Although many still deny it, more and more people are recognizing that there is something seriously wrong with the world in which we live. We continue to be reminded that the climate crisis is real, that our economic system of consumption is unsustainable, that we are still on the brink of wiping ourselves out in a nuclear war, and we are so polarized that half the country will be terrified and enraged no matter who is elected President in November. It’s enough to cause us to despair. Yet, I am hopeful. Not just the blind hope of the eternal optimist, but the intuitive-rational hope of someone who has seen the future and it looks, in the words of my colleague Charles Eisenstein, like “the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible.”
I first caught a glimpse of this world in 1995. I was attending a men’s conference in Indianapolis, Indiana and I sat with thirty other men in the fourth round of a sweat-lodge ceremony, when I was transported into a vision:
We are all on a huge ocean liner. It is the Ship of
Civilization. Everything that we know and have ever known is on the ship.
People are born and die. Goods and services are created, wars are fought, and
elections are held. Species come into being and face extinction. The Ship
steams on and on and there is no doubt that it will continue on its present
There are many decks on the ship starting way down in the boiler room where the
poorest and grimiest toil to keep the ship going. As you ascend the decks
things get lighter and easier. The people who run the ship have suites on the
very top deck. Their job, as they see it, is to keep the ship going and keep
those on the lower decks in their proper places. Since they are at the top they
are sure that they deserve to have the best that the ship has to
Everyone on the lower decks aspires to get up to the next
deck and hungers to get to the very top. That’s the way it is. That’s the way
it has always been. That’s the way it will always be.
However, there are a few people who realize that something
very strange is happening. What they come to know is that the Ship of
Civilization is sinking. At first, like everyone else, they can’t believe
it. The Ship has been afloat since time before time. It is the best of the
best. That it could sink is unthinkable. Nonetheless, they are sure
the Ship is sinking.
They try and warn the people, but few believe them. The Ship
cannot be sinking and anyone who thinks so must be out of their mind. When they
persist in trying to warn the people of what they are facing, those in charge
of the Ship silence them and lock them up. The Ship’s media keep grinding out
news stories describing how wonderful the future will be and technology
will solve all our problems.
The Captains of the Ship smile and wave and promise
prosperity for all. But water is beginning to seep in from below. The higher
the water rises, the more frightened the people become and the more frantic
they scramble to get to the upper decks. Some believe it is the end of the
world and actually welcome the prospect of the destruction of life as we know
it. They believe it is the fulfillment of religious prophesy. Others
become more and more irritable, angry, and depressed and use alcohol, drugs,
and other forms of self-medication to escape the pain.
But as the water rises, those who have been issuing the
warnings can no longer be silenced. More and more escape confinement and lead
the people towards the lifeboats. Though there are boats enough for all, many
people are reluctant to leave the Ship of Civilization. “Things may look
bad now, but surely they will get better soon,” they say to each other.
Nevertheless, the Ship is sinking. Many people go over the
side to the boats. As they do so they are puzzled to see lettering on the side
of the ship, T-I-T-A-N-I-C. When they reach the lifeboats, many are
frightened and look for someone who looks like they know what to do. They’d
like to ride with those people.
However, they find that each person must get in their own
boat and row away from the Ship in their own direction. If they don’t get away
from the Ship as soon as possible they will be pulled under with it. Though
each person must row their own boat, they must stay connected to others. As
people row away from the Ship, they connect with each other in a new, yet
ancient, network. A new way of life is created that is much better than the
Ship of Civilization which continues to sink.
I later shared the vision with those at the conference.
Since 1995, I have been trying to figure out what it means to leave the Ship of
Civilization and how we can engage the promise of a new life beyond
civilization. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way:
1. “Civilization” is a misnomer. Its proper name is the
As long as we buy the myth that “civilization” is the best
humans can aspire to achieve, we are doomed to go down with the ship. In The
Chalice & the Blade: Our History Our Future first published in 1987,
internationally acclaimed scholar and futurist, Riane Eisler first introduced
us to our long, ancient heritage as a Partnership Culture and our more recent
Dominator Culture, which has come to be called “Civilization.” In her recent
book, Nurturing Our Humanity: How
Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, written
with peace activist Douglas P. Fry, they offer real guidance for creating a
world based on partnership.
2. There is a better world, beyond civilization.
When I was given the book Ishmael, by Daniel
Quinn, I got a clear sense of the two worlds that are competing for our
attention: A world where hierarchy and dominance rule (Quinn calls it the world
of the Takers) and a world where equality and connection rule (Quinn calls
it the world of the Leavers). In his many books Quinn offers the
clear contrast in world-views. He begins the book, Beyond Civilization:
Humanity’s Next Great Adventure, with a fable which offers a significant
Once upon a time life evolved on a certain planet, bringing
forth many different social organizations—packs, pods, flocks, troops, herds,
and so on. One species who members were unusually intelligent developed a
unique social organization called a tribe: Tribalism worked well for them for
millions of years, but there came a time when they decided to experiment with a
new social organization (called civilization) that was hierarchal rather than
Before long, those at the top of the hierarchy were living
in great luxury, enjoying perfect leisure and having the best of everything. A
larger class of people below them lived very well and had nothing to complain
about. But the masses living at the bottom of the hierarchy didn’t like it at
all. They worked and lived like pack animals, struggling just to stay alive.
“This isn’t working,” the masses said. “The tribal way was
better. We should return to that way.” But the ruler of the hierarchy told
them, “We’ve put that primitive life behind us forever. We can’t go back to
it.” The masses replied, “If we can’t go back, then let’s go forward—on to
something different.” The ruler said, “That’s can’t be done because nothing
different is possible. Nothing can be beyond civilization. Civilization is a
final, unsurpassable invention.”
“But no invention is ever unsurpassable. The steam engine
was surpassed by the gas engine. The radio was surpassed by television. The
calculator was surpassed by the computer. Why should civilization be different?”
“I don’t know why it’s different,” the ruler said, “it just
But the masses didn’t believe this—and neither do I.
I’ve learned, over the years, that even those in the middle
class and even some in the ruling class recognize that what we call
civilization is coming to an end and there is a better choice for our future,
but it takes courage to break with civilization and seek a new way. Until we
do, we will be forever anxious, worried, scared, confused, and unable to solve
the problems we face
3. Do not lose heart. We were made for these times.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with
the Wolves, wrote this inspiring letter to all of us who are concerned
about the future. She
said, in part:
I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and
properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world
right now. Abject disregard of what the soul finds most precious and irreplaceable
and the corruption of principled ideals have become, in some large societal
arenas, “the new normal,” the grotesquerie of the week.
You are right in your assessments. The luster and hubris
some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders,
everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I
urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing
these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because,
the fact is – we were made for these times.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy
vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more
able crafts in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they
are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the
history of humankind.
I would like to take your hands for a moment and assure you
that you are built well for these times. Despite your stints of doubt, your
frustrations in righting all that needs change right now, or even feeling you
have lost the map entirely, you are not without resource, you are not alone.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of
righteous souls on the waters with you. In your deepest bones, you have always
known this is so. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this
stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder
come from a forest greater.
One of the most important steps you can take to help calm
the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought
emotion or despair – thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the
swirl. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of
stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.
One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to
intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck
shines like gold in dark times.
The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares,
builds signal fires, cause proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern
of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward
others, both — are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling
souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If
you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can
In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall:
When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt.
But that is not what great ships are built for. This comes with much love and
prayer that you remember Who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful,
4. Find your Tribe outside the confines of civilization.
The rulers of civilization would have us believe that even
if the Ship is sinking, we might as well go down with it because there really
are no better choices. That is the big lie of civilization. As my vision showed
me, there are millions of alternatives and more and more lifeboats in the water
every day, but you won’t learn about them in the corporate-controlled media.
Paul Hawken gave a sense of breadth and depth of this movement in his
book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into
Being and Why No One Saw it Coming.
I’m personally connected to a number of people in this
movement including Bill Kauth and Zoe Alowan Kauth who created the
organization Time for Tribe and wrote the book, We Need Each
Other. I’ve known Bill and Zoe for many years and recommend their upcoming
in Your Tribe: Creating Your Own Heart-to-Heart Personal Community.”
My own, Diamond-Tribe Community is also open to new
membership. If you’re interested drop me a note, Jed@MenAlive.com and put “Diamond
Tribe” in the subject line. You can also learn more about my other articles on
my blog. I look forward to
connecting with you.
This article first appeared on Jed’s blog.