Category “21st Century Society”

The Road to Unfreedom

Timothy Snyder (2018)

  A must.

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Utopia for Realists

Rutger Bregman (2017)

Bregman’s thesis in ‘Utopia for Realists’ is one that I place squarely alongside the likes of Raymond Kurzweil, Yuval Harari, Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley as relying on essentially the same drastic normative fundament.  In consequence, these thinkers, though steeped in the trade of widely different disciplines, all essentially conclude that things are basically going pretty great on planet Earth.  Reams and reams of statistics fill chapter after chapter to belabor the apparently indomitable point: average income is up, many women are now voting, infant mortality is down, smallpox is gone, everyone has cellphones, … testimony to progress goes on and on.

The reign of humanism

These thinkers are so fundamentally humanist in outlook that they don’t even acknowledge their anthropocentrism.  Harari expends a chapter in ‘Home Deus’ on the plight of domesticated animals.  But nowhere is appreciation shown for the fact that such creatures – which exist in concentration-camp conditions with the sole purpose of sustaining humans, the elites atop the planetary food chain – now make up 97 odd per cent of living animal biomass.  Not so long ago, our biosphere was dominated by wild creatures whose raison d’etre wasn’t just nourishment for sapiens sapiens.  Am I the only one who feels that is highly highly relevant here?  And the shrivelled remainder are suffering, suffering terribly, under the relentless human march that the past few centuries have wrought in ever greater volume and diversity.  That these considerations hardly ever feature in the calculus of ‘progress’ is more than just unfortunate – it is symptomatic of the reigning humanist doctrine.

Short-term gain for long-term pain

It’s also worth considering that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a window of opportunity to live on borrowed time, that is, the future.  These writers make scant reference to climate change, and the epidemic of plasticization is, as far as I recall, not treated by any of them.  What if all these gains, if we accede that that is what they are, come at a great cost not just on the non-human world, but also on future humans?

The Age of Estrangement

Could it be that estrangement from Nature is the fuel at the heart of ressentiment?

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Triumph of the City

Edward Glaeser (2011)

I read many books with certain expectations, I suppose.  I read this one because I wanted to know more about cities and slums in the Global South.  This book failed to deliver the goods on this front.  Perhaps ‘Triumph and Fall of the American City’ would have made for a more honest title.

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Age of Anger

Pankaj Mishra (2017)

Pankaj’s new book might well have been subtitled, ‘An Anthology of Terrorism’.  And at times it’s not the most cohesive one, reading more like a smattering attempt to capture every act of politically subversive violence, and a checkered description of the perpetrators and their inter-relationships, since the Enlightenment.

But looking through this somewhat ramshackle layer of narrative exposes an uncut gem of substance.  Pankaj makes the case that the same fundamental processes that are giving rise to the likes of Brexit, Erdogan, Hofer, Le Pen, Orban, Trump and Wilders simultaneously explain ISIS.  Ressentiment, in a nutshell:

“… where individual dissatisfaction with the actually available degree of freedom constantly collides with elaborate theories and promises of individual freedom and empowerment.”

» Continue reading “Age of Anger”

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Hyperobjects

Timothy Morton (2013)

TimothyMorton_Hyperobjects

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Reason in a Dark Time

Dale Jamieson (2014)

DaleJamieson_ReasonInADarkTime _

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This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein (2014)

NaomiKlein_ThisChangesEverything _

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Feeding the World in the 21st Century

(2010) Christian Anton Smedshaug

A work that is timely and rich in content. On the down side, too little of its data is appropriately referenced, and it is shakily translated, becoming almost unreadable in the last few chapters. Its impressive arsenal of graphs is let down by sloppy captions and legends.

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Environment, Power and Society

(2007) Howard Odum

The ultimate systems-thinker’s guide to energy and society. Perhaps too qualitative for some.

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The Great Transformation

Karl Paul Polanyi (1944)

What work! There are three possible societal responses to liberalism’s ‘free market’, Polanyi coolly reasons: (1) self-protection through regulation; (2) environmental collapse and dehumanization of society; or (3) the embrace of fascism.

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