaning of our new scientific and technological powers that is good? What is the purpose of Western civilization? What are positive images of the future commensurate with these new powers?
In my quest for answers, I had read through philosophy, science fiction, and world religions. But amazingly, except for brief glimpses in science fiction and mystical revelation, I found none. The philosophers looked back toward a golden age, as the Greeks did; or were cyclical, as in Eastern thought; or were stoical, believing there was “nothing new under the sun” as the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius said; or were existentialist, like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, proclaiming that the universe has no inherent meaning except what we give it as individuals. Finally, I read the materialistic philosophers who proclaimed that the universe is nothing but matter and is inevitably degenerating to a “heat death” through increasing disorder or entropy as stars burn out, and with them all life will die. Although some visionaries and mystics foresaw a life beyond this life, beyond death, I found no positive visions of the future to work toward in this life.
With these questions I became a metaphysical seeker. My upbringing had been Jewish agnostic. I was a spiritual tabula rasa — a blank slate with no religious beliefs. When I asked my father “What religion are we?” he answered, “You are an American. Do your best!” But at what? I wondered. My father was a Horatio Alger type, a poor boy from Brooklyn who had become the toy king of the world. He told his children that the purpose of life was to win, to make money. But I couldn’t believe him. I knew that even if everyone had money, everyone would be as frustrated as I was, seeking the meaning of life but finding nothing. Material comfort alone could not be the goal of existence. I had grown up with so many toys that by the age of six, I knew that more toys would not make me, or anyone else, happier.
If I did not know life’s larger purpose, how could I know my own purpose? I felt an intense need for meaning and was obsessed with these questions, reading through world literature on a passionate quest to find an answer. I had asked my questions of every young man I dated. What is the purpose of our new powers? And what is your purpose? They had no idea! I never received a good answer — until that day in Paris.
We talked casually for a few moments, then I gained courage and asked the young man my question: What do you think is the meaning of our new power that is good? He looked at me with gray-green eyes, took a long drag on his Gauloises, and said, “I am an artist. My purpose is to seek a new image of humanity commensurate with our new power to shape the future.”
I was stunned. There it was! A response to my deep life question. I was completely captivated by him.
I’m going to marry you! flashed through my mind…and I did.
As we sat at the little table that afternoon, the chestnuts roasting above a fire in the café, he explained that when a culture has a story everyone understands, it gives direction and meaning to that culture. When people no longer believe the story, the culture disintegrates.
For example, when the Homeric legends — the stories of the gods and goddesses, the heroes, the Trojan War — were written, fifth-century Greece was born. As time went on, the legends no longer seemed believable and a new story emerged. That story was the Gospels, which told of one man whose life and promise changed the world. We may never know the accurate history of Jesus’ life, but we do know that the written story created a faith and expectation in the human heart that brought forth a new culture, one in which the individual is sacred, the kingdom of heaven is within us, and life everlasting is promised through love of God and one another. Christendom was born, and in a variety of forms it dominated the Western world for more than a thousand years. But gradually, with the advent of science and democracy some three hundred years ago, the literal interpretation of the Gospels was no longer possible for millions of people.
In the Renaissance a new story emerged. It was the story of progress through knowledge, through awareness of how nature works, and through the liberation of individual freedom. In 1486 Giovanni Pico della Mirandola wrote in Oration on the Dignity of Man:
“We have made you a creature of neither heaven nor Earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may as the free and proud shape of your own being, fashion yourself in any form you prefer.” Earl described the importance not only of a new story but also of a new image of humans. He vividly explained how the last great image of a human was in Michelangelo’s famous sculpture David. He traced modern art through Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Picasso, and Jackson Pollock, ending in the art of the absurd, images of degradation and despair. We had lost not only our story but also our self-image.
From the Renaissance until the twentieth century the story of human freedom and progress had carried us forward. But as we sat there in the tragedy-laden environment of post–World War II Paris, we could see that the twentieth century so far had been the most violent and cruel in the history of humanity, with the destruction of millions of innocent people in wars and genocides perpetrated by the most sophisticated nations on Earth. The story of hope that had created the modern age seemed absurd. We knew that more of the same use of power and knowledge would destroy us.
In the postwar world, we were between stories — and we still are. We are wielding massive powers; we are overconsuming and overdefending while children starve and our environment and social systems deteriorate. Many say we have reached the point of “evolution or extinction.” In the midst of our confusion, however, a new story of evolution is emerging that has the potential to inspire us to creative action.
Earl and I married. In our “breakfast dialogues,” we began to piece together this new story of our potential for conscious evolution. The story is coming from the combined insights of many disciplines: scientific, historical, psychological, ecological, social, spiritual, and futuristic. But it has not yet found its artistic or popular expression. We discover fragments in journals, poems, books, lectures, conferences, seminars, and networks of those interested in it. We see flashes in science fiction films. But it has not yet been pieced together and told with the power required to awaken the social potential within us and to guide us in the twenty-first century toward a future of infinite possibilities.
Understanding the new evolutionary story is a first critical action necessary to carry us — without greater violence and suffering — toward a future equal to our full potential. Understanding gives us a sense of direction, hope, and meaning, providing us with a new self-image and positive visions of a future we choose and toward which our new powers can be used.
Excerpted from the book, Conscious Evolution. Copyright © 2015 by Barbara Marx Hubbard. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.