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