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Desert Solitaire
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The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is PossibleThe More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible
Charles Eisenstein

I wanted to like The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. I really did. I thought that Sacred Economics was a pretty good book. While academically slipshod, it was nonetheless insightful, challenging, and offered specific (but radical) solutions to real-world problems. But The More Beautiful World does none of that. It’s just academically slipshod, with little insight. It dwells in generalities, vapid platitudes, unjustified assertions, and vague handwaving at complex issues. It simply refuses to do any heavy lifting, and is unapologetic and even proud of that refusal.

The basic premise of the book is as follows: Charles Eisenstein describes what he terms the Story of Separation. This story corresponds roughly to things like the Enlightenment, the Scientific/Industrial Revolution, the narrative of Man’s triumph over nature, and the story of rationality more generally. In the European/Western arc of history, man separates himself from the animals, separates himself from the natural world, separates himself from his fellow man, an eventually even separates himself from himself. Throughout most of modernity, we have been living in the Age of Separation, and that Age has now reached its limits. Our planetary resources are sagging under the weight of consumption, the perception of scarcity drives humanity to fight humanity, and we feel the weight of separation as anxiety, depression, fear and hopelessness. The Story of Separation is drawing to a close, and Eisenstein believes that we are now entering the Story of Interbeing and the Age of Reunion. This new story is one of interdependence instead of independence, of balance in place of unchecked growth, of spirituality over rationality. As he tells the arc of history, we currently sit in an uncomfortable place between two ages of human history, where the old story is breaking down, but we haven’t yet embraced the new one. And he argues that we don’t need to fight against the Story of Separation, because fighting against things is part of that Story. Instead, we only have to give way to the Story of Interbeing, to let it happen through our words and action, and humanity will get to where it needs to be because humanity has no other choice.

In the broadest general terms, I agree with him. It mostly boils down to “be kind to people, and take care of where you live”. Fair enough. But it somehow takes 282 pages to hash that out, mostly by way of anecdotes and bold assertions without footnotes or citations. We get gems like this:

We need to understand nature, the planet, the sun, the soil, the water, the mountains, the rocks, the trees, and the air as sentient beings whose destiny is not separate from our own. As far as I know, no indigenous person on Earth would deny that a rock bears some kind of awareness or intelligence. Who are we to think differently?

Er, citation needed? As far as you know, no indigenous person would deny this? How far do you know? Before speaking on behalf of every indigenous person on Earth, did you look this up? I always get pretty creeped out whenever someone starts making arguments by appealing to the wisdom of “indigenous people”, as if that were one thing, and the Hopi and the Aboriginal Australians and the original residents of New Guinea (and their 827 languages) all shared one animistic worldview. The lionization of “indigenous people” denies them their humanity. Certainly some “indigenous people” were less self-destructive than modern Europeans, and certainly others were more self-destructive (and are probably no longer with us as a result). Certainly some exhibit enormous wisdom and courage, and others exhibit enormous fear and selfishness. The thing about “indigenous people” is that they are people, with all of the diversity and all of the good and bad that comes with that. To pretend otherwise is to deny them their basic humanity.

But I get the sense that Eisenstein isn’t much bothered with research and citations and justifying assertions. Those are things that we did during the Age of Separation. In the Age of Reunion, what we need is good storytelling and things that spiritually feel right. He doesn’t leave room for criticism, because criticism is part of the old story. The book is full of anecdotes in which someone challenges him on some point in a talk he’s giving, and he becomes the hero of the anecdote by asking the critic to look within themselves to understand why his point makes them uncomfortable. They’re asking the question from the vantage point of the Story of Separation, and if they would just heal the separation within themselves, the challenge becomes irrelevant from within the Story of Reunion.

If that sounds like a tautology, that’s because it is. And Eisenstein is okay with that. Rationality is part of the old system. As he puts it:

I wish I could rely on evidence to choose my belief. But I cannot. Which story is true, Separation or Interbeing? I will in this book offer evidence that fits the latter, but none of it will constitute proof. No evidence is ever enough. There is always an alternate explanation: coincidence, fraud, wishful thinking, etc. Absent conclusive evidence, you will have to decide on some other basis, such as “Which story is most aligned with who you truly are, and who you truly want to be?” “Which story gives you the most joy?”

The Story of Reunion exists beyond “being right” or “being wrong”. But it doesn’t give you much to work with when you need to solve real-world problems. But yes: be kind to each other, and take care of where you live. And maybe let’s just leave it at that for now.