The Chrysalis Effect shows that the chaos and conflict experienced worldwide today are the result of a global cultural metamorphosis, one which has accelerated so rapidly in recent decades as to provoke fierce resistance. Jesse Kornbluth reviews the book here.
Donald Trump is a throwback to a time when leaders were dictators, war was noble and women were property. “Why now?” is the wrong question — what’s happening in our country isn’t limited to Trump’s candidacy. It’s bigger, much bigger. Think: global. “The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture” — the last book by the brilliant sociologist Philip Slater — gives you a way to see what’s really going on, and what’s at stake. It was life changing for me — the best self-book I’ve ever read.
High praise? Try this, from Warren Bennis, who invented the study of leadership and was, in my four decades in journalism, one of the smartest people I interviewed:
‘The Chrysalis Effect’ is the most brilliant tour de force of this decade. It is, and will continue to be, the most powerful and original analysis of this century’s planetary vertigo. Without exaggeration, Slater’s path-breaking illumination of our global ‘state of mind’ can be compared only with the work of a Gibbon, or Toynbee or Plutarch. It’s that profound and should be the most widely read book for years to come.
Philip Slater? In 1970, he was the rising star of sociology, having published a landmark book, The Pursuit of Loneliness. He taught at Harvard, became chairman of the Sociology department at Brandeis, understood that what he was thinking and writing suggested a radically different way of living, and made the change. A rich, amazing life. He died in 2013, at 86. The New York Times obituary is a good summary.
“The Chrysalis Effect” was published in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected and dewy-eyed Americans spoke of a post-racial society. It reads as if the ink dried last night — it’s both analysis and prophesy. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
The book’s first big idea:
When old cultural assumptions are challenged, innovations are not seen as mere novelties but as a social ill, a critical moral infection, and attacked as such by the upholders of tradition.
Slater says we’re now in “the resistance phase.” The old culture kills new cells — the feminist movement, the spread of democracy, the global economy, quantum physics, minority movements, the peace movement, the sexual revolution – as fast as possible, yet innovations continue. And however much it looks that way in this election year, the opposing forces are not Left and Right:
These forces are within the Left, within the Right, within the West, within Islam, within everyone and every institution…. Currently, the world is in the middle of an adaptive process, moving toward a cultural ethos more appropriate to a species living in a shrinking world and in danger of destroying its habitat –– a world that increasingly demands for its survival integrative thinking, unlimited communication, and global cooperation.
What this means for the near future: “more Nazi-type movements…the last convulsive attempt to hang on to the Controller era.”
How does the story end? Consider the caterpillar:
A caterpillar happily consumes leaves — hundreds of times its weight every day. It begins to eat less. It spins a chrysalis. New cells begin to appear in its body. Its immune system attacks these cells and destroys them. But more appear. They overwhelm the caterpillar’s immune system — they liquefy the caterpillar. And they use that liquefied mass to create a new organism.
The caterpillar is Control Culture. It wants to stop time, to build walls, to dominate or kill anything or anyone different. The butterfly is Integrative Culture — collaborative, progressive, harmonious.
Which culture will prevail?
To a great degree, it depends on how we treat women: “Control Culture was a warrior culture… The demotion of women is the foundation of the entire system…” You only have to look at the current Republican attack on women — on contraception as well as abortion — to see that. But it’s a losing battle. Technological change and easy access to information empower women. More and more women refuse to submit to men who insist on making those decisions for them.
Slater throws off so many ideas that hit with the force of a Red Bull that my book is massively marked up and earmarked. Like this:
The Controller doesn’t see misfortune simply as a problem to be solved. His first thought is to find out who to blame.
Innovation comes from outsiders. Those most deeply committed to, and successful in, an old system will be the last to notice a radically new idea, and will be most resistant to it. When change comes, it’s the outsiders — those uncommitted to the status quo — who are poised to catch the wave.
The wall was a central metaphor for Control Culture… Unfortunately there’s no way to insulate yourself from the bad things around you that doesn’t at the same time insulate you from the good things around you. A wall protects but it also imprisons. Every fortress is also a jail.
Right-wing fundamentalists advocate a ‘faith-based science.’ Which is a little like asking for ‘meat-based vegetarianism.’
The ego loathes risks of any kind. Its job is to anticipate threats. It’s not interested in learning, creating, exploring, adventuring — only in avoiding mistakes.
Almost anywhere we [the United States] attack today we’re attacking our own companies, our own products, our own creations, our own citizens.
Parents who instill macho values, habit and attitudes in a young boy today may be sentencing him to a life of failure, frustration and irrelevance — to be one of the drudges, the grunts, the expendable bodies in a world that demands flexibility and receptivity…. Modern men have been trained in macho skills over many years and at severe cost, only to discover that those skills are no longer of any use to anyone. Strutting, boasting, fighting, destroying, and killing just don’t seem as important to the world as they used to.
Decaying institutions are characterized by short-term thinking.
Where to start to fix our world, to save your own life? Slater suggests that you consider your priorities: “What we do first is invariably what we care most about.” If the first thing you do is read this book, I’d say you’re off to a good start.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
Photo credit: Getty Images