Why Civilization is the Worst Mistake in History And How We Can Heal

We’ve bought into the greatest con job in human history. We’ve been taught that civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement and saved us from a life that was solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish as the philosopher Thomas Hobbs described it. In fact, it is civilization that is solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish. We’ve been living in a collective nightmare for 6,000 years, but believed we were living the dream of the good life. Now, more and more of us are waking up. In the inspiring words of Charles Eisenstein, we are reclaiming “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” If you feel you are awakening, please read on.

I’ll share my own journey (you can get the first chapter of my new book for free). But I know that many have arrived at the same place following different routes. Mine began in 1987 when I read an article by anthropologist Jared Diamond, who later went on to write The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (1991), Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997), and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005).

We often think of the discovery of agriculture as the first step on the path to civilization. In the 1987 article titled “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race” Diamond says, “The adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.” He goes on to note that the tribal way of life of our hunger-gatherer ancestors was much more positive and long-lasting than the masters of civilization would have us believe.

In 1993, I was given the book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, and learned about two world-views. One he called Leavers who believed they could trust in nature and the gods of nature and live well. The other group he called Takers who had lost their connection to nature and believed that humans must have dominion over the natural world and take whatever they needed to increase human growth.  After reading the book, I visited Daniel and his wife, Rennie, and kept up with his work until his death in June, 2018.

He wrote numerous books including Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure. Daniel begins the book with a fable:

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 whose 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 hierarchical rather than tribal.

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.

Quinn recognizes that if we continue living within the story of civilization humans are not long for this world. Civilization is bringing about the destruction of our life-support system. He questions the myth that civilization is the best humans can do and proposes that humanity’s next great adventure is “beyond civilization.”

In 1993, I attended 4th Men’s Leaders’ Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, sponsored by Wingspan Magazine. While there, I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony where I was given a vision of the Ship of Civilization sinking and life-boats moving beyond civilization to form a new Earth-friendly society. 2018 is the 25th anniversary of that vision. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about how we can heal from the wounds of civilization and move beyond:

  1. Names are important and civilization would be better seen as the dominator culture which is well described by Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade and David Korten, author of The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.
  2. The problem wasn’t the invention of agriculture—hunter-gathers used forms of agriculture that was in balance with the Earth—but the development of large-scale agriculture which began 6,000 years ago and described by James DeMeo, author of Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence in the Deserts of the Old World.
  3. Many children who suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) when exposed to trauma grow up to pass on their trauma to others. Cultures that are born in trauma often traumatize other societies. In my article, “How Childhood Trauma Can Wreck Your Relationship and What You Can Do to Heal,” I describe how childhood wounds can impact our adult lives.
  4. When people grow up in families that are abusive, they often abuse themselves and others as adults. When people come to power in a country, they often support policies that are abusive. On May 7, 2016, six months prior to the election, I wrote an article, “The Real Reason Donald Trump Will Be Our Next President.” Recognizing the connection between childhood trauma and abusive power can help us move beyond the dominator cultures of civilization.
  5. It’s the loss of healthy connections to the Earth, to each other, and to ourselves that is causing the increase of aggression and depression that we are witnessing in the world. Johann Hari describes it well in Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions.
  6. Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, recognizes that the evolution towards the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible is well underway, but you won’t hear about it in the mainstream media. Terry Patten, author of A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries, brings together the spiritual and with the practical, and offers hundreds of examples of people and organizations that are moving beyond the dictates of the dominator culture.
  7. In my own work on healing men and their families, I’ve partnered with Mo Gawdat author of Solve for Happy to help 500,000,000 men move from anger and depression to peace and joy. I look forward to hearing about what you are doing. Come visit me at and receive the first chapter of my new book, My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Woundfor free.

Thank you for reading. I look forward to you comments and questions.

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