THE PLANETARY BIRTH
Part I: WHAT IS THE MEANING OF OUR POWER?
with BARBARA MARX HUBBARD
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Our topic today is "The Planetary Birth." With me is Barbara Marx Hubbard, a noted author, statesperson, philosopher, and mystic. Barbara is one of the founders of the Congressional Clearinghouse for the Future. She is a founding director of the World Future Society, and is the co-founder and president of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution. She is the author of a number of books, including An Evolutionary Journey, The Hunger of Eve, and The Book of Co-Creation. Welcome, Barbara.
BARBARA MARX HUBBARD: Thank you, Jeffrey.
MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to be with you.
HUBBARD: I'm really happy to be here.
MISHLOVE: Your life has been characterized, I think, by a philosophical search to understand the nature and the meaning of the enormous power that human beings have developed.
HUBBARD: Well, it started in 1945 when America dropped the bomb on Japan, and I had this instant question of, "What is the meaning of our power that's good?"
MISHLOVE: You were a teenager at the time.
HUBBARD: I was 15 years old, and I was an American, a typical American, and I felt that we were going somewhere good, and all of this progress and all of this power was for the good. But I suddenly saw it could be for total destruction, and if we continued to work in the direction we were going that maybe civilization itself would be destroyed. So the first question is, what is the meaning of this power? What's the meaning of Western civilization, science, industry, technology, that is good? And I started to read through world literature to find an image of the future commensurate with our new power, and I couldn't find it.
MISHLOVE: In other words, you were asking questions that people hadn't been asking.
HUBBARD: They hadn't been asking. And if you look at the world philosophies, they look back to a golden age, or they're cyclical, or they were existential, or they were stoical. My father was Jewish agnostic, so I had no religion, no metaphysical background. One day I picked up a Viking Portable on religion, and I was just leafing through it, and I came to this passage, "Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep. We shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, the last trump." Suddenly something touched me. We're going to be changed.
MISHLOVE: May I ask you where that passage is from?
HUBBARD: It's from Saint Paul, Corinthians. So I thought, maybe it's in the church. So I went down to a local Episcopal church in Scarsdale, New York, with the question, "How shall we all be changed? Is any of this real? Did Jesus do it? Will we do it? Is it true that we will have life everlasting?" And I could see that the minister didn't know.
MISHLOVE: Well, it seems as if maybe it was unusual that somebody would actually go to a church looking for answers.
HUBBARD: Looking for answers to what they were actually saying. But I was someone who wanted to know if it was really true, and what I found, at least in the Episcopal Church at that time, was that they weren't even looking at it to see if it was really true.
MISHLOVE: Well, a church serves many functions. It provides comfort; it provides community for people.
MISHLOVE: The role of the church as a place to find deep philosophical answers is probably a secondary role at best.
HUBBARD: Yes. And then I can remember sitting in the church, and they were speaking of the concept of the original sin, and man being guilty and God being good, and I was crying out from inside my heart, "I don't feel that guilt. I feel we're innately good. I feel we've made mistakes. I feel we've done terrible things. But I can't accept that fundamental guilt in myself." So I left the church and went on the path to the academic world. I went to Bryn Mawr College, and at Bryn Mawr College I wondered how you could study the future of humanity. How could you study where the human race is going?
MISHLOVE: They didn't offer courses.
HUBBARD: No, there was geometry and English and French and literature. And actually it was an unaskable question, rather than even an unanswerable one.
MISHLOVE: I suppose it's fair to say in parentheses that today there are colleges that offer courses in future studies, and I suppose it's because of efforts such as your own that those courses exist now.
HUBBARD: We're really just beginning, because of course now we see that we're affecting the future by everything we're doing. But it's still, even in the futurist movement, very hard to collectively imagine the potentiality of this whole system that we would be going toward, because we have a lot of images of breakdown -- of environmental breakdown, of Armageddon, of social collapse. But where is the image of a positive future equal to our spiritual, scientific, and social powers? It's still hidden.
MISHLOVE: So at one point you began by writing letters to some of the great public figures of the day, asking them if they had a vision for a positive future.
HUBBARD: I did. Just to back up one step before that, after my efforts at Bryn Mawr and the church and so forth, I got married. I married a man who is an artist, and when I met him in a little cafe on the Left Bank in Paris I was asking him what I asked all the young men I met: "What do you think is the purpose of life, and what's your purpose?" He completely surprised me by saying, "I'm an artist, and my purpose is to find a new image of humanity commensurate with our power to shape the future." And it flashed in my mind, "I'm going to marry you." And I did, and we got married on the quest for a new image of man commensurate with our powers. That was in 1951; but that was the time of Abstract Expressionism and Absurdism, and Earl said to me the very first day we met, "If you look at Michelangelo's David, you would see the human as an integrated individual, with the divine and the human integrated. And then look through modern art -- Monet, Manet, Pisarro; it's all breaking up into points. Picasso -- it's all going like this."
MISHLOVE: One can see a breakdown of the classical Renaissance images.
HUBBARD: Jackson Pollack was just like scattered paint. And then there would be, at that time, empty white canvases.
MISHLOVE: Minimalist art.
HUBBARD: Earl said, "We have lost our image of ourselves, and we have lost our story." For example, he said, when Homer was translated in fifth-century Greece, they had a story of the Greek myths, and a culture was able to form around a shared story. When the Gospels were written down, there was a story: Christ was born, and all of these things happened, and culture formed around the Gospels. Then we had the Renaissance in science, and the idea of human progress through greater knowledge, and that carried us up till about the time of the atomic bomb, when I was 15. And suddenly we saw scientific progress, technological progress, could lead to disaster.
MISHLOVE: And a sense of cultural nihilism.
HUBBARD: Cultural nihilism, economic and ecological collapse, alienation of the spirit.
MISHLOVE: Where people just didn't accept the heroes, the myths, the stories of the past. They all seemed to be misguided or jaded somehow.
HUBBARD: And the world will end not with a bang but a whimper -- the whole Eliot thing, when I was growing up in the early fifties. Earl said that we needed a new story. This is fairly familiar now, but that was 1949 when he was saying it.
MISHLOVE: And at the same time I suppose it's fair to say that marriages of the 1950s were rather conventional by today's standards.
HUBBARD: Well, here's the interesting thing, Jeffrey. We got married on an unconventional question, but we had a conventional marriage. Because the minute I got married, I became the wife. I'll never forget my shock at waking up being Mrs. Earl Hubbard rather than Barbara Marx, and I can remember thinking, "Where did I go?" -- and that whole thing, even now, about the name change. And then I immediately shifted into a new role, in which I was wife, and then I got pregnant, and then I was a mother.
MISHLOVE: You had five children.
HUBBARD: I had five children, and I lost the question, and I almost lost my soul, even though I love my husband and love my children. In my early thirties I really felt like I was dying. And there I was, on the external level, with wonderful children and a huband I loved, but dying inside. I'll tell you what saved my life. The first life-saver was Abraham Maslow's Toward a Psychology of Being.
MISHLOVE: Maslow was a big influence in my life as well. He's the one who suggested to me that mystical experiences and experiences of the divine, of the sacred, of the supernatural, were not necessarily remnants of irrationality and superstition, but were experiences had by the great achievers and creative people of our culture.
HUBBARD: Exactly. For me, the key point that he made was that in studying well people, self-actualizing people, he found they all had one trait in common. They all had work that they considered intrinsically valuable and self-rewarding.
MISHLOVE: Yes. That's the whole idea of self-actualization.
HUBBARD: Self-actualization and chosen vocation seem psychologically to be connected. So I suddenly saw my "problem," in quotes, was that I had not found my vocation. Motherhood is not necessarily a vocation. Now, thirty years later, when people choose to have a child, parenting is becoming a vocation, because it's chosen.
MISHLOVE: It's a choice.
HUBBARD: But I was the last generation to have babies without thinking.
MISHLOVE: What Margaret Mead calls mindless fecundity.
HUBBARD: I was one of them. I mean, just because you know what? We didn't know what else to do. I didn't have babies because I thought I should be a mother even; I loved my children, but I really wasn't innately a mother.
MISHLOVE: You were living out a pattern unthinkingly.
HUBBARD: Unthinkingly. And I was trying so hard to live up to a cultural image of someone who was completely happy taking care of children and taking care of her husband. But actually I was miserable.
MISHLOVE: You were dying inside.
HUBBARD: I was dying inside. And when I read Maslow, and I realized my problem was I had not found my vocation, I began to get a plus sign to all my problems. Instead of the Freudian analysis, which is "I'm sick, I'm neurotic," Maslow, as you know, said the higher growth needs are not neuroses, they are normal. So I normalized my desire for something more. Instead of putting a negative I put a plus on it.
MISHLOVE: This is when you began writing.
HUBBARD: Then I began, and I want to tell you, the first answer to my question, "What is the meaning of our power?" came from Maslow for me, which is the meaning of our power is to release the individual creative potential of each of us for chosen work. Because if you live in a very traditional society, and you have no mobility, no education, live short lives, you don't have a chance to find that unique creative potential. So I realized, because I was in a society that had this affluence -- and you don't have to be rich; almost everyone in a modern society has a chance, if they take it, to look for that unique potential and start to find out what to do.
MISHLOVE: Well, Maslow himself indicated that he was running into a lot of problems with these theories. He was attempting to offer them to the business community. And I think businesses were looking for people to work on assembly lines and to work in offices, and they were not necessarily interested in having their work force concern themselves with questions of self-actualization and creativity.
HUBBARD: You know, it's really true, because if you are seeking your true life purpose, it's always something valuable, and nine-tenths of the work people are doing is intrinsically not valuable, or destructive, because the person is stuck in a job that we see now, much of it is actually not meaningful, or worse -- I mean, making products that are consuming the environment and destroying and are addictive and consumptive.
MISHLOVE: This is a very radical statement you're making here.
HUBBARD: If you want to take a radical social view, it would be a society in which each person is able to actualize their unique potential in chosen work, with partners they love, for the good of the whole.
MISHLOVE: It sounds wonderful. It does sound like a very different future.
HUBBARD: Well, at least it's a vision. And I personally believe that if we get through this what I call the planetary birth period, this period of maximum danger on the planet, that we will find that we do have the technological capability, if we control our population and shift our military expenditures -- that we actually have the resources to support a world in which each person becomes free to find their unique potential and give it. So I say that's a goal.
MISHLOVE: And of course this was your own personal struggle.
HUBBARD: When I found it, the most important thing that happened to me was to find one other person who fully got it. And I happened to meet a man called Dr. Jonas Salk.
MISHLOVE: A very well known man.
HUBBARD: I heard about him; I wrote him a letter about certain things -- a theater of the future.
MISHLOVE: Salk, we should say, is the inventor of the polio vaccine, and also the author of a marvelous book on intuition.
HUBBARD: He is; I know. And he had an idea about a theater of man, to dramatize human evolution as learned through biology and the human wisdom, and he wanted to do it at the Salk Institute. So I wrote a letter out of the blue, about what this should be -- you know, taken from my journal writings. Here I am, the mother of five, in Lakeville, Connecticut, right? "This is what the theater of man should be." One day Jonas Salk called me up, and I was there with my five children, and he said, "You have stated my dream. I'd like to take you to lunch." So he came to my home in Lakeville, Connecticut, and took me to lunch in New York, and I'll never forget it. I started to tell him all the things that were wrong with me -- I wanted to be in the future; I saw the connections; I saw more coming. He said, "Wait a minute. That's not what's wrong with you. That is exactly what is needed by evolution now." I can remember pretending I had hay fever; I was crying in the car, because somebody recognized the characteristics, and that affirmed them.
MISHLOVE: He was looking at your deepest longings and acknowledging you and saying, "You know, this isn't sick. This is healthy."
HUBBARD: Just that -- my daughter Woodley said to me, "Mom, you transformed from a cave-age lady to a space-age lady in six months." Because that's when I wrote the letter to the thousand people. I called up Abraham Maslow, and I took him to lunch. I kept taking people to lunch; that was my way. I found you could really call anybody. And Maslow gave me his list of 300, the Eupsychian Network, which was the network of good souls.
MISHLOVE: People who were looking at the concept of self-actualization and attempting to promote it and develop it in their work.
HUBBARD: And then Jonas gave me names, and other people gave me names, and I collected a thousand names. I wrote them all: "What do you think is the next step for the future?"
MISHLOVE: This is the early sixties?
HUBBARD: Late sixties.
MISHLOVE: Late sixties. And here you are, a housewife and mother of five, writing letters to many of the leading intellects and thinkers of the day.
HUBBARD: Father Thomas Merton, and Lewis Mumford, and this one and that answered, and then I'd invite them to lunch. One point here for everybody to know is that if you get what I call vocational arousal, if you get turned on to a life purpose, and you start following that compass of joy, it will lead you to certain actions, and even if it seems beyond you, if you take them step by step, like writing letters, or making telephone calls, or going to a conference, or meeting somebody, then it opens up, and the result is you become a self-actualizing person. I must say, for all the challenges that are involved with that, it has been a great life for the last thirty years.
MISHLOVE: As you were developing this notion of self-actualization, and that this was the purpose of the enormous power that we humans have accumulated, especially in Western civilization, you also still felt a certain level of dissatisfaction, of unfulfillment.
HUBBARD: Well, that was just the beginning. The second great thinker was Teilhard de Chardin, and his book The Phenomenon of Man.
MISHLOVE: He was a Jesuit priest.
HUBBARD: Yes, a paleontologist. He was banned by the Church in his lifetime; I think he died in '57. But his books were just getting known in the sixties when I read them.
MISHLOVE: Can you talk about his theory?
HUBBARD: Well, the theory that he had, he called the theory of complexity consciousness. He said if you look at evolution as a spiral, at every turn of the spiral there was a jump in consciousness and freedom to greater complexity -- from the molecule to a cell, to an animal, to a human. And then he said planet Earth itself is a living body, and it is complexifying, and we can see that -- all these different interactions and communication systems and so forth. And at some point this body of our planet will interrelate to such a point that we will experience ourselves as a whole.
MISHLOVE: He wrote about a concept he called the noosphere.
HUBBARD: The noosphere. We've had the geosphere; we've had the hydrosphere, which is water. We've had the biosphere, which is distinct with the living sphere. And then the noosphere is the thinking layer that is of all the human thoughts, cultures, technologies, language, and he said that is as real as the biosphere.
MISHLOVE: It's as if it were the brain of the planet.
HUBBARD: Peter Russell has called it the global brain. And the noosphere, he said, is thickening, and at some point the noosphere will get its collective eyes, and we will see as a living whole. And I felt, "Oh my goodness, the meaning of the power is not only individual self-actualization. It's the connection up of a planetary organism to experience itself as a whole."
MISHLOVE: Now Teilhard, being a Catholic priest, although he was silenced by the Church, he had a theological vision of a society moving towards the fulfillment of --
HUBBARD: Well, he saw God in evolution. Now the Church was afraid of the word evolution; but he saw evolution as the manifestation of God. And he saw the coming together of the planetary body; he called it, among other things, the Christification of the Earth. For him that meant that the consciousness of Christ -- that we all are connected to one another and to God -- would become a shared experience on a planetary scale. That corresponded to my passionate intuition of something great coming from all the power. You see, many people are afraid of the technological power because of its obvious destructiveness. But I was saying we wouldn't have had all this power if there wasn't a purpose. It's somewhat arrogant to sit here and say all these hundreds of years of effort have all been a mistake, and that we should only go back, because we can't, anyway. What is biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, artificial life? Does this have a meaning? Well, I have many other ideas on this, but the first meaning, I think, is to knit the planet together into a conscious organism. Each person has the potential to self-actualize within that organism, and to actually feel themselves as linked up to the whole. And I wondered at that time, could that be any connection with what Saint Paul said -- "Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep. We shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye." Now, jumping ahead a bit, Peter Russell, in his latest book, The White Hole in Time, has spoken of the acceleration of consciousness, and he makes it like -- a black hole suddenly becomes so dense that all light is absorbed in it and never escapes. Peter says there's a time on the planet where all light connects and you have an explosion of consciousness, of actually white light, which radically transforms our consciousness collectively.
MISHLOVE: I know Jean Houston uses the term whole systems transition, as if something suddenly happens and everything is different. And yet there seems to be a frightening aspect of this. We have many myths in the culture of human beings becoming like robots, and we're afraid of powerful social orders to which everybody must conform, and the idea of a group mind that we're part of. It seems to be robbing people of their individuality. How do you reconcile that with the idea of self-actualization?
HUBBARD: Well, you see, if it works right, if you take the image of a birth, birth is dangerous, and there's nothing guaranteed. You can have a very sick baby, you can have a dead baby, you can have a baby that kills the mother to be born, or you can have a normal baby. Now, a planetary birth, in my understanding, is a time when the planet's technology links it up, when it realizes its limits to growth, when it can't go on growing in the womb, when it has to stop its population growth, when it has to handle its own waste, stop using non-renewable resources -- all the stuff of the environment is natural, if you're being born. And let's say that we have the capacity to do that, and that each member of the body is like a cell who's awakening to new functions. We can't go on reproducing up to maximum; women can't go on having five to ten children each -- that we are literally being released from the old functions -- the men can't go on fighting these wars -- that we're being released from these old functions. And if we have, let's say, a fascistic idea take hold, in some horrible neofascism, or whatever, you could have a horrible birth, and you could have Armageddon. On the other hand, if the people whose consciousness is shifting naturally, like probably most of your listeners, to, let's say, a whole-centered consciousness, a more loving consciousness, more ecologically sensitive -- if that were ever aligned on a planetary scale, in my prophetic vision there would be a planetary birth experience, in which the collective mass of people would feel themselves as one, freely and spontaneously.
MISHLOVE: Well, you seem to be saying, though, that there's a limit to the sort of rugged, individualistic, self-centered consciousness that needs to take place for the survival of the planet.
HUBBARD: I'm a great believer in the evolution of consciousness itself. There's a book by E.M. Buck called Cosmic Consciousness.
MISHLOVE: An excellent book, yes.
HUBBARD: He points out that in single-cell life you had sentient consciousness; in animal life you had animal consciousness; then in human life you have self-consciousness. He points out that maybe starting 5000 years ago in Egypt, India, Greece, Israel, you began to get a new type of consciousness called cosmic consciousness, and that subsequently more and more people, like Whitman, and Pascal, and Emerson, and Gandhi, and so forth and so on -- you and me, and probably a million other people out there, millions -- began to pop into what you might call the next phase of consciousness. But the problem is, there's no church for it, there's no school for it, there's no name for it, and sometimes you think you're crazy. But what if we're popping all over the place into an awareness that we're all linked, into an awareness that we are members of one body, into an awareness that we may be universal beings, such that if there were the right catalytic situations -- this is my intuition -- an amazing number of people would be ready to be aware of who we are?
MISHLOVE: And to take responsibility, therefore, for building a new planetary culture that can live out that higher awareness.
HUBBARD: Yes, and who knows exactly the steps that are required for that? When I saw Live Aid, for example, when they linked up over hunger -- two billion people were together for 18 hours on a hunger issue; and then we've had, oh, like the world healing meditations, and Harmonic Convergence, and Earth Day. I'll never forget sitting with Jose Arguelles -- they made so much fun of Harmonic Convergence, you know.
MISHLOVE: And yet the whole world has changed since 1987.
HUBBARD: And Jose -- I was in a Boulder radio station with him, and he said, "The world will never be the same after Harmonic Convergence," and everyone was, "Ha, ha, ha." Then Gorbachev goes to the U.N. and calls for co-creation; the Communist empire self-destructs; Earth Day begins. And even though we have terrible problems in the world, I must say nobody predicted the degree of change.
MISHLOVE: Barbara Marx Hubbard, we're out of time now. But you're absolutely right, and it's been a joy to be with you. Thanks so much.
HUBBARD: You're welcome.
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