Book review: Positive Thinking in a Dark Age

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Positive Thinking in a Dark Age
Essays on the Global Transition 
by Jim Tull
Review by Carolyn Treadway

Even the title of this small book, Positive Thinking in a Dark Age, is a welcome invitation to move beyond catastrophic thinking into “seeing with new eyes.” Goodness knows we need to find the opportunities within these dark times to claim and act upon!

Jim Tull gifts readers with fourteen essays written separately over a period of years. Topics range from bullshit to Francis of Assisi to giving up on our world. Each of these short (6 to 15 page) but pithy essays gives us a great deal to think about. For this reviewer, reading them one at a time and pondering each essay individually before moving on to the next one was an effective way to engage with the author’s ideas.

While each essay is discrete, certain themes are addressed again and again. Several of these that impacted this reviewer most deeply included the life sustaining role of small communities, the importance of our perceptions and visions (of “seeing with new eyes”), and the imperative that our culture itself must change.

“Block Power” tells of the author’s radical project and process of getting to know his neighbors, bringing them together to resource each other and provide local community.

“Block Power” tells of the author’s radical project and process of getting to know his neighbors, bringing them together to resource each other and provide local community. This was radical in getting to the root of providing what people most want out of life, such as belonging, affirmation, and celebration, which are conducive to human contentment as well as ecological sustainability.

We humans have lived tribally for 99% of our time on Earth. Tribal economies are founded on the exchange of energy (giving and getting support), while our modern economy is founded on the exchange of products (making and getting products).  What a difference! No wonder that countless people today feel so isolated and so vulnerable! To give and receive care, there is no substitute for community. For the sake of humanity’s survival, we need to transfer our faith and our reliance from the product system (back) to the communal support system. Yes! But how?

The author points out clearly that our culture is itself a system, the system that shapes and drives most of what we do. Our assumptions, understandings, perceptions, and visions either continue or change our culture and the ways it operates. We need to change our mindsets about ourselves and our world, and the ways we think about change itself. We now live within a consolidated global monoculture that is very different from the ways of thinking and living represented by cultures outside or on the margins of our (imperial) culture. Our ancient elders knew how to live in harmony with a sustainable world. But somehow we have forgotten their teachings and their example. A fundamental shift away from our current consolidated culture toward the community based culture lived by indigenous peoples is crucial in regaining sustainable culture that includes equality and dignity for all.

In today’s beleaguered world, where so many people spend inordinate amounts of energy just struggling to survive, others spend inordinate amounts of energy trying to change parts of our current cultural system—to change individuals, institutions, and so forth. The author powerfully invites us to a different paradigm, and a different way of being an agent of cultural transformation. He suggests that instead of continued tinkering with the current systems, perhaps it is time to defect from this culture, this civilization, and to walk away from the dominant systems we so depend upon now. Giving up on this world might be necessary for saving humanity (and other species), because our collective survival is on the line.

To quote the author, “What would it mean for us to make a fresh start, together? … It is time to love one another and also to get out. The call to love is also… a call to defect.”

There is a great deal to ponder and to act upon in these essays as we go forth. Thank you, Jim.

Jim Tull facilitates workshops on community building, cultural transformation, systems thinking, deep ecology, and Work that Reconnects retreats. He teaches Philosophy, Community Service and Global Studies at the Community College of RI, Providence College, and Rhode Island’s state prison. In 2015, Jim and a small group of friends founded Listening Tree Cooperative, a permaculture homestead community ( Jim served as the co-director of Amos House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen on Providence’s south side. Jim is father to Sofia (b. 1991) and Nelson (b.1994).


Carolyn Wilbur Treadway is a psychotherapist, family therapist, pastoral counselor, and social worker, now retired after 55 years of facilitating change and growth in people’s lives. She continues her personal life/sustainability coaching practice, GraceFull Life Coaching, by phone or Skype.   She “speaks for Earth” however she can—as a climate leader (trained by Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project since 2007), anti-nuclear activist, program presenter, writer, and photographer. Since the mid-1980s she has been part of the Work That Reconnects. With her husband Roy, she lives in Lacey, Washington. Their three children and four young grandchildren constantly fuel her motivation to preserve our precious Earth. Contact her at [email protected].

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