The Writing of the Ascent of Humanity
The Writing of The Ascent of Humanity
This book is a labor of love that has occupied ten years: six years of research and desultory attempts at writing, and then four years intensively devoted to writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting. The online version represents the fifth draft, completed in August, 2006. The print version has a small amount of new material and a number of corrections, revised footnotes, and so forth.
The Ascent of Humanity took its final form as I taught a class by the same name at Penn State University. Much of the material is what I would have liked to have taught had only the majority of my students been as intellectually present and engaged as a few exceptional students were. I could not have written this book without these students. At key moments, they displayed a wonder and a passion for these ideas that renewed my vigor and reminded me that I am not, in fact, crazy.
The intellectual influences that converge upon this writing began to enter my life at age 22, when I read Prigogine & Stenger’s Order out of Chaos. Thus began a wide-ranging autodidactic education, encompassing non-linear dynamics, physics, cosmology, genetics, ecology, Taoism, Buddhism, Christian and Islamic mysticism, history, philosophy, nutrition, education, and many other fields. All the usual interests of a New Age intellectual dilettante! But I think if you read the book, you will discover a cogency and scope that resists facile dismissal. Writers to whom I am particularly indebted include Lewis Mumford, Joseph Chilton Pearce, David Bohm, John Zerzan, Lewis Hyde, Lynn Margulis, Joseph Tainter, Joseph Epes Brown, Silvio Gesell, Wendell Berry, Marshall Sahlins, and Stanislov Grof.
On a more personal note, the progression of this book from the Age of Separation to the Age of Reunion parallels the development of my own life. Like humanity in general, I too passed through an “Age of Reason”; I too implemented a “technological program” of management and control; I too saw my social and spiritual capital converted into money. I personally experienced the extremes of the discrete and separate self, and witnessed the same inevitable collapse of that regime that is overtaking us collectively. Today, although I often experience flashbacks to my Age of Separation, I am more and more solidly planted in a personal Age of Reunion. All that humanity has lost—community, connection to nature, play, intimacy, trust in providence—is returning to my life. I share elements of this story in the book as well, personal illustrations that the transformation of human civilization has an inescapable personal dimension.