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The Breaking Point

An interview with Duane Elgin
by Carter Phipps


My first exposure to Duane Elgin's work was, in a word, frightening. I picked up his new book, Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and Action for Humanity's Future, and began reading the first few chapters only to run headlong into a very cogent, very clear, and very devastating description of the state of our embattled world. Indeed, as he laid out the daunting ecological and social challenges we face as an evolving species at this point in history, all kinds of dire scenarios of the future began to unfold in this reader's head, scenarios that were a lot closer to Blade Runner and Waterworld than Star Trek or The Jetsons. What I did not know at the time, but would soon learn, is that Elgin, despite initial evidence to the contrary, is a profound optimist. In fact, Promise Ahead, like all of his work, is infused with a positive vision of the future, born of someone who obviously has great faith in the possibility and promise of the human endeavor. Yet Elgin knows that if our optimism is to prevail in the world of tomorrow, the price that we must all pay today is realism. And for over twenty-five years, he has been taking a realistic look at the human condition and trying to awaken our slumbering species to the truth of our situation so that we can begin to consciously evolve.

Elgin first burst into the public eye in 1981 with his now-classic book Voluntary Simplicity, a book that helped to identify a new movement toward more simple and balanced ways of living. At the time he was working as a senior social scientist for the Stanford Research Institute, which gave him an unusual opportunity to observe and document emerging trends in society, and he used that work as the basis both for Voluntary Simplicity and for his 1991 book Awakening Earth: Exploring the Evolution of Human Culture and Consciousness. The latter book was an attempt, in his words, to "understand the deeper nature and direction of the human journey," and it explored the awakening process of the human species as we move toward building a mature global civilization. It was in Awakening Earth that Elgin first began to address our current global crisis within the context of the larger evolutionary journey of the species—a critical theme that has been a fundamental part of his work ever since.

Today, as a renowned author, speaker, and activist, Elgin has an approach that might best be described as carrot and stick, encouraging individuals and institutions to begin to honestly reflect on both the extraordinary opportunities and the sobering dangers of our moment in history. And while he sees the spiritual journey as crucial in coming to terms with the issues we face, for Elgin, that journey must, now more than ever, be both individual and collective. When we received a copy of his book Promise Ahead last summer, we found within it a short note he had attached that contained a simple but important question: "What does awakening look like as it moves into the world?" Indeed, Elgin knows that our entire future may depend on how we answer this question, on how effectively we are able to bring a spiritual perspective to bear on the urgent global challenges faced by our awakening species at this decisive juncture in our evolutionary journey.


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This article is from
Our Save the World Issue