This is a far from seamless work, and lacks the taut world-building power of a mature Le Guin that helps suspend disbelief. This attempt to use SF tro...moreThis is a far from seamless work, and lacks the taut world-building power of a mature Le Guin that helps suspend disbelief. This attempt to use SF tropes to explore socialism's perceived failures is a bit clumsy in that regard, and Lessing seems to have been a little too impatient to get her moral message across (or inexperienced at the genre)...but her attempt to resolve some eternal human dilemmas, particularly the generation gap, was intriguing for me. I might try the next instalment in the series to see if she got better at SF writing over time - at some point...(less)
Comprehensive and illuminating. There have been advances in the field since its publication, but as an overview goes it pretty much is as good is it c...moreComprehensive and illuminating. There have been advances in the field since its publication, but as an overview goes it pretty much is as good is it can probably get for now.(less)
A rather peculiar work, but on the whole, brilliant. I hadn't known beforehand that this was a bundle of separately conceived essays written over a nu...moreA rather peculiar work, but on the whole, brilliant. I hadn't known beforehand that this was a bundle of separately conceived essays written over a number of years, rather than an integrated book. Parts of the structure could have been much more tightly edited, but on the whole the general argument - a call for *balance* between large and small enterprise, rather than a fetishisation of either option - is well made.
Schumacher, in this book, exhibited little understanding whatsoever of the primacy of oil in this book, treating it as interchangeable with coal. Regardless of the reasons behind this - a major error. Unclear whether correcting it would actually have reinforced rather than detracted from his arguments for smaller-scale activity, but I think it would have added to it.
A timeless book, and one that should be read for its explication of broad-ranging principles (and not its dated case studies, which in any case are not that important for the basic argument's strength).
I would recommend reading this together with Hirschman's Passions and Interests. The latter provides a useful introductory attempt at tracing the underlying ethical and philosophical assumptions that lie unexplored in Schumacher's material.(less)
Parts of this are genuinely brilliant, including the overall effort Hirschman made to marshall a diverse array of sources into a full argument about t...moreParts of this are genuinely brilliant, including the overall effort Hirschman made to marshall a diverse array of sources into a full argument about the cyclical nature of private-public engagement. There are some major problems with the argument's coherence. The cherry picking of examples is problematic (see for e.g. his discussion of the supposed absence of political passions once the secret vote was introduced, p. 117-118). There is significant confusion regarding the act of contemplation, as Hirschman cannot seem to decide whether it is a public act (p. 84, 129) or a private one (64). And he clings stubbornly til the very end to the assumption that work for the middle-classes is totalling alienating (133, and see below).
All in all, slightly disappointing, compared to Passions and Interests, at least for me.
19 Jan 2014 -
Not finished yet, but I can see where this is going - so just some thoughts along the way.
It is a good attempt at explaining social movements and political action in the West during the late twentieth century, and perhaps for a period prior to this as well. The arguments are admirably straightforward, accessible and clear. I would also liked to have added 'original' to this, but I suspect Hirschman was synthetising and mining a much larger canon of Western philosophy in order to get the American neo-classic economics profession (or at least its freshwater variant) out of its rational choice straightjacket.
Major gap: Hirschman makes clear only halfway through the text that he is seeking to account only for shifts in political engagement by the certain section society: the upper and middle classes (of the West), as opposed to those lower down on the social scale (from the point of view of social deprivation) (p. 76).
Fine - but within the smaller realm of his focus, there is a serious gap in the analysis. He seeks to make a clear distinction between public and private action - the idea that in public engagement the means and ends have no real distinction. Public action is a pleasurable, even consumable good in itself (and that it can be so pleasurable that the goal itself becomes a source of disappointment).
He claims, by way of constructing a contrast, no such distinction exists in private lives, ie. the middle and upper classes are assumed to be alienated from their labour, and only earn an income in order to spend it in a clearly defined realm of private pleasurable consumption - houses, cars, art, entertainment, food, drink etc:
'One of the major attractions of public action is the exact oppostie of the most fundamental characteristic of private pleasures under modern conditions: while the puruist of the latter through the production of income (work) is clearly marked off from the eventual enjoyment of these pleasures, there is no such clear distinction at all between the pursuit of the public happiness and the attainment of it.' (84-85).
'Even in the process of laboring away at our daily job we do on occasion "savor in advance" certain recurrent private delights that are going to be our reward once the monthly paycheck comes in.' (88)
This is oversimplistic. Work for middle and upper classes is by nature often thought of, and even experienced as a form of long-term comfort - ie. 'careers', 'self-development', a labour of love, a source of positive self-esteem and social status/identity. Of course alienation occurs for many, but it is not a static condition. People switch jobs *because* they seek a more fulfilling, meaningful form of work.
In this sense Hirschman, I think, is still a victim of modernist ideas of Western societies..(less)
A somewhat useful introductory survey to peak oiler concerns. Style is easy to read but stilted - academese that has been rendered into a more journal...moreA somewhat useful introductory survey to peak oiler concerns. Style is easy to read but stilted - academese that has been rendered into a more journalistic form, but in a rather wooden manner. The book's treatment of energy in history is, as is all too common in such books, very overdeterministic, but some points are well taken. The four futurist scenarios - optimistic technogrowth, virtual lives, resource wars, and liberal relocalisation seem useful markers, though I know the market is flooded with these and I haven't been keeping up to date.
There is actually remarkably little in terms of 'sociology' in this book - I had expected a less materialist angle and wanted to hear more about alternative ideas of economic organisation, religion, non-Western views, etc. In Urry's world, western-style liberal capitalism (albeit a more powered down, local, civil society-infused form) is the most desirable end game in town. Almost Fukuyama-ish in some ways. But the notion that greater economic participation (more people making Apps!!!) implies more participatory democracy is rather limiting in imagination. Why not start from the other way around instead?(less)
Little of this, I suspect, will be new to anyone familiar with the brief explosion of literature on peak oil and transition movements since the 1970s,...moreLittle of this, I suspect, will be new to anyone familiar with the brief explosion of literature on peak oil and transition movements since the 1970s, but this is nevertheless an excellent updated introduction to the genre, as well as the reality we are already facing in various forms. It has some warts (both factual and conceptual), but these are minor blemishes on what is generally a well balanced and thoughtful exploration of imminent de-industrialisation in the face of depleting resources, chiefly petroleum. I say well-balanced because everything in Greer's book flows from the view that complex societies do not implode instantly from resource overstretch. Historically it has tended to take several centuries at a time, to the point that it is actually impossible for any one generation or individual living in it to even grasp the sheer scale of the ongoing process (see Tainter 1988 and others).
Once one has accepted this premise, and as well the implications for how much suffering this is still likely to involve on a personal and societal level, Greer's suggested ways to cushion this slow decline are correspondingly sensible and reasonable. We can still make choices within decline, but those choices may become increasingly narrow and painful, depending on how our elites and local societies navigate the early stages of the transition. To speak of peak oil having been pushed back by several decades because of the commercialisation of shale deposits, tar sands, heavy oils etc, is less a sign for optimism than a failure to recognise that industrial societies are burning through the dregs of dense liquid energy carriers. These could be instead helping us to retool our overbuilt, overstretched and dysfunctional infrastructures into systems that will actually endure more than a few decades without a constant need for fossil fuel inputs. This involves not just reorienting transport and distribution systems for food and shelter provision, but weaning entire systems of public health, energy and sanitation provision off fossil fuels, and reintroducing (and learning) older, intermediate technologies that will make more sense in such a world. The longer these processes are delayed, the sharper the decline will be, and the more lives will be lost enroute.
One has to be in the right sort of space to read this. I had been looking for a work that summarily discussed both the impacts of peak oil and the tools we would need to weather de-industrialisation. This has both. To be frank, I am not sure what else there is left to read in this regard, except to get on with things really, and start re-learning the basic but complex (thus labour and time-intensive) skills needed for use in re-localised economies. If this involves reading a book of sorts, so be it. But most of it will be hands-on work from here on.
This is a keeper, and it has the potential to be epiphanic.(less)
Rather journalistic (in a negative sense). Nevertheless useful for an overview of some key developments and debates over the last half century. Contai...moreRather journalistic (in a negative sense). Nevertheless useful for an overview of some key developments and debates over the last half century. Contains material on donkeys and mules as well.(less)
An absolute masterpiece! 50 years on, and it still feels so fresh, so vital, today. There's something quite eternal about it despite how rooted the wo...moreAn absolute masterpiece! 50 years on, and it still feels so fresh, so vital, today. There's something quite eternal about it despite how rooted the work was in the context of 1950s Britain.
I wouldn't have enjoyed this half as much as if I had read it a couple of years back. The numerous threads that Lessing had woven into Anna's inner experience - the fundamental awkwardness of sexual love, political disaffection by the Left, the emotional discipline imposed on parents by one's offspring, and perhaps most crucially, the constant fracturing of the individual into multiple, conflicting identities...remarkable. The novel's own structure works like a charm. It is authentic.
This was disappointing for me. Perhaps it wasn't the right time for me to read this one, I don't know - but for such a heavily character-driven novel,...moreThis was disappointing for me. Perhaps it wasn't the right time for me to read this one, I don't know - but for such a heavily character-driven novel, none of the characters felt authentic nor were they people I would sympathise with. Maybe I don't have an adequate grasp of Victoriana to appreciate what was really going on - but it still felt hollow. Oh well - next!!(less)
This is introductory reading for child-directed approaches to learning and development. Not entirely convinced about his use of anthropological source...moreThis is introductory reading for child-directed approaches to learning and development. Not entirely convinced about his use of anthropological sources on hunter-gatherers,...it seems too simplistic and biologically deterministic. But these seem to be minor points in what looks like potentially a classic in the making.(less)