There are reviews that grapple with what a book argues, and those that do not. I was disappointed that Patheos’ review of my book was the latter. Nikki Whiting admits after reading it she did not know for sure what the book was about. I am honestly amazed at this, but agree her review indicates she did not.
The issues she describes about modernity being overwhelmingly masculine are central to my argument, and I appreciate her pointing out I do not make an essentialist argument but rather something quite different. But my distinction contributes to a different argument, one that has not been made elsewhere. Whiting describes her own work as focusing on the divine feminine, an important and much needed field, but I thinks her professional focus got in the way of seeing my larger argument.
The book is NOT mostly about the West being “overwhelmingly masculine” and “dismissive” of the feminine. There are already plenty of very good books making that case. Why write another?
What my book is about
Faultlines argues the US today is caught up in a perfect storm of three major cultural crises, all coming together at the same time. They constitute cultural ‘faultlines” and as they shift our country is torn.
• Crisis I: The collapse of the moral framework of the Enlightenment and the habits of thought that it bred. This is hitting us later than it hit Western Europe in the late 19th century, culminating after WWI. But as then, is breeding powerful nihilist responses that are destructive to our society.
• Crisis II: The toxic re-emergence of the cultural and religious divide that originated between the ante-bellum and Confederate South and the more egalitarian democratic North. This divide first formed after the War of 1812, when many of the North’s leading thinkers focused on issues like feminism, nature, utopian communities, and new religions. Simultaneously in the South a newly profitable slavery led to a repudiation of the principles behind our Declaration of Independence while embracing authoritarian political and religious views to legitimate a slave society. The 60s were a re-emergence of the same cultural energies that enriched Northern history back then (which is why Thoreau was regarded as the era’s ‘patron saint’) just as the subsequent ‘culture war’ was a re-emergence of the values of the slave-owning South decked out in modern form.
• Crisis III: The epochal transition from a society rooted in rural hierarchical agricultural ways of thinking to one rooted in urban, scientific, and egalitarian values. This is as big a transition as the one from hunting and gathering to agriculture, many thousands of years ago. This is my book’s most original claim. It is also where Pagan religion comes in.
It is in the context of this third crisis that there is rising interest in the divine feminine as contrasted with the divine masculine, and a similar rise of interest in nature as a good in itself. They are connected. NeoPagans are playing a very disproportionate role in this rethinking of cultural and religious basics. I argue Starhawk in particular will go down in history as one of the most important religious figures of her time. This is one more reason I am deeply disappointed by this review. In a Pagan site she does not even mention it.
The matter of Larry Summers
Whiting goes after me for my Larry Summers quotation. Here is what Summers wrote:
“The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. . . . I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.”
Brazil’s Secretary of the Environment at the time, Jose Lutzenburger, wrote Summers “Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane.” He added “Your thoughts [provide] a concrete example of the unbelievable alienation, reductionist thinking, social ruthlessness and the arrogant ignorance of many conventional ‘economists’ concerning the nature of the world we live in.”
My book gives both quotes. They are accurate. Lutzenberger did not consider it satire as she suggests. She also ‘hopes’ Summers didn’t really mean it. The evidence is he did because it is 100% in keeping with his style of economic thinking. I have personally heard almost the same from other economists.
Not academic enough?
Whiting didn’t like the Summers footnote because I did not chase the quotation all the way back to its original source, as would be expected for an academic book. Here I think is the core reason she failed to follow, let alone evaluate, my argument. Faultlines is not an academic book- it’s published by a very respectable non-academic press. I did not submit it to an academic press because it does not fall into traditional academic disciplinary categories. Academic training provides very deep but very narrow training in a particular field. Their presses encourage this bias. The old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail is not entirely fair for an academic mindset, but it has a point. Economists look at every issue as economists. This holds to some degree for every other specialty. The academic press likes specialized studies and is deeply suspicious of large integrative works. That is why I chose independent presses like Quest.
It combines cultural analysis, history, sociology, philosophical analysis, political analysis, and studies of religion. Whiting focuses on the sacred feminine in her academic work, and so perhaps was hampered by her disciplinary boundaries in grasping the book’s larger contexts.
I believe this bias in outlooks appears again when Whiting claimed I spent too much time establishing my argument, even though she admitted she was not sure what it was. My argument has never to my mind been made before, was important to any American interested in the fate of their country, and involved integrating many fields some of which I have made original contributions and some of which I depend on others. The issue is not footnotes so long as they are accurate, the issue is whether the argument is coherent and important. I argue it is.
Apparently the Association of Independent Publishers agrees, for they recently gave it a “silver” award, that is 2nd place nationally, for all “New Age” books dealing with body, mind, and spirit, for 2014.