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Thom Hartmann: As World Population Reaches 7 Billion, What Will Save Us From Ourselves?

There is a way to heal our broken world -- but it won't come from new technologies, a new leader or political party, the Rapture, or space aliens.

Best known as a political thinker, Thom Hartmann is the most popular progressive radio show host in the nation. In his new book, The Thom Hartmann Reader (Berrett-Koehler 2011), editor Tai Moses pulls together Hartmann's writings from a dozen books and other sources (along with new material) to present a comprehensive picture of where Hartmann's wide-ranging intellect has led him over the past 30 years, from politics and ecology to history and anti-corporate activism. The following is an excerpt from The Thom Hartmann Reader .

Something Will Save Us

Wendy Kaminer wrote a brilliant book titled I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help. In it she pointed to the pervasive assumptions of dysfunction inherent in the self-help movement and the increasing obsession with emotional and psychological pathology in our culture. She didn't offer any specific solutions; she had only defined the problem. (Although one could say that her solution was really the most elegant of all: see the problem for what it is and refuse to dance the dance. In this she argued forcibly for people to reclaim their own inherent power and emotional health.)

Kaminer received numerous letters from people demanding solutions to the problems she had identified. She pointed out this irony in a later edition of the book: it was as if the people writing wanted her to suggest the creation of a self-help group or book to help those addicted to them.

Some of the initial responses to the early editions of my book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight were similar. I received letters, emails, and calls from people telling me with great certainty that the only solution to the problems outlined in the first third of the book would be found in smaller families; cold fusion; coaxing the flying saucer people out of hiding; a worldwide conversion to Christianity (at least a half-dozen different people suggested that only their particular Christian sect could bring this about, and all other Christians must ultimately recognize the error of their ways), Islam, or some other religion; or the immediate institution of a benevolent one-world government. The letters ranged from amazement to outrage that I'd failed to see and support their perspective.

But these are all something-will-save-is solutions. This kind of thinking is a symptom of our younger culture-and fighting fire with fire is only rarely successful. Usually, it just produces more flames. As Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated, often the most powerful and effective way to "fight back" against the pathological kings and kingdoms is to walk away from the kings, see the situation for what it is, and stop playing the dominator's game.

But that involves a shift of perspective that some people find very difficult. There are, for example, those who point to the foundational belief of our culture (and, particularly, to European-ancestry citizens of the United States) that we can solve any problem if we just put our minds to it. Some even argue that the exploding human population is a good thing because the more people there are, the greater the possibility we will find among them the next Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison, who will figure out how to get us out of this mess. It is, of course, a simplistic, and ultimately cruel, notion but one that has been used for years, usually to advance a dominator religious or economic agenda.

In fact, it's somewhere between unlikely and impossible that children born into the contemporary slums of Islamabad or Haiti, or even Baltimore or East Los Angeles, will grow up to change the world or solve our problems. They may become very competent; any corrections officer can tell you there are geniuses among our cities' gang members and in our prisons. But grinding poverty and pervasive violence -- born of overcrowding and a lack of resources and security -- rarely produce more than a surfeit of ingenious criminals and competent jailhouse lawyers.