We did not find out how or when the State will wither away, but perhaps it was enough that Paul Hawken, Barry Lopez and Rebecca Solnit â€“- gathered together last Monday, April 14, by Literary Arts to explore the ideas in Hawkenâ€™s recent book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming â€“- proclaimed the possibility that weâ€™ve reached “peak” Empire. It was a stimulating intellectual adventure, a noisy and crowded philanthropy of good ideas, and my initial misgivings dropped away in the audienceâ€™s collective exhalation â€“ of relief, astonishment, long last recognition of all thatâ€™s been there right before our eyes if only we could have seen it â€“ which rose past the slanted timbers of the set to Sometimes a Great Notion at the Gerding Theater, which formed the backdrop for the trioâ€™s discussion. But something nagged. I asked myself, “Why does hope, so freely marketed, seem like a sub-prime mortgage?”
But I wander too far ahead, and afield. As Lopez, the moderator, noted, the three were gathered in our â€œlittle part of the worldâ€ for a conversation about what they know (and what of it they could pass on in memorable form) about the forces they see leading to reconciliation and re-invention of community in the world at large. Hawken sees a common thread in community groups â€“- non-profits and non-governmental groups (â€œNGOsâ€) â€“- around the world: a restorative impulse in the face of the inability or unwillingness of governments to address the plethora of social and environmental crises. In Blessed Unrest, Hawken describes the emergence of these groups all over the world as a spiritual awakening, or the creation of a new â€œcivil society,â€ a term that means the â€œthird sectorâ€ of voluntary organizations that functions alongside government and the marketplace.
Hawken’s recognition of this phenomenon sparked the creation of the World Index of Social and Environmental Responsibility, â€œWiserEarth,â€ an online directory of international social justice and environmental organizations, more than 100,000 of them cataloged and indexed in user- and contact-friendly fashion. Its breadth and utility as a searchable database is astonishing. One wonders how many contract employees in Homeland Security it must take to re-index this information in terror-threat priority and monitor the activities of the organizations, as well as the interests and contacts, of those who use the site. (The enormity of that task may account for some of the Stateâ€™s withering.)