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Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century Hardcover – November, 2000
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The writers in this optimistic anthology didn't want to buy into the typical doomsayer theories and gloomy forecasts when imagining the future of America. Instead, editor Marianne Williamson assembled a soul-stirring gospel choir to sing out vivid, uplifting songs of hope and imagination. When contributor John Robbins imagines the typical family meal in the year 2030, he serves organic food bought from the local farmer's market and lovingly prepared by enthusiastic family members--even teenagers. This may sound like pie-in-the-sky talk, but Robbins backs it up with a solid plan that could lead to better diets, healthier food production, and even end world hunger.
One of the most profound essays comes from Fred Branfman, who writes about "Legacies." He makes a convincing case for imagining the faces of future generations and taking responsibility now to ensure the health of their world. Other excellent contributions include Eric Utne (editor of Utne Reader magazine) speaking on a new media that becomes "the connective tissue" in our culture, emphasizing community, debate, and conversation. Iyanla Vanzant imagines "Civility," Bell Hooks gives voice to 21st-century sexuality, and John Bradshaw sees the future family. Even if you only time travel from your armchair, this is a future you'll want to spend a lifetime creating. --Gail Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
The 39 contributorsDJohn Bradshaw, Sarah Ban Breathnach and Deepak Chopra among themDto this inspirational essay collection edited by bestselling author Williamson (Healing the Soul of America, etc.) represent expertise across a spectrum of disciplines, including business, medicine, education and law. Although their approaches differ, these leaders all share a vision of an America 50 years from now that is more environmentally aware, spiritual and humane than the America of today because they view the small, hard-to-see changes taking place already that are the harbingers of greater change to come. Ecologist Paul Hawken sees strength in the 30,000 disparate citizens' groups fighting for social and environmental sustainability. Physician Dean Ornish envisions a health system that recognizes and reimburses "good science," i.e., the growing alliance between traditional and alternative medicine based on the proven relationship between physical disease and emotional and spiritual well-being. David C. Korton (The Post-Corporate World) believes that the November 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle marked a turning point for Americans to begin to challenge a corporate global order that rewards an elite few, and to work for a future in which corporate monoliths will be replaced by community-based economies. Certainly, the ideas expressed in these carefully thought out yet demanding essays will resonate most with those who already have a spiritual, expansive and liberal outlook.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Four "great truths" are articulated many times over across the various readings, and they merit listing here:
1) Campaign finance reform is the absolute non-negotiable first step that must precede every other reform. Until the people can reassert their great common sense for the common good, and restore the true democratic tradition, nothing else will happen.
2) Neighborhoods are the bedrock of both democracy and sustainable development, and we have spent fifty years building in the wrong direction. New legal and economic incentives must be found to redirect both urban and suburban real estate management back in the direction of self-contained neighborhoods.
3) Local production of everything, from electricity to food to major goods like automobiles) appears to be a pre-requisite for deconflicting high quality of life needs from limited resource availability. The book includes several very intelligent discussions of how this might come about.
4) Networking makes everything else possible, and by this the book means electronic networking. I was especially fascinated by some of the examples of near-real-time sharing that electronic networking makes possible--everything from a neighborhood car to scheduled hand-me-downs of winter coats from one family to another. We have not progressed one mile down the road of what the Internet makes possible at a personal and neighborhood level, and I would recommend this book for that perspective alone.
The creative editorial role must be applauded. From the identification and recruitment of the contributors, to the selection of the photographs that each tell their own story, to the quality of the paper used to create the book, all testify to the competence and knowledge of the editor.
Lastly, it merits comment that the book serves as a very fine calling card from something called The Global Renaissance Alliance, a spiritually-oriented group that nurtures Citizens Circles and uses a web site to provide pointers to resources and other like-minded folk.
The volume's main weaknesses are two: the viewpoints of the essays' authors aren't varied enough, and the "desirable" outcomes are too easily assumed in many cases. I graded this brilliant book concept down two stars for these weaknesses in execution.
Almost anyone would find benefits from reading this book. Even if you disagree with its premises, you will end up learning about the thinking of a lot of America's top authors.
I was honored to receive this book as a gift from one of my sons, reflecting his knowledge of my desire for assisting social progress through personal effort.
The book contains almost 40 essays, grouped into the following sections:
The Soul of a Nation (What it means to be an American)
Pillars (The basics that we need to flourish from health to meaningful work)
The Rewoven Fabric (Community and identity)
To Whom We Belong (Our relationships and ways of relating from family to divorce to aging)
In God We Trust (Spirituality)
The New Civitas (The new American governmental system)
Each author was asked to think about America 50 years from now in creating a more positive environment. Two essays in the group stood out to me in capturing the essence of the issues throughout the book. The first was by Peter Senge (of Fifth Discipline fame). He points out that there are three ways to think about the future. First, extrapolate current trends. That doesn't work, because "aspects of our present ways of living . . . are not sustainable." Second, we can create a vision of the opposite of something we don't like now. He calls this "reactive imagination." This is "only a disguised version of the present." He correctly points out that many of the essays are of this nature. Third, we can "become agents of creating a future that is seeking to emerge, by becoming more aware of the present." "How did we get where we are?" is a question that begins this investigation. From those roots, we can help establish the foundation for moving into a better direction.
If you read this book, start with Senge's essay. The book will make a lot more sense if you do. It will give you a star to guide by. This essay inexplicably begins on page 167, rather than at the beginning.
The second key essay is at the end by Margaret J. Wheatley (starting on page 401). She did a little experiment. She recruited a group of teenagers to think through these questions about what they want for 50 years from now. Basically, they want a fairer, more cooperative, and more sustaining world. They see a "networked, boundaryless world" unconstrained by the geographical and psychological limits of America. Read this essay second. It gets past a lot of the personal agendas in most of the essays into touching closer to what is universal in our visions. Young people always seem to get these points best.
Few of the essays made it into Senge's third category. As I read the better ones (such as those by Dean Ornish, Lance Secretan, and Peter Gabel), I came away with a vision of our suffering from poor decisions because people are not yet good at thinking through the consequences of their daily decisions. We optimize what is visible and closest to us, even when the distance effects (in time and space) are vastly counterproductive to the modest benefits we receive from what we choose to do today. (An example is eating poor quality food to save money individually, and having society incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in health care costs to "repair" us from our own misguided "money-saving" efforts.)
In a sense, I came away with the notion that if we all learned from Senge and Wheatley, it wouldn't take long to arrive at a better society for all. After you master those lessons, be sure to read Sam Daley-Harris's fine essay on "Activism."
Make the future into what it can best be, consistent with the visions of both those who agree with you . . . and those who do not! Read Thomas Moore's views on "Religion" for useful thoughts about this perspective.
Imagine a better world in Peter Senge's third way!
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