Monday, December 28, 2009


I am currently in the middle of a reading jag. Work has been quiet, I am commuting by train rather than bike, and I am currently off from work for the holidays. It means I have a lot of time to read and so I am. I am reading books on ecology, soil science, systems thinking, social transformation, Buddhism, you name it... So expect a lot of book reviews in the upcoming weeks.

Jim is an interesting guy that I am getting to know. He has a scientific background and wide
ranging interests (though a lot of it is focused on grazing and soil), so when I saw him with a
book a while ago, I asked him what he was reading. The book that he showed me was Threshold by Thom Hartmann. I hadn't heard of Thom Hartman, though apparently he's written a lot of books and is a radio personality. When I looked the book up in the library catalog it had a review attached that claimed "What begins as skillful (and scary) prognostications about climate change's impact devolve into an unfocused mishmash..." It made it sound very new agey, but what the heck.

Hartmann begins the book by stating he sees us at three 'thresholds': an ecological crisis, an
economic crisis, and a population crisis. He then claims that what brought us here were four
mistakes: 1) The belief that we are separate from nature, 2) The belief that our economic system is 'divine' and separate from us, 3)The belief that men should run the world and women are their property, and 4) The belief that 'the best way to influence people is through fear rather than through the power of love, compassion, or support.' (So far the only thing I would challenge is belief 3 which I think should be extended to include all cases where a group of people are defined as superior to other people--whites over people of color, heterosexuals over queer folk, Christians over nonChristians, etc, etc, as well as the stratifications of economic inequality.)

The introduction to the book takes place in Darfur where Hartmann discusses Maslow's hierarchy of needs (see my post of 9/2/08) and posits what he calls Maslow's Threshold--before we can move forward we need to at least make sure that everyone's Physiological and Safety Needs are met.

Hartmann then goes into depth discussing each of the three 'thresholds' and four 'mistakes'
outlined two paragraphs above, devoting a chapter to each of these. He sees our industrial system as resembling cancer (an insight I've had) and talks about the need for a 'circular and sustainable way of life'. He states that "those cultures that most embrace the largest number of their people in an egalitarian and democratic way... are the ones that have the highest quality of life." He notes "Every culture in the past that experienced the cataclysmic consequences of its dominator... behavior and survived went on to transform itself into a cooperator... culture." And he sites studies that show "...that animals will always choose democracy over despotism..." (In other words, the group, not some individual animal, decides.) He concludes this section by stating: "Those who advocate a dog-eat-dog... approach to economics and governance are advocating, essentially, cancer in our body politic. They are ignoring the surrounding environment, which demands a balanced, homeostatic, and altruistic culture." (Sounds good to me.)

The next section of the book focuses on some alternatives, looking at the Danish state as an example of a place that gets it right; contrasting the Maori culture which, Hartmann claims, used up all its resources on hunting everything to extinction and had descended into cannibalism, with the people of New Caledonia who had 'developed a democratic, egalitarian culture.' (According to Hartmann the difference is that the Maori had been on New Zealand for 700 years and had come to their crisis point, the people of New Caledonia had been there for 3,500 years and had already come through a similar crisis.) And he concludes this section by looking at an ancient Peruvian city that had a peaceful society for a thousand years.

The subtitles from Hartmann's final chapter sum up his ideas for changing things: 'Recovering a Culture of Democracy', 'Reunite Us with Nature', 'Create an Economy Modeled on Biology', 'Balance the Power of Women and Men', and 'Influence People by Helping Them Rather Than Bombing Them'. While the details of his solutions are not radical enough for me (he doesn't really challenge capitalism and nationalism), I would hardly call it New Agey or 'an unfocused mishmash'. (Maybe the reviewer didn't like the fact that Hartmann didn't offer a single solution to all the problems...) Of course, I think that my quartet of Simplicity, Equality, Community, and Sustainability are direct answers to the four 'mistakes'--but if you've been reading this blog a while, I'm sure you knew that. Still, this is a worthwhile book with some good analysis and good ideas on how to change things. I think it's worth a read.

Quote of the Day: "Our goal must be to bring all our own people--and then the rest of the world, in each culture's own way--above Maslow's threshold of safety and security so they can seriously engage in the egalitarian and liberal concepts of democracy and survivability. Whatever country, religion, organization, or culture that does that will then have the minds and hearts of the people, and can drive from the bottom up the kinds of change that will bring stability, freedom, peace, and sustainability to the world....
"Now saving the world is your work, too. Tag--you're it!" - Thom Hartmann


Norah Cook said...

I listen to Thom Hartman on the radio--lots of common sense and compassion--glad to see your review! He is also author of Last Days of Ancient Sunlight, about the end of oil. Looking forward to going into the 21st with likeminded people, regardless of what the power people do to try to gain wealth, security, comfort, and so on at the expense of all other living beings. I think we can have a grand time and support one another in a grassroots way that will in the long run be the most sensible and the most kind.
Now, Tag! someone else is it!

MoonRaven said...

I appreciate your idea that we can support each other (and 'have a grand time' in the process while building from the grassroots. It's encouraging to think of working together with 'likeminded people'.

I noticed that book, Last Days of Ancient Sunlight. I will have check it out.

Thanks for commenting. I think maybe we should say at this point that *everybody* is it!