Blessed unrest tells the story of a worldwide movement that is largely unseen by politicians or the media. Hawken, an environmentalist and author, has spent more than a decade researching organizations dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social justice. From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person causes, these organizations collectively comprise the largest movement on earth. This is a movement that has no name, leader, or location but is in every city, town, and culture. It is organizing from the bottom up and is emerging as an extraordinary and creative expression of people's needs worldwide.
“Critics of the movement complain that it is against free markets, expanding wealth, and security, which is not true. What is missing in that critique is a discussion of how we gauge sufficiency. A sense of balance—of knowing what is too much wealth, what is too much power, what constitutes license instead of freedom—is not easy to achieve, but it raises crucial questions.” (p. 183)
“We live in a faith-based economy, and by that I do not refer to religious practice. People are asked to place their faith in economic and political systems that have polluted water, air and sea; that have despoiled communities, sacked workforces, reduced incomes for most people in the world for the past three decades, and created a stratosphere sufficiently permeated with industrial gases that we are, in effect, playing dice with the planet. One does not have to demonize the corporate system to recognize that it has no means to account for its negative impacts, except as a charitable footnote to its annual reports if it is inclined to donate a small part of its earnings. As that faith begins to seem more and more misplaced, the way to change the world is to change one’s own practices, including one’s home, source of energy, method of agriculture, diet, transport patterns, and communities… Efforts must continue to be directed to bring about institutional change, but such efforts cannot succeed unless people reexamine how they behave and consume in their own lives. The movement can be seen as weak when measured against large institutions, but its goals are more important. The goal is to create a more resilient social and economic understory in what is basically an oligarchic world, a powerful act that restores a measure of autonomy and power to citizens.” (p. 174-175)
Ultimately I welcome his contribution to the discussion, but missing from his view, like most well-meaning liberal critiques, is the deep underpinning to our daily lives: our work. Everyday we go back to work and do what we’re told. As long as that holds true, no amount of good shopping is going to meaningfully erode the control of the oligarchies running this world. There may be a slow-boiling war on between the unnamed movements across the planet and the rapacious logic of financial gain at all costs, and it’s a good start to notice the contending worldviews that are in conflict. But for the inchoate, broad, multifaceted movements from below to gain the upper hand and really redesign life, they’ll have to face the bigger political issues of power and force eventually. To a great extent that can be avoided in tandem with avoiding the basic issues of control over resources and work, but when we finally begin to assert our right to do work of our own determining, shaped by needs and desires we define together rather than by an endless sea of individual transactions, we’ll come face to face with the real battle. I can’t wait!
I think Hawken's message is a powerful one and will appeal to the millions of people working in small groups in isolation against large and powerful forces. Hawken does in fact describe a new trend that has been observed by others: the recent rise, proliferation and influence of NGOs. Hawken contends top-down organizations led by ideologies are old school 20th century, the future is distributed small organic holistic, sort of like how Wikipedia is made, millions of individuals (small and large NGOs) contributing expertise on a local basis that has the net effect of global human and environmental justice.
I had some problems with the book, it is clearly a one-sided manifesto and much of it is historical anecdote of well known incidents (the Bolivian water wars, the India coke pesticide case, etc..) and presents a single side. These issues are extremely complex, it is rarely so easy to say there are good and bad guys, it is harmful IMO to present these controversial issues so one-sided and hold them up as poster children for reform. Why not look at the real undisputed success stories that everyone can get behind? He does in some cases such as Rachel Carson's fight against DDT. Overall I was touched by Hawken's passion, vision and (ironically) his idealism.