Blessed unrest : how the largest social movement in history is restoring grace, justice, and beauty to the world

by Paul Hawken

Paper Book, 2008



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New York, N.Y. : Penguin, 2008

User reviews

LibraryThing member ccarlsson
it’s quite a good survey of the million or more efforts going on around the globe to change direction, to come to grips with ecological and biological sanity and necessity, to wrest control of daily life from the pernicious control of free-market fundamentalists. Hawken labels it a movement without a name, the largest one in human history. I think this is why I finally like this book, because he is calling attention to the invisible things people are doing in their everyday lives that actually challenge the direction of life. Hawken is the author of Natural Capitalism, and though he says some smart things about the problems of markets, he doesn’t systematically attack the structure of capitalist society, preferring like so many New Age entrepreneurs to put the onus on personal choices, consumer behavior, etc. But he’s more sophisticated than most. Here’s some of his argument:

“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!
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LibraryThing member bluesviola
really stupid book. Almost every sentence is invalidated by the next sentence. The author has become amazingly self-absorbed. Not a bad book for maybe high'school students who are completely ignorant of the world today and how we got here.
LibraryThing member eduscapes
Combining the social justice movement with the environment movement has always made sense, but it took Paul Hawken to synthesize all the resources and the build a case for "why no one saw it coming." This quick read focuses on the "big ideas" that bring together those interested in both social justice and environmental responsibility. The second half of the book contains a database with a comprehensive database of vocabulary and key words associated to organizations focusing on these important issues.… (more)
LibraryThing member lindabeekeeper
Millions of small NGOs working to save the planet-- all with individual missions, goals and agendas. Can it be called a movement? Paul Hawkins believes it can. This is a comforting suggestion but I'm afraid the proof is whether the opposition sees this as a movement. I'm not convinced.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
A few years ago, activist author Paul Hawken set out to create a database of every non-profit in the world categorized into a taxonomy, which is now on the web in a sort of Wikipedia community format at - This had never really been done before and he was surprised by the sheer number of organizations working independently to make the world a better place. He found a common thread that all were concerned about the environment and human justice. From this he concluded that there is a global "movement" (a word with many qualifiers) the likes of which have never been seen. He compares it to the "Industrial Revolution" - at the time everyone knew something different was happening, but no one had a name for it or even described it as a unique event, it was both everywhere and unrecognized. Likewise, according to Hawken, this global movement is from the ground up, with no core ideology or leadership, it's an historical mass movement that has snuck up on us and only now being recognized as a major shift.

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.
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LibraryThing member willszal
Very inspiring and reassuring book. The world's really messed up, but their are millions of people working on solutions. Even better their shared environment is enough to produce a shared set of values, even though there's little communication between everyone. The beauty of self-correcting social systems.
LibraryThing member cindywho
The idea of this book was interesting - comparing the network/existence of many small activist groups to the immune system of the biosphere - the execution was difficult to read, with enough fact checking problems and unsupported statements to make me uncomfortable about his depiction of the history and global span of interconnected movements (social justice, environmental, cultural preservation, etc...) The second part of the book analyzes the database that the author is involved with: and that is pretty interesting and worth taking a look at.… (more)
LibraryThing member JanesList
It took a while to get started, but this book was worth the work. Hawken briefly tells the history of the social and environmental movements and then presents the wonderful metaphor that all these small groups working for good are humanity's immune system. As with any book about solutions, you have to read about the problems, which can be a downer, but this book is really inspiring. He's gone on to create an online wiki-database of groups worldwide, and presented a sample list as the last third of the book. This is the weakest part of the book - I ended up just skimming the headings - because it is hard to read and increasingly out of date. You just can't put a website worth of information in a book! For this last part I wish he had used more of his storytelling skills instead of listing.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Couldn't get into it, sorry.



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