Four Texts on Capitalism and Humanity

Balancing on a Planet: The Future of Food and Agriculture
David A. Cleveland
University of California Press, 2014

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible
Charles Eisenstein
North Atlantic Books, 2013

Capitalism: A Ghost Story
Arundhati Roy
Haymarket Books, 2014

Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence
David Fideler
Inner Traditions Publishing, 2014

The food crisis may be where the environmental crisis becomes most personal to billions of people on this planet. The contradiction between a “socially just agriculture” and an adequate supply of food comes into sharp focus in David A. Cleveland’s careful study of the future of food and agriculture. Cleveland does a great job of laying out the major disconnects within the mainstream agrifood systems: between the places where food is cultivated and the places where it is eaten; between the places where food is grown, processed, transported, and consumed and the places where the resources (e.g., water, energy, nutrients, labor) used are from; and between the eating of food and its fundamental roles as biological, psychological, and cultural nourishment. He is less successful, however, at envisioning how enough healthy food to feed everyone on the planet can be grown, transported, and processed by adequately paid workers, in ways that are nurturing to the earth.

To get there, we need to transcend the injunction to “be realistic” and move toward new visions of what is possible. Charles Eisenstein does just that. Encouraging us to leave behind the shelter of our cynicism, he shows us how to enter into the vulnerable state of the unguarded sharer. Eisenstein argues that our very existence is relational and our task is to offer our uniquely human gifts for the well-being and development of the whole. This book offers an inspiring vision of how this change of consciousness may already be happening, but it does not offer much advice for engaging in the political struggles necessary to achieve deeper change.

Meanwhile, Arundhati Roy’s Capitalism introduces us to some of the ways that India, with its capitalist ethos and institutions, puts attempts at implementing utopian fantasies to the test. Roy helps readers understand how very deep the pathologies of capitalist society have sunk into the legal system, the media, and even the consciousness of those who are suffering most deeply on account of capitalism.

David Fideler explores “our living bond with nature” with special emphasis on the self-organizing intelligence at its heart. “The universe is not a collection of mechanical cogs, but a community of beings,” he writes. “Parts come together to form organic, emergent, and autonomous entities.” So we must learn to embrace the experience of belonging to a larger reality that transcends our limited selves. And if we could “see the entire earth as a garden—as a living but damaged paradise, worthy of love and admiration—we could then act as gardeners, working in collaboration with the soul of the world.”

 

(To return to the Summer 2015 Table of Contents, click here.)

 
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