19 June 2008

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

Tranquility by Gary Tonge

(Although it doesn't qualify as art, I wrote a review of this and thought I should put it up here anyway, since I think it's such an important read and that more people should know about it. The image above is unrelated to this - I just thought it suited the title. It's by a fantastic digital artist called Gary Tonge.)

I've just finished reading a book which I believe is on the level of being life-changing. (Perhaps, for me, in the same vein as Eckhart Tolle's 'A New Earth' and Aldous Huxley's 'Island'.) It's called The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann. It's an excellent discussion of our current world situation (with an emphasis on the oil crisis and the age of shortage we will possibly come to face) with a lot of insight into humanity's past and possible futures.

What I find outstanding about this book is his interpretation of human history - it's so rare to come across a book that agrees so well with my daily life experience of current consumer/corporate culture and everything that is wrong with it. There are so many things that I feel are extremely wrong about our current way of life that I find so hard to put in words or to express rationally, things that humanity is doing as a race that I just feel are very much against the natural or harmonious order of the universe. Ultimately I feel that humanity no longer has any respect for life itself. Life is no longer viewed as something which is sacred - a divine gift and fantastic opportunity to experience and know the universe. To contemplate the mysteries of creation. I believe that the corporate/consumer way of life (the current world culture) is deeply life-denying. And I cannot understand why people continue to subscribe to it.

Hartmann points out that human beings have been organized in city/states for only the past seven thousand years - since the advent of the Sumerian civilization. He terms all city/state cultures (characterized by domination) Younger Cultures and contrasts their way of life with tribal Older Cultures (characterized by cooperation). Examples of Younger Culture civilizations include the ancient Greeks, Romans and Persians whose lifestyle was dependent on domination of the world around them which was expressed in their constant warfare with other city/states with the object of conquering them for natural resources and slaves. Native Americans, Africans and Aboriginal Australians are examples of Older Cultures - humans organized in tribes of 100 or less and whose lifestyle is based on cooperation with the surrounding world. They live sustainably and trade with other tribes but do not seek to impose their lifestyle on them.

I found particularly interesting the differences in the power structures of Younger and Older Cultures. In Younger Cultures, there is a hiearchical power structure where those at the top work a lot less and earn a lot more than those at the bottom. In contrast, in Older Cultures, all people spend about 2-4 hours a day on matters of survival (gathering food), while the rest of the time is pretty much leisure time - spent telling stories, making music etc. I find this interesting because in our current corporate/consumer culture, it's necessary to work at least eight hours (and in Singapore, in excess of nine hours) for the average citizen to simply survive. There's a lot more to this and he deals with the fundamental pillars of consumer culture - television, advertising, the unquestioned faith in the doctrine of 'more' - which keeps people chained to this way of life that ultimately does not serve the average individual and is detrimental to the world and humanity as a whole.

Hartmann also talks about how we've been conditioned to view tribal culture so negatively as something "primitive" but how in actuality tribal people live lives that are far more meaningful on a daily basis because of their connection to the source of Life (I suppose this is what some would term 'God', the divine creative principle of the universe). While he doesn't advocate a complete return to tribal society, he believes that we have much to learn from the organization and daily life of Older Cultures and that these lessons are fundamental for our future - for our survival through sustainable living, considering that oil will be depleted within our (or our children's) lifetime.

In spite of pointing out in such shocking detail everything that is wrong with our way of life, the book is ultimately optimistic and offers workable solutions. He talks about critical mass, recent advances in modern physics such as the double-slit experiment and nonlocality, intentional communities of like-minded individuals who live "off the grid" generating their own power and growing their own food and about maintaining an awareness of the present moment. He talks about the importance of changing oneself in order to see global change.

The book is extremely well thought-out and put together and it's impossible for me to go into everything simply because there is so much, and it's so well (and clearly) expressed too. I almost didn't pick up this book because it seemed a little hokey to me at first, but after reading it I really believe that books such as this one are going to be (or already are) the catalysts for major change if humanity is to survive this age. As it stands, it's completely revolutionized my thinking.

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My name is Abigail and you can find out more about me here. Also you can email me here.
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