Readiing Rant: "Blessed Unrest" by Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken’s book, Blessed Unrest, is a fascinating read. It’s one of those books you can re-read for its refreshing perspectives and sheer poetry. Like any book that attempts to define a movement or propose change, this book tends to lean towards oversimplification especially in the sphere of politics. For example, he states that many social change organizations agree at the level of principles and values. Let’s face it: If you go to a sufficiently high level of abstraction, all groups would agree on everything that is life-sustaining & egalitarian. Politics is way more complex – it’s about getting and protecting and giving which involves that old devil, power. 

 Hawken writes beautifully & his quotes & references, obviously selective, lend themselves to his central idea which is (in a nutshell):

I now believe there are over one — and maybe even two — million organizations working toward ecological sustainability and social justice.
By any conventional definition, this vast collection of committed individuals does not constitute a movement. Movements have leaders and ideologies. People join movements, study their tracts, and identify themselves with a group. . . . This movement, however, doesn’t fit the standard model. It is dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent. It has no manifesto or doctrine, no overriding authority to check with. It is taking shape in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, companies, deserts, fisheries, slums — and yes, even fancy New York hotels. . . . Rather than a movement in the conventional sense, could it be an instinctive, collective response to threat? Is it atomized for reasons that are innate to its purpose? . . . .
I sought a name for the movement, but none exists. I met people who wanted to structure or organize it — a difficult task, since it would easily be the most complex association of human beings ever assembled. Many outside the movement critique it as powerless, but that assessment does not stop its growth.

Reading this, I had to ask: What’s the point of having all of these organizations if in the long-term corporations continue to pollute our water, skies, soil & minds? What’s being achieved outside of a narrow sense of self-satisfaction? This is where politics comes in – as journalist Matt Bai puts it in his book The Argument

Successful political movements aren’t built on the common values that all Americans share, but on the arguments that lay out how, as a country, we can best live up to them. . . . It’s not enough to tell people that they ought to have health care and good schools and lots of jobs; they already know this. The point of a political movement is to explain why these things are lacking and to advance an argument about how we should adapt to the larger forces that led us here.

What I liked most about the book besides Hawken’s  beautiful prose & heart-felt desire to be trans formative, is the Appendix which consists of an elaborate list of issues that nonprofit groups are working on – from poverty alleviation to gender equality. Hawken’s vision may fall short when it comes to direct political action, but he does scatter the seeds for its growth even if that may not have been his intent. This book is well worth the time to read and absorb so check it out!

I recently read Paul Hawken’s commencement address to the Class of 2009 (University of Portland) which is just outstanding. Check it out here.



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