Zayaan Khan on The Place of Sweet Waters Part 2/84

Reuters Media

Reuters Media

There is a principle of ecology that can give us some ground in understanding the unraveling world around us: thresholds. Within a stable ecosystem, the diversity of relationships and resources creates a strong resilience to shock. An ecological community can endure shock again and again, and can actually unravel quite a ways without showing it, until a threshold is reached. And then collapse happens, abruptly—and all collapse is really transformation.

There is another principle ~ it is called the Adaptive Cycle. At the beginning (though as a cycle, it is never-ending), lots of energy is available, relationships are not yet established, and the form taken could move in many possible directions. It is a blank canvas. Imagine a meadow. Slowly the first pioneers arrive, creating structure, and over time stability is established. Shrubs arrive, and then trees. Given the right conditions, an ecosystem will want to move toward Old Growth, a highly resilient system in which relationship are well-established, many niches are created, and all the available energy is held fast in biomass. There is little change over time. This climax state is resilient to most shocks, and only a catastrophic event like a flood, fire, or clearcut can upend the order, and make the energy available again to be uptaken in new forms.

What people are experiencing in South Africa is a threshold being reached; a point of no return at which culture can change rapidly. Suddenly people become accustomed to the unthinkable—not showering! no laundry!—and they begin to ask, how could we have ever been so wasteful, so indulgent? Meanwhile those who worship capitalism as more sacred than human life go on doing so, until irreversible thresholds are crossed and cultural change will be unavoidable for those too who have had the means to insulate themselves thus far from the realities of the majority. And just maybe, we might find the other side more enjoyable, more connective, more sacred, more alive...

Music by Eola

Ayana YoungComment