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The Big Answer


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Awakening Earth: Exploring the Evolution of Human Culture and Consciousness

a book by Duane Elgin

(our site's book review)

Elgin points out that the world needs a vision of the future that is realistic, comprehensive and compelling enough to get humanity enthused about it—to “inspire civilizations to reach new heights.” There is no “. . . comprehensive vision . . . that portrays how humanity can live together successfully.” There is! See Good News and Bad News.

His book is too New Age for most, with esoteric theories about consciousness and transcendentalism. In his opinion we need to focus on neither the materialist nor transcendentalist paradigms, but the coevolutionary paradigm instead, which integrates both and can produce a “wisdom culture.” One could interpret this to be New Age-speak for the knowledge revolution of the Third Wave.

He disagrees with Riane Eisler’s feminist view that violence is a consequence of male worldviews, saying that: “. . . placing the burden of peaceful or violent evolution on the shoulders of either a masculine or feminine consciousness seems misdirected.” (We agree with Eisler’s view.) He seems more comfortable with Joseph Campbell’s less one-sided view, and would probably also be amenable to the ideas of Marija Gimbutas, author of The Language of the Goddess.

There was a direct, win-win harmonious relationship between humanity and nature before 3000 B.C. in Goddess cultures
There was a direct, win-win harmonious relationship between humanity and nature before 3000 B.C. in Goddess cultures

Both of these two have looked at the evidence for a peaceful, four-millennia-long, female Goddess-centered era before 3000 B.C., after which a more aggressive and warlike, male-God-centered era began, which has lasted until the present. Goddess beliefs are still around in the form of fairy tales. But it was the direct, win-win harmonious relationship between humanity and nature that was most prevalent in Goddess cultures, and this is what was lost when there began, 5000 years ago, mankind’s alienation from the vital roots of earthly life and from each other. Both see this alienation in today’s society, and are glad about a new trend in which the Goddess ideas are reemerging—and not just in feminist circles—possibly returning us to our most ancient human roots (connectedness with the biosphere), and in so doing bringing us more hope for the future, since without such a connection we will destroy our environment irrevocably.

Female healer being highly valued
Female healer being highly valued

Elgin feels that fewer people competing for possessions, fewer possessions to protect, little centralized control, and less crowded conditions explain the absence of violence before 3000 B.C., not the dominance of male or female archetypes. He regrets the oppression of women that has characterized the last 5000 years (8 million were burned or hanged during the Inquisition because they preferred their beliefs to the dominant authoritarian orthodoxy of that time). But he feels that going from the First Wave (agricultural) to the Second Wave (industrial) necessitated adoption of the male archetype. He sees the female archetype as lacking the aggressive drive, individualism and willingness to control nature so needed for the mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm of the industrial and scientific revolutions. With all the aggressive female atheletes (including boxers), businesswomen, and actresses playing aggressive roles featuring karate fighting, it seems odd to read that women lack aggression. Some people of both sexes have it and some people of both sexes lack it.

An aggressive female playing an aggressive role featuring karate fighting
An aggressive female playing an aggressive role featuring karate fighting

Fromm would agree with Elgin that we need to individuate, not be enmeshed in families, and we need to divest ourselves of our regressive attachment to our land, but he would also say that attachment to materialism and conformity and authoritarianism in the mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm does not lead to freedom and integrity, but to regressive and degenerative tendencies. Elgin wants us, like Slater, Capra and so many others, to turn to the new, ecological-holistic paradigm in which we can strive for autonomy and self-actualization rather than the pseudosecurity of the crowd (Riesman's other-directedness), the mass, materialism, the social engineers, and possessive, immature relationships.

Elgin wants us to aim for his coevolutionary paradigm, which synthesizes male and female, social and individual, being and having, responsibility and rights, and strives to get us to live in harmony with nature and each other. Most people would call this Capra’s ecological-holistic paradigm, but authors insist upon inventing terms even if the ones they need already exist, so we’ll abide by this.

Most of the book endorses environmental, ecological-spiritual, Gaian perspectives that seek to preserve the biospherical system before it’s too late
Most of the book endorses environmental, ecological-spiritual, Gaian perspectives that seek to preserve the biospherical system before it’s too late

Most of the book endorses environmental, ecological-spiritual, Gaian perspectives that seek to preserve the biospherical system before it’s too late. If we don’t transform in that direction, Elgin sees humanity “descending into chaos.” But even though a Gaian perspective will solve mankind’s problems in the long run, the road from here to there will contain much pain and suffering: “Despite all our good intentions, without this coming era of collective distress and adversity, the human family is unlikely to awaken to its global identity and evolutionary responsibility. It is the immense suffering of millions—even billions—of precious human beings coupled with the widespread destruction of many other life-forms that will burn through our complacency and isolation. Needless suffering is the psychological and psychic fire that can awaken our compassion and fuse individuals, communities, and nations into a cohesive and consciously organized global civilization.”

Widespread destruction of many other life-forms plus human suffering will burn through our complacency and isolation and awaken our compassion
Widespread destruction of many other life-forms plus human suffering will burn through our complacency and isolation and awaken our compassion

We disagree with this strategy for two reasons. The first is that this is doing it the hard, cruel way. The second is that for many years conditions have worsened and suffering has increased in many parts of Africa and other places. Do the people quit trying to have as many babies as possible for old age “security” and try something different? Do the people giving each other AIDS via nonuse of condoms wise up and take steps to stop the epidemic? Does the fact that they have to live like rats because there’s way more people than the land can easily support or the fact that droughts and floods can be expected (so it’s prudent to have contingencies) sway these people towards a more reasonable approach? Is the suffering producing any wisdom, or are they mostly just obtaining weapons and having power struggles over the little they have?

Somalia
Somalia

When the U.S. sends help to Somalia, do they cooperate with our help or attack the Americans, which insures that they get no more help and that do-gooder liberal Americans can go home where they belong while the Somalians suffer more misery? This is not to say that they are dumb or they are to be “blamed.” This is to say that their suffering has not led in good directions. No wisdom. No rethinking. No plans revamped. So Elgin cannot count on this strategy. (Combined with MC movement strategies, however, there is some merit in his plan, since more people will be predisposed towards wisdom, compassion and global unity. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

We concur 100 percent with his prediction that social cohesion will be empowered by electronic technologies, which will add connectivity in business, scholarship, play politics, spirituality, cultural progress and friendships. (PSBs in MCs will add a new dimension to local community communication and in-touch-ness of friends and family, and help dispel the decades-old isolation curse.)

We also concur with his call for a robust diet of socially relevant TV programs, since the obsessive focus on materialism, ratings and entertainment value has made us entertainment rich and knowledge poor. (See Make-Believe Media: The Politics of Entertainment.) And if there is so much escapism going on, it brings up the question of what is there about our lives that we desperately need to escape from? (See Fromm's Escape from Freedom.)

Elgin's supporting a vast increase of government funding for public television to generate “the level and quality of communication needed to support a conscious democracy” seems rather naïve. In the first place, much public television, like much network television, is lousy. In the second place, giving the government more money will have a predictable response (which will NOT be better programs): more waste, a bigger bureaucracy running things, more corruption, more government-backed special-interest agenda pushing because of corporate “donations,” etc. (See Who Will Tell The People?: The Betrayal Of American Democracy.) The 20th century is the ultimate test-case for establishing the fact that when we try to socially engineer away our problems via social programs by raising taxes and spending, we only make the problems worse. And so it would be if we showered public TV with cash.

taxes
Taxes

Here’s a prediction that we paid particular attention to: Once humanity gets through its period of suffering, chaos, misery, bloodshed and ecological irresponsibility, people will return to the Gaian perspectives of 5000 years ago, with balanced male and female archetypes, sustainable and ecological ways of living, and “Prototype microcommunities will flourish that place a premium on living in ways that are ecologically conscious and nurturing of the human family, community, psyche and spirit.”

Elgin says: once humanity gets through its period of suffering, chaos, misery, bloodshed and ecological irresponsibility, people will return to the microcommunities of the past
Elgin says: once humanity gets through its period of suffering, chaos, misery, bloodshed and ecological irresponsibility, people will return to the microcommunities of the past

Elgin's right: microcommunities (MCs) will flourish and will be extremely nurturing to people and planet, but our microcommunity definition is very well thought out and it is very specific and clear, whereas his is simply a nice generality. But he’s right about intentional microcommunities in neighborhoods about the size of a suburban block with aesthetic landscaping enhancements, cottage industries, and fitting the “tribe” trend of the Third Wave world, with less reliance on government and more on grassroots initiative even in areas like health care, child care, education, crime prevention, and job training. He also says that these microcommunities will be a sturdy foundation upon which to build a planetary-scale civilization. This is correct, but he needs to stress how important it is that the politicians, Utopians and social engineers stay the hell out of it and let individual and family initiative do its work. Since he didn’t, we must conclude that he hasn’t thought it through.

Elgin needs to stress how important it is that the politicians, Utopians and social engineers stay the hell out of the MC movement and let individual and family initiative do its work
Elgin needs to stress how important it is that the politicians, Utopians and social engineers stay the hell out of the MC movement and let individual and family initiative do its work

The world needs MC opportunities that people can choose to act upon to make life work. It does NOT need MCs generated from social and political policies. Anyone not wise enough and without lifewish enough to choose MCs when the opportunity arises will certainly not succeed with MCs that are “engineered” into their lives by “well-meaning others” mandating MC-flavored “intervention” for them “for their own good.” MCs are not for the dependent, the thoughtless, the uncompassionate, the ignorant, the lazy, the apathetic, the at-effect or the losers. They’re for thoughtful, knowledgeable, compassionate, energetic, wise, independent, at-cause winners who want the world to work and seek to be part of that process by getting their own lives together first and then working their way up from there. But they’re not for elitists. Part of the definition of an MC is that once it gets its act together, its members help other friends and non-MC people improve their lives and relationships, and for those that are the most evolved, they help MC evolution on the big scale.

Alien inviting us to join some type of federation of planets, but ONLY after we get our act together
Alien inviting us to join some type of federation of planets, but ONLY after we get our act together

Like Carl Sagan implied in his book/movie Contact, and Elgin agrees with in this book, civilizations much more intelligent than we are would not be likely to contact us until we evolve more, since it would undermine our self-concept and interfere with our evolutionary process. Elgin thinks we can be a peaceful, cooperative and mature civilization here on Earth in about 500 years, at which time we may be invited to join some type of federation of planets.

planets
Planets

Elgin has a scary and yet inspiring perspective on the near and far future. His microcommunity intuitions are some of the best we’ve seen, and his specifics on how the world situation evolves over the next 500 years or so are detailed, logical, creative, insightful and, ultimately, hopeful. His discussions of oneness and spirituality are constructive, but his Meta-universe and cosmic consciousness New Ageisms will, we fear, turn many off to his important messages. Had he replaced these discussions with issues of Third Wave relevance, or discussions of how he thinks we should deal with the main stumbling block in our planetary evolution*, he would have reached a wider audience with information they can use and integrate into their personal life strategies.

*The main stumbling block is, of course, the fact that the vast majority of the people of the world are bringing up their young in win-lose, authoritarian and permissive—and often steep-gradient-nurturance—ways that teach them to be Second Wave thinkers, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm subscribers, authoritarian-friendly people of dependent and ethically questionable character.

Such people are bursting with anger, fear, guilt, and hate, and are alienated from the needs of people, community and biosphere. They’re also insecure enough to choose enmeshment, violence, radicalism, fanaticism, dependent and possessive relationships and obsession with escapism and materialism, if those that offer such opportunities simply push the correct buttons in their psyches, draw them into their cult or gang with promises of becoming one of the chosen or one of the “in” crowd, emotionally manipulate them with insidious media advertisements, or otherwise exploit their vulnerabilities and lack of true autonomy or integrity. Such win-lose people are not about to become the win-win citizens needed by national and cultural evolution.

The world is unintentionally raising warriors, not peacekeepers—this is the main stumbling block in our planetary evolution
The world is unintentionally raising warriors, not peacekeepers—this is the main stumbling block in our planetary evolution