Review of Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken

You are not alone. There are millions like you around the globe, working to make this a better world. Sometimes, though, we don’t see the forest for the trees. But there is a forest. Just as there are many different kinds of trees forming a forest, there are many different kinds of people working to save this planet.

Not so much as save it as remake it. Why would we want to save a death-dealing, life-negating world? Where’s the fun in that? We are diverse and leaderless–that is both our strength and our apparent weakness. But life itself is diverse and leaderless, and it has been around for hundreds of millions of years. As the book points out, in remaking ourselves, we choose to mimic life’s three precepts of cyclical action: we have to consider a process’s whole lifespan, in life and death; in death its energy (waste) becomes someone else’s food; while alive we need to stay within the current solar income (i.e., don’t go into debt, thus creating loss (waste) by using past solar deposits in the form of fossil fuels).

‘Because we are educated to believe that salvation is found in the doctrines of a single system, we are naively susceptible to dissimulation and cant,’ Hawken writes on page 16. ‘Ideologies prey on these weaknesses and pervert them into blind loyalties, preventing diversity rather than nurturing natural evolution and the flourishing of ideas. Ecologists and biologists know that systems achieve stability and health through diversity, not uniformity. Idealogues take the opposite view.’

Isms and ologies solve certain social problems, but not all. You have to pick and choose and be assiduous. Above all, you have to be flexible–be wary of uniformity and accepting of diversity, even if some views are opposite yours.

Ultimately, as diverse as the groups are–whether protecting butterfly habitat in upstate New Jersey or watching multinationals in Amazonian Ecuador or watering the communal garden on Monday night (in total, Hawken simply calls it “the movement’)–they are, to use E. O. Wilson’s phrase, biophilic and have in common an understanding that everything is interconnected. This is a sacred understanding–there is no other explanation–for it follows the Golden Rule, found in most cultures, heeded to their benefit, ignored at their peril. Ultimately, our species must rise to the challenge of the Golden Rule and nurture life in all its wondrous, inexplicable diversity. In that challenge–what Thomas Berry calls The Great Work–we are not alone.

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