A kulturCritic Review: Walking Away From Empire, by Guy McPherson

Walking Away From Empire, Guy McPherson

A Life Of Excellence – A Review of Walking Away From Empire, by Guy McPherson

Guy McPherson’s latest gift, Walking Away From Empire: A Personal Journey, is a necessary tonic, or more aptly perhaps, a high colonic, for those of us who have ears but refuse to hear.  This collection of essays proclaims loudly, and occasionally with raw emotion, that it is time we took off our cultural blinders and acknowledged the obvious facts confronting our species and the earth. The hegemony of Western civilization, whose ancient roots stretch back to the alluvial soils of the Fertile Crescent – at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Persian Gulf – is hurtling the planet toward an apocalyptic conclusion. The trajectory of our Empire, characterized by accelerating “energy decline and global climate change” – a trajectory moreover that Homo sapiens sapiens started in motion approximately 6,000 years ago with the first city walls – is nearing terminal state.

There is perhaps no better spokesperson to rage against this machine than is Guy McPherson. A scientist by training and credentialing, Guy has a formidable background, with a specialization in ecology & evolutionary biology, and an incredible capacity for honest introspection and moral reflection. A classic success story of the Western curriculum in his own right, it is his unrelenting criticism and exposure of the destructive nature of the unspoken curriculum of the West that makes us sit up and take notice.  He speaks in unvarnished language of “the horrific costs of imperial living: destruction of the living planet, obedience at home, and oppression abroad.”  As he says:

This entire, life-draining, life-sucking enterprise [western civilization] requires us to tell increasingly absurd lies and convince ourselves they are the truth. Fortunately, this requires little effort on our part because we are awash in cognitive dissonance as we swim in an ocean of cultural denial.

In this highly provocative, philosophical, soul-baring, and at times humorous memoir, we find not simply one man’s journey back through a personal or recent historical past, but a human journey back into the deep past of our species.  It is the recovery of this deep history – buried in the feral core of our species at the dawn of agriculture, domestication and “civic” life over two hundred generations ago – that informs and infuses his passion, his social criticism, and ultimately his hope and optimism. Guy asks us to recollect the genetic memory trace of our Pleistocene origins, where genus Homo first emerged and later articulated itself as Homo sapiens.  He warns us: either recover our innate love of, and respect for our home – earth and its myriad species – or perish on the bonfire of our newly acquired imperial vanities.

This is not a book for the faint of heart.  Its language is strong at times, like Turkish coffee, its condemnation of the American Empire, brutal, like an ultimate fighting bout, and its conclusions as loud and clear as the sun at high noon. However, Walking Away From Empire is not just the hollow cries of some madman shrieking at the moon, but the considered framework of an unlikely prophet showing a path forward for those of us who would listen. It is a hopeful chorus for that “human, all too human” animal who still understands its feral niche buried underneath the cultural trappings, and what we can do to inhabit that place once again…or at least survive the apocalypse that is surely upon us. In this respect, the book is a radical call to action like no other.  It is the baring of one man’s soul in search of a “life of excellence” – an excellence uncovered, not by the straightjacket of Enlightenment rationality that underlies the curriculum of the West, but rather through a more organic reasoning where we recognize that our flesh and the flesh of the world are intertwined. This is a book you will not put down; and having read it, you will no longer be able to ignore its conclusions.

Sandy Krolick, Ph.D., September 26, 2011

About kulturcritic

With a doctorate in religious studies from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, Sandy had a ten-year academic career, with appointments at University of Virginia and the Colorado School of Mines. He spent the next twenty years in executive ranks at several of America’s largest international firms, including Computer Sciences Corporation, Ernst & Young, and General Electric. He has traveled extensively throughout Europe and North America, as well as parts of Eurasia and Africa. For the past five years Sandy has been living in Western Siberia with his wife and young child, teaching at the Pedagogical University and the Altai Institute for Law and Economics in Barnaul, Russia. Published works include VERONIKA: The Siberian's Tale (a novel), (Islands Press 2011) Apocalypse Of The Barbarians: Inquisitions On Empire (Islands Press, 2010), The Recovery of Ecstasy: Notebooks From Siberia (Booksurge, 2009), Recollective Resolve: A Phenomenological Understanding of Time and Myth (Mercer University Press, 1987), Ethical Decisionmaking Styles (Addison-Wesley Press, 1986), and Gandhi in the Postmodern Age: Issues in War and Peace (CSM Press,1984).
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27 Responses to A kulturCritic Review: Walking Away From Empire, by Guy McPherson

  1. Sandy,

    This is a terrific review for a terrific book. Thanks for taking the time to write this – it’s the book reviewers like yourself who are helping to keep not only writers appreciated, but absolutely crucial topics like those Dr. McPherson writes about from being buried by celebrity reality shows and the likes.


    • kulturcritic says:

      Cameron – you are welcome. I became acquainted with Guy’s work about 6 months or so ago. I was thrilled when he asked me to do a review of his new book. His are critical thoughts, today. Please stick with us, and join in our discussions when you have a chance. best, sandy krolick

  2. Guy McPherson tells it like it is. Although that is ultimately a simple thing, such an achievement is never easy to accomplish, even with Guy’s clarity of vision. He has explained the world and disclosed himself in a way that will hopefully be an example to others. And thanks to Sandy Krolick for so eloquent a review of a splendid revelation. With every good wish to both of you, Steve Salmony

  3. Disaffected says:

    Good stuff kC. I’m increasingly sensing that the time to depart the empire of illusion for me is nigh. VERY nigh. I’m not sure my psyche can take the dissonance much longer. Thanks.


    • Disaffected says:


      Bought the book, and it was a pain in the ass (website-wise). Not sure that McPherson has much to tell me pissed-off wise, but I’m betting he has loads to tell me other wise. I’m FINALLY ready to make the break.

      A note on making “the break”:

      For MANY years now I’ve noted Americans’ of many and assorted stripes of life bitch about their various lots, often wondering – especially in the case of the hard core inner-city types – why they didn’t just MOVE ALREADY? Aside from the often considerable MONETARY costs involved (often overestimated, but more often than not CONSIDERABLE nonetheless), they almost always WAY OVERESTIMATED the social costs, especially from the point of view of a career “military man.” As in, if you’ve grown accustomed to moving around, moving around ain’t no big deal. As in, “people are people” the world over. EVEN IN THE CASE of “rich” Americans abandoning their “homeland” in favor of lands at first blush “less than hospitable to our interests?” Let’s hope so, for the time at least.

      Rest assured, “rich” is a relative term, and MY experience with people of ACTUAL MEANS is that they could give a fuck less about mere “heirs,” OR the “airs” they might put on to further their effect.

      Bottom line: the whole Titanic deck chair analogy is beginning to take hold. Myself? I’m rushing for the life boats about now. It’s time to assess what boats are going to remain afloat, and exactly when and where “you and yours” plan to make your “last stand.”

      Melodramatic? Perhaps.

      We’ll see. Cheers.


      • kulturcritic says:

        Good assessment DA; and yes the fullness of time is upon us (shit, another biblical phrasing)! Well, you know where my stand has been made in Siberia. I also have a brother who is off the grid in Maine so that is another option for me as well. But, yes, Guy’s commitment is exceptional, and he communicates it passionately and clearly. Melodrama? I think we were raised on it; so, it is only second-nature for us, no?

        • Disaffected says:

          Time to quit talking and start doing. In my assessment, the American ship of state is going down. NoBama was the last clear warning we’ll ever get that we’ve all been sold out. If you ain’t getting it yet, then you ain’t never gonna. Not sure that jumping ship is going to be a salvation either, but at this point, it’s all we’ve got left. As the good Christians say, God help us all!

          • kulturcritic says:

            There is NO TIME, but the present!!

          • Anarchrist says:

            Couldn’t resist this link as a response to your reference to God DA, it’s perhaps a cathartically mournful tune but it’s more than a little topical…

            • Disaffected says:


              For my part, without getting all “theological”, I don’t believe there was or is any point at which we became “bad” or began to express our inherent “badness” collectively; only a point at which we began to make bad choices, after which those choices became self-reinforcing. For the record, I am NOT one of those people (aka, “Christians”) who believe that humans are inherently flawed (aka, “evil”), and thus, are need of “saving” from their “evil nature” at birth. On the contrary! Humans are little more than animals (monkeys with DNA advantage) at birth. All else is learned, and not necessarily(!) for the better.


              • Anarchrist says:

                Most definitely, no arguments here. Don’t take that video post too seriously either, it does not necessarily represent the views of the poster!

    • Disaffected says:

      ELO, Boy Blue:

      Hey, Boy Blue, can’t you hear all the noise
      It’s for you, all the town’s waiting there
      Let us go, there’s a show like you ain’t seen before
      Welcome home, where you been all these years
      Look around, all the crowd is in tears
      It’s so good to see you in the streets of your town
      Hey, Boy Blue is back
      Hey, Boy Blue is back
      Hey, Boy Blue is back
      Hey, Boy Blue is back
      Hey, Boy Blue is back
      Hey, Boy Blue is back
      I’ve seen bold knights dropping down like flies
      I’ve seen kings rolling in the mire
      (From: http://www.elyrics.net/read/e/electric-light-orchestra-lyrics/boy-blue-lyrics.html)
      I’ve seen God point the finger of doom to our foes
      I have fought in the holiest wars
      I have smashed some of the holiest jaws
      I’ve been jailed, been impaled and been dragged through the world
      One thing I have learned through these years
      Is that no man should be stricken with fear
      It should be that he walks with no care in the world
      So my friends who are gathered here today
      Hear this clear, for I’ll not further say
      That no man shall cause me to take up arms again

  4. Pingback: Couchsurfing with my soapbox – Guy McPherson's blog

  5. bmiller says:

    Thanks for the heads up on the book. I just found his blog recently and was hovering over the decision to purchase. I’ll pick it up.

  6. Pingback: Couchsurfing with my soapbox » Plan B Economics

  7. Cliff says:

    Hey Brother

    Just read through all the comments about the book. I’m thinking of going to NYC maybe later November of Dec to join the developments.

  8. Pingback: <em>Walking Away from Empire: A Personal Journey</em> – Guy McPherson's blog

  9. Ukumbwa says:

    Just a thought: Aren’t we neck deep in the pathology that McPherson decries here if we can only and best hear this message from a European, male scientist, that latter point being one of the reasons it is suggested that we trust his critique? Kudos to the writer and to anyone that gets the message, but this same message has been long held by African writers, leaders, students, academics, organizers, cultural critics, activists since Europeans have been colonizing the world’s indigenous peoples under the banner of christian “G-O-D” and moral/intellectual/ethical supremacy. In addition, this message has also been communicated powerfully and clearly by indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and by women everywhere. Of course, we understand why the voices of Native Americans, women, Africans and indigenous peoples have been marginalized in the “marketplace of ideas”, but we should be careful about the parades assembled behind scientific/intellectual male Europeans who are actually relatively new to this level of socio-political critique. This is not a new argument, just a new book (and thank you for IT and for this article!). I hope we can place it in its proper place in the literary line-up.

    • kulturcritic says:


      I am so glad you have found your calling in life, and have come back to share your hard-won enlightenment with the rest of us poor, deluded souls. And, as I see from your beautiful website, you offer an array of spiritual services to assist us in our struggles, while supporting your lifestyle. I see that dollars$ are accepted at the time of divination, as well. How convenient! I see you are also trained, like the scientific/intellectual male whom you so freely criticize. Just because one is not born African or black or female does not mean his insights and actions are any less important, but perhaps more so. And while he has decisively walked away from Empire, I see that you and your gurus have fully embraced Empire, with all its trappings, sales pitches, payment schedules, products for purchase, and a lovely domain within the urban center of Empire, surrounded by country clubs and typical suburban sprawl. Welcome home, brother!

      • Ukumbwa says:

        Actually, I”m not criticizing the writer. I am noticing who he is and that we are engaged in a process of decolonization, hence we merely, but profoundly, need to be able to see what we are doing. I have been great clarity about my own patterns and how people might see me (clearly or presumptively). As you can see, I thanked you for this post and the author for his work as both are truly important for our on-going advancement. The larger issue of how we accept information from people who “look like him” is a big part of our successful walk away from empire….again, my main point was how we all need to look at the long history of this kind of information and how empire does give more validity and discursive space to men of European descent. I have seen that deeply in higher education and in popular media. So my issue isn’t with Guy McPherson or you….and I wish it not to be about that, though the observation of Mr. McPherson is important in the discussion. I hope his book is widely distributed and understood, just as I wish ALL of the other books on this subject to be widely distributed, supported and understood. That was the intent of my post, which it seems you have misunderstood. I accept any honest critique on what or how I said what I said, but I don’t need to apologize for my words. I just hope anyone else who reads my contribution understands it better than you have. And yes, let’s be really careful for how we all carry the gross and subtle influences of colonialism and empire.

        Again, thanks for this post and for sharing this book and for creating an opportunity to engage this important issue.
        Again, thanks for this post, for sharing this book with us all

        • Ukumbwa says:

          have HAD great clarity – Apologies for the lack of clarity above in trying to claim clarity! Learning happens all the time.

        • kulturcritic says:


          I appreciate your responsiveness. Your tone seems more moderated now. However, I still have some problems with statements like “how we accept information from people who ‘look like him.'” I too am a white, educated, European male. No publishers now accept my work or Guy’s for distribution. We must work to make our own noise. Yet, our decisions to disengage from empire are all the more important because people who “look like us” had it all and still took action, some more radical than others. Guy has certainly stepped out much farther than I have at this juncture. I understood your post; I objected to some self-righteousness in your tone. Thanks again, and please feel free to comment on my other posts as you wish. sandy

          • Ukumbwa says:

            With all due respect, Sandy, if you look back at my comments and your replies, it is not I that need to be concerned about my tone, nor my respect or flagrant disrespect for people who decide to share their perspective with the community through this blog. It is completely necessary for us, for anyone to be able to critique the processes and methods by which information is passed on. If we understand empire, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, patriarchy, euro-centrism and other socio-political pathologies, we also understand that privilege and power has been usurped and maintained by men who “look like” Guy and probably like you, too (whether you want to acknowledge that or not, whether you like it or not). My “self-righteous” comment was an attempt to enlarge the scope of the discourse to look at the system – of empire – that has accepted the writings and rantings (which I assume Guy’s work is not) of men who look like you both. If anyone understands empire and the other above list of pathologies, one would know that that does not include every man of European descent, but that men of European descent have all gained privilege by default in this insane system. If you can not be present for the suggestion of that truth in the principled way it was shared, then your response to my comments may be exactly the evidence that proves my point. That was not my intent nor to have you somehow assume that if you mined my website for ‘damning’ information that you could weaken my point or my resolve or your readers from coming to yet another useful observation for functional critique of empire in general and the ways it expresses itself in particular….which I thought this was about.

            I am sorry that anyone would have problems finding a publisher for content of this sort, but if we are truly walking away from empire, then we have to be able to identify the patterns of privilege that mark empire and its persistent presence in the modern world. My point about the long history of the presentation of this information by non-Europeans and women is historical record, indeed and in deed it is the history of empire. And if one might think my humble offering here was a substantive expression of “tone”, then one hasn’t ever spoken to, communicated with and heard (deeply) the voices of people who have substantively been oppressed by empire. And if one hasn’t….then what does one assume they are walking away from…and what, then, are they assuming they are walking to? Ultimately, then, that is not a walk worth taking.

            • kulturcritic says:

              Ukumbwa – I have no disagreement with anything you’ve written here. I overreacted to what I presumed to be your tone. And it does say something about my priviledge in empire. I understand that; and I apologize. We all have our issues. sandy

            • scyther says:


              I for one find it refreshing to find someone who “looks like you” paying any attention at all to this type of fringe science. Most people who are of the groups most oppressed by Empire not surprisingly are more concerned with other issues (notably getting piece of the pie before it is entirely gone).

              I haven’t read any of McPerson’s books but I have listened to one of his talks and am very familiar with the end-times-ology. Personally I think a non-scientist but very astute fellow named Greer (another who looks like me rather than you) gives a spectrum of predictions for human future that is more likely than McPherson’s prediction of extinction for all humanity by 2030. Aa well-trained scientist I think McPherson could have avoided the implicit hubris in thinking that prediction for the extinction of life on Earth could be so impossibly closely defined.

              I suspect we will still be dealing with the problems of Empire and oppression a century from now.

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