Research study: Hawken’s ‘Blessed Unrest’ (section of chapter 5)

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

“Hardt and Negri, quoted by Baer (2012:303), state that “only movements from below” possess the “capacity to construct a consciousness of renewal and transformation”. These words – ‘renewal and transformation’ – are synonymous with the word ‘change’; it was seen in Chapter 4 that part of the impact of dominant Promethean characteristics is the prevention of change and instead the perpetuation of the problematic characteristics themselves. Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest (2007) is a book about a movement away from ‘the Promethean’ and instead towards ‘renewal and transformation’: “coherent, organic, self-organised congregations involving tens of millions of people dedicated to change” (2007: 4). It is a movement constituted by “over one – and maybe even two – million organisations working towards ecological sustainability and social justice” (2007: 2). Hawken (Ibid) is quick to point out that by conventional standards, “this vast collection of committed individuals does not constitute a movement”. Conventional movements “have leaders and ideologies. People join movements, study their tracts, and identify themselves with a group. They read the biography of the founder(s) or listen to them perorate on tape or in person. Movements, in short, have followers” (2007: 2-3). These characteristics of conventional movements seem somewhat Promethean: a power hierarchy is discernable, as is something of a ‘herd-mentality’ (the ‘followers’ of a typical movement) that could be easily manipulated by dominant authorities. Hawken (2007: 3) differentiates between potentially Promethean ‘movements’ and the kind of phenomenon he denotes with the same word:

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. One of its distinctive features is that it is tentatively emerging as a global humanitarian movement arising from the bottom up. Historically social movements have arisen primarily in response to injustice, inequalities, and corruption. Those woes still remain legion, joined by a new condition that has no precedent: the planet has a life-threatening disease, marked by massive ecological degradation and rapid climate change[;] … perhaps [this is] the growth of something organic, if not biologic. Rather than a movement in the conventional sense, could it be an instinctive, collective response to threat? …

From a brief consideration of the above extract from Blessed Unrest, the following distinctions between the character of this type of ‘movement’ and that of ‘advanced industrial competitive consumer free-market neoliberal capitalist democracy’ is already clear:

  • Being dispersed versus the ‘concentration’ / monopolisation of capitalism; constituted by a heterogeneous array of autonomous units versus the homogenised character of neoliberal globalised systems.
  • Having no manifesto or doctrine versus the dogmas of dominion-focused Christianity, Promethean science and technology, neoliberal ‘free’-market capitalism focused on the pernicious paradoxical concept of endless-growth, and business-dominated ‘democracy’.
  • Having no authority to ‘check with’ versus the overriding authority of the neoliberal capitalist state(s) that, via the fractional-reserve monetary system, is always indebted to the reserve bank(s), the ultimate ‘authority’ in current neoliberal capitalist systems.
  • Responding to injustice, inequalities and corruption versus causing them.
  • Attempting to ‘respond to’ ecological degradation and climate change versus causing them.
  • Potentially resonating with organic processes versus organically-destructive ones.

These points show an obvious distinction between the Orphic and the Promethean. Hawken later (2007: 18) says of the movement that in contrast

to the ideological struggles currently dominating global events and personal identity, [the] movement has come into being [and] does not invoke the masses’ fantasized will but rather engages citizen’s localised needs. This movements’ key contribution is the rejection of one big idea in order to offer in its place thousands of practical and useful ones. Instead of isms it offers processes, concerns, and compassion. The movement demonstrates a pliable, resonant, and generous side of humanity. It does not aim for the utopian, which itself is just another ism, but is imminently pragmatic. (2007: 18)

He also states (2007: 141) that one of “the differences between the bottom-up movement erupting around the world and established ideologies is that the movement develops its ideas based on observation, whereas ideologies act on the basis of belief or theory”. From these previous two quotes can be seen obvious contrasts to Promethean systems, most notably the focus on localised needs, the consideration of thousands of ideas, and the act of observation. It was shown in Chapters 2, 3 and 4 that the Promethean characteristics and systems focused on in those chapters all impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach on communities and ecosystems by default (as evidenced in those chapters – think of globalisation and the accompanying spread of the fractional reserve banking industry, monocropping fossil-fuel based agriculture, transport systems, business-focused democracy, etc.). The organisations and people involved in the ‘unnamed movement’ Hawken writes about often respond to the issues (which first requires careful observation of causes and effects etc.) that accompany the default systemic and ideological modus operandii of neoliberal free-market capitalist democracy. This is noticeable in the following lengthy (but important) extract from Blessed Unrest (2007: 11), where the issues that the ‘activists’ are responding to clearly resonate with the issues and ideologies examined in Chapters 1 to 4:

Clayton Thomas-Muller speaks to a community gathering of the Cree nation about waste sites on their native land in Northern Alberta, toxic lakes so big you can see them from outer space. Shi Lihong, founder of Wild China Films, makes documentaries with her husband on migrants displaced by construction of large dams. Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez, a member of the Maya-Kaqchikel people, fights for full accountability for tens of thousands of people killed by death squads in Guatemala. Rodrigo Baggio retrieves discarded computers from New York, London, and Toronto and installs them in the favelas of Brazil, where he and his staff teach computer skills to poor children. Biologist Janine Benyus speaks to twelve hundred executives at a business forum in Queensland about biologically inspired industrial development. Paul Sykes, a volunteer for the National Audubon Society, completes his fifty-second Christmas Bird Count in Little Creek, Virginia, joining fifty thousand other people who tally 70 million birds on one day. Sumita Dasgupta leads students, engineers, journalists, farmers, and Adivasis (tribal people) on a ten-day trek through Gujarat exploring the rebirth of ancient rainwater harvesting and catchment systems that bring life back to drought-prone areas of India. Silas Kpanan’Ayoung Siakor, who exposed links between the genocidal policies of former president Charles Taylor and illegal logging in Liberia, now creates certified, sustainable timber policies.

The main point is to draw attention to the diversity and size of this unnamed movement that so clearly is polarised to the problematic characteristics, ideologies and consequences of AIS. Already stated above is the rough figure of one to two million organisations worldwide; also apparent is the range of organisation types that constitutes it, as seen in the previous extract. Hawken used the website called[1] at the time of writing his book to ascertain the size of the unnamed movement: was a global village for sharing and kinship-building that was launched on Earth Day 2007 and closed on Earth Day 2014. helped the global movement of people and organizations working toward social justice, indigenous rights, and environmental stewardship to connect, collaborate, share knowledge, and build alliances.

Having closed its database in 2014, it is not possible to see the change in numbers of organisations that currently participate in the unnamed movement. However, Hawken included the database category summaries and sizes in his book as an appendix – an appendix that is 107 pages long (2007: 195 – 302). A random opening of the book to one of these pages landed on page 250, which happens to be under the sub-section ‘Greening of Industry’ (2007: 248). Here it is shown that (in 2007) there were 4346 listed organisations focused on Recycling and Reuse, 178 on Sustainable Materials, and 258 on Sustainable Production. This is one random page of 107 pages; a continued perusal of the appendix reveals a vast range of sub-sections – energy, fisheries, health, sustainable cities and design, media, work, etc. – all of which have numerous listed areas of focus where the number of associated organisations are tallied; and the numbers are considerable in size.

Hawken provides very clear examples of alternative living practices that are associated with the movement (2007 :175):

[T]he 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. … [Y]ou can’t get there from here by any mechanism that depends on support from institutions that benefit from the status quo. …[P]eople [must] re-examine 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.

Individual action is clearly emphasised as being of the utmost importance in responding to the ecological crisis, while ‘institutionalised’ (in the Promethean sense) processes are cast into doubt in this regard. This resonates with themes already encountered in Chapter 4, for example, the tendency for citizens to believe that voting is sufficient political action. Voting is theoretically supposed to legitimate the power of government; these movements are all non-governmental organisations. As such, there is no leader, as there is in supposedly democratic political systems, where power flows from the top down; instead, the movements orgainse horizontally, so there are many leaders versus followers. Much more than mere voting is needed as a response from members of the public, and the organisations that constitute the unnamed movement all offer parts of what Hawken calls a resilient “understory” (Ibid) for people to tap into and thereby gain orientation regarding how to take practical steps towards sustainability.

Hawken (2007: 4) offers readers the following thought-provoking comment:

When asked at colleges if I am or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet the people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart. (2007: 4).

The science has been touched upon in Chapter 1; what is happening on earth today in Chapters 2, 3 and 4. Chapter 5 has turned towards some of the reasons for optimism in the face of what appears to be catastrophic consequences for climate and ecology over the following decades and centuries. Hawken (2007: 165) elaborates on reasons for optimism:

These groups defend against corrupt politics and climate change, corporate predation and the death of the oceans, governmental indifference and pandemic poverty, industrial forestry and farming, and depletion of soil and water. … Individuals are associating, hooking up, and identifying with one another. From that meeting and experience they are forming units, inventing again and again pieces of a larger organism, enjoining associations and volunteers and committees and groups, and assembling these into a mosaic of activity as if they were solving a jigsaw puzzle without ever having seen the picture on its box. The insanity of human destructiveness may be matched by an older grace and intelligence that is fastening us together in ways we have never before seen or imagined.

 The reference to ‘an older grace and intelligence’ is a clear link to the ways of thinking and living associated with older cultures, as discussed in the previous sub-section. Hawken’s optimism in this regard can be further understood in light of his ‘biological’ metaphor for the movement, one that is again compatible with ideas associated with older cultures and the Orphic. He writes (2007: 141-142),

The movement is that part of humanity which has assumed the task of protecting and saving itself. If we accept that the metaphor of an organism can be applied to humankind, we can imagine a collective movement that would protect, repair and restore the organism’s capacity to endure when threatened. If so, that capacity to respond would function like an immune system, which operates independently of an individual person’s intent. Specifically, the shared activity of hundreds of thousands of nonprofit organizations can be seen as humanity’s immune response to toxins like political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation.

Here is a powerful resonance with a more organic view of life on the planet, one where human beings are seen as part of nature, and accordingly it resonates with ‘the Orphic’ attitude (Hadot 2008: 92) as discussed in the introduction to this chapter. This organic metaphor would be intolerable in strictly reductionist science, as explored in Chapter 3. To repeat part of an extract that appeared near the start of this sub-section in order to draw explicit attention to the importance of the metaphor, “…perhaps [this was] the growth of something organic, if not biologic. Rather than a movement in the conventional sense, could it be an instinctive, collective response to threat?” This question will end this sub-section and be brought back into focus (indirectly, at least) in the sub-section examining Sheldrake’s morphic resonance.

[1] accessed 5 May 2015