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Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 7:20 am
by vexed87
I stumbled across this on - it reminds me of Wheaton Levels. I figured some here might enjoy. I'd be particularly interested to hear what people who identify with being on steps 4 and below make of this. I wonder, has anyone reached step 6 or beyond and would be able to hint what comes next? :lol: :roll:

Climbing The Ladder of Awareness
When it comes to our understanding of the unfolding global crisis, each of us seems to fit somewhere along a continuum of awareness that can be roughly divided into five stages:

1. Dead asleep. At this stage there seem to be no fundamental problems, just some shortcomings in human organization, behaviour and morality that can be fixed with the proper attention to rule-making. People at this stage tend to live their lives happily, with occasional outbursts of annoyance around election times or the quarterly corporate earnings seasons.

2. Awareness of one fundamental problem. Whether it's Climate Change, overpopulation, Peak Oil, chemical pollution, oceanic over-fishing, biodiversity loss, corporatism, economic instability or sociopolitical injustice, one problem seems to engage the attention completely. People at this stage tend to become ardent activists for their chosen cause. They tend to be very vocal about their personal issue, and blind to any others.

3. Awareness of many problems. As people let in more evidence from different domains, the awareness of complexity begins to grow. At this point a person worries about the prioritization of problems in terms of their immediacy and degree of impact. People at this stage may become reluctant to acknowledge new problems - for example, someone who is committed to fighting for social justice and against climate change may not recognize the problem of resource depletion. They may feel that the problem space is already complex enough, and the addition of any new concerns will only dilute the effort that needs to be focused on solving the "highest priority" problem.

4. Awareness of the interconnections between the many problems. The realization that a solution in one domain may worsen a problem in another marks the beginning of large-scale system-level thinking. It also marks the transition from thinking of the situation in terms of a set of problems to thinking of it in terms of a predicament. At this point the possibility that there may not be a solution begins to raise its head.

People who arrive at this stage tend to withdraw into tight circles of like-minded individuals in order to trade insights and deepen their understanding of what's going on. These circles are necessarily small, both because personal dialogue is essential for this depth of exploration, and because there just aren't very many people who have arrived at this level of understanding.

5. Awareness that the predicament encompasses all aspects of life. This includes everything we do, how we do it, our relationships with each other, as well as our treatment of the rest of the biosphere and the physical planet. With this realization, the floodgates open, and no problem is exempt from consideration or acceptance. The very concept of a "Solution" is seen through, and cast aside as a waste of effort.
For those who arrive at Stage 5 there is a real risk that depression will set in. After all, we've learned throughout our lives that our hope for tomorrow lies in our ability to solve problems today. When no amount of human cleverness appears able to solve our predicament the possibility of hope can vanish like a the light of a candle flame, to be replaced by the suffocating darkness of despair.

How people cope with despair is of course deeply personal, but it seems to me there are two general routes people take to reconcile themselves with the situation. These are not mutually exclusive, and most of us will operate out of some mix of the two. I identify them here as general tendencies, because people seem to be drawn more to one or the other. I call them the outer path and the inner path.

If one is inclined to choose the outer path, concerns about adaptation and local resilience move into the foreground, as exemplified by the Transition Network and Permaculture Movement. To those on the outer path, community-building and local sustainability initiatives will have great appeal. Organized party politics seems to be less attractive to people at this stage, however. Perhaps politics is seen as part of the problem, or perhaps it's just seen as a waste of effort when the real action will take place at the local level.

If one is disinclined to choose the outer path either because of temperament or circumstance, the inner path offers its own set of attractions.

Choosing the inner path involves re-framing the whole thing in terms of consciousness, self-awareness and/or some form of transcendent perception. For someone on this path it is seen as an attempt to manifest Gandhi's message, "Become the change you wish to see in the world," on the most profoundly personal level. This message is similarly expressed in the ancient Hermetic saying, "As above, so below." Or in plain language, "In order to heal the world, first begin by healing yourself."

However, the inner path does not imply a "retreat into religion". Most of the people I've met who have chosen an inner path have as little use for traditional religion as their counterparts on the outer path have for traditional politics. Organized religion is usually seen as part of the predicament rather than a valid response to it. Those who have arrived at this point have no interest in hiding from or easing the painful truth, rather they wish to create a coherent personal context for it. Personal spirituality of one sort or another often works for this, but organized religion rarely does.

It's worth mentioning that there is also the possibility of a serious personal difficulty at this point. If someone cannot choose an outer path for whatever reasons, and is also resistant to the idea of inner growth or spirituality as a response the the crisis of an entire planet, then they are truly in a bind. There are few other doorways out of this depth of despair. If one remains stuck here for an extended period of time, life can begin to seem awfully bleak, and violence against either the world or oneself may begin begin to seem like a reasonable option. Please keep a watchful eye on your own progress, and if you encounter someone else who may be in this state, please offer them a supportive ear.

From my observations, each successive stage contains roughly a tenth of the number people as the one before it. So while perhaps 90% of humanity is in Stage 1, less than one person in ten thousand will be at Stage 5 (and none of them are likely to be politicians). The number of those who have chosen the inner path in Stage 5 also seems to be an order of magnitude smaller than the number who are on the outer path.

I happen to have chosen an inner path as my response to a Stage 5 awareness. It works well for me, but navigating this imminent (transition, shift, metamorphosis - call it what you will), will require all of us - no matter what our chosen paths - to cooperate on making wise decisions in difficult times.

Best wishes for a long, exciting and fulfilling journey.

Bodhi Paul Chefurka
October 19, 2012

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 7:35 am
by daylen
The inner/outer distinction is interesting. I think I have been stuck in the middle of these for a while, but I am leaning more towards the inner side as time goes one.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 7:42 am
by vexed87
daylen wrote:
Tue Aug 14, 2018 7:35 am
The inner/outer distinction is interesting. I think I have been stuck in the middle of these for a while, but I am leaning more towards the inner side as time goes one.
Yes, I am firmly on the inner path, following numerous attempts to break out into the outer path and failing. I think the outer path is structurally challenging, I'm no extrovert and I do not share a ready made community or know many people on steps 4 onward. I think being at step 3 onward would be a precondition for active engagement and participation in early community resilience and responses to the predicaments.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 8:44 am
by jacob
That is a great overview/table. I wish I had written it. It is something I've been dealing with on and off since 2001 and especially during the past two years again. The first effort treated a limited set of problems (growth economy/limited energy resources) and led to the ERE book as a way of dealing with it. Since 2016 I've been working in fits and starts on a second effort with much larger set of problems which so far has led to a state of "conscious in/competence" which due to the sheer amount of material (problems) is overwhelming.

My [developmental] experience very much parallels the levels above. There IS a solution (for each level), but like with Wheaton levels, a solution a one level is not the kind of solution someone at a lower level would recognize [as a solution]. It's interesting to see where various people who are professionally involved in the end of the world fit on the scale, e.g. James Hansen, Kevin Anderson, and Guy McPherson. As with everything, people do not necessarily occupy the same level of awareness as the one they're trying to communicate. Hansen, for example, is still communicating to the "dead asleep" normals: "There's still time if only we act now", he says, knowing that there's not much we can do but that doing something is better than doing nothing and saying that "it's too late for simple fixes" will make most people do less than nothing.

As far as I've concluded, the answer to what step 6 is is death! More precisely,

6) Awareness that all forms of life eventually die, including culture, civilizations, and species. Humans have a lot of experience in dealing with [other] individual humans dying. While dying is something each person necessarily has to figure out on their own---we all die alone when it comes down to it---religion, philosophy, and even older humans have many good ideas of how to die well and in particular how to live well once one groks one's ultimate death. What's lacking is any/much experience regarding the death of much larger things that normally live on after individual humans die. That is the loss that invokes anger, denial, and depression. However, there's also a way to accept this eventually. And so level 6 is having reached this acceptance of losing things like cities, countries, millions and billions of people, human culture, music, science, books, ideas, languages, faith, religion, ... and species including potentially the human species on a timescale that could be measured in decades/centuries.

Those who go with the inner or outer paths are both working on this but also working on the issue of how to live well after realizing that mortality also includes the "things larger than themselves which are supposed to go on" that would otherwise make life meaningful and individual death bearable. They are in other words figuring out a way for everything to die will.

For many humans, the answer seems to be to carry on as usual. During the cold war when most people (especially in the US) consciously knew about the nuclear threat (stage 2+) including nuclear winter, some went to stage 3, 4, and beyond and built bunkers, etc: These are the survivalists (euphemistically known as preppers) that still drive the conversation today. However, despite being aware of the existential nuclear threat (stage 2) most people kept having children even as they knew there was a decent chance that those children wouldn't live past the decade. Why? Because when humans are faced with problems they [feel they] have no individual control over due to size, scope, complexity, distance in space or time, most humans will simply ignore those problems and do the mundane human things they've always done. That's a familiar solution and at some level it makes sense because maximizes the regular (short-term) aspects of "being human" while of course ignoring others (minimizing long-term suffering or trying to solve the problem). Basically, if people can't climb the ladder, they'll descend it. I think this is also what Hansen understands.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 9:23 am
by jacob
See ... ists-0815/ for an example of how to deal with living at another Wheaton level than the rest of the world or your spouse for that matter.

Compartmentalization is almost inevitable. Even the title suggests as much. For the object of the story, the end of human civilization is more than his day job. For the subject (the journalist) writing an article about the object is just his day job (hence the pick of the title). Same reaction from the wife.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 9:25 am
by 7Wannabe5
Well, I will certainly miss chatting with all you good people when the grid goes down.

Anyways, I have noted that right at the boundary between the inner and the outer path, I still need to occasionally clip my toenails.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 10:00 am
by vexed87
As far as I've concluded, the answer to what step 6 is is death!
I had to ask, didn't I! Well, I guess I knew that was the answer deep down.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the article Jacob. I'm definitely getting by, by compartmentalising this stuff. There isn't any choice in that matter. Broaching this stuff with DW triggers various painful defence mechanisms. I know better now. I feel this Jason Box's pain.

@7wb, we'll miss you too! :D

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:27 am
by cmonkey
Another way of phrasing level 6 would be - Awareness of/Accepting there is nothing you can do.

We've all grown up in a culture that tells us all problems are solvable given enough magical human brain power, even the predicaments. Transcending this narrative and realizing there is actually nothing that can be done offers a release from the pain of it all and the tension of trying to find a solution.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:30 am
by IlliniDave
I think both the outer and inner paths would be required for a conscious organism to navigate a future narrative where the only option is disaster on an arbitrarily large scale. Acceptance is a precursor to motivation for a solution (in nature putting things back the way they were is never an option, so adaptation is the solution). We're a link in a long chain of evolution/adaptation (unless you are an Ancient Alien theorist) so there's a certain natural logic to the bulk of a population just living despite being at the ongoing mercy of potentially obliterating forces, sort of like bison and elk peacefully grazing in Yellowstone National Park. It tends to encourage one to consider what is truly important about life and living.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:33 am
by ThisDinosaur
Its naiive to expect human beings to not exploit every available natural resource. It's what every other organism does. Life is a geochemical process, and putting energy rich fossils back into the carbon cycle is part of our species' niche. (I think this puts me on the Inner Path: Reframing.)

The ocean floor methane deposits that Jason Box is studying are also implicated in the largest mass extinction in earth's history, the Permian Triassic. That event cleared the way for mammals and dinosaurs to evolve. So the worst historical case scenario still leaves a near 100% certainty that life will go on, and a reasonable expectation that humans will not go extinct. Not because we are so smart or whatever, but because we are genetically diverse, adaptable omnivores firmly established on every continent.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:43 am
by jacob
@TD - I also believe there's a reasonable chance some humans will still be around 1000 years from now. That belief makes a big difference in terms of existential angst. Consider three outcomes.

1) 100% of humans die.
2) 99% of humans die.
3) 0% of humans die.

Naively, (1) and (2) look just about equally bad, but in the big [existential] picture (2) is much closer to (3) than (1) and thus not really something one should concern oneself with. One can contemplate the same issue in which 100% of all human culture, 99% of all human culture, ... or 100% of all species, 99% of all species. ... The PTE was something like 90%+ (IIRC) of all species ... but today that's not really something we worry about. I wonder what the jelly fish think about all this.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:48 am
by fell-like-rain
I do wonder how much of this collapse mentality comes out of fear, and how much of it is wishful thinking. I don't think post-apocalyptic themes in popular culture would be so widespread if people were deeply attached to modern society and were simply afraid of it failing; at least some of the motivation has to come from a desire to see the whole edifice come down. Like when people talk about their zombie survival plans, it's not "I'd suffer and die in the ruins of our civilization", it's "I'd go back to the family farm in New Hampshire and build a fort with my brothers and we'd have a well and solar power..." Folks have a desire for simplicity, but feel trapped by their cars and jobs and mortgages. Societal collapse would end all that.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 11:53 am
by Riggerjack
Yeah. That all sounds familiar. I "chose" the inside path.

But something happened, about a year ago, I found a different way. It's very hard to describe. I think I found a way out.

Unfortunately, this way out requires me to address my personal weaknesses, and worse, I can't talk about it.

I can't make the changes necessary, to the world. But I think I have found a way to incentivize others to make those changes on their own behalf. But until I can convince a few people I don't know, (but have identified) to take the first few steps and run on their own, I can't reveal more.

Which is very awkward. Without someone very much interested in the same level of intricacy to bounce this off of, I have no way to verify that I am not missing something vital. But bouncing the idea around makes it less likely to work, because the incentives of the first few steps require exclusivity.

Which all sounds very mysterious and self agrandizing, I know. I am sorry about that. I wouldn't have brought it up at all, if it weren't for the despair on that ladder of awareness. This is my fucked up message of hope. I think there is a way out.

As near as I can tell, our problems all stem from perverse incentives, and short term thinking. Not enough information at the right levels for people to choose to make better decisions. And a very human differance to organization and "leadership".

And, strangely enough, I think I have found a way to combine those problems into a solution. Or I may have gone mad. :oops:

Either way, the need for secrets will be over soon (years, not decades), either I will succeed, in which case I will look up this post and add links, or I will publish what I have, and let someone else run with it.

Or, I will come back and update this post, and we can laugh about how wrong I was :roll: .

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 1:03 pm
by figmenter
Paul Chefurka talks about his level 6 in a different article: Finding the gift.
Paul Chefurka wrote: As I have worked within Stage 5 for the last few years, I've come to realize that Kübler-Ross stopped one stage too soon. There is an important stage even beyond the clear recognition and acceptance of What Is Really Happening. Often when we arrive at acceptance we are so relieved just to be free of the pain of our grief that we stop looking to see if any new possibilities may have been revealed.

There is a fundamental principle in deep inner work that the greatest gifts are always found in the darkest places. The acceptance of an inevitable ending, whatever it is, can clear our vision and allow us to see previously unnoticed things that become the launch pad for new growth - for a kind of rebirth.

The bigger the change, the greater its potential gift, if we can just look at it with new eyes. We may find ways of moving beyond our old habits, expectations and judgments. We may realize that our old ways of seeing the world held us back. We may give ourselves permission to live authentically, as our true selves.

As a reminder to keep looking for those opportunities, I invite you to add a sixth stage to the Kübler-Ross model:

6. Finding the Gift — "Wow, look at the opportunities this change opens up! I may not be able to go back, or even forward in the direction I wanted, but just look at all the other possibilities that have suddenly appeared!"

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 1:36 pm
by vexed87
@figmenter, If you read the linked post, they are different models entirely! The Kubler-Ross model is still interesting nonetheless!

@rj, intriguing! I will setup thread notifications and eargely await the outcome ;)

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 2:34 pm
by jacob
@vexed87 - They're different models describing the same thing. KR also has a Wheaton structure. It's hard for someone at the bargaining stage to relate to someone at the denial stage. Why not just get on with it? And so on.To reach the acceptance stage requires integrating all the new structures into one's being instead of the ongoing allergic reaction that is denialism.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 3:19 pm
by suomalainen
Don't the levels circle back on themselves? In other words, what differentiates level 5 vs level 1 (at least "inner path") other than a mental state? From the outside, it would seem people at both levels would appear oblivious to the problems. Although as stated, I suppose each level is merely a mental state combined with a supposed normal reaction to said mental state.

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 3:34 pm
by jacob
@Suo - In a way they do, just like the ERE Wheaton levels. Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water, ... Keyword here is "appear".

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 3:52 pm
by suomalainen
I dunno. Ignorance is bliss? If only one could revert to it...

Re: Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2018 10:48 pm
by Riggerjack
@ figmenter


It's letting go of preconceptions of what a good outcome should be, and how we Should Do X. And rather, looking at the world in more detail, and why we Don't Do X, even though it would be better than what we are doing. Then, work backwards to the reasons why we Don't Do X, to see if there is room to make changes in the preconditions. There is lots of room to play here, if you understand the why's.

The world is changing, daily. But systems only change as people change their behaviors. People hate changing behaviors. So there is much room to tease out tweaks to systems that don't seem to be exploited.

But then, one must look for the unintended consequences, and trace the change in precondition through a few layers of cause/effect to see what room there is for the changes to go wrong. There's no point in making a change without guiding the potential outcomes. That way lies politics.

Not simple, not easy, but fun, if that's one's idea of fun, anyway. I prefer to see the world as a puzzle, than as a trap.