Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Evolving for the Common Good?



Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why Nobody Saw It Coming
by Paul Hawken

If you need a little boost, a hope "shot in the arm," read this. It is several years old, and I think Hawken has even written a follow-up since the first Blessed Unrest was published (if my information is correct, the second one is called Blessed Unrest as well, but with a different subtitle). I for one get terribly discouraged at times by the selfishness of the people in the world, the corruption of the political process, the lack of interest in the common good, and the shocking lack of civility in public debate. These are just a few of the things that get me down, but you get the idea. Hawken is realistic about the world's problems, as well as the sinful nature of humanity that has led to the inexcusably wide gap between the rich and the poor and the possibility of the death of the planet for which we are supposed to care. He does not sugar-coat anything. He also, however, has traveled the world extensively, looking for signs of hope and encouragement.

Hawken raises the possibility that humanity is actually evolving to be more altruistic, less selfish, and more engaged with the wider world. If we believe in Darwin's concept of evolution and the survival of species that have certain characteristics (opposable thumbs? hairy nostrils?), Hawken's idea makes a certain amount of sense. His thesis is that we will evolve (and are evolving) to care more about each other and our planet, because this is the only way the human race will survive. Just the idea lifts my spirits. No matter how hard some of us try to use all the earth's resources now and not think about future generations there just might be a natural God-given process that can save us from ourselves. That does not mean that things won't get a lot worse before they get better, and I suppose there will always be elements of selfishness within each of us, not to mention the possibility of corruption. However, if Hawken is right, over time the "better angels of our nature (to borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln)" might win the battle more often than not. Wouldn't that be something?

Hawken also uses the metaphor of the body's immune system to describe the vast number of organizations and networks springing up across the globe to combat every ill from child trafficking to poverty to plant and animal extinction. He spends a lot of time on the analogy, describing how cells in our immune systems "network" with each other, carrying messages about how to heal a body's ailment. Hawken makes the point that the whole connected system of (mostly) nongovernmental organizations operates in much the same way. Small organizations with limited budgets can receive assistance from larger ones, and large organizations can rely on smaller ones to be in direct contact with people in need and find out what is going on "on the ground." In these largely informal and undocumented ways, all who are striving to leave the world a little better than we found it can strengthen one another's mission.

Often I feel like my own puny efforts to provide hope in our community (and the world community) are nothing more than spitting into the ocean of the world's despair. They would be if it were just me who cared. But millions of people care, and are doing what they can, where they are, to heal the planet and each other. Recognizing that our efforts are all connected and part of a larger picture was a lift for me. At some level, we already know that we are all connected. However, the way Hawken expresses that connection is refreshing and will give many who are concerned the juice to fight another day.

Reverent Reader

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