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a renaissance is a dangerous thing
by michael mcgee

Epidemic infectious disease, international terrorism, civil war all over the globe, cult suicides, collapsing economies, racial tension, poverty and famine--am I worried? No.

Should I be? Well, first of all, none of it's happening to me personally and second, the last time the world was this troubled we were in the middle of the Renaissance. So how bad can things really be?

I suspect many of us tend to judge the state of the world on two scales: how is my life right now and how is everybody else's life. With all due respect to those suffering real tragedy in their lives, when you add it all up at the global level there may actually be cause for hope. The fact is that one of history's golden ages was one our most troubled times as well, almost as troubled as the world is today.

Syphilis, plagues, high infant mortality rates, civil war and religious persecution all formed the daily backdrop for the cultural legacy of the Renaissance. It was a world much darker in character than most of us were taught.

We actually have a lot in common with the last Renaissance, some of it good in fact. There are seven striking similarities between the last Golden Age and the modern world--seven fundamental signs that marked all renaissances, including the one unfolding today. New forms of art, new religions, a booming global economy, a self-help movement, a communications revolution and accelerating change--these six forces shaped the last Renaissance and today these same forces are again shaping our world.

But with progress also comes pain--sexual disease, religious terrorism, civil war and poverty--these are also hallmarks of a Renaissance. The last Renaissance experienced similar pain as it embarked upon one of history's Golden Ages. The seventh renaissance trend--creative destruction--can either break us or bring us to greater understanding of our world. A Renaissance can be a very dangerous thing. It is a cataclysmic moment in our history, tearing down as much as it builds up. We are caught in one of history's great social hurricanes.

It shouldn't surprise us then that there is no job security in an economy that is booming; or that the world erupts in constant civil war just as the superpowers make peace; or that a "New Age" spiritual movement produces such unspiritual vestiges as cult suicides, religious terrorism and occult worship. This is the natural, albeit, painful process of cultural growth.

So the next time you hear about something bad happening in the world--about a war, or a murder, or an economic downturn--take heart, things may not be as bad as they seem. Then take a look a little closer to home and see if there's somebody you know in real trouble. Maybe there's something you can do to help. The best renaissances start with the individual; then grow into global proportions.

Copyright © 2001 Michael McGee. All Rights Reserved.

Michael McGee is the author of Technaissance: An Optimist's Guide to the New World. Visit him at www.technaissance.com to preview his new book.

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