By Michael O'Callaghan

Looking at the future from the threshold of the global age, leading thinkers around the world agree that Humankind still has the resources, technology, and know-how to make the transition to a form of civilisation that can be economically healthy, ecologically sustainable, and fun to live in. (54)

Paradoxically, widespread ignorance of this fact is causing us to move in the opposite direction – toward irreversible destruction of our ecological life-support system, the risk of catastrophic international credit collapse, and terminal resource wars. This situation is like a black hole: the farther we get into it, the harder it will be to get out, since the "window of opportunity" to make the transition to a sustainable civilisation will not last far into the 21st. century. There is still time – if we find a way to heal the illness at the source.

A practical approach to healing this dis-ease comes into view if we describe it cybernetically as a blockage of information in the metabolism of the global body-politic. Such an information-blockage can be seen to operate simultaneously both externally and internally. At the external level, there is a blockage in the way information gets processed through the fragmented specialised institutional metastructure of our social body politic – i.e. the governments, corporations, banks, international agencies, Non Governmental Organisations, educational systems, religious groups, communications media and other institutions – through which we manage our collective affairs. This blockage prevents individuals and organisations from getting access to the sort of well-informed, integrated world view which is the prerequisite for citizens to exercise their franchise in a global democracy.

At the internal level, one can observe a widespread psychological blockage which prevents individual men and women from understanding the pattern that connects global issues to each other and to their own way of seeing them. The people are educated to expect their leaders to do their thinking for them, and therefore abdicate their personal responsibility for the common good. And the leaders have been educated to be specialists, with a marked predisposition to systematically ignore the relationship between their area of expertise and the rest of reality. The end result is that individual common sense has become the largest untapped resource on the planet.

On both of these levels, the underlying source of the global crisis is our inability to convert the available data to the kind of information that can empower us to make a difference. But as every good doctor knows, attacking the symptoms – no matter how valiant the effort – will not heal the disease. I am talking about strategy.

If we really want to solve our global crisis before it becomes too late, we are going to have to adopt a better approach than attacking the symptoms. As long we imagine that technology will solve our problem for us, or – conversely – project a negative, Apocalyptic image of the future, all our efforts to save the world will consist of little more than token gestures or well-meant attempts to modify the behaviour of others. Saving a few acres of rain forest here, or outlawing the emission of CFC's there is wonderful, but this is putting the cart before the horse. What is the point in prohibiting some item of antisocial behaviour, if the alienated mentality which produces the behaviour in the first place is not improved?

In order to heal the disease we need to dissolve the information-blockage. This requires an artistic approach to the use of information.

I call this information-art, in the sense that the medium in question is not paint or stone or bronze, but information itself. Assuming that art-as-unique-artefact has lost its meaning in this age of instantaneous digital mass-reproduction, and that art-as-financial-commodity is irrelevant to this discussion, then the challenge for the engagé artist is to create information-environments which can inspire people to see for themselves what they can do to participate in the historical task at hand. Guy Debord, the principal founder of the Situationist International group, wrote about "the construction of situations, that is to say, the concrete construction of momentary ambience of life and their transformation into a superior personal quality." (55) The information-art approach I have in mind is a kind of cybernetic shamanism.

If we fail to dissolve the information blockage, we must run the risk that the sustainable global civilisation of the future may perish in the hour of its birth. As Buckminster Fuller said, "the moment of birth is the most dangerous time of all." But as Lao Tsu remarked, "a disaster can easily be prevented before it happens." (56) We should remember Confucius' observation "When people share a common goal, their natural tendency is to cooperate in realising it." Without a shared vision of where we want to go, there is little point in setting out on the journey.

How then can we possibly hope to catalyse the massive co-operation that is now so urgently required to bring about the development of a sustainable civilisation, without first obtaining widespread prior agreement on the goal? This is the prerequisite for a path of least resistance into the future. We need a global vision: a realistic, positive image of Humankind-and-the-Biosphere that can evoke meaning from all the peoples of the world, empower us to implement the opportunities that surround us, help us to discover what we can do to make a difference, and create a future to which our children can look forward. (57)

By this I do not mean to suggest that we should foster a global monoculture. On the contrary, cultural diversity – like biodiversity – is a precious asset of tremendous long-term adaptive value, which must be protected as much as possible. But since the reality to which we must now adapt is global, each of our local cultures would greatly benefit by expanding its local vision to planetary proportions. Within the rich diversity of all the world's nations, we need a component of a global world view in the consensual sense of a belief system that is shared by the citizens of the planet as a whole.

Obviously, such an integrated world view – or metamyth – does not yet exist. Nor can it be superficially manufactured through the questionable means of propaganda or advertising. The personal values, political premises, economic assumptions, and religious beliefs which underpin the contemporary world views of Humankind's various cultural groups appear, on the surface of things, too fragmented to reveal a common understanding. But now that our human race includes one billion Muslims, over a billion Chinese, a wealthy alliance of maladapted industrialised nations and multinational corporations, and a rapidly growing but desperately impoverished group of developing countries, how are we all going to cooperate unless we can identify the humanity that we have in common? Our present world views are like a broken mirror in whose reflection we cannot even recognise our own face, much less trust the person we see through the looking glass on the other side. In the inner world of the psyche, it is the identity of humanity that is in question. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Myth, as Joseph Campbell said, is a gift from the depths of the psyche. Carl Jung saw its source in the deepest levels of the collective unconscious. How then might we obtain an appropriate mythology for the Global Age?

Like pearl divers in the sea, it has been the lot of certain artists to plunge into these depths, to enter the other world of the collective unconscious, to receive inspiration, and to return to the surface of consensus reality bearing numinous symbols that can reflect the insights of the collective Self in metaphorical forms appropriate to their communities in place and time.

At Glenstal Abbey School in Ireland, I remember my art teacher Patrick Doyle saying that the function of art is to make the unconscious conscious. Not long afterwards, when I was twenty years old, I began to carry out the basic research and development for an international, participatory work of information-art called the Global Vision Project. It is conceived as a context of information or situation for Humankind to see itself and the Biosphere as a whole system. Its purpose is to promote the goal of a sustainable civilisation based on renewable resources and common sense. I have described the project in detail elsewhere, (58) so suffice it to say that it includes a film and television series, and a feature film. It is learning-oriented rather than instructive. It entails the use of communications technology – including personal computers, the Internet, remote sensing satellites, television, cinema, music, theatre, and dance. It is participatory, since it would obviously be preposterous today for any single individual or group to propose a new mythology for the world. It thus involves the participatory planning and creative input of people and organisations from different disciplines and different parts of the world. The ultimate goal of the Global Vision Project is to produce a completely new kind of decentralised World Expo scheduled for early in the 21st. Century.

Whether the Global Vision Project will have its desired effect is impossible for me to say. But I believe its conceptual premises are sound, and as an artist I am committed to giving it my best shot. Because the global scale of the undertaking has mythological proportions in and of itself, I find that when I describe it to people, they sometimes look at me with a strange look in their eyes, as if I were either some kind of saviour, or harboured messianic delusions of my own. The former transference makes me very uncomfortable; as regards the latter, I certainly do not think this or any other project is going to save the world!

What I do believe is simply this: since the interests of the person and the planet are now the same, it must be possible for artists to create symbols of this new condition that can transcend the obsolete divisions between us and evoke sustainability as a common goal. The real work – the work of personal and social transformation – is up to the people themselves.

People often ask me to explain how this Project began. Well, the idea came about through a visionary experience which it was my pleasure to enjoy in Ireland some twenty years ago. I will attempt to describe this for you in the pages that follow. Although the experience was very personal, I want to share it as a testimony of how a non-ordinary state of consciousness is nothing to be afraid of. Actually, it was very enjoyable indeed.

It is often said that in order to imagine the future, one needs to look into the past. As it happens, the inspiration for this Project came to me during a visit to work of environmental art created a very long time ago, in the stone age.