As the western world and Evangelical Christians (such as Haugen) alike have gradually become more aware of the far-reaching poverty and injustice around the world, a more concerted effort has started to take place to love not only in word, but also in deed. Yet even in the beginning phases of these attempts to help, many organizations and individual efforts have failed to see the underlying, complex problem of violence as they address the crises of poverty, hunger, and health.
Haugen states in the opening of the book:
"But, the world overwhelmingly does not know that endemic to being poor is a vulnerability to violence, or the way violence is, right now, catastrophically crushing the global poor. As a result, the world is not getting busy trying to stop it. And, in a perfect tragedy, the failure to address that violence is actually devastating much of the other things good people are seeking to do to assist them."
Breaking this down into specifics:
"When we think of global poverty we readily think of hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, dirty water, and a lack of education, but very few of us immediately think of the global poor’s chronic vulnerability to violence—the massive epidemic of sexual violence, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, assault, police abuse, and oppression that lies hidden underneath the more visible deprivations of the poor.
Indeed, I am not even speaking of the large-scale spasmodic events of violence like the Rwandan genocide, or wars and civil conflicts which occasionally engulf the poor and generate headlines. Rather, I am speaking of the reality my IJM colleagues introduced to me in the years that followed my time in Rwanda—the reality of common, criminal violence in otherwise stable developing countries that afflicts far more of the global poor on a much larger and more persistent scale—and consistently frustrates and blocks their climb out of poverty."
As the title suggests, Haugen paints a picture of the destructive nature violence using the analogy of a plague of locusts. In the case of the latter, one can focus on teaching people the best farming techniques, providing the highest quality seeds for planting, and coordinating the perfect planting times, etc... But the amount of effort, the productivity of the farmers, or the working with weather doesn't matter at all when a plague of locusts comes and devours the crops. The devastation is the same for both the lazy and hard-working farmer, though tragically, it is often those who have put in more effort who feel the crushing weight even more deeply.
And the destructive nature of violence is the same as it is with locusts: providing food, creating jobs, and teaching people business skills will not matter when violence devastates an individual or community.
Along the road to understanding some of the complexity of this violence, I read of many elements that have significant connections to our own lives and history, sometimes making this difficult information to process. From acknowledging that most of these broken justice systems in many third world countries are hangovers from the days of colonialism (police and protective force were designed to protect the elite from the masses, rather than to protect all people), to realizing that many times financial gain (often for many of our own foreign companies operating overseas) is prioritized ahead of confronting corrupt justice systems, to seeing parallels of how some Christian circles have also perpetuated the hurt of abuse as they misunderstand (at best) and mistreat (at worst) those who have been victims of abusers, and to seeing how easy it is to ignore cries for help, both here and abroad, it was challenging to understand how connected we really are to some of these issues.
Haugen also insightfully provides hope for regions with corrupt justice systems by demonstrating that in many western countries, the same levels of corruption have been drastically improved just within the last century.
"With all this in mind, the long view of history seems to offer a powerful lesson: namely, that reasonably functioning justice systems are possible even in circumstances in which they do not currently exist or seem unlikely to emerge. Historically, criminal justice systems that protected the poor and the weak did not exist anywhere and, to contemporaries, always seemed highly unlikely. Now they do exist, in lots of places, for billions of people. But in each case, a pitched battle was fought to rescue the public justice system from abuse for private gain, from misuse for political power, from the dysfunction of neglect, and from slavish bondage to outdated, unprofessional, and ineffectual practices.
The vantage point of history allows us to see that the dysfunctions in the criminal justice systems of the developing world today are normal. That is to say, they are to be expected—not only because utterly dysfunctional criminal justice systems were imposed on most of these countries by occupying colonial powers, but also because it seems that every society must very intentionally and vigorously rescue its criminal justice system from dysfunction and abuse."
He turns to specific examples of once-corrupt justice systems that are now considered to be excellent examples of justice systems that are in place to work for the good of all citizens. It was, of course, interesting to read this excerpt on the transformation that began to take place in the American justice system:
"For Americans, the earliest forms of formal policing seem to have emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, when cities got fed up with the way every dispute seemed to produce a rioting mob in the streets. In every country, the story of how policing emerged and why is organically connected to the distinctive story of the society at large—and for many historians, the distinctive story of U.S. policing emerges from the fact that American society was “more violent” than other western countries.
To be more precise, by the middle of the nineteenth century, it was becoming clear that Americans habitually rioted about almost everything: from political rivalries to street gangs’ territorial skirmishes; from racial tensions to labor disputes; from reform movements to denominational theological disagreements—there was almost no source of conflict in American society that did not bubble over into street violence. In the 1830s, thoughtful Americans like Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln began wondering aloud if the young republic could survive “the spirit of mob law,” and the “disregard for law which pervades the country.”"
And yet the author also admits that while a criminal justice system will not totally eliminate systemic violence, poverty, and corruption, this is nonetheless a necessary catalyst for change. How each community will address violence and poverty will look different every time, and we are just now beginning to skim the surface of such issues; yet, we cannot wait to act until we have all the answers, or we will never be able to act.
This book is most definitely a difficult read at times; but it is nonetheless highly important read for anyone living in the western world, particularly those who are concerned about putting hands and feet to the desire to alleviate global suffering, both spiritually and tangibly. And while it is a heart-wrenching read for many of us, this is the heart-wrenching, dailylife for many, many people around the world. Please, read this book. If you read only one more book this year, make it this one! Video Trailer for The Locust Effect https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZRMX... Table of Contents
From the beginning of the book, Richard Louv makes it clear that in his titling of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, he is not just trying to add another another opportunity for parents and physicians to diagnose children and prescribe corrective drugs. Yet, anyone who has had a childhood with time spent in nature should know the effect that keeping a child indoors and cooped up would have on that child's development.
Louv assesses our current situation and looks at the various reasons of why children are spending so much less time in nature/less time outdoors. He asserts that although the "stranger danger" awareness (that has been proclaimed over the past few decades) holds some truth, it may have done more harm than good. Similarly, there is a healthy awareness of the natural dangers that nature holds, but then there is also an exaggerated terror. Often the overreaction to such hype is merely an illusion of guaranteed safety, and it comes at a price: the nature-deficit disorder. And then, there is the busyness, the hyper-parenting and over-schooling that all lead to spending less time in nature, as well.
The book is filled with anecdotes, so I'll add my own. For the first eleven years of my life I grew up on eleven acres of land. I loved playing in our creek and taking walks in the woods. I was heartbroken when I heard we would be selling our house and vowed that I would never enjoy living in the city. (Not that it was truly urban--just a town, really; but vastly different from my first years of childhood, nonetheless.) My dad was very safety conscious, and even a bit beyond in some realms (e.g., making us hold his hands to cross the street while in our preteens). At the same time, he was quite reasonable and risk-taking in others (e.g., I was shooting a gun quite early in life, with his careful instruction). But to the point of how my childhood in the country relates to this book: my dad was concerned that there might be rapists roaming in our woods, which was very much a result of the stranger danger campaigns going on during that time. Our creek was accessed via a short walk through the woods, and as a result of my dad's concerns I was never allowed to take this walk on my own (or even with another child). So it definitely didn't happen as much as I wished--I did long for that alone time in nature. And although my dad's overcautiousness meant I was not allowed license to roam the land, I was still afforded many opportunities that many of my city-dwelling cohorts did not experience. (Meanwhile my husband was roaming the mountains, parking garages, and streets of Korea with his brothers, and I'm gradually growing less and less shocked at what adventures they were permitted to have.)
Addressing the busyness factor, Louv acknowledged that it may be difficult for some to think that spending time in nature is essential if it is viewed from the perspective of being leisure time. To correct this, he points out the importance of spending time in nature in how it affects mental and physical health, both for the parent and child. When viewed from this paradigm, parents who make their preschoolers too busy with countless tutoring sessions and lessons to help "advance" the child will be more likely to make sure their children to spend sometime in nature.
The book also emphasizes that although nature can include a simple backyard or a park, it is quite important that we also view nature as "the wild" parts of nature, and spend time protecting and enjoying that realm, as well. He gives ideas and solutions, and recognizes that "some of any type" is better than "none."
An interesting aspect that Louv addressed was the spiritual element of interacting with nature, and he even addressed some of the specific concerns that many conservative American Christians have regarding such interaction. I felt that he addressed these well, and seemingly, somewhat unbiasedly (at least, without knowing much more about the author than what is presented in the book.)
As a side point, and in conjunction with some of my other reading, I also thought about the common American Christian response to anything that hints of "environmentalism." The apocalyptic view held by many American conservative Christians has predominately been used as the scapegoat that dominion is a license for destruction and that we can carelessly use nature and the environment without giving thought to how our use or misuse could impact nature and people in future generations. Of course, this is a misguided view, and in this view we show our anachrocentricism (I think I made that word up?), ethnocentrism, and narcissistic view of stewardship.
I did find the book to run on in many points and it could perhaps have been written more concisely (and consequently, briefly). For anyone who already sees the importance of spending time outdoors and in nature, little of the book will contain shocking revelations or new information. At the same time, it is a helpful book and does go over many helpful considerations and solutions. For anyone, though, I think this book is a wake-up call.
Whilst mostly drinking water, I enjoyed reading history through a new lens via Tom Standage's A History of the World in 6 Glasses. For every history teacher who has had to listen to the "history's so boring" line from their students, this book will handily prove that the opposite is true. Standage delves into history and delivers more than just dry facts and dates. This unique history presents how these important six beverages became integral to human existence and flourishing and have maintained their place in our world.
Although each beverage is presented in the order of it's introduction to the world, the book also makes an excellent continued history to show the way it has remained a part of human existence even as new drinks arose in popularity.
The history begins in ancient Mesopotamia with the discovery of beer. Although it was a bit different than our modern version, many elements remain the same. As civilization moved from hunter-gathering to a more agricultural society, the introduction of grain cultivation brought about a number of dietary changes.In the process, both bread and beer were introduced, and "bread was solid beer, and beer was liquid bread." Much of the beer in its beginning was quite full of sediment, and so it was usually drunk communally with each drinker using his own straw.
From beer, the history moves on to wine, which flowed (pun intended) out of Greece and Rome, and took elements of those cultures with it as it moved through the rest of the world. Spirits are the final of the three alcoholic beverages before the book moves on to three important caffeinated beverages that were introduced in the more modern eras: coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola.
Some of the history is somewhat surprising: beyond the fact that the origens of beer and spirits were both rather unknown to me prior to this book, I was surprised to learn the key role tea played in the opium wars between the British Empire and China (and how that consequentially led to China further walling itself off from the rest of the world). Other parts are quite sad, such as the role spirits played in the slave trade.
One particular excerpt from this section was quite telling of the greed that trumped all else (106-107):
"The [sugar] industry was heavily dependent on slave labor. Ligon ran into the religious logic used to justify slavery when a black slave, to whom he had explained the workings of a compass, asked if he could convert to Christianity, "for he thought that to be a Christian was to be endued with all those knowledges he wanted." Ligon relayed this request to the slave's master and was told that slaves were not allowed to convert--since, "by the Lawes of England...we could not make a Christian a slave"--so any slaves who were allowed to convert would have to be freed. And that was unthinkable, since it would have stopped the lucrative sugar business in its tracks."
Each of these six drinks share a common history of exposing or exacerbating human greed and conquest, yet each also has some element of unifying and bringing together people and ideas. All of these beverages were, and are, also much more than just an enjoyable beverage. Most of them were important in providing a potable form of water, for use medicinally, or to serve as a form of payment, and even to stimulating inventions and world-changing ideas. Without each of these beverages, our world would look very different than it does today.
This book will likely lend helpful background information to any historical reading or study. Just yesterday, while reading a biography of George Washington, information I'd learned from this book about rum and spirits and the surrounding history provided a helpful enhancement for just a couple of sentences discussing Washington's drinking of "grog" and later on, on discussion of slavery and spirits.
Thanks to Tom Standage and his toast human history, I doubt I will ever look at (or drink) any of these six beverages quite the same again.
Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? offers a comprehensive exploration of essential questions that we face in today's world: from affirmative action to moral limits on markets, from same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, and how we promote enrollment into military service.
As to the title, it could just as easily be called Ethics; this is not necessarily a treatise on merely social justice or law. Nor does Sandel give his readers a final statement on what is the right thing to do in each of these issues. (Although in several cases he does make clear what direction he favors.) Justice explores a variety of perspectives (e.g., Utilitarianism, Libertarianism, Communitarianism) from which to view these situations, and a reasonable explanation of each is given. Sandel also examines these issue through the philosophies of Kant, Rawls, and Aristotle. In a sense, the book is a primer on the development and articulation of secular morality.
This is not a theological treatment of these issues, but a philosophical one. Nor is it done from a Christian perspective. Yet, whatever one's faith, this book asks important questions that cannot be ignored forever. Religion, and particularly the morality of Judeo-Christianity, is impossible to leave out of the picture entirely when considering justice and ethics, as Sandel emphasizes in the book.
This book was referenced by Timothy Keller in Generous Justicewhen discussing the common tendency among secularists to push for religion to be excluded from any politics or promotion of justice. Sandel is out of the ordinary in this instance, as is Keller, to a degree, in his promoting working alongside non-believers as we try to promote justice--an earthly picture of eventual, eternal shalom.