Ecocentricity Blog: In The Now

By: John A. Lanier
Aug 4, 2021 9:30 AM ET
Summary: 

Gravity isn’t something that preserves the status quo - it’s constantly trying to create change, to make things go faster. I feel like a similar force, even if not quantifiable, is acting upon human societies right now.

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I finished last week’s blog post by calling this moment a critical time of change for our world. I want to use this week to unpack what I meant by that, and to do so, I’ll turn to my handy bag-o-analogies. Hmmmm, let me see here…. [Left arm figuratively fishing around in a duffel bag full of analogies.] The fact that green bell peppers are really yellow, red, or orange peppers that haven’t ripened yet? Nah. [More fishing.] My pet theory that R2-D2 was a force-sensitive droid throughout the Star Wars saga? Maybe next time. [Yet more fishing.] Ah! Gravity. Yes, gravity will work nicely.

In many respects, gravity is a metronomic force in the background of our lives. It’s always there, keeping us firmly fixed to the Earth’s surface. Though we constantly feel it, we rarely think about it. Being pulled downward is just a regular part of the human experience, so regular that we often forget it is there. In this way, we might be tempted to think of gravity as a force that keeps us fixed in place - something that reinforces the status quo.

Mathematically though, gravity is the exact opposite of that. As my homie Isaac Newton calculated in 1687, gravity is an attractive force based upon two objects’ masses and how close they are to each other (F=(Gm1m2)/r2 for you fellow nerds out there). What that means is that as two objects get closer together, or if they get more massive, the gravitational force increases. Therefore, while gravity is constantly present, it is not a constant force. Rather, gravity is an accelerator.

This makes sense when you think about it. Imagine a child’s soapbox car race (your bonus analogy of the day!). At the flat top of a hill, a car will sit motionless, but as you give your kid a little push, they’ll start rolling down the hill. Initially, they will roll quite slowly, but as the moments pass by, the car will go faster and faster as gravity continues to pull it. Gravity is the accelerative force on the car, so it picks up speed, doing so even faster still if the road gets steeper. It will continue to accelerate until some other force (like friction on the wheels, headwinds, or those bales of hay at the finish line) is sufficient to stop the acceleration.

So gravity isn’t something that preserves the status quo - it’s constantly trying to create change, to make things go faster. The only question is if the ground underneath is flat or not.

I feel like a similar force, even if not quantifiable, is acting upon human societies right now. It is pushing us toward change, and we are seeing that change all around us; technologically, ecologically, socially, politically, and commercially. In recent years, humanity has reached an inflection point, similar to the road getting steeper during a soapbox race. The rate of change appears to be quickening.

But here’s the thing about an accelerative force - it is neither good nor bad. So too, I look at how quickly things are changing in the now, and I don’t see that change as good or bad. It is just change, and what we do with this time, as a species, will determine if this time of change is good or bad. And as we look forward over the next decade, we have the opportunity to harness this moment of change for the good. But how? More on that next week.

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Ecocentricity Blog: Looking Back

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