The Diversity of Life is a practical book (a book that shows you how to do something). The first part of the book (well over 3/4) is devoted to a gene...moreThe Diversity of Life is a practical book (a book that shows you how to do something). The first part of the book (well over 3/4) is devoted to a general overview of evolution - its history, the mechanisms through which it works, and particularly the process of extinction. The last part is a plea, an argument to save our planet's biodiversity. He shows a few of the already-known benefits we have received from it, hoping to prove it is too valuable to be summarily destroyed. Finally, he gives his plan for saving it (which is why this is a practical book; the rest is entirely theoretical): 1. Survey the World's Biodiversity - Learn about species, familiarize the public with them to motivate public support for preservation, and find benefits that will . . . 2. Create Biological Wealth - Make biodiversity economically valuable, if through tourism, long-term harvesting of rain forest plots, pharmaceuticals, or new and improved agricultural products. 3. Promote Sustainable Development - The rural poor in the Third World are destroying the world's biodiversity to put off for a short time their hunger and poverty. We must teach them ways to use biodiversity in a long-term way, and ease their poverty by removing the competition of heavily subsidized farms in the developed world and lifting debt, which can also be done so as to: 4. Save What Remains - No scientific process like cloning, freezing, seed banks, arboretums, zoos, or botanical gardens can ever hope to truly restore an ecosystem to its original state - the climate and conditions are very difficult to reproduce, and populations will have been reduced so low that their genetic diversity will be mostly lost anyway. There is no feasible alternative to saving natural ecosystems. One of the best ways to do this in the Third World (near the equator and therefore home to a large part of the world's biodiversity) is through debt-for-nature programs, in which foundations like The Nature Conservancy or WWF, etc, buy debt in exchange for the creation of more reserves. 5. Restore the Wildlands - Finally, we need to retake the land lost to logging, and allow the forests to grow back. This is accomplished in essentially the same way as 4. Wilson is very hopeful about this and says the next century will be "the age of restoration."
So, I agree with Wilson. I agree that his ends are of utmost importance, and that his ends would reach them. But, though I am perhaps an idealist, I am skeptical those ideas will come about. I feel like there are reasons to be skeptical, but I don't understand them yet, and want to read more before I try to explain them.
Mortimer Adler says that when you read a practical book, and you agree that its ends are good and that its means will achieve them, you ought to go do what the book says. So, I suppose I do feel a lot more inclined to spend my life cataloging and researching organisms right now. But I am not sure I am in a position to realize the changes he suggests. Is that an excuse?
Incidentally, I want to start an arboretum, or maybe something less ambitious to start with. I want to grow those rare plants he talks about, like amaranth and winged bean and the delicious fruits, durian and mangosteen and such.(less)
I am having a hard time finding words for this book. It is ostensibly about Psychiatry, and a few sections treat that subject fairly specifically, but...moreI am having a hard time finding words for this book. It is ostensibly about Psychiatry, and a few sections treat that subject fairly specifically, but the more striking parts of the book seem to have a much more general significance. In particular, chapters 1, 3, and 4 are . . . woah. They are incredibly striking and left me stunned. It fits in a lot with Derrick Jensen themes, although his wording is much more severe and "prophetic" than Jensen's. Particularly, Chapter Four, Us and Them, takes the traditional Anarchist rejection of nations and borders and all that garbage, and applies it in a much wider, more profound sense, bringing it to its logical and very scary conclusion.
Definitely read this, put it on the top of a list or something, go get it, and read it now! It is very short and very worthwhile. (less)
Fromm thoroughly analyzes the human relationship to freedom and the history of this relationship. He determines that, if we are allowed to interact wi...moreFromm thoroughly analyzes the human relationship to freedom and the history of this relationship. He determines that, if we are allowed to interact with the world spontaneously (of our own free will) and fulfill our potentials, we will have gained true positive freedom. This is the end of human progress, in his mind: a sort of anarcho-syndicalist society based on technology. However, we have not reached this point in our development yet, and so various factors are colluding to induce destructiveness and the willingness (read: eagerness) to submit to authority. These factors have arisen because of the course of certain events in recent history. To make a very long story short, the rise of capitalism and the increased freedoms of modern democracies have left the individual alone and anxious, without the safety of a feudal social order or the Church to dictate one's place in the cosmos, and the other side of things has lagged. We have not sufficiently developed the capacity to self-define, to truly become an individual, and to relate spontaneously with the world.
Obviously, I'm having a really hard time summarizing this book. It covers everything, and Fromm leaves no question unanswered. Critically, I'm still having a dilemma regarding the scientific value of his techniques. His claims seemed to be based more on that Freudian species of hypothesizing than on real evidence of any sort. However, this is not the whole of the book, and if these things entirely lack value, the book is still important and worth reading on other merits.
He takes a very clear view to human nature and the nature of society, and the dynamic and impossibly complex way they are related. His explanation of the rise of Fascism seems essentially sound even if it is a bit vague (perhaps necessarily, as he's describing psychological phenomena occurring over a broad population). Further, his ideas regarding the progress, history, and ideal end of the human search for freedom are provocative - though I have decided I disagree. He also understands and articulates the problems with modern society, the things that are causing massacres and meaninglessness and conformity.
His ideas regarding conformity are especially interesting and problematic for me, as they seem to be based on intuitive truths, things we've all experienced, and they are major obstacles to an objective viewpoint in any matter. What I'm referring to is summed up here:
"He has the illusion of having arrived at an opinion of his own, but in reality he has merely adopted an authority's opinion without being aware of this process." Page 215
Fromm is a genius and wrote a decent number of these passages, and, towards the end, starts sounding exactly like Crimethinc. (less)
Reread pages 1-308 and skimmed Part 4 for Anthro IS, May 21, 2012:
Read January 9, 2009: Jared Diamond's Collapse is an extremely huge book. It covers...moreReread pages 1-308 and skimmed Part 4 for Anthro IS, May 21, 2012:
Read January 9, 2009: Jared Diamond's Collapse is an extremely huge book. It covers so many things that the beginning seems almost completely estranged from the end, except that it is logically progressive and makes a lot of important sense. Yet for some reason the conclusion is not the marketed aspect of the book, but rather the building evidence. For you see, this is a book about how civilization is killing the world.
However, Diamond first examines several older civilizations, mostly isolated cases that are easy to use as natural experiments, and defines a framework for the ways a society can fall, and also a "roadmap" of steps a society can take on the way to solving its problems. The first half of the book is fascinating for its history and romantic for its mystery (and because he writes about isolated Pacific islands and the Norse), but the second part is really the important part; after it, the first sort of pales.
At least at the end, it is, in essence, Derrick Jensen, except with a strictly scientific scope and with a different conclusion: Diamond never implies that this problem is inextricably tied with technological civilization, although one section does give really good reasons for this point of view, which he never contradicts (I'll quote below). The first part, that is, was essentially an inversion of Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Essentially, it is just as much of a must-read as Jensen's Endgame: Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, except that it may satisfy people who feel Jensen is too Romantic and sentimental, and that this makes his conclusion less valid or biased. Really, I suppose the conclusion must be a matter of opinion, but the truth of the matter that both of them point out is what you all need to know of, I think. Thus, take your pick; Diamond is the scientist and favors the civilization proposal in a certain sense; Jensen writes with much more feeling, his books are much more emotional, and his conclusion is that civilization is undesirable in any manifestation, ever. Please read one of them, though, preferably both.
"Technology will solve our problems." "This is an expression of faith about the future, and therefore based on a supposed track record of technology having solved more problems than it created in the recent past. Underlying this expression of faith is the implicit assumption that, from tomorrow onwards, technology will function primarily to solve existing problems and will cease to create new problems. Those with such faith also assume that they will do so quickly enough to make a big difference soon. In extended conversations that I had with two of America's most successful and best-known businessmen and financiers, both of them eloquently described to me emerging technologies and financial instruments that differ fundamentally from those of the past and that, they confidently predicted, would solve our environmental problems.
But actual experience is the opposite of this assumed track record. Some dreamed-of new technologies succeed, while others don't. Those that do succeed typically take a few decades to develop and phase in widely: think of gas heating, electric lighting, cars and airplanes, television, computers, and so on. New technologies, whether or not they succeed in solving the problems that they were designed to solve, regularly create unanticipated new problems. Technological solutions to environmental problems are routinely far more expensive than preventive measures to avoid creating the problem in the first place: for example, the billions of dollars of damages and cleanup costs associated with major oil spills, compared to the modest cost of safety measures effective at minimizing the risks of a major oil spill.
Most of all, advances in technology just increase our ability to do things, which may be either for the better or for the worse. All of our current problems are unintended negative consequences of our existing technology. The rapid advances in technology during the 20th century have been creating difficult new problems faster than they have been solving old problems: that's why we're in the situation in which we now find ourselves. What makes you think that, as of January 1, 2006, for the first time in human history, technology will miraculously stop causing new unanticipated problems while it just solves the problems that it previously produced?"
This is also important:
"To grasp the worldwide scale of unintentional garbage transport, consider the garbage collected on the beaches of tiny Oeno and Ducie Atolls in the Southeast Pacific Ocean: uninhabited atolls, wihtout freshwater, rarely visited even by yachts, and among the world's most remote bits of land, each over a hundred miles even from remote uninhabited Henderson Island. Surveys there detected, for each linear yard of beach, on the average one piece of garbage, which must have drifted from ships or else from Asian and American countries on the Pacific Rim thousands of miles distant. The commonest items prove to be plastic bags, buoys, glass and plastic bottles (especially Suntory whiskey bottles from Japan), rope, shoes, and light bulbs, along with oddities such as footballs, toy soldiers and airplanes, bike pedals, and screwdrivers.
A more sinister example of bad things transported from the First World to developing countries is that the highest blood levels of toxic industrial chemicals and pesticides reported for any people in the world are for Eastern Greenland's and Siberia's Inuit people, who are also among the most remote from sites of chemical manufacture or heavy use. Their blood mercury levels are nevertheless in the range associated with acute mercury poisoning, while the levels of toxic PCBs in Inuit mother's breast milk fall in a range high enough to classify the milk as "hazardous waste." Effects on the women's babies include hearing loss, altered brain development, and suppressed immune function, hence high rates of ear and respiratory infections.
Why should levels of these poisonous chemicals from remote industrial nations of the Americas and Europe be higher in the Inuit than even in urban Americans and Europeans? It's because staples of the Inuit diet are whales, seals, and seabirds that eat fish, molluscs, and shrimp, and the chemicals become concentrated at each step as they pass up this food chain. All of us in the First World who occasionally consume seafood are also ingesting these chemicals, but in smaller amounts. (However, that doesn't mean that you will be safe if you stop eating seafood, because you now can't avoid ingesting such chemicals no matter what you eat.)" (less)
I picked this up hoping for a good discussion of the ills of the current school system, how they came about, and alternatives to it. However, this is...moreI picked this up hoping for a good discussion of the ills of the current school system, how they came about, and alternatives to it. However, this is touched on only briefly in the first chapter, an interview with the editor, Macedo, and then in the best part of the book, an essay on John Dewey and the connection between education and real democracy. The rest of the book consists of various lectures, speeches, and debates Chomsky has given, with the implication that doctrinal education is partly to blame for the atrocities of US Foreign Policy he details throughout the rest of the book. The connection is important and sound, but it is not what I felt the book was going to be or ought to be. It is all classic Chomsky, reiterating what he usually says about specific US Foreign Policy examples and how they differ from the stated doctrine. (less)
A disclaimer: I only read the first chapter, the conclusion, the postscript, and the appendix of this book. These are the parts that focus on the theo...moreA disclaimer: I only read the first chapter, the conclusion, the postscript, and the appendix of this book. These are the parts that focus on the theory itself in idealized and theoretical terms. The rest of the book, chapters 2-6, I chose to skip due to time constraints, and consists of historical applications of the theory. For someone interested in the history of the New Deal, the 1988 and 1992 elections (the latter being apparently of interest to modern politics, since the 2008 election was supposedly a rehearsal of it), these chapters would certainly be worth reading.
Ferguson's theory makes everything make sense, both historically and politically. After years of being inundated with the notion that voters have been controlling US politics for the entirety of our history but feeling that this understanding was false and hollow, the investment theory of elections brings a refreshing clarity and focus to the area. Historically, we now know where to look to find the driving forces in political events. It resolves what for me was a lingering doubt about the capacity of ideas and ideologies to independently impel economic, concrete forces in history. My understanding of this relationship is now considerably clearer: the ideology of the populace is not dependent on economic forces, as I had once thought; the reason it is not the driving force in supposedly democratic elections is merely because economic inequality prevents the people from having a real influence on those elections.
This is the political implication of the book, which Ferguson could have made more of. The book is clearly meant for an audience of political scientists, and I think a popularization of his conclusions is called for (and may already exist?) Anyway, what Ferguson wants us to understand is that big business controls politics; that this is most emphatically NOT a democracy. The 'golden' rule the country, as it were (and of course this doesn't only apply in the US).
In order for democracy to exist, real, deep election reform is necessary, reform that heavily subsidizes politics in a way that makes campaigning available to everyone, not just those willing to carry out the policies of rich investors. Until this reform takes place, the interests of our government will be entirely at odds with those of most voters, and thus the policies it enacts will be, to varying degrees, harmful to those voters. The examples of this are almost limitless, but see for example the government's position on climate change, food reform, healthcare, foreign policy (particularly the defense budget itself), pollution regulation, etc. (less)
Jared Diamond's Third Chimpanzee doesn't fail to live up to the expectations set by his later masterworks, Guns, Germs and Steel, and Collapse. The wr...moreJared Diamond's Third Chimpanzee doesn't fail to live up to the expectations set by his later masterworks, Guns, Germs and Steel, and Collapse. The writing is clear and compelling, and the book is overflowing with pertinent, fascinating information.
I came to the book hoping to find some answers about early developments in human history, and he did make clear a lot of the issues that I was hoping he would resolve. For example, when I read Ernst Mayr's "What Evolution Is" a few months ago, I was confused by his supposition near the end of the book that universalized morality is a learned behavior-it seems naive now, I know, but it wasn't until reading Diamond's examination of xenophobia and genocides in human history that I realized that universalized moral codes are a relatively new invention. Not that they're particularly effective.
That is perhaps the most crucial point of the work: despite all of the social systems we've devised that distinguish us from other animals, we are still animals ourselves, and our behavior has clear animal precedents and evolutionary causes. This is why, in contrast to Dr. Diamond, I am not optimistic about humanity's future. All of the behaviors that have brought us to the present brink are things we have always done, and they are things we do not because of our culture or our morality but because of the ways our genetic heritage interacts with our environments. Thus, just as the proclamation "Thou Shalt Not Kill," applied to all humans equally, hasn't stemmed the tide of genocides, no environmental ethic or political policy will be able to make us treat our environment sustainably.
In short, there's a lot of wonderful information here very conveniently presented, and the subjects are all extremely relevant to modern policy. Read it; you'll love it.(less)
Milgram's book came at a fortuitous time for me, a time when I was experiencing a paradigm shift towards an obsession with social determinism. I had t...moreMilgram's book came at a fortuitous time for me, a time when I was experiencing a paradigm shift towards an obsession with social determinism. I had to read the book as part of my University's Freshman Studies curriculum, but I found that it fit extremely nicely into my personal intellectual search to understand what I refer to as the "Problem of Civilization." I had learned that there was a problem (a very serious one, at that) and I had learned what that problem was and how it worked.
But I didn't know really well how it had come to be; I didn't understand the social natural selection that had brought humanity to the point where it is now. And I still don't, completely, but Milgram fills in a big piece of that puzzle. Even if you are not concerned explicitly with the Problem of civilization, if you are at all interested in understanding human history in general (and the two are intertwined to the point that they are nearly indistinguishable), then you will find this book worth reading.(less)
Reading the Rocks is a perfect book for me, since its two themes, geology and humanity's atrocities against the planet, are both things that fascinate...moreReading the Rocks is a perfect book for me, since its two themes, geology and humanity's atrocities against the planet, are both things that fascinate me more than most things. And as a pop geology book, Bjornerud makes a contribution worth reading alongside books that are perhaps better written or give more information, like Richard Fortey's Earth, or Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. She does give information that is still new and fascinating after reading those two books.
However, the latter issue, which seems to be the major theme of the book and her personal preoccupation, is given very little treatment in the book. It is simply stated that we should change our attitude towards the Earth, that we should be less presumptuous and more respectful, and that we should consider our actions more before we take them. She offers no analysis of what humans have done so far, nor does she give any suggestions for the reader about what they can do. She treats the whole of humanity as one individual, with particular attitudes towards the environment and an overarching consciousness and cohesive decision-making process, and then acts as though this unified human consciousness is her audience. This all ignores the fact that human actions collectively are determined as a result of natural social selection and emergence, not of conscious group decisions. And thus the problems we face will not be solved by mere attitude change. The social forces that are destroying our planet operate at a much deeper level than our personal ideologies and attitudes.
P.S. - This afternoon I went to a Q&A session with the author, who made it clear that the things I found fault with above. She apparently wanted to avoid being preachy or proselytizing, and instead merely present the evidence and her sentiment and let the reader judge for itself.
It is overall worth reading for its science value, but it is not particularly deep.(less)
I find it kind of surprising and disappointing that so many of the reviewers here have rated the book so poorly, and more importantly that they have d...moreI find it kind of surprising and disappointing that so many of the reviewers here have rated the book so poorly, and more importantly that they have done so not only for purely legitimate reasons (that they think Perkins is a poor writer; I disagree, but if they think so, they ought to rate accordingly) but because they accuse him of being a "conspiracy theorist." Perkins attempts to dispel this notion at every turn:
"Some would blame our current problems on an organized conspiracy. I wish it were so simple. Members of a conspiracy can be rooted out and brought to justice. This system, however, is fueled by something far more dangerous than conspiracy. It is driven not by a small band of men but by a concept that has become accepted as gospel: the idea that all economic growth benefits humankind and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. This belief also has a corollary: that those people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation."
And this is why Perkins' book is important: it explains, in terms more unwavering and far-reaching than any author I've encountered (including Chomsky) the way the world works. (This is another problem some reviewers cite: that he overstates the extent the forces he cites really affect things.) Perkins explains that the Neo-liberal economics that justify globalization bear the same relation to the way economics really work that US government propaganda bears to the real reasons they are in Iraq (reasons Perkins reveals perhaps more clearly than anyone I've read, again including Chomsky). Perkins rehearses overtly many of the reasons and methods corporations use to increase their profits. These usually include exerting their influence on the government to earn or create contracts that funnel tax money into their own pockets - for example, foreign aid, or military spending.
The aspect treated in Perkins' book is US (and not only US, of course) foreign policy as it is used to open and maintain markets in third-world countries, markets that allow corporations to strip the land of its wealth without losing profits to fairly treating the locals or worrying about the local environment. To this end, the US government and its associates in the World Bank and IMF spend billions of dollars supporting friendly dictators and ousting or destabilizing and discrediting defiant governments (in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Guatemala, Panama, Haiti, Colombia, etc).
Defiant governments of course are not always ideal themselves - though sometimes good exposes over emphasize a good guy-bad guy dynamic, it is really only about profits. As long as a foreign government lets corporations make money, they will be tolerated. No matter how brutal they are. If they try to defy the corporations, no matter whether for the end of increasing the quality of life of their citizens or for their own gain (Chavez vs. Iraq), they will be opposed, discredited, undermined, or deposed by the US government.
In Perkins' account, corporations are not evil. They merely do whatever they need to maximize profits. And of course, that rarely includes fairly compensating workers or spending millions to reduce environmental impact. It often includes lobbying the government to reduce taxes and impose protectionist policies, spend more money on weapons, look the other way on environmental offenses, forge devastating "free trade" agreements with countries with cheap labor markets, and, when necessary, invade a country to maintain access to natural resources.
Read Confessions if you are interested to understand what is really going on in the world and why, if you want to know why foreign aid doesn't seem to accomplish anything. Read it if you want to know the truth.
P.S. Confessions is particularly relevant today, as it will show you the true dynamics of Haiti's situation. The governments providing aid are by no means altruistic, and they have profits, rather than the good of the Haitian people at heart. This is why aid efforts will ultimately result in Haiti's failure to recover from the earthquake and a slide into even more abject poverty. (less)
The Shock Doctrine is one of Those books, one of the books that reframes the evidence in a way that reveals extraordinary deep connections and explain...moreThe Shock Doctrine is one of Those books, one of the books that reframes the evidence in a way that reveals extraordinary deep connections and explains the heretofore inexplicable. Her revelations are manifold: they explain the cruel human rights abuses of military dictators in Latin America, the quixotic fascination the Bush administration had with Iraq, why Israel stopped seeking peace with Palestine, and why USAID, the World Bank, and the IMF have never successfully achieved their missions despite billions of dollars worth of effort.
While the title and subtitle give the impression that the "Disaster Capitalism" is just another way to say "Shock Doctrine," they are really two distinct ideas, each of which receives a large portion of the book. Both are mechanisms by which the global capitalist economy seeks to engulf vast new stretches of profit opportunities - the kind of annexing a lot for very little that has always fueled the growth economy.
The Shock Doctrine describes the way a particular complex of the power elite (Klein identifies them as Friedmanites, ideological descendants of Milton Friedman, but it's not really about ideology - it's about greed) has consistently used coups, invasions, economic warfare, subterfuge, intrigue, debt crises, and natural disasters to force nations to sacrifice their economic well-being and independence to foreign "investors." Such crises create conditions in which incredibly unpopular policies can be passed through quickly - either while the population is looking elsewhere or as a condition for necessary aid in desperate times. As they are so unpopular, they inspire widespread popular resistance, and many of the past century's worst human rights abuses were the direct results of crackdowns against this resistance, a procedure that Klein aptly compares to the breaking of a prisoner during interrogation (this fractalism lends a strong theme to the book and ties it together nicely).
One fascinating thing the book explores is the strange relationship this procedure has had with Democracy. Friedmanite ideologues, including Bush, have always drawn ties between the freedom of a people in a democracy and the freedom of (some) economic actors in a free market. Yet as the policies involved inestimably hurt the poor and working classes, they are never taken up willingly, in a free democracy. The strategies Friedmanites have used to get around this issue as democracy has become increasingly demanded are very interesting. Often, the entire nation is held hostage, in a situation of great need, by the conditions imposed by IMF and World Bank loans - leaders must choose between betraying their people in the short term or the long term. Other times, there is simply no good choice on the ballot - as in the US. In other cases, the measures are negotiated into decolonisation or new government treaties - in other words, economic power is maintained by the elite even when political power is handed over, so that democracy is never allowed to decide.
While the Shock Doctrine's goal was to shift the wealth of nations from publicly held companies and social service programs to foreign investors, disaster capitalism, detailed in the last third of the book, seeks to turn wars, humanitarian relief, and disaster recovery efforts into new fields of profit. While the Bush administration were the unparalleled masters of this, the phenomenon extends around the world, as illustrated by the tsunami stories. In the wake of 2004's devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, multinationals moved quickly to usurp land that formerly housed native fishing villages and bar them from it, reserving it for new resorts for the plutocracy. Humanitarian aid, whether from individual donors or taxpayers, is funneled into profit-earning projects by private companies contracted to do reconstruction. Klein implies that the entire Iraq invasion was essentially a ploy to allow the Bush administration to transfer tens of billions of dollars from the taxpayers to a few contractors, without any oversight on how the contractors spent the money or whether they even completed their contracts (a contractor was hired to oversee contractor ethics. . . )
The end of the book offers a couple of terrible prognostications as well as a few positive ones. The worst, to me, is that the advent of disaster capitalism - the emergence of an economy predicated on disaster, not only immune to its shocks as the normal economy never was, but dependent on them - means that some of the biggest players in world decision-making have lost whatever stake they may have had in a stable world with a healthy climate. Humans are plunging the world towards our doom, and climate change and resource scarcity will ensure there are plenty of disasters for the foreseeable future. We could have never hoped to veer away from that trajectory without a massive shift among Big Business, yet that now seems unlikely. Instead of moving to stop the worst possible futures, Big Business is positioning itself to profit from them. The world of the Collapse will be, like New Orleans after Katrina and Baghdad after the invasion, defined by Red Zones and Green Zones. Wealth inequality will continue to grow, and all the vast resources of our society will be increasingly concentrated on the wealthy, since privatization will ensure that social services will be reserved for those who can afford them.
There is a light, however. The wave of enlightened, informed, and determinedly independent governments in Latin America, led by Hugo Chavez, is inspiring. Our only hope is to begin building new social institutions on such models: community built to community scale, based on mutual aid and compassion. A better world does exist; we've just got to protect it and help it grow and propagate.
One other interesting, slightly troubling aspect of the book was that, since it's largely about economic warfare, there's a lot of macroecon in it. While it was easy enough to understand the gist of what she was saying (the adjectives used are very clear on the whole "Keynes Good, Friedman Bad" bit), I wished I had a better grasp of the implications of certain policies and the debate around them. In one sense I'm not really sure what questions I'd ask: Klein presents a very convincing set of evidence herself that the structural adjustment, free market policies advocated by Friedman directly raise unemployment, raise the cost of living, vastly increase wealth inequality, and divert the dividends from exploiting local resources away from the country and its people and into the hands of foreign investors. These things all seem really obvious - if you lift price controls meant to keep bread affordable, the price of bread will rise; if you lay off thousands of people formerly employed by the state, unemployment goes up; if you thus thrust thousands of people into poverty, wealth inequality becomes steeper. Yet there is a debate about these things, so I kind of wish I understood the matter better. The problem is, there are so many dishonest/misled economists out there who are able to advocate these policies not because research supports them but because they enrich the wealthy, and the wealthy love to have people justifying and advocating expansions of their wealth. Hmm. (less)
Blessed Unrest purports to be about the “movement of movements” that is currently upwelling on a local, case-by-case basis against the symptoms of civ...moreBlessed Unrest purports to be about the “movement of movements” that is currently upwelling on a local, case-by-case basis against the symptoms of civilization's depredations. The book went far beyond that, however, and fulfilled promises I didn't realize it had made. Hawken doesn't spend much time giving history or anatomy of the “movement” in question, and the only specific examples he gives occur in the context of larger points.
Instead, the thesis is of the book is an effective, elegant, and concise synthesis of crucial ideas from landmark books on the subject of civilization: that environmental collapse threatens the economic basis for our civilization (Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed/William Catton's Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change), and that our civilization has been doing some of the most reprehensible things in history with the power it's had (Derrick Jensen's Endgame: Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, E.O. Wilson's The Diversity of Life). He makes these points cogently, without relying on emotional entreaties, and with an interesting breadth of evidence. On top of this crucial background (stated here as concisely and with as much interesting information as I've ever seen it done), he articulates the unique idea of the book: that millions to hundreds of millions of small organizations are arising to act as civilization's “immune system,” as he styles it, against its own self-destructive bent. In the midst of all this, he even finds time for a dubiously relevant but interesting tangent on Thoreau, Emerson, and the Civil Rights Movement.
In the simplicity of his explanations of the Problems of Civilization, Hawken's book is remarkably similar to "The Story of Stuff."
One paragraph in the epilogue sums up the unbearable frustration of our current situation:
“Over the years the ingenuity of organizations, engineers, designers, social entrepreneurs, and individuals has created a powerful arsenal of alternatives. The financial and technical means are in place to address and restore the needs of the biosphere and society. Poverty, hunger, and preventable childhood diseases can be eliminated in a single generation. Energy use can be reduced 80 percent in developed countries within thirty years with an improvement in the quality of life, and the remaining 20 percent can be replaced by renewable sources. Living-wage jobs can be created for every man and woman who wants one. The toxins and poisons that permeate our daily lives can be completely eliminated through green chemistry. Biological agriculture can increase yields and reduce petroleum-based pollution into soil and water. Green, safe, livable cities are at the fingertips of architects and designers. Inexpensive technologies can decrease usage and improve purity so that every person on earth has clean drinking water. So what is stopping us from accomplishing these tasks?”
The solutions are at our fingertips, and only problems of social structure and the dissemination ideas prevent us from saving ourselves. Grassroots groups that fix local problems with an international mindset are the only hope we have of lasting through the next few centuries. (less)
Ishmael was about what I knew it was going to be: an articulate and well-argued presentation of that same old mish-mash of ecological and anthropologi...moreIshmael was about what I knew it was going to be: an articulate and well-argued presentation of that same old mish-mash of ecological and anthropological social criticisms I think of as the Problem of Civilization. The argument runs thus: Civilization is inherently unstable and isn't always so nice anyway, so let's think about it a bit before we get carried away and drive ourselves extinct by blindly following it.
The book is, of course, presented as fiction, and there is this framing device wherein the unnamed protagonist sets up the situation from which the Dialogue will be carried out. That part's all rather boring. And while Quinn makes the argument well, it's an old argument, and there's nothing interesting about its presentation here.
If you know the argument and the discussion (as I had from reading Derrick Jensen and Crimethinc. years ago) then you don't need to read Ishmael (though it's still fun and perhaps worthwhile given how short it is). If these ideas are new to you, then Ishmael is by all means a good introduction to some of the most crucial concepts of modern humanity. Follow it up with some real intellectual works, however: Jared Diamond's Collapse, E.O. Wilson's Diversity of Life, Michael Klare's Resource Wars, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, etc.