Thriving in the Crosscurrent:

Clarity and Hope in a Time of Cultural Sea Change




Why This Book, Why Now?

Chapter 1

Rhyming Hope and History

Chapter 2

Just Changing . . . or Evolving?

Chapter 3

Four Strong Winds

Chapter 4

Three Crossings

Chapter 5

Modernity: How Can a
Sea Change Go Wrong?

Chapter 6

Who Says It’s
Getting Better?

Chapter 7


Chapter 8

Life in the Renaissance

Chapter 9

The Second Axial Age

Chapter 10

Thriving in the Crosscurrent

Chapter 2

The sea-change lens offers us a panoramic view of the schizophrenic character of rapidly changing modern life. It reveals that cultures do indeed evolve and generates powerful new insights into the whys and hows of that evolution.

Cultural evolution refers to a progressive movement of key human values toward a better fit with observed reality. Human observation of reality becomes more accurate and insightful. As a result, our conscious experience of the world grows clearer and our values tend to change accordingly. Cultural evolution is usually slow and fairly steady, but not always. Exceedingly rare periods—separated by intervals of several thousand to several hundred years—are marked by explosive growth in human understanding. Such world-shaking spans witness astonishing transformations of the value complexes that shape civilization.

These are the episodes I call sea changes. The two-wave dynamic introduced in chapter 1 becomes discernable when an important fraction of humankind arrives at a shared awareness that something is amiss. Too many of our cherished older ways of thinking about the world and humankind no longer serve their purpose. Values are out of sync with reality. When that happens, cognitive dissonance on a massive scale is triggered, producing both astonishing cultural creativity and frightening backlash. What we are experiencing today is the seemingly chaotic complexity of a genuine sea change, the next step up the cultural evolutionary ladder.

To many, the idea that human culture gradually grows wiser, more cooperative, and somehow better is persuasive and profoundly inspiring. These creative individuals are energized by the decline of the old and the rise of the new. For them, the aha! experience is a touchstone for personal and group transformation. But the concept of cultural evolution also generates a wide range of critical and even hostile responses, including the rejection of the idea that “better” means anything at all. In chapter 1, we encountered the yeasayers (who embrace the idea) and the naysayers (who reject it). We’ll explore these two clusters a bit more in this chapter.

First, let’s turn briefly to one of modernity’s most important scientific breakthroughs, Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution. The seachange model is a tool for evaluating human cultural evolution, which is of course strongly influenced by biological evolution. Understanding the evolutionary character of cultural change requires a basic familiarity with the simple concept that animates the biological theory.

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the Crosscurrent

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