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Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture by Thom Hartmann

In October 08, I had the great good fortune to attend what was billed as a debate between teams of progressive and conservative talk show hosts: Thom Hartmann and Stephanie Miller on the left, Bill Handel and Alan Stock on the right.  Bill Handel opened the program by saying we shouldn’t expect too much from him, as he had already decided he was voting for Obama.  It was left to Alan Stock to spout the right wing talking points we had all expected to hear, which he reliably did.  (You can find youtubes of parts of the debate here.) 

As the afternoon progressed, it became clear to everyone, including the participants, that Thom was the Smartest Man in the Room.  His grasp of history and his near-eidetic memory enabled him to refute Alan Stock’s talking points with both hands tied behind his back. Near the end of the afternoon, when the host would throw a question out to the group, each one of them would look to Thom for the first answer. 

From Websters New American Dictionary:

    * Main Entry: thresh·old

1 : the plank, stone, or piece of timber that lies under a door : sill

2 a : gate, door b (1) : end, boundary; specifically : the end of a runway (2) : the place or point of entering or beginning : outset

3 a : the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced b : a level, point, or value above which something is true or will take place and below which it is not or will not  

Thom Hartmann’s new book < Threshold begins with the premise that we are at a point in our civilization where meaningful change will take place and we will thrive … or it will not, and life as we know it will drastically change because we have used up all our options. He takes us on a tour of the civilizations that, over thousands of years, have disappeared or thrived, and presents the reasons why.    

Population growth, militarization, the environment, and the insanity of our current economy are the doorways through which Thom  presents his views of our current predicaments, from global warming to global economic woes.   He presents vignettes and evidence to make his points, much of it new to me even if the ideas are not.  

One of the overarching themes of this book is the interconnectedness of all life –  humans, plants, animals, minerals –  and how the most historically successful civilizations recognized and acted on this reality.  Those that disappeared never made the connection.  Are we facing the same fate?  The prevalent worldview of most Americans is of us standing astride our planet, whip in hand, determined to subdue or consume everything non-human.  Thom gives us new ways to see our interconnectedness. 

Especially fascinating to me was his take on our modern, anti-bacterial, sanitized world as evidence we don’t see our connection with nature and the flora and fauna, much of it invisible, that inhabit the earth along with us humans.    

Many of us know someone who is suffering from a chronic, perhaps disabling illness like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).   Three generations ago, only 1 in 10,000 people had IDB, Crohn’s disease was rare, and multiple sclerosis was virtually unknown…  Today, 1 in 250 has IBD… and other autoimmune disorders.  Why? Turns out that one of the answer may be the parasites that inhabit our guts, or more specifically, the lack of them.  Dr. Joel Weinstock began reintroducing certain worms into the bodies of test subjects who had Crohn’s and other disorders, including allergies, and discovered a startling correspondence between the worms and recovering patients.  After 24 weeks of treatment with Tricuris suis, a worm endemic to pigs, 21 of 29 Crohn’s patients went into complete remission.  We need nature more than nature needs us. 

One of the sound effect buttons that Thom frequently pushes on his radio show is The Firesign Theatre chorusing Everything You Know is Wrong.    I believe that’s true on a massive scale.

From the true believers who agree with Thomas Hobbes that mankind is inherently evil to those who base their economic arguments on mathematician John Nash’s Game Theory, which posits that humans are totally predictable and totally selfish in their actions and are incapable of acting altruistically, to Ayn Rand’s Objectivists who believe that freedom consists solely of the personal freedom to do whatever we want regardless of consequences to society, Thom shows how we have been led down the wrong path for the last 40 years by elected leaders who find these mindsets to be the ones that control us the most effectively.  And it’s led us to the threshold at which we find ourselves today.  (John Nash, by the way, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was institutionalized shortly after the Rand Corporation published his ideas.  He later renounced game theory, but it was too late.) 

We tend to forget, in all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, that our Democracy is young.  After all the depressing data he rolls out, Thom produces evidence that cultures can figure out how to live in harmony with nature — all of nature, including each other.  He invites us to share his optimism that we can change and continue to change for generations.  Let’s hope that he’s right. 

Oh well, at least, as we go on our merry way in the handbasket to hell, we’ve got the Smartest Man in the Room at our side giving us hope that we can turn the handbasket around.  As Thom says every day at the end of his radio show, Revitalizing Democracy, it’s up to us.  Tag, you’re it.   

As always, please be polite to our guest and considerate of others… and stay on topic.