The End of the U.S. As We Know It: Back to the Future and the Return of Partnership Communities


In my recent article, “How to Be Happy Without Denying Reality,” I introduced you to the work of Rebecca Costa, author of the ground-breaking book, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. Its clear to Costa that the world as we know it is ending and that’s pretty scary. The good news is something better is being born, but to get there we have to understand what is going on. 

Costa describes a number of warning signs, or supermemes, that most of us are seeing, but haven’t fully comprehended. 

“A Supermeme,” says Costa, is “any belief, thought, or behavior that becomes so pervasive, so stubbornly embedded, that it contaminates or suppresses all other beliefs and behaviors in a society.

  Costa says,

“It’s important to remember that supermemes are often a response to accelerating complexity.”

She identifies the following five supermemes:

  • Irrational Opposition.

Costa says,

“Irrational opposition occurs when the act of rejecting, criticizing, suppressing, ignoring, misrepresenting, marginalizing, and resisting rational solutions becomes the accepted norm.”

We see this supermeme operating in our initial response to the Corona virus and our continued difficulty coming together as a country to agree on a rational response.

  • The Personalization of Blame.

Costa says,

“Throughout history civilizations have had a clear pattern of foisting the responsibility for complex problems onto the shoulders of individuals whenever complex problems persist.”

We see this supermeme operating in many aspects of our lives.

“Sometimes we blame religious leaders. Sometimes our boss, ex-wife or husband, lawyer, neighbors, doctor, parents, or broker are responsible for our troubles. And sometimes we turn the blame inward toward ourselves in harsh and unforgiving ways.”

  • Counterfeit Correlation.

“Counterfeit correlation occurs,” says Costa, “as a result of three convenient practices:

  • Accepting correlation as a substitute for causation.
  • Using reverse-engineering to manipulate evidence, and 
  • Relying on consensus to determine facts.”

Costa goes on to say,

“The reason counterfeit correlation has become so popular is easy to understand: Casually observing a relationship—any relationship—between two events is magnitudes easier than the grueling effort required to prove one thing actually causes another to occur.”

  • Silo Thinking.

“Silo thinking,” says Costa, “is the compartmentalized thinking and behavior that prohibits the collaboration need to address complex problems.”

She goes on to say,

“Instead of encouraging cooperation between individuals and groups that share a common objective, silo thinking causes undermining, competition, and divisiveness. As silos prevent sharing and coordination across organizational boundaries, information that is already difficult to acquire becomes even more inaccessible.”

In his book, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, Michael Lewis described the silo thinking that limited the governments ability to develop a national strategy to address the Covid-19 pandemic.

In chapter 4,

“Stopping the Unstoppable,” Lewis says, “One day some historian will look back and say how remarkable it was that these strange folk who called themselves ‘Americans’ ever governed themselves at all, given how they went about it. Inside the United States government were all these little boxes. The boxes had been created to address specific problems as they arose…Each box became its own small, frozen world, with little ability to adept and little interest in whatever might be going on inside the other boxes.”

  • Extreme Economics.

“Every person I know,” says Costa, “has a strange relationship with money. They want more of it. They spend too much of it. They invest, inherit, protect, and live in fear they’ll run out of it. Some people never talk about money. And some can’t quit talking about it. Marriages break up over it and children are spoiled by it. But mostly we wear money on our shirtsleeves where we once wore our hearts.”

Costa goes on to say,

“The economics supermeme occurs when simple principles in business, such as risk/reward and profit/loss, become the litmus test for determining the value of people and priorities, initiatives and institutions.

She concludes,

“Unlike the first four supermemes, irrational opposition, the personalization of blame, counterfeit correlation, and silo thinking, which are easy to see as harmful, extreme economics feels more like a relative who came to visit and stayed too long. We have mixed feelings.”

The Collapse of Civilizations      

In The Watchman’s Rattle Costa examines the rise and fall of multiple civilizations including Mayan, Khymer, and Roman empires. She found that the underlying cause of collapse had not been fully understood or addressed. What she discovered was that a societies inability to deal with complexity was the root cause of collapse.

As Costa’s mentor, the world-renowned sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson said in the books Foreword,

“The clash of religions, and civilizations, Costa argues, is not the cause of our difficulties but a consequence of them. The same is true of the global water shortage, climate change, the decline of carbon-based energy, our cheerful destruction of the remaining natural environment, and all the other calamities close to or upon us. The primary cause of all threatening trends is the complexity of civilization itself, which cannot be understood and managed by the cognitive tools we have thus far chosen to use.”   

I first caught a glimpse of this reality in 1995. I was attending a men’s conference in Indianapolis, Indiana and I sat with thirty other men in the fourth round of a sweat-lodge ceremony, when I was transported into a vision in which I saw the sinking ship of civilization and the formation of a new world based on partnership. 

For the last twenty-six years, I have gained an increasing understanding of the cause of collapse and it can be prevented. I wrote about my experiences in a recent article, “The Ship of Civilization is Sinking: Do Not Lose Hope. Find Your Tribe.”

The Truth About Civilization and Creating a New World Beyond Civilization

I’ve come to believe that the word “Civilization” is a misnomer. Its proper name is the “Dominator culture.” 

As long as we buy the myth that “civilization” is the best humans can aspire to achieve, we are doomed to go down with the ship. In The Chalice & the Blade: Our History Our Future first published in 1987, internationally acclaimed scholar and futurist, Riane Eisler first introduced us to our long, ancient heritage as a Partnership Culture and our more recent Dominator Culture, which has come to be called “Civilization.” In her recent book, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, written with peace activist Douglas P. Fry, they offer real guidance for creating a world based on partnership. 

I’ve also come to believe that there is a better world, beyond civilization.

When I was given the book Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, I got a clear sense of the two worlds that are competing for our attention: A world where hierarchy and dominance rule (Quinn calls it the world of the Takers) and a world where equality and connection rule (Quinn calls it the world of the Leavers). In his many books Quinn offers the clear contrast in world-views. He begins the book, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure, with a fable which offers a significant new perspective:

“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 who 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 hierarchal 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.

“This isn’t working,” the masses said. “The tribal way was better. We should return to that way.” But the ruler of the hierarchy told them, “We’ve put that primitive life behind us forever. We can’t go back to it.” The masses replied, “If we can’t go back, then let’s go forward—on to something different.” The ruler said, “That’s can’t be done because nothing different is possible. Nothing can be beyond civilization. Civilization is a final, unsurpassable invention.”

“But no invention is ever unsurpassable. The steam engine was surpassed by the gas engine. The radio was surpassed by television. The calculator was surpassed by the computer. Why should civilization be different?”

“I don’t know why it’s different,” the ruler said, “it just is.”

But the masses didn’t believe this—and neither do I.”

I’ve learned, over the years, that even those in the middle class and even some in the ruling class recognize that what we call civilization is coming to an end and there is a better choice for our future, but it takes courage to break with civilization and seek a new way. Until we do, we will be forever anxious, worried, scared, confused, and unable to solve the problems we face.

I’ll close with these four “Diamond Points.”

  1. Understanding the warnings signs.
  2. Don’t freak out.
  3. A New Partnership system is emerging.
  4. Find your own way to join participate.

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