We’re in “empire” culture. Are you ready to leave? A new culture is emerging.
We’ve been living in “empire” culture for 6,000 years, which is all about “conquer, command, control, acquire, accumulate, and dominate”, according to Dr. Ruth Miller. It has been characterized by fear, greed, scarcity, exploitation, disconnection and treating ourselves, other beings, and the planet as resources and commodities to be consumed or used as we wish.
This is the culture we all grew up in. It’s the river we swim in. It’s “normal” to us. It’s the Matrix.
However, as I described in an earlier blog, indigenous peoples saw it as the disease of the white invaders, a sickness of separation from life:
The Algonquin word for this was “wetiko”, literally “cannibalism,” translated as the “alienated human soul, no longer connected to an inner life force, feeding on the energy of other beings.”
[It is] the illusion that we exist separately from everything else, so the pursuit of maximum personal gain appears to be the meaning and goal of life.
It is coupled with the inability to feel compassion for the lives of other beings. Therefore violence, exploitation and oppression are not only justified, but appear logical and rational.
If we resist only the external effects of wetiko . . . we can't overcome the system because this “opponent” also sits within ourselves.
As I see it, “empire” culture (or wetiko) is the root of racism, genderism, ageism, and all the other bases (financial wealth, intellectual ability, physical ability, etc.) on which we claim status, superiority or supremacy, and create oppression.
Since this is the river we all swim in, there are examples of “empire” culture being expressed all the time, everywhere we look. In fact, the way the COVID-19 pandemic is being handled is a classic example of it.
Here are some other examples of our common experience of “empire” culture. At the end of these, I’ll share some of the many examples of the new culture that is emerging.
Do these look, sound, or feel familiar? Do you see yourself in any of these?
Common experiences of “empire” culture:
First, my own personal journey with this:
Starting in childhood, I felt alienated in this culture but was totally unaware of that feeling. I tried to “overcome” it and compensate by being very competitive and a high achiever through school and my early- to mid-adulthood and career.
On the surface I “looked good” but inside I felt very inauthentic. I experienced “imposter syndrome”, and all my outer “successes” just exacerbated that feeling. They weren’t real for me, and I had no true contentment or joy from them.
I lived what I call the “pusher/striver/driver” pattern. I felt like I had to continually push, strive, and drive, or else (1) something desirable wouldn’t happen or (2) something undesirable would.
In 1999, I rebelled. I let go of my flourishing private practice as a professional life/work counselor/coach along with the comfortable “good life” I had created. I tried to drop out of the culture to “find myself” without knowing what I was rebelling against or trying to drop out of. I didn’t really know what I was trying to find, and had NO idea what I was doing or how to do it.
The identities I had used as the basis for my value and self-worth were gone. My self-respect, self-esteem and self-worth were at an all-time low. It was a very challenging “dark night of the soul” journey and a continual discovery process for almost 20 years. I was fortunate to have some amazing support along the way. I couldn’t have done it by myself, alone.
This has been a deep, life-giving transformation for me. As I see it, our culture is also facing this now. It’s our opportunity to get off the “gerbil wheel” that so many people have felt trapped by and to create a culture in which we are truly alive.
This is a systemic issue, so it wasn’t “just me” individually. Realizing that I’m dealing with “empire” culture (conquer, command, control, dominate) has been an empowering framework to help transform my experience.
Now, some other examples of common experiences of “empire” culture:
Excerpts from Charles Eisenstein’s video Exiting the Matrix:
“I always had this vague feeling of, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. This can’t be right.’ I couldn’t put a name on what was wrong. All I knew was that I felt repelled by it. I felt the desire to sabotage it . . . It was a kind of an instinct that in part did take the form of rebellion, of procrastination, of not building a resume, not preparing for grad school. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. . . “
Excerpts from Seth Godin’s Feb. 7, 2021 blog:
“. . . many large companies have decided to use UX against . . . all of their users, by turning our experience with their websites and networks into one that serves their needs, not ours . . . it’s designed to create lock-in . . . and, as soon as practicable, a persistent source of cash flow. . . If you’re not paying, you’re the product . . . And sometimes, even if you are paying, the long-term impact of your quest for convenience might not be what you were hoping for.”
Excerpts from Moe Carrick’s blog on 1/15/2021:
“Many of us carry around . . . the notion that I SHOULD BE working. . . Have you ever felt this way—that no matter what you do it’ll never end? How heavy is your sack of guilt and internal pressure to do more and be more productive? . . it’s not a symptom you face alone. Rather, we swim in a sea that tells us that hard work is the most important thing and that we are what we accomplish . . . the norm is to cram every corner of the 24 hour day with something to do. . . Good news, though: this is only one way to view the world. There is another way!”
“The pressure to overwork and overcommit is interwoven into American history. . . Many people have an expectation that we’re supposed to be learning and working constantly, plugged in, exercising every day, meeting an impossible number of goals.
It really comes down to the ideology of American capitalism . . . we can’t trust people. We need to . . . make sure that they’re working ‘hard enough.’ Laziness was . . . used to justify enslavement.”
Excerpts from a TED Talk: “How Vulnerability Makes You a Better Leader”:
“I never wanted to draw attention to my gender, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a CEO . . . I was so afraid of what people might think of me as a new mother and CEO . . . It took going through infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, giving birth without any drugs, all while running a company for me to realize how wrong I was to hide my womanhood . . . When I dared to be fully myself . . . I became a much happier and more effective leader . . . And my team responded to that. As we collectively brought our full selves to work, we were able to accomplish so much more in terms of revenue growth and the most products shipped. . .”
If you have some of your own examples that you’d like to share with me, please drop me a note. I’d love to hear them.
People have said they wish we would just “get back to normal”. These are just a few examples of the “normal” that I don’t want to go back to!
If you’re wondering how and why this culture started, Dr. Miller’s book Discovering a New Way is the simplest and easiest description of how empire culture came to be and the effects we’re living with. Her book Mary's Power is the most detailed explanation of it. Her YouTube video lays out the process of the shift to a new culture and the differences between them.
I see the breakdowns we’re experiencing as symptoms of the process of transforming from “empire” culture to an emerging culture. To me that means “right relationships” with harmonious abundance and reverence for all of life.
The “in-between” experience:
As we leave what we have been experiencing (the examples above) and begin to experience a new reality, we also have experiences of being “in-between trapezes”.
An example is Maria Shriver's Sunday Paper on 1/31/2021:
“So many people . . . lately tell me they feel like wanderers. They say they feel like their lives aren’t moving in one particular direction. Some say they feel like they are in transition, while others say everything feels up in the air for them. Some say they finally feel open to things they never were before. I’ve heard some version of this message from people at all stages of life, no matter the age. To them I say, “Same here.”
"I, too, have abandoned the fantasy of certitude. COVID-19 has robbed everyone of certainty. I was certain that my government would take care of COVID quickly and effectively. I was certain that it would distribute vaccines in an efficient manner. I was certain that there would be people to help me navigate my way forward in this mess. Nothing has been like I thought it would be. That’s why letting go of the fantasy—letting go of what I thought was true—is the best way forward. It’s the truth of where we find ourselves.”
This graphic “Growing Pains” (author unknown) says it well:
As we allow ourselves to die to “who we once were”, we will have, and are having, our rebirth into a new emerging culture.
The new emerging culture:
Buckminster Fuller famously said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
This is already happening in many individual and collective ways. Some examples:
Brene Brown, “Stay awkward, brave, and kind!” Her Dare To Lead podcast is a “mix of solo episodes and conversations with change-catalysts, culture-shifters, and as many troublemakers as possible. Innovating, creating, and building a better world requires daring leadership in every part of our daily lives — from work to home to community. Together, we’ll have conversations that help us show up, step up, and dare to lead.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and author of Braiding Sweetgrass. She demonstrates powerful examples of right relationships and harmonious abundance in this 3-minute video, "The Honorable Harvest" and in her article “The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance”.
Seth Godin is a clear voice in both the vision and practice of creating the new culture. His Real Skills Conference is a “worldwide online conference for people who care about the work they do. The world tends to focus on activities that can be measured. . . Maybe it's time to focus on growing people in a way that can't be calculated by a percentage or a simple score. Maybe it's time to focus on the skills that matter.”
In Untamed, Glennon Doyle compellingly describes her personal journey of recognizing the cultural cage(s) she was in and freeing herself by claiming her inner authority, authenticity, and integrity with truth and power.
Buen Vivir is about “respecting the rights and responsibilities of communities to protect and promote their own social and environmental well-being by driving grassroots change. Buen Vivir represents a combination of respect and reciprocity, community, solidarity and harmony.”
My blogs on a variety of different topics, including the “Transformative World View & Story”, “Socio-Cultural” and “Economic Cultural” show examples of the new emerging culture of caring, cooperation, collaboration, and generosity, among other “right-relationship” values.
My 12/29/2020 blog “Weaving Our Lives and World Anew” lists more than sixty diverse examples of the emerging culture in the areas of economy and finance, environment/ecology, new ways of living, and new ways of being in community and governing ourselves.