Addicted to Western Civilization

Chellis Glendinning, in her marvelous book, My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery From Western Civilization, offers a penetrating look at the essential wound of our society, from which we have, like all addicts, sought relief through denial, distraction, and pleasure-seeking. This primary wound occurred thousands of years ago and we have gradually covered it with a compensatory process of twisted thinking that has produced a toxic atmosphere so pervasive and so addictive that we seldom fully realize the pain we are experiencing and the damage we are doing to life around us as we seek to manage this pain.

This wound occurred when we as a species shifted from being hunter-gatherer nomads living is small tribal units, to being a settled agricultural species. This shift toggled an aspect of our brain that for hundreds of thousands of years had been living as part of the Life of Earth, connected to all aspects of the natural world as a guest of Nature. Since that time we have become “owners” instead of guests on the planet. We have created fences and assumed control of, at first simply small plots of land, but over the millennia that control has expanded outward in countless ways. We began to “own” animals, water, land, and every type of possession – all of which we had up until then held in common usage as gifts from Nature or the Gods.

Western Civilization is predicated on the concept of ownership and its corollary, private wealth, which has led to the great disparity between the few rich and the many poor among the people. This idea of ownership is so fundamental to our modern psyche that we do not question its basic assumption. We may disagree on ways and means, but private ownership and wealth itself is unquestioned. Yet it is that very assumption that has created the rift between ourselves and the natural world that has left us a culture of addicts, using every means at our disposal to soothe the pain of this wound we can’t even acknowledge we have.

I believe that hope for humanity remains within the Original Matrix that has been in our DNA for hundreds of thousands of years and is still fundamental within each person. We can recover, but what will we be when we recover? Who will we be when we reconnect with our Source? How will our relationships unfold? How will our education, business, and social structures support a new Humanity on a renewed Earth? These are the questions that both disturb and inspire me.

We are in a state of massive denial that is supported by every facet of our lives – media, economy, entertainment, government, business – everywhere we turn we are fed misinformation, partial truths, and downright lies. We look no further because it is too difficult and too frightening. We are both addicted and co-dependent. Keeping our own addiction intact by supporting that addiction in all of our relationships. When an alcoholic decides to be in recovery, he or she must find a new environment in which to develop relationships. We can’t, of course, abandon friends and family and go to the mountains… but we must take steps that will seem just that radical to our addicted brain. We must, a step at a time, untangle each knot that keeps us tied to our toxic society. We can’t build a new society by rearranging the pieces of the old. The natural world is teetering on the brink of becoming unable to support our species, but enough of it remains to offer a refuge and a source of renewal. But we must be willing to take the journey from civilization into the wilderness. As Chellis says, it need not be an “Outward Bound” camp first thing. It begins with simply going out the front door, then taking another step along the dirt path into the still waiting arms of Mother Earth. There is not much time left. Don’t wait in the illusory comfort of denial.

So, my name is Bill and I am addicted to Western Civilization. I now in recovery and I take it one day at a time, depending on a Source greater than myself to work within me because, by myself I am powerless to recover. The Web is too tightly wound about my mind and psyche for me to untangle it by myself. I am in recovery from my addictions and I am also recovering to my connection with the Earth. I already glimpse the freedom, simplicity, and joy available to me as the tendrils of my addiction are unwound. The entire Cosmos awaits me. It has been there all along. It is only in the past few thousand years – a tiny fraction of our human history – that we have hidden ourselves from its Wonder and Glory. The Original Matrix is still solidly imprinted within us and will help us in our recovery.

As all addicts know, a day at a time. Ready to take the first step?


Chellis’s wonderful book is twenty-five years in print. It’s reprint in 2007 is fairly expensive. I wish it were cheaper. There seem to be used copies available. I got a used one for only $4.00 that is in good shape.

Another, more recent book that is extremely well-written and inspiring on a similar subject is; “Braiding Sweetgrass  by Robin Wall Kimmerer

3 thoughts on “Addicted to Western Civilization”

  1. I love Robin Kimmerer’s book……I keep it by my bed to reread passsages over and over to find that place of connection within me…..what you say about addiction to this “modern” world is so true……one trip to the grocery store, one visit on line or an experience at the schools my grandkids attend remind me how deeply entrenched this way of being is…..I continually want to wash it off me, peel it off me and cleanse it from my heart, mind and soul!

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  2. YES, INDEED. I’m on the same track. Half way through David Wallace-Wells book THE UNINHABITABLE EARTH. I’ve been called to action. It will take many of us who have become enlightened lovers to effective address the next stage of our global journey. Count me in.

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