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PGI Picks #14: Jared Diamond, Charles Eisenstein, and Richard Branson (!)

A series highlighting our team’s book, film, and podcast recommendations in the post growth and sustainability realms.

By Brian Kelly, Jen Hinton, Donnie Maclurcan and Oliver Lovell

The Ascent of HumanityCharles Eisenstein

To me, this book is a true post growth masterpiece. It’s difficult to describe in so few words, but here goes…

The Ascent of Humanity is a book about the evolution of human consciousness. It starts with the underlying story humanity tells itself (i.e.- the destiny of becoming master of the universe). In coming to a deeper understanding of what this story means and what importance it carries for us all, the book outlines how this story emerged as a natural part of the human species’ development of consciousness. He follows this co-evolution of human consciousness and the story of humanity’s destiny in many important areas, including linguistics, art, mathematics, religion, technology, and the keeping of time. The book explores how our expansion of awareness and understanding in all of these areas has resulted in a false sense of separation; separation from nature, separation from other people and even separation from ourselves.

The book posits that this is the reason we find ourselves in such enormous crises now. As a result of this sense of separation, we have sought ever more control over nature, by means of technology, as well as control over human nature, by means of culture. But this attempt to control is actually doing more harm than good, because it is based on an illusion of separateness.

Yet, Eisenstein sees hope in all of this. For, with this holistic view, zoomed out in time and space, one can also see that this is not the end of the story, it is still evolving. Humanity is still learning from itself and the world around it. The last 10,000 years or so of human development have marked the Age of Separation, but the next stage in our development is the Age of Reunion. The last sections of The Ascent of Humanity are dedicated to exploring how the Age of Reunion is taking shape right now and what it might look like in the future. It is a truly positive vision and one that really resonates with me, as it takes into account all of the dysfunctional aspects of today’s world and, working with the complexities of our systems, shows the way to something better.

It is so timely that, while reading it, I felt surprised every time I remembered it was written nearly six years ago. I highly recommend this epic read! — Jen

Screw Business As Usual — Richard Branson

I admire Richard Branson’s enthusiasm and I think his approach to business has certainly inspired many. Unfortunately, his legacy seems to be more about people looking for the next big idea to make money and less about creating greater social equity.

In Screw Business as Usual, Branson seemingly tries to rectify this legacy. He asks readers to flip on its head the model of capitalistic business that made him so financially wealthy and focus on social outcomes ahead of profits. Why? In part, he argues, because this will result in greater profits.

But Branson’s arguments prove shallow. He fails to consider our inability to decouple economic growth from environmental impacts fast enough to ameliorate our emerging ecological woes; he presents no critique of our world’s pervasive inequalities as supported by the quest for private profits; and he frequently falls into reductionist thinking, especially on matters of aid and development which he treats as totally disconnected from the many money-focussed businesses he has inspired and created throughout his lifetime. His arguments, whilst supported by numerous case studies, present no significant variation on triple-bottom line thinking, which has been around for decades. If, for example, you really focus on social outcomes first and profits second, then that legally fits a ‘not-for-profit’ model — but Branson barely wavers when it comes to exploring models outside those that are business as usual.

From reading his book, I get the sense that, along with men like Bill Gates and Dick Smith, Branson is open to radical ideas, but only as long as they fit within his existing worldview. In this sense, his always generous and strategic praise of friends and colleagues ends up feeling more like a nifty piece of peer-marketing that could have contributed more as a short essay. — Donnie

Collapse — Jared Diamond

Over the past 12 months I have read two books that have had a profound effect on my view of humanity and our place in both the animal kingdom and in the timeline of the universe. They are both by Jared Diamond.

After reviewing Diamond’s “ The Third Chimpanzee, I wondered what other topics Jared could shed some light on, and so it was that a couple of weeks ago I picked up Diamond’s “ Collapse-how societies choose to fail or succeed”.

Jared describes the structure of his book as “a boa constrictor that has swallowed two very large sheep.” What he means is that he discusses many past and present societies (Modern Montana, Easter Island, Pitcairn and Henderson Islands, The Anasazi, The Mayans, The Greenland Norse, Rwanda, The Dominican Republic and Haiti, China, and Australia) but explores two societies in particular detail, Modern Montana and Norse Greenland.

In Jared’s Ted Talk on the book, he also focuses on the Greenland Norse. This society provides a particularly relevant example of collapse, because they were a European society, sharing many customs and beliefs with the current western world, and because their use of writing provides us with a particularly detailed account of their demise.

Jared analyses the collapse or survival of all these societies with a 5 point framework. 1: Environmental impact, 2: Climate change (man made and natural), 3: Hostile neighbours, 4: Decreased support of friendly neighbours, and 5: Society’s response to the aforementioned challenges. This framework provides an excellent format for him to compare past collapses to our present global situation. As always, the rational mind and accurate critique that Jared brings to his writing is a revelation.

In 1920, H.G Wells penned down a phrase in his “ A short history of the world “ that poetically addresses the subject of collapse: “The Age of Reptiles lasted… eighty million years. Had any quasi−human intelligence been watching the world through that inconceivable length of time, how safe and eternal the sunshine and abundance must have seemed, how assured the wallowing prosperity of the dinosaurs and the flapping abundance of the flying lizards! “

So what if the dinosaurs had had quasi-human intelligence? What if they had had enough warning???

Thank god we have Jared Diamond! — Ollie

Originally published in December 2012. To Find out more about the Post Growth Institute, visit our website.




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Post Growth Institute

Writing by team-members, guest contributors, and Fellows of the Post Growth Institute (PGI).

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