cat·a·clysm /’kadəˌklizəm/ noun: cataclysm; plural noun: cataclysms a large-scale and violent event in the natural world.
- a sudden violent upheaval, especially in a political or social context. “the cataclysm of the First World War” synonyms: disaster, catastrophe, calamity, tragedy, devastation, holocaust, ruin, ruination, upheaval, convulsion, apocalypse, act of God “their homeland was destroyed by a great cataclysm”
Origin early 17th century (originally denoting the biblical Flood described in Genesis): from French cataclysme, via Latin from Greek kataklusmos ‘deluge,’ from kata- ‘down’ + kluzein ‘to wash.’
Cataclysm has always been a force for change: violent, often unexpected, radical. Usually devastating to the old order, but offering the potential for something new to arise on the other side. There are the obvious cataclysms caused by nature’s elements of water, fire, air and earth: floods, wildfires, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, mudslides, drought, earthquakes. The history of our earth is replete with incredibly thorough jump times, like the Great Oxygenation Event some 2.5 billion years ago when the emergence of oxygen itself destroyed most of the pre-existing organisms but made way for the possibility of biological diversification and the emergence of new life form that could utilize it. Volcanic eruptions that darkened the air for years, or the great flood found in every tradition on the planet, or asteroids from outer space that decimated the atmosphere and the dinosaurs. Something has always survived, although some extinctions have been so massive that very little did survive and it was as if life started over.
We are currently in what is called the sixth mass extinction (Holocene or Anthropocene Extinction) where we are losing species on our planet at 100 to 1000 times the natural background rates. Only this time it is not nature creating this cataclysm, it is humans overpopulating and destroying habitats for other species, making it impossible for them to breathe, reproduce, migrate, or drink the water. We ourselves, as a species, are starting to face similar limits like the current water crisis in Capetown or ubiquitous air pollution in some cities and countries or poisoned ecosystems. Many well-respected scientists believe that human extinction is inevitable.
We cannot ignore cataclysm as a force for change, we cannot be in denial of what is happening to this planet that we are responsible for. There are natural disasters and human assisted disasters and just plain old human-driven disasters.
Through this story, we want to look at the pattern of cataclysm as a force for change. What creates cataclysm and what comes after it and how we might be with it in a new way. How do we wrestle with this wave of cataclysm we are in: Fukushima, Sonoma, Montecito, New Orleans, Sandy Point, LasVegas, North Korea? The list is endless.
Jump Time – Natural Disasters
Jean Houston characterizes the present era as a pivotal moment in history Jean Houston Author, scholar and lecturer, Jean Houston is noted for her “human potential movement.” She has been an advisor to political leaders and worked with United Nations Development Group training leaders in the new field of Social Artistry. where we can harvest the genius of the human race in new ways of being, knowing, relating, governing, and believing. Here is her promise:
“In Jump Time’s developing hybrid world, capacities once nurtured in separate societies are available to the entire family of humankind. This is a stupendous happening, as important as the discovery of new continents during the time of the great sea journeys. For the first time in human history the genius of the human race is available for all to harvest. These rediscovered capacities may be evolutionary accelerators, now being gathered from many places, times, and cultures to awaken our species to who we are and what we yet may be and do. Often, however, it is not comfortable. We can for a time find ourselves strangers in a very strange land, wishing we could return to the comforts of a more insular and familiar worldview. Yet when we get beyond the shutterings of our local cultural trance, we gain the courage to nurture the emerging forms of the possible human and the possible society.”
Apocalypse – Religious Prophesy
Almost every culture and religion has an end-times story embedded in it. Some of these stories are very present in the cultural consciousness, sometimes they seem more hidden and obscure. Their relevance to contemporary people seems to ebb and flow through time dependent on a number of factors ranging from natural disasters, wars, epidemics and turns of centuries or millennia.
We live in a time when many of these end-times stories are coming to the fore, seeming to converge on our age from a number of different directions. First, and perhaps most recurrent and most relevant in America, are the prophecies handed down about the Apocalypse in Revelation, the last chapter of the Christian Bible. In this story, a reign of terror, pestilence, war and plagues will descend upon the earth preceding the second coming of Christ and the dawn of a New World Order.
There has been much debate through the years about whether this is an old story written about the fall of the Roman Empire, a metaphorical story about how we as individuals go through change within our own psyches, or a future prediction of how the physical world will end in destruction. There have been many times throughout American history where groups of people have thought that this end is nigh and have acted accordingly, selling their possessions, fasting for days or even committing mass suicide to precipitate their own Rapture.
Fukushima - Triple Disasters
We know from our own experience that disasters shift mindsets and consciousness, a conclusion that is backed up by extensive research. We also know that disasters also release an overwhelming force to return to the old normal. Even if we didn’t like it, at least we knew what it was!
Bob Stilger, PhD, is an activist-scholar who explores social change, leadership and community building. Bob’s work has taken him into communities across North America and around the world, helping people build the lives and communities they want. Over the last seven years, Bob has worked with communities in Japan where people are creating a “new normal” after the devastating Triple Disasters – earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear explosions – of March 11, 2011. His work is in places where the old normal is disappearing, the present is in chaos and the future is cocooned.
Bob sees disruption and collapse as gateways to creativity and How will we each find the courage and clarity we need to stand up and step forward in these times? In AfterNow, Bob shows us how collapse can be a gateway to creativity and illuminates the patterns, practices, and actions that give birth to a life-affirming future
To Read More about Bob’s work and how NewStories is applying these learnings to other contexts: