Sunday, February 22, 2015


One of the problems with writing a blog is that everyone and their uncle, their aunt, their neighbour's dog and their cousin's-neighbour's-brother-in-law's-friend send you products or books or links to web-sites for review. Virtually all of them end up deleted faster than you can say "kazibblefarken".

Occasionally, though, one of these gleam through the gloam and you realize that it is that rare breed: a gem amidst the muck.

"11", by my friend Paul Hanley is one of these gems.

I have to admit my reluctance to begin when I received it. I was in the middle of reading some letters from Shoghi Effendi, in Citadel of Faith, and enjoying some novels by Robert Heinlein on the side. (I'm a sucker for good science fiction.)

But he asked if I would consider reading it and possibly reviewing it for him, and I had agreed. I mean, I really was looking forward to it, just not then. And so the days wore on. Then the weeks began to pass, and that book was still sitting there patiently awaiting its turn.

Finally, after closing the Door into Summer (one of those Heinlein books) (great story, but kind of creepy, too, in a way), I figured I had put it off long enough.

Within the first few paragraphs I was hooked.

The overall aim of the book is to describe what must change with the advent of 11 billion people on the planet, the conservative prediction for the end of this century.

He begins by describing our society, and the impact of some of the things we either do or take for granted, in a clear and concise manner. For example, he mentions the origin of the "coffee break", which comes from the coffee cartels taking advantage of the then-recently instituted morning break gained by the unions. The ads basically asked "Have you had your coffee break today?" Thus they carefully inserted the word coffee, creating an institution by which they handsomely benefited.

He also talks about the dangers of such simple things as waiting in your car to go through a drive-through window at a fast food place, the subtle way in which economists and business people changed our values from being producers to being consumers, the deliberate manner in which corporations chose to produce products that were designed to break down and force us to buy new items. Example after example, with references for all his sources, he begins to show us how we have been manipulated into a lifestyle that is systematically destroying the environment.

Much of it is not new, but it is refreshing to see it laid out so clearly, concisely, and with good references.

There are some minor errors, such as his depiction of streets and cars. He says that the dominance of the car on the street began in the 1920s, or so, with the invention of the term "jay walker" by the auto and oil industries. And while he does get that story correct, this dominance can easily be traced back quite a bit earlier with the nobility in many societies freely running down the lower classes on the roads if they didn't get out of the way of their galloping horses or carts in time. But those errors are so minor they in no way detract from the salient points he is trying to make..

His starting point is still valid, and very well researched.

He spend quite a bit of time on agriculture, which only makes sense, as food is, and will continue to be, a major issue for many in the world. He talks about reforestation projects, many of which I did not know, and reclamation projects, many of which I had heard. He talks about how many hectares of arable land are dedicated to such things as tobacco. he doesn't say that we shouldn't have tobacco products, but just places it in the context of how many people could be fed if that land was farmed for cereal grains. At no point does he say we should or shouldn't do anything. Rather he informs us of the cost of our actions and allows us to make our own more informed decisions. And it is just this sort of information that is best suited to changing behaviour, customs and laws.

He talks about education projects that help best develop healthy attitudes, those sorts of attitudes that are necessary for sustaining 11 billion people on this fragile planet of ours. He points out our excesses in entertainment, whether it is the number of people that could have been sustained by the resources dedicated to massive large budget movies, or the sports complex gripping untold tens of millions. He carefully distinguishes between those projects that are productive of sustaining goods, such as farms or clothing, and those that are entertaining, such as sports, alcohol or tobacco. And again, he doesn't say that we should do away with these entertainments or arts, but rather that we should be more conscious of the true cost of them.

In the end, he seems to me to ask a single question: What do we require to sustain such a large global population? The answer is found in those simple values that have been carefully eroded away: Moderation, humility, and compassion.

This is a book that I will read again, and re-read again, hopefully with a group of people around me so that we can consult on the many issues he raises.

I do not often promote a book or a product, but this is one that I believe is well worth it.

I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to go out and read that book.