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 4

The modern sea change was not the first. At least three other monumental cultural tidal waves occurred before our own. Each was preceded by the buildup of anomalies. Each in its turn produced eddies of resistance. And each in time prevailed.

Every sea change sets the stage for the next. Each incorporates imperfections inherent in its worldview and contradictions hidden among its core values. Together these catalyze the system failures that bring about the next cataclysmic shift. Nevertheless, each complete passage marks a dramatic cultural evolution.

We now move back in time to consider three singular human cultural crossings. Taken together, they yield insights into our own transit and make the sea-change hypothesis more concrete and plausible. Each exhibits the essential elements of a major cultural evolutionary leap: epochal shifts in understanding and the characteristic signs of culture-wave turbulence. In each account, we’ll note the significance of anomalies and eddies—the dynamics of change and resistance. And each illustrates the eventual attainment of higher levels of creative complexity, awareness of interdependence, and integral understanding, for every sea change produces a better fit between culture and experienced reality.


Fourteen thousand years ago a band of some thirty ice-age hunter- gatherers makes its way along the boggy terrace at the edge of the glacier. They cannot know that the ice wall towering above them—at times by more than a mile—is slowly receding. In another four thousand years it will have withdrawn far to the north, and a new age will dawn for Earth’s tiny and scattered human race. Ahead of the group a meltwater channel, once only a trickle, now thunders toward the sea. Ocean waters rise steadily around the Earth as the blue glacial masses thaw. The Bering land bridge, the pathway from the Old World to the New, slowly narrows and soon will vanish beneath the rising waters, as ocean shorelines almost everywhere recede. A world is in transformation, and with it a way of life. The Paleolithic Age closed with the final melting of the great ice sheaths that had alternately advanced into and retreated from the world’s temperate zones during periods of cooling and warming. As the ice departed, a new world came into view. The great herds of huge herbivores, thinning for millennia, finally disappeared, victims of climate change, overhunting, disease, or a combination of the three. The return of forests to long treeless reaches, the flowering of equatorial deserts, and the spread of plant and animal species opened a new age of opportunity for human observation and invention.


Our next setting is still an ancient time, some three thousand years ago. Another cultural upheaval is about to convulse the established order. What later scholars will term “civilizational religion” has dominated the known world for over two millennia, but a new religious and cultural wave is building. Wandering philosophers and religious thinkers are exploring fresh ideas, while experimental religious communities—cults at the fringes of the great empires—
are testing the spiritual and ethical dimensions of human life. From these roots will grow the great classical religious edifices of India, China, the Middle East, and ultimately Europe. The upheaval is a cultural sea change, the second in the series of three on the way to our own. Theologian Ewert Cousins described its impact:

Although the leaders who effected this change were
philosophers and religious teachers, the change was
so radical that it affected all aspects of culture, for it
transformed consciousness itself. It was within the
horizons of this form of consciousness that the great
civilizations of the Middle East, Asia, and Europe
developed. Although within these horizons many
developments occurred through the subsequent
centuries, the horizons themselves did not change.
It was this form of consciousness that spread to other
regions through migrations and explorations, thus
becoming the dominant, though not exclusive, form
of consciousness in the world. To this day, whether
we have been born and raised in the culture of China,
India, Europe, or the Americas, we bear the structure
of consciousness that was shaped in this Axial Period.2


The three most familiar manifestations of the last sea change prior to our own were the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution. But we often associate the entire crossing with the vision of a single man.

In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus published his masterwork, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, and the world was about to change. He knew his Sun-centered model of the cosmos was daring and even  angerous, but he had no idea of the changes his ideas would summon forth. The Polish mathematician and sky watcher had the audacity to proclaim that the Earth is not the unmoving center of the universe, although everyone knew it to be so. Instead, he declared, our world is a mere “planet” (from the Greek for “wanderer”), an insignificant denizen of the system of worlds moving in stately circular orbits around the Sun. Our universe is not geocentric but heliocentric.

From a cultural evolutionary perspective, the real significance of Copernicus is his work’s challenge to Ptolemy’s long-accepted doctrine of an Earth-centered universe and to Aristotle’s notion of Earth’s immovability. Since the high Middle Ages, the church had sanctioned both viewpoints. Now a mere natural philosopher had dared to insist that the great Aristotle and the authority of the church were in error.

Order Thriving in
the Crosscurrent

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