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The Book “Promise Ahead” by Duane Elgin Essay

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Updated: Feb 18th, 2021


In his chapter on “Hitting an Evolutionary Wall”, Duane Elgin discusses five adversity trends- what are they and how do you see them affecting your life over the next 50 years?

In his 2001 book Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and Action for Humanity’s Future author and activist Duane Elgin employs the metaphor of development stages to describe human evolution from its inception to the present day; the main thesis of his book is that the human species has become arrested at the developmental age of an adolescent or teenager (Elgin 4).

According to Elgin the human species is right now facing a series of sharp upheavals – in Elgin’s words, we are amid an “initiation” that involves “hitting the evolutionary wall” as well as the “environmental wall” (Elgin 6). The selfish behavior of humans to date has created a dilemma of shortages, and in Elgin’s mind, these limits are “fast approaching because we are rapidly consuming more resources than the Earth can renew” (Elgin 6). These limitations in our development have brought us as a species to the “evolutionary wall” where our lack of community-mindedness and spiritual unconsciousness drives us to “sustain dysfunctional and destructive behaviors” (Elgin 6)

Duane Elgin Analysis

In the chapter “Hitting the Evolutionary Wall,” Elgin outlines the current manifestation of “adversity trends” we human face. Elgin outlines five main adversity trends that he has been tracking in his research: global climate change, world population excess, whole-scale extinction of animals, flora species and habitat, exhaustion of natural resources, and global poverty and weakened opportunity for all (Elgin 18-37).

Often the latter gets overlooked or at the very least “under-perceived by either the privileged or their favorite experts during…unparalleled economic growth” (Loye n.p.). But in Elgin’s mind, this will all soon change. “We tend to compartmentalize these powerful trends and think that we can deal with them one by one when, in reality, they are increasingly interacting and amplifying each other’s impact” (Elgin 38).

Elgin understands that these five adversity trends will each interact and generate desperate behavior in the human species due to “waves of famine and resource wars” (Elgin 38). All of these will invariably lead to the crucial “make or break” evolutionary decision that Elgin claims will arrive by the year 2020 (Elgin 38). The main way in which Elgin’s adversity trends will affect my life in the next 50 years pertains to the mass extinction of species. If Elgin’s predictions come to pass then the current generation may indeed be the last to see a certain number of species alive in the wild; tigers, especially, are dwindling in such rapid numbers they may become extinct in the next few years.

According to the New York Times, over 100,000 tigers were living in the wild at the turn of the 19th century (Revkin n.p.). In just a century, the population of tigers has been depleted by “more than 97 percent and 94 percent of their home range” and habitat has been destroyed (Revkin n.p.). Currently, tigers cling to existence in remote parts of Asia, Russia, Indonesia, and South Asia (Revkin n.p.). If Elgin’s prophecies come to fruition, they may all disappear from the planet within the next 50 years – not something I want to witness.

In his chapter on “A New Perceptual Paradigm”, Elgin defines the term ‘paradigm’ and he discusses three major shifts that have occurred in human evolution. First, what is a paradigm? Characterize the paradigm shifts as discussed in the chapter, the first 35,000 years ago, the second 10,000 years ago, and the third 300 years ago. What might cause such a paradigm shift during our lives? Envision how this possibility might change our reality and write about it.

A paradigm shift occurs when some fundamental element of perception, awareness, consciousness, or frame of reference undergoes a significant change, one that affects all facets of life and most if not all social behavior. Elgin understands it as the “frame of mind out of which we operate” (Elgin 44).

Human beings underwent a paradigm shift 35, 000 years ago according to Elgin, when the archeological record revealed evidence of cave art, tools made from stone, gravesites, and examples of migration (Elgin 44). At this stage of human development, the species was “awakened” according to Elgin (Elgin 44). In the author’s mind, this period represented the dawn of human awareness (Elgin 44). The next major paradigm shift coincided with the origin of agriculture, according to Elgin, when human beings began to settle into communities and farms (Elgin 44). The final paradigm shift occurred as a result of the Industrial Revolution roughly 300 years ago, says Elgin (Elgin 44).

A paradigm shift would occur in the human species according to Elgin if we were able to understand our true relationship with the universe (Elgin 47). The universe in Elgin’s concept is a “living universe” (Elgin 47). This means that it displays particular qualities that “are characteristic of all life” (Elgin 47). The universe is “a unified entity, having some form of consciousness, and [is] able to reproduce itself” (Elgin 47).

In this concept of a universe, human beings are simply individual offshoots of the homogenous living energy that comprises the whole, with no separation between the two, therefore whatever damage we do to the planet and the ecology is essentially self-mutilation (Elgin 52). In Elgin’s view once this paradigm sifts occurs the human species will become aware of the interconnectedness of life, and it will “experience a rebirth of connectedness” (Elgin 64). The result of human beings perceiving the universe as alive in Elgin’s mind is the “shift from feelings of existential isolation in a lifeless universe to a sense of intimate communion within a living universe” (Elgin 67). Human beings begin to view their own lives as “sacred journeys” (Elgin 68).


Duane Elgin’s Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and Action for Humanity’s Future begins as a doomful prediction for the future of humanity. Deploying the metaphor of developmental life stages to describe human evolution, Elgin likens the current phase of humanity’s growth as equivalent to that of a self-involved teen (Elgin 44). He articulates a paradigm shift wherein the human species begins to comprehend itself as not outside of the universe but a part of the universe (Elgin 44).

As a result of this shift in perception Elgin states that the human species will “stand upon the Earth as agents of self-reflective and creative action on behalf of the universe” (Elgin 70). The author contends that a paradigm shift will encourage humans to live smaller and reduce their ecological imprint.

Works Cited

Elgin, Duane. Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and Action for Humanity’s Future. New York: Harper Collins, 2001. Print.

Loye, David. “Promise Ahead by Duane Elgin.” New Renaissance Magazine. n.d. Web.

Revkin, Andrew. “India’s Tiger Count Rises Even as Human Numbers Climb.” New York Times 2011: Opinion. n.p. Web.

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