Applause! Applause! A fantastic collection of seven essays on feminism by a thoughtful and hopeful activist author and lovely writer. Yes, you can rea...moreApplause! Applause! A fantastic collection of seven essays on feminism by a thoughtful and hopeful activist author and lovely writer. Yes, you can read much of this work online and a lot of it at tomdispatch.com, but it's a delight of a book interspersed with images by artist Ana Teresa Fernandez. Spend some time with it in your hands. Read the pieces all together. Enjoy it on the shelf in your writing room. Pass it around to friends.(less)
Rebecca Solnit is my author crush of the year. Wanderlust does not have the lyrical inventiveness of The Faraway Nearby. It's a straightforward nonfic...moreRebecca Solnit is my author crush of the year. Wanderlust does not have the lyrical inventiveness of The Faraway Nearby. It's a straightforward nonfiction read by someone who has nerded out on research — more along the lines of Solnit's "A Paradise Built in Hell," but it's fascinating nonetheless.
While I was reading it I kept wondering, "Could there really be this much to say about walking?" but there was.
And then, "Am I really interested enough to read more?" but I was (fervently highlighting passages, pausing to read Henry David Thoreau's essay "Walking" and making notes for further reading as well).
Best of all, Solnit makes a case that walking is a creative, revolutionary act. It's empowering.
If you like to walk and read and create and change the world, this book is fuel.
I've been taking a lot of long walks and my joy in them is increased since reading this book. The way I move through space, through my community, with my love — it's amazing.
"I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes, / with fury, with forgetfulness" — Pablo Neruda
Quotes: "Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in the conversation together three notes suddenly making a chord."
"Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains."
"So stories are travels and travels are stories."
"To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features on a familiar route."
"Walking is an indicator species for various kinds of freedoms and pleasures: free time, free and alluring space, and unhindered bodies." (less)
While there's nothing earth-shattering here, the book makes an excellent point that in order to relate better to our canine companions we ought to inv...moreWhile there's nothing earth-shattering here, the book makes an excellent point that in order to relate better to our canine companions we ought to invest more effort in thinking about how they perceive the world.
Perhaps that's the most surprising revelation here: how little scientific and purposeful thought we've given to how our dogs friends think and what makes them happy. While, dogs on the other hand, watch and respond sensitively to our every move and mood.
The book counters some conventional wisdom and wrong-thinking which has lead to misguided and harmful training techniques i.e. dogs do not behave like wolves. They do not need to be dominated and, in fact, this can cause them anxiety and fear.
This book is part of a growing and useful trend toward delving more into the emotional lives of animals, not in the sense of anthropormorphizing, but rather in perceiving the world in the way another species would. Dogs, for example, have a huge olfactory world available to them.
It's a helpful point of view. Bradshaw makes a strong case for the need to think about how to access and maximize the potential of the inner world of dogs to help them integrate and be our companions in modern society rather than simply breeding them to look a certain way - often to the detriment of their health and temperament.
The book ends on a pessimistic note about the fate of dogs, if their needs are not taken into consideration. As a dog lover, I have to feel more hopeful about the future of dogs. What would we do without them?
Loyal dog people will certainly read books like this and speak out to make changes (in training techniques, breeding, welfare) on the dogs' behalf. Won't they?
In the conclusion to the spring quarter 2013 class, Professor Banerjee made the point that policy against poverty (organization beyond occasional handouts) is very modern.
As such, "there is reason to be optimistic," that more informed research and development efforts aimed at eliminating poverty can make profound change.
Development strategies to help the poor have not historically been based on data and research scientifically conducted to pinpoint what works. This information can make a huge difference and highlight the best places to expend resources.
Some key takeaways:
Lack of cheap food (i.e. grain) is not the problem. "In terms of food availability, today we live in a world that is capable of feeding every person that lives on the planet." Nutrition, not hunger, is today's priority.
The poor make decisions on how to spend money (whether on food, small luxuries, preventative medicine, insurance, investment, savings) like everyone else — with a strong bias toward the present.
People, especially women, don't want to run small businesses. They don't want the risk and low reward of being self-employed. They would prefer stable, well-paid government jobs.
It makes sense for society to subsidize or enforce behaviors that have benefits for others i.e. vaccinations. Government and institutions play a huge role in individual well-being.
Wealthy peoples' real advantage comes from the many things that we take as given (clean water, toilets, banks etc.). Whereas, for the poor, these become daily struggles and decisions. For the poor, every year feels like being in the middle of a colossal financial crisis.
Making people richer and more educated can start a virtuous circle where good institutions will emerge. A little bit of hope and some reassurance and comfort can be a powerful incentive. It's hard to make the forward-thinking decisions that will ensure a brighter future without hope of one.
Ease in the reader = blood, sweat and tears in the writer. Literally, in this case.
This is an effortless, breeze of a read that tells the story of the...moreEase in the reader = blood, sweat and tears in the writer. Literally, in this case.
This is an effortless, breeze of a read that tells the story of the author's arduous physical journey on the Pacific Crest Trail (she hiked a great deal of California and across all of Oregon) and her mental trek over the loss of her mother.
It is not an ornate or lyrical book, but it is well told and thoughtful.
The point of view is atypical of outdoorsy nonfiction. This is not an authoritative hiker-to-hiker book, a mildly humorous adventure tale, or an explanation of Pacific Crest Trail as told by an avid outdoorsman, Eagle Scout, or gutsy broad.
It's the story of a troubled woman in her 20s with a messy life on an ill-advised trip for which she is grossly unprepared. If Strayed had written the book immediately after finishing the hike, it may not have been worth reading.
What makes it valuable is the reflection Strayed has done since the journey and the painstaking effort she has put into structuring her tale.
It is, uniquely, a young woman's guidebook on the nature of loss and healing.
Pairs well with: Books by adventurer — and gutsy broad — Helen Thayer including Walking the Gobi: A 1,600-Mile Trek Across a Desert of Hope and Despair, and Polar Dream: The First Solo Expedition by a Woman and Her Dog to the Magnetic North Pole.
Read this, not that: Midway into A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail author Bill Bryson quits his hike and proceeds to lecture about the history of the trail whilst driving beside it. He begins his journey after being commissioned to write about hiking the trail and offers no reflection. Advantage: Wild.
Notable: Strayed does include some interesting facts about the Pacific Crest Trail including that Catherine Montgomery at the State Normal School (now Western Washington University) in Bellingham, Wash. is (sometimes) credited with first proposing the trail.
Writers read this for: a good example of memoir, a contained story, a focus on the telling details of a life as it relates to a particular story and themes
Personal note: my Auntie who lives in Truckee near the Pacific Crest Trail sent me an autographed copy of Wild — a lovely surprise!
The New York Times runs an essay contest on the ethics of meat eating. The judges are animal rights advocates and plant-based nutrition gurus. They a...moreThe New York Times runs an essay contest on the ethics of meat eating. The judges are animal rights advocates and plant-based nutrition gurus. They are all men.
Carol J. Adams wrote "The Sexual Politics of Ethics" and questioned the choice of an all male panel. Why wasn't a single female included (Karen Davis, Pattrice Jones, Lauren Ornelas, Erica Meier, Josephine Donovan, Greta Gaard, Lori Gruen, Marla Rose, Laura Wright, Kim Socha, Breeze Harper, Jasmin Singer or Mariann Sullivan for example)?
But the source of my "uh oh" was discomfiting de ja vu — when I'm not reading the women I'm missing out.
I bought the 20th Anniversary Edition of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and started reading. There are three prefaces — to the original book (1990), to the 10th anniversary edition, and to the 20th edition — and a foreword before the actual book begins.
The book describes the intersection between feminism, pacifism and vegetarianism (conversely male dominance, war, and meat-eating).
The early chapters such as, "The Rape of Animals, the Butchering of Women," link the consumption of animals and women. They are painful reading. Adams draws attention to gut-churning abuses that mirror modern news headlines i.e. Georgia Republican Compares Women to Cows, Pigs, And Chickens (His thinking: Pigs must carry dead fetuses to term and so must women. Sad, but that's life. Abortion is unethical).
It's reading a book about an atrocity during the atrocity — reading about the dystopia you inhabit.
When I read news like this I think, "We shouldn't treat animals like that either." and "If we raised the bar for how we treat animals, we'd treat ourselves better."
This idea of including animals "within the moral circle of consideration" is part of a vegetarian body of thought and literature. Vegetarians have been expressing this idea before the word vegetarian was coined in 1847 (They were called Pythagoreans before. The followers of Pythagoras had religious and ethical beliefs including metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls into the bodies of other animals, which excluded the eating of animals).
Adams dives into this discussion in the middle of the book and the chapter "The Word Made Flesh" where she talks about how, "Meat eating is a story applied to animals, it gives meaning to animals' existence." and the alternate vegetarian narrative. Instead of a hero's journey, she describes a "vegetarian quest" wherein dietary choices conflict with the dominant culture.
By the final chapters, I was wildly adding to my to-read list. In the last chapter, "Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory," Adams lists numerous works of fiction with feminist-vegetarian themes.
The book ends on a utopian note, "Feminist-vegetarian activity declares that an alternative worldview exists, one which celebrates life rather than consuming death; one which does not rely on resurrected animals but empowered people." and with a call for the "creation of vegetarian rituals that celebrate the grace of eating plants" and help counter patriarchal consumption.
Of note, some feminist science fiction and utopian connections: the chapter "Frankenstein's Vegetarian Monster" explores the Creature's vegetarianism and notes other works by Romantic vegetarians including Percy Shelley's Queen Mab (arguably the first feminist, vegetarian, pacifist Utopia, Adams says)
Fact: the average American eats 43 pigs, three lambs, 11 cows, four calves, 2,555 chickens and turkeys and 861 fishes in a lifetime
Pairs well with: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle; Percy Shelley's Queen Mab; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; "Eat Rice Have Faith in Women," Fran Winart
"It's a difficult task, o citizens, to make speeches to the belly which has no ears." — Cato
"The men were better hunters than the women, but only because the women had found that they could live quite well on foods other than meats. — Alice Walker, The Temple of My Familiar
"[The slaughterhouse] carries out its business in secret and decides what you will see, hides from you what it chooses." — Richard Selzer
"If the words which tell the truth about meat as food are unfit for our ears, the meat itself is not fit for our mouths." — Emarel Freshel
"As long as man kills the lower races for food or sport, he will be ready to kill his own race for enmity. It is not this bloodshed or that bloodshed, that must cease, but all needless bloodshed — all wanton infliction of pain or death upon our fellow beings." — Henry Salt
"May the fairies be vegetarian!" — Judy Grahn, "The Queen of Swords"(less)
Should a real life disaster strike, consumers of fictionalized accounts from Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead to Cormac McCarthy's The Road may well...moreShould a real life disaster strike, consumers of fictionalized accounts from Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead to Cormac McCarthy's The Road may well despair for humanity's survival.
Watch any disaster movie and assume chaos and panic.
This book offers a welcome antidote.
"...human beings are at their best when much is demanded of them..."
"...human beings, and this cuts across all societies...rise to the occasion."
"...human beings respond with initiative, orderliness, and helpfulness; they remain calm; and suffering and loss are transformed when they are shared experiences."
Researching real life disasters from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, author Solnit examines how real people respond in disasters — and offers the phrase "disaster utopia."
It's an optimistic, but well-documented, assessment of the humanity, helpfulness, and calm people display when a crisis brings them together. People assist each other. Disasters uncover a sense of community and purpose and survivors often recall those times of earnest cooperation with pleasure.
Survivors of the San Francisco earthquake reported:
"Never in all San Francisco's history, were her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror."
"While the crisis lasted, people loved each other."
Of course, disaster response is not all light and roses. Base impulses surface in a disaster as well as benevolent ones.
However, it's not usually the masses in the majority that cause the trouble. Solnit instead points the finger at those in charge. She explores the phenomena of "elite panic," in which those "in charge" do more harm than good by trying to keep control. She cites examples of authorities who hinder volunteers, further their own agendas, and who out of fear of "mobs" and "looting," brutally put protection of personal property ahead of the protection of human life.
Since our beliefs about how we will behave under stress influence disaster response, the field of disaster sociology's discovery that we can count on each other in a crisis is pivotal.
In a disaster, our first responders will likely be our neighbors.
There's an anarchist theme to Solnit's discoveries that decentralized, rapidly-formed communities frequently rise above bureaucracies and governments in a crisis. However, rather than forwarding the rather depressing idea that we need a disaster to bring out the best in us, the book leans toward the conclusion that the structure of our current day-to-day society breeds inordinate competition and isolation and restrains our social natures.
"The ruts and routines of ordinary life hide more beauty than brutality."
"...human beings are gregarious, cooperative animals who need no authority to make them so; it is their nature."
"...just as many machines reset themselves to their original settings after a power outage, so human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful, and imaginative after a disaster..."
Pairs well with: Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our Nature
Of note: • research by biobehavioral scientists Shelley E. Taylor and Laura Cousino Klein offers an alternative view to the fight-or-flight stress response "...women in particular often gather to share concerns and abilities...the 'tend-and-befriend' pattern."
• Sociologist Enrico Quarantelli, in more than 700 studies of disasters found, "cooperative rather than selfish behavior predominating" and few instances of panic.
Of all the causes one could devote their life to in this world — farm animals? It's easy to forget how much we love them. Gene Baur offers a reminder....moreOf all the causes one could devote their life to in this world — farm animals? It's easy to forget how much we love them. Gene Baur offers a reminder.
Baur, co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, http://www.farmsanctuary.org, a farm animal protection organization with sanctuaries in New York and California, talks about his activism on behalf of farmed animals.
The book contains disturbing descriptions of suffering and facts about how animals are treated. It also examines the consequences for human health and the environment. It does not, however, tip over into titillating descriptions of violence. Rather, the focus is on the animals (the small percentage among the billions slaughtered) that make their way to farm sanctuary.
The humane farms serve as sanctuaries for the animals, but also for the activists. Watching individual, named animals at ease and healthy on the farm, people can take comfort in the lives they can save while confronting the institutionalized cruelty inflicted on billions of others.
It can be easy to forget how enjoyable and healing it is to see animals living in peace. In part, that's because, viewed as commodities, most animals are now hidden from view in warehouses. Factory farming has become standard practice (actually a number of increasingly "efficient" and increasingly cruel practices) enforced by agribusiness.
With the suffering of farmed animals come health and environmental disasters and failures in social justice for the contract farmers and farm workers.
So, yes, of all the causes one could devote their life to in this world Gene Baur chose farm animals. Thank you, Mr. Baur.
He makes a compelling case for why people should consider the treatment of cows, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and pigs. When we're aware, we care.
Pairs well with non-fiction:Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong; Forks Over Knives by Gene Stone; The China Study by T. Colin Campbell; and The Life You Can Save and Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
Pairs well with fiction:The Jungle by Upton Sinclair; Animals by Don Le Pan; The Ethical Assassin by David Liss; Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist; and Vegan Revolution... With Zombies! by David Agranoff
Quotes: "...it's not much of a stretch to say that our health care crisis is closely tied to the health crisis in the animal agriculture industry."
"...there are now more prisoners than farmers in the United States. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference." (attributed to Brian Halwell of the Worldwatch Institute http://www.worldwatch.org)
"Accepting institutionalized animal cruelty as a cost of doing business requires a flexible conscience, and I guess we shouldn't be surprised when the same attitude starts slipping into the way we treat each other."
"It's time to face industrial agribusiness, whose blindness to the suffering of animals is almost equal by their indifference to the well-being of the public. Our health, the appropriation of scarce planetary resources, food security, and how we treat other animals cannot be left to corporations and the government alone."
"...farm animals are sentient beings, capable of awareness, feeling, and suffering, and we humans have an ethical obligation to refrain from behaviors that inflict suffering on them."
"Eating plants instead of animals goes a long way toward promoting kindness and sustainability, not to mention good health."
"It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves...The surface of the earth is soft and impressionable by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!" — Henry David Thoreau, Walden
"Every person and every living creature," Leo Tolstoy wrote, "has a sacred right to the gladness of springtime." (less)
A collection of 35 scholarly essays from Greater Good Magazine, greatergoodmag.org, a product of the Greater Good Science Center, at the University of...moreA collection of 35 scholarly essays from Greater Good Magazine, greatergoodmag.org, a product of the Greater Good Science Center, at the University of Berkeley a "...research center devoted to the scientific understanding of happy and compassionate individuals, strong social bonds, and altruistic behavior."
Part One: The Scientific Roots of Human Goodness The good news: • Science says it's in the nature of humans to be kind. • We can learn to respond in more compassionate ways. Notable: "Hope on the Battlefield" by David Grossman - humans have an innate aversion to killing
Part Two: How to Cultivate Goodness in Relationships with Friends, Family, Coworkers, and Neighbors Notable: "A Feeling for Fiction" by Keith Oatley - reading fiction can help develop the art of empathy
Part Three: How to Cultivate Goodness in Society and Politics Notable: "Why is There Peace?" by Steven Pinker — society is becoming more peaceful and humane over time See Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) (less)
Start with: Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh Twelve Steps to a More Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong The Empathic Civil...moreStart with: Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh Twelve Steps to a More Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
This book offers a cognitive behavioral therapist's perspective on compassion and exercises to rewire the brain "neurons that fire together wire together" for a happier, kinder, gentler, warmer (less angry and anxious), approach to life. The authorial interjections can be goofy.
Quotes: "From the very first hours of our lives right through to the last moments, kindness, gentleness, warmth and compassion are the things that can sustain us and help us bear the setbacks, tragedies and suffering that life will rain down on us."
"We are a species that has evolved to thrive on kindness and compassion. The challenge is to recognize the importance of kindness and affection and place them at the center of our relationship with ourselves, with others, and the world."
"We can stimulate patterns in our brains that are self-nourishing, supportive, encouraging and soothing so that in whatever we do to help ourselves, we create in our heads and experience (brain patterns) of warmth, kindness and support as our primary starting position. If we do this, we may find that things will be slightly better for us."
"It's helpful to remind ourselves that many millions of humans are combining all over the world to promote the ethical and compassionate dimensions of life." (less)
This is a fascinating and informative book, which I should never, ever have given to my Dad as a Christmas present.
Firstly, although father is not adv...moreThis is a fascinating and informative book, which I should never, ever have given to my Dad as a Christmas present.
Firstly, although father is not adverse to fact dense books, he is a slow and careful reader and this book is a long slog.
Secondly, while this book has an uplifting premise and the word "angels" in the title, it's filled with gore, vileness and gruesome records of atrocity.
Dad, I read this book so that you wouldn't have to.
Pinker expects his readers to be resistant to the idea that violence is on decline (just look at the news!), so he bolsters his position. His argument begins with the idea that far from being angels now, we have forgotten the devils we used to be: murdering children, torturing women, and likely to stab each other over dinner.
It's a history of homicide, democide, genocide, ethnocide, politicide, regicide, infanticide, neonaticide, filicide, siblicide, gynecide, uxoricide, matricide, and terrorism by suicide. Ugh!
Also, people in the past (use say 1910 as a barometer) were morally stupid, and even, by today's standards, somewhat retarded.
Cold comfort. All this is depressing, as Pinker admits, "After reading eight chapters (the book is 10!) on the horrible things that people have done to each other and the darker parts of human nature that spurred them, you have every right to look forward to a bit of uplift in a chapter on our better angels."
It's accurate to say that the final chapters are "a bit" of an uplift. Pinker says he wrote this book as an answer to the question, "What makes you optimistic?" Judged by this book, he is unlikely to be accused of being a Pollyanna.
He does, however, counter some of our factually mistaken and scientifically unsupported pessimism.
• There's not an inevitable cycle towards war and catastrophe. It's even statistically improbable and there's a trend away from it. • We're not ruled by a violent bias toward predation, dominance, and vengeance. Human nature also includes peaceful traits, which evolution seems to be selecting for, of compassion, fairness, self-control, and reason. • Things aren't getting worse. They are getting better. "The forces of modernity — reason, science, humanism, individual rights — has brought us benefits in health, experience, and knowledge as well as a reduction in violence."
The data is coldly reassuring, while Pinker assesses, "The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."
Pinker cautions against forces that favor violent outcomes such as ideological and utopian thinking and warns us of the dangers of pluralistic ignorance, when people, "...endorse a practice or opinion they deplore because they mistakenly think that everyone else favors it," and punish dissenters.
He suggests forces that favor a pacifying effect: art and literature (fiction, satire, first-person accounts, and reportage); democracy (electing smart and open-minded leaders, establishing policies, norms, and taboos); feminization; and "rights" movements (human, civil, homosexual, women's, and animal and, in general, "...a commitment that other living things, no matter how distant or dissimilar, be safe from harm and exploitation.") as well as, "conditions of democracy, prosperity, decent government, peacekeeping, open economies".
His approach is rational, moderate, and a counterpoint to authors who find that humanity's increasing traits of empathy and compassion are a source of improvement and inspiration.
Rather, Pinker points to our increasing powers of abstract reasoning and understanding of the economic benefits of cooperation. He's quite enthusiastic about this in his way.
Pairs well with:The Expanding Circle by Peter Singer, The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin; The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal; and Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong.
Of note: This is a nice vocabulary expanding book: putsches, suzerain, altricial, eschatological, obloquy, parlous, autarkies, atrocitologists, frugivores, prelapsarian, armentarium, equipoise, immiseration, hagiographic, bafflegab
A sobering note: The kind of arguments used today in discussions of abortion, animal rights, stem cell research, and euthanasia were earlier (and horrifically) used to justify infanticide (the merits of which people also used to debate!):
"In 1911 an English physician, Charles Mercier, presented arguments than infanticide should be considered a less heinous crime than the murder of an older child or an adult: 'The victim’s mind is not sufficiently developed to enable it to suffer from the contemplation of approaching suffering or death. It is incapable of feeling fear or terror. Nor is its consciousness sufficiently developed to enable it to suffer pain in appreciable degree. Its loss leaves no gap in any family circle, deprives no children of their breadwinner or their mother, no human being of a friend, helper, or companion.'"
Quotes: "...as long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular." — Oscar Wilde
"...biology and history suggest that all else being equal, a world in which women have more influence will be a world with fewer wars."
"Though nothing can guarantee that virulent ideologies will not infect a country, the vaccine is an open society in which people and ideas move freely and no one is punished for airing dissenting views, including those that seem heretical to polite consensus."
"One could say that for every presidential IQ point, 13,400 fewer people die in battle, though it's more accurate to say that the three smartest postwar presidents, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton, kept the country out of destructive wars."
"But it is just as foolish to let our lurid imaginations determine our sense of probabilities. It may always be something, but there can be fewer of those things, and the things that happen don't have to be as bad. The numbers tell us that war, genocide, and terrorism have declined over the past two decades — not to zero but by a lot." (less)
Many are familiar with Gandhi's quote that we must, "become the change we wish to see in the world." Armstrong's book offers some practical guidance f...moreMany are familiar with Gandhi's quote that we must, "become the change we wish to see in the world." Armstrong's book offers some practical guidance for how to proceed.
Just as scientists search for a cure for cancer, religious thinkers have advocated for and undertaken a search for compassion.
Using examples from the major faith traditions, Armstong defines and underscores the commonality of humankind's quest for compassion. "All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relations with the transcendence we call God, Nirvana, or Dao."
To be compassionate is to treat others as you would be treated yourself and, to go a step further, to see others as if they were yourself.
"So compassion means 'to endure' [something] with another person, to feel her pain as though it were our own, and to enter generously into his point of view. That is why compassion is aptly summed up in the Golden Rule, which asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else. Compassion can be defined therefore, as a attitude of principled, consistent altruism."
It is also a trait or skill that can be taught and developed. The basic technique is to, "relate your own experience to that of others" "all day and every day," and to treat all human beings with "impartial benevolence," equally, and with respect — to show concern for everybody.
The practice of universal love is not a woo-woo and unattainable ideal, Armstrong stresses, but a serious and achievable undertaking. It is something an individual can do to better the world.
She offers steps individuals can employ to, "...form mental habits that are kinder, gentler, and less fearful of others," but cautions that the undertaking is a lifelong work, which requires study and daily effort, while the transformation is slow, undramatic, and incremental.
However, it is worth the effort both on a global scale and for individual peace of mind.
"...those who have persistently trained themselves in the art of compassion manifest new capacities in the human heart and mind. They discover that when they reach out consistently toward others, they are able to live with the suffering that inevitably comes their way with serenity, kindness, and creativity. They find that they have a new clarity and experience a richly intensified state of being."
The 12 steps are: Learn About Compassion; Look at Your Own World; Compassion for Yourself; Empathy; Mindfulness; Action; How Little We Know; How Should We Speak to One Another?; Concern for Everybody; Knowledge; Recognition; and Love Your Enemies.
The general premise of much of the advice is to take note when you feel deeply, linger on those feelings, and allow your self to feel and grieve with others. Another is to practice being at home with uncertainty, to be willing to have your ideas and opinions influenced by others, to engage in Socratic debate (between friends in which the purpose is to discover meaning-not argue and be right), and to be pliable not rigid or dogmatic. It's a studied cultivation of practices that cause us to be more open, connected, present with others, and selfless. Without the distorted lens of selfishness, we can see others as if in a mirror.
Pairs well with: Karen Armstong's The Case for God (in which she explains how important seeing the world as mysterious and unknowable can be to our well being and happiness); Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save: Acting Now the End World Poverty (which also argues that, "We cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the immensity of global misery."); Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis (which also argues for compassion as a solution for modern problems and makes the case that empathy can be taught); and Thomas White's In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier (the compassionate way of seeing others as if they are yourself sounds like this book's description of dolphin social intelligence - i.e. they won't pass through a tuna net even if there is a hole large enough for an individual if there is no space for the group to escape because they have a shared, interconnected sense of self and see "themselves" as a collective).
The book also comes with a recommended reading list including:The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert and works by The Dalai Lama (An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion) and Thich Nhat Hanh (The Miracle of Mindfulness).
Of note: The four elements of "immeasurable love" that exists in everyone and everything: maitri — loving kindness — the desire to bring happiness to all sentient beings karuna — compassion — the resolve to liberate all creatures from their pain mudita — sympathetic joy — which takes delight in the happiness of others upeksha — even-mindedness — an equanimity that enables us to love all beings equally and impartially
Quotes: "Everybody is to be self-effacing," (Saint) Paul insisted. "Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first, but everybody think of other people's interests instead." Philippianes 2:2-4
"Imagination is crucial to the compassionate life."
"...the sages, prophets and mystics of these traditions did not regard compassion as an impractical dream. They worked as hard to implement it in the difficult circumstances of their time as we work today to find a cure for cancer. They were innovative thinkers, ready to use whatever tools lay to hand in order to reorient the human mind, assuage suffering, and pull their societies back from the brink. They did not cynically throw up their hands in despair, but insisted that every person had the ability to reform himself or herself and become an icon of kindness and selfless empathy in a world that seemed ruthlessly self-destructive."
"So if you want to be a force for good in the world, you should apply the insights you gain in the practice of mindfulness to your daily dealings with others, shielding them from your destructive tendencies and trying to lighten their lives with acts of friendship."
"We are what we are because of the hard work, insights, and achievements of countless others."
'We need to create a world democracy in which everybody's voice is heard and everybody's aspirations are taken seriously. In the last resort, this kind of "love" and "concern for everybody" will serve our best interest better than shortsighted and self-serving policies."
This book lays down the case that we are heading into the age of empathy and biosphere consciousness — characterized by compassion, grace, and a nonju...moreThis book lays down the case that we are heading into the age of empathy and biosphere consciousness — characterized by compassion, grace, and a nonjudgmental attitude toward others — which will be critical to sustaining our modern age, but does not speculate as to what this would look like (seek to predict the future). It ends by posing the question: "Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?" Here's the cartoon summary.
The book is an excellent history of human consciousness and how it is shaped by education systems, parenting techniques, social structures, relationships and energy use. The book looks back in seeking to solve modern issues and provides an interesting perspective on historical events. It's also an etymology tracing the roots and origins of words including "self" (as a noun 1400), "self-praise" (1549), "consciousness" (1678), "self-consciousness" (1690), "vegetarian" (1842), and "empathy" (1909).
I was predisposed to agree with Rifkin's premise that we are heading into an age of empathy. In my imaginative fiction, I often explore the idea of an event that causes us to transcend human boundaries, become more connected, and obtain utopia. In my fantastic vision, this happens in a quick, dramatic fashion.
In Rifkin's realistic exploration of the idea, he draws on the past to make a case for an evolution in human consciousness (mythological, theological, ideological, psychological and dramaturgical) based on changes in technology, energy use, education, parenting and human relationships. Rifkin defines transcendence as "the quest for universal intimacy". In reality, The Empathic Civilization is not a foregone conclusion. He is critical of utopian fantasies (as the basis of empathy is the acknowledgment of strife and suffering not the annihilation of it or escape from it):
"When we empathize with another it is because we recognize her fragile finite nature, her vulnerability, and her one and only life. We experience her existential aloneness and her personal plight and her struggle to be and succeed as if it were our own. Our empathic embrace is our way of rooting for her and celebrating her life."
However, I think envisioning utopias (the future we want to look forward to) as opposed to only imagining dystopic futures (the worst that could happen) is helpful to our collective psyches. If we imagine where we are want to go together, it gives us something to hope for and hope inspires change. Rifkin points out the importance of the novel in developing human awareness. "The first modern novel... was Cervantes' Don Quixote published in 1605 in Spain. It was the first narrative to express universal human themes by the telling of an individual's own story." And later says, "The importance of the novel in the transformation of human consciousness is only recently getting the attention it deserves." Similarly, I think imaginative fiction that speculates about our future has a strong role to play.
It was a somewhat metaphysical experience reading Rifkin's book about empathic experiences and our growing interconnectedness on Kindle with the new "popular highlights" feature, which makes reading a more social activity.
Myself and 31 other readers read this sentence and highlighted it: "Darwin came to believe that survival of the fittest is as much about cooperation, symbiosis, and reciprocity as it is about individual competition and that the most fit are just as likely to enter into cooperative bonds with their fellows."
Darwin (who lived before the word empathy existed) also predicted the age of empathy. He wrote "...of a coming age when humanity will stretch its social instincts and sympathetic impulses, 'becoming more tender and more widely diffused until they are extended to all sentient beings'."
There are some interesting ideas in this book for educators and parents. Rifkin talks about the addition of service-learning projects into school curriculum and the Roots of Empathy Project taking place in some schools.
On the meaning of life: "...the meaning of life is to enter into relationships with others in order to deeply experience, as much as one can, the reality of existence. The meaning of life is to celebrate it as fully and expansively as possible." ... "Celebrating life means living it robustly with others."
On freedom: "Freedom means being able to optimize the full potential of one's life, and the fulfilled life is one of companionship, affection, and belonging, made possible by ever deeper and more meaningful personal experiences and relationships with others. One is free, then, to the extent that one has been nurtured and raised in a society that allows for empathetic opportunities."
On democracy: "Empathy is the soul of democracy. It is an acknowledgment that each life is unique, unalienable, and deserving of equal consideration in the public square."
On empathy: "We are beginning to learn that an empathic moment requires both intimate engagement and a measure of detachment. If our feelings completely spill over into another's feeling or their feelings overwhelm our psyche, we lose a sense of self and the ability to imagine the other as if they were us. Empathy is a delicate balancing act. One has to be open to experiencing another's plight as if it were one's own but not be engulfed by it at the expense of drowning out the self's ability to be a unique and separate being. Empathy requires a porous boundary of I and thou that allows the identity of two beings to mingle in a shared mental space."
On the Romantics: "Believing that human nature is basically kind and good, affectionate, and social the Romantics asked how we could recapture that primal state of being."..."Coleridge and other Romantics began to push for child labor reform. The first child labor law was enacted in 1830s in England, prohibiting children under age nine from working in factories and limiting work hours of older children to eight hours a day until the age of fourteen."... "The Romantics believed that the enemy of being is having."
On animal rights: "Unitarian philospher Jeremy Bentham was the first to raise the question of compassion toward animals in a celebrated 1780 essay, ("An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation") 'the question is not, can they reason? nor can they talk? but can they suffer?'"..."The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was established in Britain in 1824."..."Horace Greeley, a firebrand antislavery advocate, as well as prominent women's rights advocates like Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Bloomer, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were vegetarians and outspoken in their defense of animals." Side note: Recent research suggests vegans and vegetarians may have more empathic brains, "The Brain Functional Networks Associated to Human and Animal Suffering Differ among Omnivores, Vegetarians and Vegans"
On creativity: "...creativity is rarely a solitary process—a work on genius— but, rather, something that is brought out by social intercourse."..."human imagination is tapped into by empathic engagement. It is by imagining and experiencing the feelings and thoughts of others as if they were one's own that one unleashes personal creativity." (ideas of psychologist Jacob L. Moreno) (less)
I was enticed to read The Case for God after hearing a snippet of the book on NPR that told how mystics of the past reached for God in silence, ritual...moreI was enticed to read The Case for God after hearing a snippet of the book on NPR that told how mystics of the past reached for God in silence, ritually acknowledging the inadequacy of words to describe deity. Afterwards, an interviewer questioned Armstrong on her views. She promptly corrected him. "It's not just a bee in my bonnet. I've been studying this for 20 years." I was hooked, curious to hear more from Armstrong.
My enjoyment of the work was no doubt enhanced because I listened to the audio book read by the British author. Armstrong's proper, authoritative tone adds interest. Her work, A Short History of Myth (2005), read by an actor, contained many of the same ideas and information as the opening to The Case for God, but lacked the cadence and emphasis Armstrong gives her own words.
The Case for God is a history of mankind from a theological perspective from primitive times to the postmodern era. It includes the thoughts of philosophers through out the ages from Socrates to Derrida. Having read books on physics, which touch on the theological, it was refreshing to read a book of theology paralleling some of the thinking of quantum physicists and theologians.
The case Armstrong makes is for an incomprehensible, mysterious, mythical, ineffable God. She advocates for our acceptance of unknowing. By embracing religion as a practice of compassion not as a means to an end (a way to answer questions about the cosmos or to prepare for an afterlife) people open themselves to transformative experiences which increase enjoyment of the here and now.
The Case for God shines light between the polarized arguments of atheists and theists and recalls the human history of open-minded discourse on mythology, philosophy and religion. Armstrong presents theology as an accessible, intriguing and useful study and portrays spiritual seeking as an expression of the desire for ecstatic experience inherent in human nature.
Pairs well with: Victoria Nelson's The Secret Life of Puppets, which makes the case that the absence of the mysterious and unknowable in modern culture and American literature fuels, in some, an appetite for science fiction; Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels, a study of the texts and early Christianity. (less)