THE BAOBAB TREE – Generative Conversations around what is emerging as possible human futures at a time of radical global transition.



It seems obvious that humanity has arrived at a critical juncture in world history when the narrative of the world order, that has prevailed for 70 or more years, is unravelling ever more chaotically in the aftermath of an economic crisis, a global pandemic, followed by the war in Ukraine, potentially large scale famine, social turmoil and climate breakdown. Wherever you are in this global civilizational structure, whether the global North or the global South, there is no escaping the consequences of geopolitical instability, disrupted supply chains, and the inherent systemic fragility of this complex of interrelated and interlocking crises. Historically we are in an unprecedented metacrisis.

We are now experiencing at a global scale extreme polarizations on almost every topic, whether in the culture wars around SJM and Gender, or increasing global tensions between rival superpowers. How is the global South, specifically in this case Africa, experiencing the fallout from the toxic divisiveness largely initiated by the North's fragmented culture wars and extreme political polarizations? Can we attribute these breakdowns in the democratic liberal secular order, in part at least, to the one-dimensional ontology of the scientific world picture of metaphysical materialism? Are these extreme divisions a symptom of something deeper that is unfolding? To what extent is the anxiety inducing outward manifestation of division and disorder a reflection of inward disorder and inner conflict? The mainstream focus, whether it is political, social, economic or environmental is always exclusively about how to address the outward manifestations, followed by crude attempts to 'fix the problem' with the same mindset that contributed to the problem, usually resulting in further disorder and the consequent increase in anxiety and polarisation, in a classic self-perpetuating negative feedback loop.

A worldview is the cultural analogue of an ecology. If a world view hardens into rigidity the fluidity of the attunement between agents and the arena is disrupted, and multiple crises result. The current scientific world view depends almost exclusively on what can be measured. Indeed at the most fundamental level of physics, the picture of what constitutes 'matter' is built upon numerical calculations, mathematical abstractions. Yet none of this can account for the qualities of our experience, which is for most of us what constitutes our life in terms of a whole spectrum of experiences: it is through these that our lives are given meaning, and from which we form our relationships, make music, create art, drama, dance, poetry. It is by interacting with the tangible sensuous qualities of the earth, trees and plants that we draw our most vital nutritional needs to metabolize essential mind-body processes, and from which we create a vast array of inventive cuisines. Everything that matters most to us, all our experience from extreme grief to joy and rapture, occurs within consciousness, yet in mainstream physics this is regarded as an epiphenomenon of material complexity, and self-reflective awareness a property only possessed by the human species. This view has not gone unchallenged, and for some years now has been subject to heated debate around what is called The Hard Problem of Consciousness.

Our daily existence has become dependent on a diet of information, and increasingly misinformation, manipulated through algorithms, where the public space is owned and controlled by private corporations who act as gatekeepers excluding heterodox views unpalatable to the status quo but which increasingly we need to reinvent ourselves, and to question the constructed narratives inimical to the angels of our better nature as moral, ethical beings. We are force-fed infoglut while suffering acutely from a wisdom famine. Today in almost every educational system our capacity for wisdom is not to be found informing the curriculum. The primary emphasis is now on STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Yet science, secularism, the ideological competitiveness of politics and economics has not afforded us the existential nourishment that the religious wisdom traditions at one time provided. If at all, at least in the secular West, wisdom is a rather private pleasure, regarded even as a personal indulgence. Thus we have become strangers to ourselves, wandering amidst the wreckage of failed capitalist promises, our faith in progress shaken as we confront the climate consequences of a fossil fuel bonanza, and are unsettled by the growing ecological wasteland of an endangered earth. Even the faculty of reason has become truncated and reduced to propositional knowledge, employing the computational logic that can be fed into a computer. But reason has many nuanced meanings and was  central to the greatest works of ancient philosophy. It was also once at the heart of any educational process, where human reason was paramount to enable intelligence to cultivate clarity of thought, but also to incorporate a more intuitive embodied understanding of life. Failure to employ this kind of reason is liable to lead to irrational actions or conclusions based on hyper-rational logic divorced from any meaningful living context. Wisdom, as the outcome of reason properly employed,  must encompass a fluid comprehension of paradox as the coincidence of opposites: how two things which may seem absolutely opposed or contradictory, are in fact often two sides of the same coin. Failure to understand this explains how often striving for freedom leads to tyranny, how health systems produce iatrogenic illness, how aiming to produce more leisure ends up costing us ever more working hours. But we cannot return via nostalgia to the imagined comfort zone of older tradition.

Could the ‘sacred canopy’, symbolised perhaps by the baobab tree, which had wisdom at its heart, be retrieved and restored in a new dynamic way by the expansion of the scientific world picture to embrace in a fluid and open-ended way what it initially discarded, transforming it into a new symbiosis of the natural, the human and the sacred?  Can quantum field theory, the paradoxes of quantum entanglement and non-locality, the biological metabolisms of the human, plant and animal worlds, and an expanded cognitive science, that now understands mind as embodied, add new layers of richness to those Axial Age spiritual traditions that lacked a full comprehension of the developmental logic of the psyche’s implicit unfolding towards wisdom?

We are living through an era where the middle ground between extremes has all but disappeared. How can divisions be bridged between radically different, seemingly incompatible, beliefs and agendas?  Can ancient wisdom traditions help us retrieve the notion of diversity within unity? Is freedom solely the result of liberation from all forms of natural constraints, the result of ideological coercion, or something more profound and nuanced that requires a comprehension of limits? What is the relationship between the vulnerability of uncertainty and genuinely creative renewal? What does the word Feminine mean? Why is this word becoming more difficult to define? Is the suppression of the feminine, whose language allowed feelings, intuition, wisdom to be highly valued, the reason why we have a pandemic of depression, addiction and suicide across many societies? Is there any possibility of alternative human futures and regenerative social organizations based on neither nostalgia nor techno-utopia? Or do we face only an immediate future of continued confusion, chaos, conflict and social-ecological breakdown, followed by ever more brutal methods of control, in which each of us struggles alone to give meaning and sense to our lives amidst the prevalent turmoil? Or can breakdown initiate breakthrough into new creative social forms?

The idea behind The Baobab Tree is to create a physical space for open conversations where the outlines of possible futures might emerge not by seeking to change one narrative for another narrative, or by fixing things 'outwardly' without attending to our inner emotional lives, but perhaps by creating genuine dialogue in a safe place, and by asking what are the questions that we are living through now that might enable us to enact new collaborative forms of living and being, that can act as seeds for generational change and transformation. It is based on the notion that we cannot do this on our own, and that only by showing up and engaging with each other in real conversations is there the possibility of something new and unexpected and therefore truly creative emerging.

It is not even about agreeing, or agreeing to disagree. Rather by allowing many perspectives to be present, by being willing to explore those different viewpoints around these topics, and to let go of what no longer serves us well, what might we discover that is perhaps already nascent in our midst that connects us and holds us together in the open space of dia-logue?  Perhaps the problem can no longer be addressed solely at an individual level, as so many therapeutic interventions  commonly insist, but by tapping into the interpersonal open space of interbeing where our fundamental relationality has primacy. What role might Africa play in creating new models of possible human futures that are sustainable, peaceful, harmonious and creative? I have a sense that Africa has a hugely significant role to play in reformulating a new world picture. What is uniquely African, the still living root at the base of all the many branches of what we have become, in the place from where we all most probably began, that could be vital for the phase shift into a new operating system, a new cosmo-imaginary that can take many diverse localized creative shapes, informed by the best of ancient wisdom in symbiosis with the earth, our only home? I don't know, but it seems worth making the effort to explore what this contribution might be. Perhaps it could begin by identifying key skills and qualities that have survived the onslaught of reductive modernity. Modernity's narrow epistemology, based on selective conscious purpose, creates endless crises by its often skewed sampling from a larger complex relational field, knowledge of which is wisdom per se. Uniquely African skills and qualities, which would also include indigenous forms of knowing and relating, and which were still practised until relatively recently, could be retrieved and re-purposed by significantly scaling them up through evolving epistemologies of coordination that are enacted through social-educative programmes based on collaborative non-rivalrous processes. Instead of being incentivized towards a race to the bottom, as we push globally at the limits of planetary boundaries, how can we optimize an ethical reversal away from destructive rivalrous dynamics towards enacting coordination towards an optimal condition for living for everyone that is creatively sustainable. In other words stop trying to win at a dying game and collaborate to invent a better less destructive one.

THE BAOBAB TREE is the place where all of the above concerns and questions, and perhaps many more,  can be explored, discussed and engaged with, in a safe zone of participatory appreciative enquiry. The films we plan to show in the months ahead explore challenging new ideas, from some of the most brilliant minds, around Consciousness, the Human Brain, Mind and Matter, the role of Religion and the Sacred, the place for Indigenous Wisdom, Socio-Ecological Perspectives, the return of Metaphysics and Cosmology and much else. Many of these ideas directly challenge some of the foundational principles of Enlightenment thought (or as David Bohm the physicist called it The Endarkenment) that have driven modernity and post-modernity over the last 200 years. How can we discern what is still of value and what needs to be discarded? In what way might these ideas contribute to transforming  our educational models, our political and economic systems, our understanding of human potential and optimum value? How might these perspectives shed new light on some of humanity’s most persistent dilemmas? And could they help us envision new creative ways of living and being in symbiosis with all other beings and the earth’s vital eco-systems?

What might be Emerging at this crucial time that gives hope of a future we can believe in as we journey into the third decade of the 21st Century?

I hope you will give time to joining us to engage with and contribute to The Baobab Tree conversations as they unfold into next year.

Thank you with Metta and warm wishes,

May All Beings Live Wisely and Compassionately

David Beatty