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 5

Modernity’s promise was fulfilled in countless ways, but the liberation of the personal and the objective from the tyranny of the collective was the great modern crossing. Individuality emerged, if not unfettered, at least with a relative degree of freedom. In its wake came the most celebrated advances of the modern era—in art, science, health, material prosperity, political democracy, human rights, global governance, and communication. But the modern age—like all sea changes—eventually went from good to bad. Actually, as we’ll discover, things had to take the turn for the worse in order to move on to the next evolutionary stage.

For now, though, the question is, how could the ascendancy of the modern wave—the period of its triumph—give way to its decline? What were the critical stages of this process and how did it begin? Let’s consider the essential stages of every sea change and then move on to the decline of the modern.


Major evolutionary shifts arise when a culture’s assumptions clash with people’s life experiences. As the gap between expectation and reality widens, a critical cultural mass is reached. At the same time, new possible futures begin to appear. As anomalies and ahas surface, smaller paradigm shifts proliferate. Soon, an authentic sea change may be underway, and the two-wave process will commence. The discussion that follows applies to all sea changes but bears particularly on the rise and decline of the modern value system and the counter-rise of the twenty-first-century wave.

Figure 5.1. Sea Change: The Two Waves

Every sea change passes through several stages, from rise to decline. That doesn’t mean the process is not evolutionary. Each completed value shift moves human culture further along the path toward greater complexity, interdependence, and integration of knowledge. The two-wave graphic suggests an up-and-down cycle, but it needs to be visualized on an ascending axis. In other words, it is a spiral.

Still, the wave movement has a sequence. Every period of major cultural advance must come to an end. The evolutionary spiral steadily ascends, but each major rising wave will eventually stabilize, coalesce, and then decline, engendering its own countervailing surge. The expanded two-wave graphic gives a more detailed view of the process by outlining the key periods of a sea change.

The figure centers on the most exciting moment of a sweeping cultural transformation: the imaginary instant at which the declining influence of the older culture and the rising momentum of the newer are equally matched. The animating question of this book remains, what might it mean to live at that moment of crossing?

The left dashed vertical line in the graphic represents the onset of cultural recognition that something significant is underway. The dawn of awareness at the beginning of the last sea change was certainly in the fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance, perhaps at the time of Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, the manifesto of the Renaissance. The second vertical of the last shift—marking the opening moment of modernity’s ascendancy—lies somewhere in the late nineteenth-century embrace of the new science. My personal choice would be the 1875 address in which the president of the French Academy of Science intoned, “By 1925, we shall know everything.”

The wave dynamic of our own sea change first began to come into focus in the tumultuous 1960s, when so much seemed suddenly in flux. Where the right vertical line lies—marking the beginning of the new wave’s ascendancy—we just can’t say.

Order Thriving in
the Crosscurrent

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