Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Kindle and Active Hope

I have started loading books on my Kindle and attempting to read them. I have to say that the experience of reading a book on a Kindle is not the same---for me---as reading a paper book. I am trying to figure out why that is.

One thing is the background colour of the page: it's an off-white colour, a kind of grey. That does not seem to be modifiable. I did modify the text to a sans serif which so far is a bit of an improvement, but the greyness of the page gets to me, it's depressing.

Another thing is that I find reading on a Kindle limiting. I am the kind of person who just cannot read in a linear manner from start to finish. I always read the end of a mystery before the middle. Likewise for most books, fiction or otherwise. I like to skim. With nonfiction I like scanning the subheadings and illustrations in as I go along, I jump around. The Kindle is just not set up for that kind of reading, it is best suited for linear reading. I chafe at that.

Nevertheless I am really trying to get over it, I really am. I have put a few things on my Kindle that I really want to read, and am hoping that the enjoyment of those books will overcome my objections. I do see the advantages of a Kindle, particularly for travelling or for sitting in wait rooms. So I recently bought a couple of Kindle books that I want to read and cannot get through the library, or at least not in a timely manner, nor find cheap used copies on Amazon or elsewhere.

The first is Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We're In Without Going Crazy, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone (2012). I don't know much about Johnstone, but Macy is a longtime engaged Buddhist and activist that I admire. I have read a couple of books by her, including an autobiography and The Work that Reconnects. She deals with the depression and despair that many environmental and social justice activists feel over their apparent lack of success. Active Hope addresses these concerns. I am only a chapter or two into the book, and the Kindle does not really allow me to scan ahead, so the impressions I describe here are limited to what I have read so far.

We see the world today through lenses that are in part of our own invention and in part provided to us by our society and culture. We are so used to these lenses we do not even see them as such, we think we are seeing reality in the raw, the world as it "really" is. Macy and Johnstone say that there are three major prevalent stories that provide the lenses most of us are familiar with.

The first story is Business As Usual, that our society is on the right track and we can continue with business as usual. Most of our media provide and reinforce this story, most of our daily lives are based on the assumption that this story is reality. Our culture is inherently stable and good, there may be a few perturbances but nothing our politicians, economists and other experts can't handle. And while the experts deal with the big problems, we deal with the small ones, getting and keeping jobs, raising kids, maintaining a home, friends and community.

The second story is The Great Unraveling. Our economy is at risk, our politics are deteriorating, our environment is being degraded and destroyed, our climate is on track for major disaster, social justice atrocities abound, our access to cheap energy is disappearing, ...I am sure you can add to the list, you don't need me to provide the details. In short, we are doomed.

This story is also promoted in the media, although more so in the alternative media than in the mainstream. For those who are sounding the alarm on these issues, and/or attempting to fight them, despair and cynicism about our future is rampant. For many of us, this story is too grim to contemplate personally, so we resort to distraction or attempt to focus on the small delights of daily life as the only defense against this rather overwhelming general nastiness.

The third story gets little coverage in the media, it is not particularly newsworthy, it is so big that it is hard to get a good viewpoint on it. This story is what Macy and Johnstone refer to as The Great Turning.

As a species we have gone through a few major cultural shifts---revolutions as it were---and we are going through one now. The Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions are examples of previous shifts. The current shift might be called the Ecological Revolution, or perhaps the Sustainability Revolution. It is the transition from a doomed economy to a life-sustaining society. In its early stages, such a major transition appears to exist only on the fringes, but as it develops it spreads and becomes the new mainstream. We are on the cusp of something we have never seen before, a way for all of us to occupy this planet in peace and security, while preserving our natural world and promoting the highest social and spiritual values.

This third story sounds a bit airy-fairyish, but Macy and Johnstone provide evidence and arguments to support it as a valid view of reality. They suggest reading Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken as further support for this story.

Many people are already involved in this third story, you may be yourself. Macy and Johnstone list three major ways that people are involved or could become involved. They seem to have an affinity for things in threes. Possibly because it is the first number after two, which is the number of duality, either-or, black-and-white. The world may be considerably more complicated than either-or. Anyway, the three major ways they describe are Holding Actions, Life-sustaining Systems and Practices, and Shift in Consciousness.

Holding Actions aim to hold back and slow down the damage caused by Business as Usual. Protest movements, raising awareness of social injustice and environmental damage, caring for the victims and vulnerable, safeguarding communities against exploitation and war; these are the nature of holding actions. Saving the bits of society and culture worth hanging onto, saving as much of our beleaguered natural environment as we can. These actions are taking place at every level, from local actions against fracking, mountain-leveling, and protesting the closure of a local school, to international movements to curtail whaling or the building of bitumen pipelines or going after multinational corporations for environmental damages or corrupt practices harming vulnerable people. These are essential actions but they are not enough.

Life-sustaining Systems and Practices are the concrete building blocks of an alternative way of life. Many people, including entrepreneurs, corporations and even financial institutions, are working at creating positive alternatives to Business As Usual. If you look for it, the internet abounds in examples. Local farm markets, ecologically sound farming practices, research and investment in alternative energy, opportunities to become involved in alternative communities, colleges, ways of living and earning a living that are both satisfying and sustainable. These things are happening all over the world, and multiplying rapidly. They provide ways of being involved that are inspiring and give positive reinforcement to the activity. Small success stories abound, and provide inspiration for further action in those directions.

The Shift in Consciousness is about connection, compassion and caring. Macy and Johnstone cite the Apollo 8 spaceflight of December 1968 as a significant turning point in this shift, this was the mission that provided the first photos of the Earth as seen from the moon.

As astronaut Bill Anders said, We came all this way to explore the moon and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.

It is only recently that we have come to see the world as limited, and all of us in the same boat. Everything is connected, you cannot mess with one small or distant part of the world without significant impact on all parts any more. This awareness is growing exponentially, and every new disaster of The Great Unraveling only serves to amplify and spread this new consciousness. The very fact that we lament environmental degradation, wartime atrocities, abuse of children/animals/women and a host of other evils is some indication of the Shift in Consciousness we are participating in. There is a growing understanding that we cannot survive at the expense of others, we are too connected, our fates too entwined.

Macy and Johnstone point out that for individuals involved in these dimensions of The Great Turning, failure and despair is a constant threat. Not all holding actions are successful, and successful actions are often only partially so. Nevertheless, in the long view and the "grand scheme of things", there is a kind of relentless progress. One action may be unsuccessful but the movement as a whole gains ground, regardless of failure or success.

And that's just the first chapter, as far as I've gotten so far. I'll let you know how it goes.

As one example though of that last idea, I was listening to Thomas Mulcair (new leader of the NDP, official leader of the Opposition) being interviewed on CBC's The Sunday Edition, and he was asked about Harper's recent success in ramming through the omnibus Bill C-38 this month. Mulcair's response was that the Conservatives wanted to put that bill through in secret, to not have everyone know how it would gut our environmental and social legislation, changing Canada for the worse in a huge way, all behind the scenes. The Opposition was successful in revealing the extent of the awfulness, it is no longer a secret. Yes, they did not have the numbers or the time to thwart this bill or even to amend it, but they did put it into the open for all to see. This is important, and not a total defeat or failure by any means. In every defeat there is something to take away for future action. It ain't over.

1 comment:

Wisewebwoman said...

Marvellous post Annie, much to ponder and chew over.

I haven't embraced Kindle or Kobo yet.

Unlike you, I never peek. Never did.

I love surprises!

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