The Human Story

The big picture suggests we're starting a new chapter

One of the articles in The New Story (IC#12)
Originally published in Winter 1985/86 on page 18
Copyright (c)1986, 1997 by Context Institute

THE PAST HUNDRED YEARS, indeed even the past few decades, have changed our understanding of the human story at least as much as they have changed our understanding of the cosmic story. The New Story needs both.

The human story is, of course, part of the cosmic story, as Brian Swimme so beautifully describes. Our bodies contain ancient hydrogen formed in the first moments of the universe. Our carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and all the other heavy elements in our bodies, are the gift of supernova stars. Our cells have been perfected by the patient workings of countless bacteria through billions of years, and our organs are the gift of thousands of species that evolved during the past billion years. Our bodies are, in a sense, simply a regrouping of very ancient materials.

Yet the whole is more than just the sum of its parts, and the coming of the human form opened up a new chapter in evolution, quickened its pace, just as earlier the formation of planets opened new possibilities within cosmic evolution and the invention of sex accelerated life evolution.

As we face into the future, attempting to bring forth a humane and sustainable world, the reviewing and retelling of our human story can be a powerful aid. If our view is long enough and broad enough, we can free ourselves (at least somewhat) from our immediate cultural context, and open our imaginations to a richer and more realistic vision of what the next chapter could be.

An Outline Of Human History


The last few decades have seen an explosion in knowledge about early human origins – filling in much of what used to be described as missing links. The earliest known primates appeared about 69 million years ago, or about 2 million years before the end of the age of dinosaurs. By 20 million years ago there were apes, and by 5 million years ago our closest ancestors and cousins, early ape- humans, had split from the other apes. It is not until about 2 million years ago, however, that the first species classified as fully human, Homo habilis (handy human), appeared in Africa.

Habilis had only about half our modern brain size and his/her larynx was not well enough developed for speech, but they are the first species known to have made stone tools, and their (for that time) large brain included development in areas now essential for speech. They lived as scavengers, using their stone knives and scrapers to cut through the skins of already dead animals. It appears likely that they had some rudimentary social organization and that they shared food within their social group.

Within a few more hundred thousand years, another human species developed, Homo erectus (the upright human), with fossil finds in Asia and Europe as well as Africa. Erectus differs from habilis in both brain and behavior. With a brain 3/4 modern size and further development in speech areas and larynx, erectus probably used sounds for communication – not yet what we would think of as language, but a start towards it. They controlled fire, cooked food, and made better, more diverse stone tools. They got their meat from hunting, and were thus the first human hunters and gatherers. Like all human species, they had extended childhoods required by extensive postnatal brain development.

Then sometime between 600,000 and 300,000 years ago, erectus evolved into/was replaced by the only human species that survives today, Homo sapiens (the wise human). The changes in both body and behavior were modest and gradual. Two main subspecies developed, proto-modern humans in Africa and neanderthalers in Europe and Asia. Brain size and organization were essentially modern by 125,000 years ago, and there is evidence among the neanderthalers of ritual burial as early as 100,000 years ago. This habit conveniently supplies archaeologists with an abundance of skeletal remains. It appears that the average life expectancy was in the twenties, and reaching the ripe old age of 40 was a rare feat. Some of those who reached this old age did so in spite of various infirmities – severe arthritis and extensive loss of teeth from gum disease – that must have existed for years before they died, indicating strong enough social bonds for others in their band to keep these elders alive. On the other hand, there is also good evidence for occasional cannibalism and weapon-inflicted wounds – all in all indicating a range of social behavior not that different from today.

It is harder to decipher what was developing among these people in terms of mental awareness and consciousness, but their limited speech probably made them more like the higher primates than like modern humans. Like the higher primates, they probably lived in the present on the basis of instinct, direct experience, and habits acquired by direct experience. The skills required to make stone tools, for example, are best learned by watching and doing, with essentially no need for language in the learning process. And so it was for the rest of their lives. Such a consciousness is well-suited for practical adaptation, but it does not have the tools for making creative leaps. It is thus likely to be characterized by comparatively slow change once a good survival pattern has been reached – just as we find for humans up until 45,000 years ago.


By 45,000 years ago, humans had weathered the comings and goings of a number of ice ages, had spread themselves throughout most of Africa, Europe and Asia, and had reached a population of roughly a million. They were surviving admirably, but from a modern point of view, they weren’t doing much more than they had been for hundreds of thousands of years. Then somewhere (probably in the neighborhood of Iran) a change took place that again quickened the pace of evolution. It’s not clear just what that change was, although it probably involved developments in language and consciousness that permitted these humans to more effectively share their thoughts with each other. If you want to inject visitors from outer space, creative acts of God, or refugees from Atlantis, this is the time to do it, although the story works just as well with only the ordinary miraculousness of normal evolution. But whatever the cause, the next 35,000 years would see more innovation in stone tools, more widespread migration, and more population growth than the whole previous 2 million years of human history.

The people who carried this cultural wave were modern humans, physically indistinguishable from us today. By 34,000 years ago, the neanderthalers had all disappeared, probably assimilated by this new subspecies. These modern humans were soon in Australia and the Americas as well as throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.

They were hunters and gatherers using stone tools, but to this they added major advances in art, ritual, social organization, and technology. The great cave paintings of southern Europe date from this period, as well as many small sculptures – some out of fired clay, the beginnings of ceramics. They appear to have lived at times in larger groups – with 50 and more people – and to have engaged in long distance trade. In Europe, at least, they often migrated with the herds of reindeer, covering large territories and having contact with many other bands. They made sewn clothing and decorated it with bead work. And in the Middle East, they took the first steps towards agriculture. As early as 18,000 years ago, cereal grains were being grown along the Nile by nomadic people whose main support was still hunting and gathering, and in Palestine and Jordan, goats and gazelles were being herded.

What was it that enabled this outburst of creativity? A number of lines of evidence point to major changes in language and, with that, consciousness. Neanderthalers probably had a limited form of speech, but their larynx was not as well-suited to speech as ours, and there are also brain differences that enhance our language ability. Likewise, while neanderthalers showed some symbolic and conceptual consciousness in their burials and occasional (apparently symbolic) scratchings on bones, it was very limited compared to the cave paintings, the decorated clothing, the engraved tools and all the other creative symbolic expressions of this period.

Complex language – sentences and modifiers, not just grunts and individual words – vastly enhances creativity by allowing thought (and especially the exploration of possibilities) to be shared, both within a group and from generation to generation. It also gives major new tools for developing an interior mental life. It is both powerful and terrifying, expanding horizons and needing to be controlled, for words have a seemingly magical power to stimulate and guide the imagination.

The distinguishing feature of modern humans thus may well have been that they were the first humans who were capable of being storytellers. We began to create stories and then, overpowered by our own creations, to live within them. With the story came ideals, systems of belief, ideology, and morality. People began to have both self-images and ideal-images, and to experience the tension between these two.

We can illustrate this shift by looking at gender roles. Earlier humans, such as the hunting and gathering erectus, were probably similar in their behavior to modern non-human primates. Higher primates, like most animals, have a gender-based division of labor in which, for example, females provide most of the infant care. These roles, however, are more statistical than rigid, with some adult males spending significant time playing with the youngsters, and some females showing rather little interest in them. These exceptions to the rule are treated as totally normal by the troop, and no “pressure” is put on individuals to behave any differently. We can describe this by saying that there are gender-linked role tendencies, but in these primates, as yet no gender role ideology. Gender ideologies, as well as ideas about kinship, could not appear until complex language allowed the sharing of stories, ideals, and beliefs.

We do not know much directly about the gender roles that developed with these first storytellers. Looking back through the lens of what is known about gender relationships in modern and hunting and gathering groups suggests a multidimensional interdependence involving a complex division of labor, power, rituals, rights, and responsibilities. Kinship was probably often traced through the mother. The balance between the gender roles likely varied from one group to another. Yet whatever the “official” gender ideology, the smallness of these groups and their clear need to cooperate in order to survive undoubtedly gave room for individual variation and encouraged sharing and mutual support.

Another major result of this linguistic/consciousness shift was the new importance given, especially by men, to gaining and validating personal “magical” power (mana). I do not here mean “magic” in the sense of exotic feats, but rather the power to be a successful hunter and to avoid death. It is during this time period that we first find necklaces made of teeth from the hunter’s kills, proclaiming the hunter’s power to face death and triumph. They also proved their courage through such things as initiation rites and ritualized skirmishes with other bands. Somehow, their new self awareness made them more aware of their vulnerability to death, disease and misfortune, and with that awareness came a hunger to reduce and/or transcend that vulnerability. It is likely that women, with their mysterious fertility, were seen as naturally magical, while men, with no such natural gifts, were seen as needing to work for and prove whatever magic they might claim.

All in all, this period, especially from 40,000 to 20,000 years ago, was the golden age of hunting and gathering. Game was plentiful and human skills were sophisticated. Most bands probably spent even less than the 4 hours/day that modern hunters and gatherers need to provide for themselves.

Their success, however, eventually became their undoing. At first population increases could be absorbed by migration, but by about 20,000 years ago, the whole planet was occupied. By 17,000 years ago, Europe and the Middle East were experiencing what archaeologists describe as the “Pleistocene Overkill.” The combined stress of climate changes and efficient hunting by growing human populations led to massive extinctions of large mammals and flightless birds. The pattern in the Americas, though later at around 10,000 years ago, was dramatic. In the span of only 800 years, early Amerindian hunters swept out most of the big game from both continents. For the first time, humans were clearly affecting non-human evolution. These people survived afterwards by developing more. diversified diets, but life clearly became harder.


About 14,000 years ago, the most recent ice age began to thaw, and would continue to do so for another 4,000 years. The associated climate changes coupled with continuing population growth (reaching about 8 million worldwide by 10,000 years ago) forced people to develop new ways of sustaining themselves. Coastal groups in places like Denmark, Greece, Asia, and North America turned to fishing and seafood, but most groups simply diversified their hunting and gathering. In a few places, this led to herding (an outgrowth of hunting) and gardening (an outgrowth of gathering). Especially in the Middle East, there began to be more tools associated with harvesting, storing, and processing grains.

Agriculture developed slowly and in parallel in many different parts of the world. I’ve already mentioned indications of early grain planting and harvesting on the Nile 18,000 years ago by otherwise nomadic people. Between then and 7,500 years ago, most of today’s major food crops were domesticated – wheat and barley in the Middle East, rice in Indochina, sugar cane in New Guinea, millets in Africa and China, beans and maize in the Americas. The slowness of the shift is illustrated by the progression in Mexico, where the population began cultivating some vegetables and grains as early as 8700 years ago, yet 1,700 years later, agricultural products still only accounted for 14% of their diet, and they didn’t set up permanent villages until 3500 years ago.

The shift occurred sooner in the Middle East, at least in part because population pressures were greatest there. By 11,000 years ago, there were people living a settled existence at Jericho in Israel that included clay-lined storage pits, grinders, and sickles, yet other remains suggest that the bulk of their food came from hunting and fishing. Within 1,000 years, Jericho had grown to a population of 2000, and was clearly now dependent on grain, and probably trade as well. Elsewhere in the Middle East, other towns developed, with one of the best studied being Catal Huyuk in southern Turkey. Beginning about 8500 years ago it had a population of 5000 and an economy based on cattle-breeding, irrigated agriculture, pottery, weaving, and trade.

map showing location of Catal Huyuk in Turkey

Once started down this route of settled life supported by agriculture, it was hard to turn back. The new lifestyle increased human fertility, and populations boomed while huntable game dwindled to near extinction. After about 7800 years ago in Catal Huyuk, hunting scenes disappear from the shrines and hunting equipment becomes scarce. Compared with later periods, this was a relatively peaceful time. Some of these early towns (like Jericho) had fortifications, but many (like Catal Huyuk) did not.

This new life required major social and psychological changes, but because of the gradualness of the transition, these changes were probably not experienced as revolutionary. The independence, mobility, and immediacy that characterized hunting and gathering were steadily replaced by permanent membership in a large community that had to work hard at planting time for the sake of a harvest that would not come for months.

At first, kinship (real or ritual) provided the main bonding, while elders, drawing on tradition, provided governance – just like hunting and gathering cultures except on a larger and more settled basis. In early communities, there is no evidence of significant social divisions, except perhaps for some small distinctions for chieftains, priests, and priestesses.

Religiously and spiritually, the emphasis shifts from the personal power of the hunter to the shared power of the community with a special emphasis on fertility. As with hunters and gatherers, religious concepts are closely associated with forces in nature, who are seen to invite or require human participation. Most of the adults in the community were probably part of religious “secret societies” as well as other ritual groupings associated with their clans. In Catal Huyuk, as elsewhere at this time, the primary deity is a mother goddess associated with both life and death. She has a male consort, but his role is subsidiary, especially in the later time periods after hunting fades out. The shrines in Catal Huyuk are spread throughout the town in ordinary buildings.

Thus, the lifestyle changes that agriculture brought were at first absorbed into a social/religious/philosophical system drawn from the hunting and gathering past with only minor modifications. Later in this period, however, especially in the larger communities, the changes in lifestyle become too great to be so easily absorbed. For example, the bonding shifts to a religious basis. In Mesopotamia, each town had its own god or goddess, and the people of that town considered themselves to be the creations of that deity, brought into being solely to serve its will and whim. The social structure also shifts, as the rule of the elders loses out to both democracy and an increasing role for priests, priest- kings, and administrators.

I am characterizing this as a time of transition because of the dynamic tension within it between an expanding technology and lifestyle (agriculture and urbanization) aligned with the future, and a declining institutional and value system (kinship- based tribalism) aligned with the past. In contrast, the hunting and gathering period and the age of empire, before and after, appear culturally stable and self-consistent.

In parallel with these farming developments, but leaving less archaeological trace, various groups developed herding with domesticated goats, sheep, and cattle. Their nomadic lifestyle represented less of a change from the hunting and gathering of their ancestors, and (in contrast to the farmers) they seem to have drifted towards a heavier emphasis on masculine qualities and male dominance. The conflict between these two groups, herders and farmers, became a persistent theme in the next period.


Now that we have come almost to the end of our story, we enter the period that we usually think of as “history.” The Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans, medieval Europe, China – all these belong to this age of Empire.

A number of developments around 6,000 years ago upset the relative tranquility of the previous period. One was the development of metal tools and weapons, first of copper and soon afterwards of bronze. A second was the combination of gardening and herding in the form of dairying and the use of animal power to pull plows. The usefulness of dairying depended on a mutation in a group of humans living in northern Mesopotamia that permitted the continued digestion of milk past infancy. The extra protein and calcium led to a vigorous people who were soon spread through Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Animal power increased agricultural productivity, and thus the wealth and power of the communities that used it. Finally, there was the development of highly successful farming (and fishing) communities along the rivers in the desert of southern Mesopotamia.

The combination of continued population growth, new wealth, new vitality, new weapons, and a religious mythology that viewed their gods and goddesses as petty squabblers led these southern Mesopotamian (Sumerian) communities to develop all the characteristics that we now know as “civilization”: writing, bureaucratic organization, extensive economic division of labor, taxes, class distinctions, inequality of the sexes, slavery, warfare, standing armies, technologies driven by military requirements, legal systems, private landownership, absentee landlordism, and so on. Schmookler’s Parable Of The Tribes would have been more accurately described as “The Parable of the City- States,” for while warfare had occurred before, it did not come to dominate human life until these Sumerian developments.

These developments spread quickly, often at the point of a sword, and those who were not conquered had to imitate to survive. As the period progressed, nomadic herders-turned-conquerors repeatedly pushed this process to new depths of brutality. They contributed a taste for cruelty and some new military techniques, but on the whole, empire remained an invention of agriculturally and urban based civilization.

The bulk of this period is, I’m sure, familiar to you, so I won’t go through its events. There are, however, some general features worth noting. First, throughout this period, the lives of most of the human population changed very little – indeed it was probably better in Catal Huyuk before the dawn of civilization than it was throughout the world as recently as 500 years ago. The common people worked and bred, and that was about it.

The life of the elites (which is all we usually hear about in history) was not only better, it went through gradual changes. They were encouraged to develop their individuality, their leadership, and their creativity. Most of this went to perpetual power struggles, but some slowly built the intellectual and artistic heritage of civilization.

The institutions and values of this period form a unified, and remarkably constant, whole. Sumeria, Rome, Egypt, China, and feudal Europe, in spite of their differences, clearly all belong to the same cultural family, sharing more with each other than they do with cultures of other periods. The basic human concern is with interhuman power, and the basic strategy for success is to win by defeating others, gaining from their loss. The basic values and worldview are those of the warlord.

The model for social organization was the top- down hierarchy, with an autocratic ruler/leader directing the activities of obedient followers. It had two major strengths that allowed it to out-compete such alternatives as tradition-based rule by elders or democracy. It enabled quick decision-making and concerted action under rapidly changing conditions (as in a battle), and it could be applied to large groups of people, especially by creating multi-level pyramids. It was the social invention that was powerful enough to match the energy released by the technical inventions of agriculture. This model was applied to most of the institutions within the society – businesses, government, the family, as well as the military.

I’d like to especially emphasize the way it affected religious concepts. The people of earlier time periods were primarily concerned with the forces of nature and of their own inner experiences (like dreams). They would sometimes symbolize these with animal, abstract or composite forms (as on totem poles), and relate to these as beings who were magical but not necessarily superior to humans. They would also often have more fundamental deities (or more accurately, aspects of a single supreme divinity) that they related to in kinship terms (“grandfather sky and grandmother earth”).

With the coming of the age of empire, all these spirits and deities were increasingly symbolized as humanlike, and shifted from being the immanent spirits of nature to the transcendent rulers over nature. Previously, if you wanted a change in the wind, you would call out to the wind itself. Now, you (as an inferior) pleaded and begged the “lord” of the wind, and if that lord was in a good mood and sufficiently pleased with your offerings, he or she would command the wind and the wind would obey.

The image of the divine became that of the “great warlord in the sky” – autocratic maker of laws, giver of marching orders, and wrathful judge. The normal jealousy between human warlords led to the idea that one god should be supreme (at least over some district or people). In the extreme cases that eventually prevailed through the Judeo-Christian- Islamic tradition, the jealousy is so great that the followers are forbidden from symbolizing divinity in any way other than the one (strictly masculine) image of the “lord.” Viewed from this historical and anthropological perspective, early monotheism was not so much a conceptual step forward (many pre- literate people had the idea of a supreme and all- pervading deity), as it was a sanctification of intolerance, separation, and rigidity.

The use of warlord religious images during this time period can be defended as a way of speaking to the people in symbols they could understand. It was, however, a two-way street, often doing more to sanctify warlordism than to raise the spiritual level of the people. Nevertheless, as time went on, in every major religious tradition, gifted and spiritually sensitive people found ways of infusing this imagery with remarkably humane values. Indeed, this period most transcends itself, sowing seeds for the future, in the spiritual and philosophical ferment from 2,500 to 2,000 years ago. Whether through Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, or others, the ideas of personal development and achievement in a non- militaristic direction, and of service to the whole of humanity, are given powerful expression.


As we get closer to the present, the historical record becomes much richer, but our very closeness can make it harder to interpret. For example, late 20th-century Western civilization is a strange blend of 1) institutions and values that clearly belong to the Empire period, and 2) other features, like global electronic communications and high levels of literacy, that are completely novel. As historians trace back the novel threads, they have ancient roots, but they seem to emerge with a life of their own about 500 years ago in Europe.

Europe, between the fall of the Roman Empire and the start of our present period, was a fertile blend of cultural streams. The people were farmers, tribal or village based, without the cities of the Mediterranean or Middle Eastern civilizations. Living in a forest zone, they still had access to hunting and gathering. Yet they were also heirs to the Roman Empire, and through Christianity, they were exposed to the post-empire values of the New Testament. Thus their culture was an overlay of elements from all four major cultural periods of the past 45,000 years. That is a lot to chew on, and the Middle Ages in Europe are largely a time of digestion.

During the late Middle Ages, many factors were corroding the old structures of church and feudalism, but it took a major blow to start Europe down the road of modernism. That blow came in the form of the Black Death, the bubonic plague. It first swept through Europe around 1350 AD, killing about a third of the total population. People of the times were accustomed to interpreting such events as acts of God, but this seemed utterly senseless. The church and the nobility were both powerless to stop it, and the rapid decline in population destabilized many aspects of the social structure. Nor could it be seen as a great purification since social behavior seemed to turn worse as a result.

Those who survived, emerged with a deep-rooted belief in individual self-reliance – in a world gone crazy, it was each person for him/herself. It took another 150 or so years for the implications of this to emerge, but as they did, their individualistic roots were clear. The new boldness of merchants proclaimed the possibility of personal success and advancement through one’s own productive work. Artists proclaimed personal expression and creativity. The Protestant Reformation proclaimed personal salvation through individual behavior and a direct relationship with God. Science proclaimed the supremacy of direct personal experiment and observation over the authorities of the past.

As I mentioned above, individual expression had been encouraged in some directions for the elite throughout the Empire period, but the new mood of the Renaissance pushed individualism out into broad new areas and democratized it, proclaiming its availability (at least potentially) to all. Technological advances, especially printing and the post office, reinforced these trends.

The responses to the waning of the medieval order set a pattern of religious/philosophical conflict that is still with us. Those who remained within the traditional church claimed that it was the ultimate source of truth. The more radical Protestants, like today’s fundamentalists, recognized the authority of only the Bible. At the other pole, scientists and spiritual freethinkers claimed that direct experience was the ultimate authority. In the ensuing battles, the churches managed to drive a wedge between the naturalists and the spiritualist in the experimental camp, and the naturalistic scientists forced the churches to retreat from their claims of knowledge about the natural world. The spiritual freethinkers – including many women and men who were skilled in healing – had no dramatic results to prove their case, and were brutally wiped out or driven underground, being a convenient scapegoat for both the established churches and scientists.

The energy of all this newly released individualism led to expansion and explorations in many directions – geographically, in business, in politics, in science. These explorations in turn led to the industrial revolution and our more recent history. The technological advances of the past 500 years have increased human power and impact enormously, but just like the pattern in the Agricultural/Urban transition, our first response has been to attempt to assimilate this new power within the values and institutions of the preceding Empire period. We have gradually done away with the warrior class, but not with warfare, and to this day, militaristic nations are still engaged in power struggles over territories. Even more fundamentally, our legal and economic systems are still based on the “privilege of the conqueror” to extract unearned tribute from the gifts of nature and the labor of others, as enshrined in certain ownership privileges over land, natural resources, and corporations. (See IN CONTEXT #2, #8, and #11).

This perspective – treating the past 500 years as a time of transition rather than a stable and self- consistent period in its own right – is significantly different from the more popular analysis that treats the industrial era (as in Toffler’s The Third Wave) or Newtonian science (as in Capra’s The Turning Point) as the source and embodiment of the Old Story. Three years ago, when we began this journal, I shared that point of view, but as I have delved into one topic after another, I keep finding that the roots of our currently out-of-date institutions go back 5000, not 500, years. I now see the more conventional view as counterproductive for many reasons: It distorts our view of the Old Story by focusing our attention on too narrow and too recent a sample of cultures. It gets us to try to look for the origins of the Old Story in the wrong place. It diverts us from seeing the parallels between the Agricultural/Urban transition and our present time. And it does not help us distinguish between those aspects of the past 500 years that are part of our emerging future and those that are part of the declining past.

For example, Toffler’s image of the three waves (agricultural revolution, industrial revolution, and now) fails to distinguish between the start of agriculture and the start of empire and suggests that the values of industrialism superseded the values of the previous period. The result is that he totally misses the most important cultural dynamic of this whole time period – militarism and the struggle for power.

The change we are going through is too profound to be understood in a frame of reference of only a few hundred years.


During the past 40 years especially, the contradictions and tensions have grown deeper between
1) our new technological capabilities combined with the continuing spread of individual human rights and capabilities, and 2) the old values and institutions we have inherited from the Empire period. If we follow a pattern like the Agricultural/Urban transition (and don’t destroy ourselves in the process), we will come up with a new set of values and institutions that will be equal to our new strengths and awareness. My expectation (along with many others) is that this new set of values and institutions will be based on the planet rather than the city-state, leading to planetization rather than civilization.

Extrapolations into the future based on the images of the Empire era picture planetization as a super empire, a one world government exerting its bureaucratic control everywhere. Such an image is out of keeping with the characteristic values of both individual expression and planetary interconnectedness that have been emerging during the transition period. Much more likely is that planetization will find its unity through many avenues of human activity – business, the arts, the sciences, personal relationships built around the globe by travel, and so on. Through this, we are developing a New Story, which in turn will lead to a planetary family of cultures, diverse yet sharing more with each other than with any of the cultures of the Empire family.

What will this planetary family of cultures be like? I won’t try here to further describe specific aspects, since those are being dealt with in all the other issues of IN CONTEXT, but I think the past does gives us some broad clues. It tells us that such fundamental things as our religious concepts, our economic and legal systems, our intimate relationships, and our social organizations can, and probably will, undergo profound changes. In making these changes, we will draw on gifts from each previous era, for they all have much to offer us. Yet no era in the past can be our sole guide. We stand at the pivotal beginning point of a major new era, and within the broad limits provided by nature and our human capabilities, it is up to us to invent the future.

Looking back over this retelling of the Human Story, it seems to me that there are two important ways in which it is indeed new. First, it is new in the breadth and depth of the rich tapestry of details on which it is built. The scope of history available to us now is so much fuller than what was available even 40 years ago (when those currently in power had already formed their “stories”) that it is a challenge to even comprehend the gap. Yet the changes are not limited to details. Even more important is the strong indication that we are in the midst of a cultural change so deep that there is at most only one other comparable transition in the past 45,000 years. If we can fully awaken to that understanding, we will have made a giant step toward finding our way forward.


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