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Review of "Healing Americans"

Healing Americans: A New Vision for Politics, Economics, and Pursuing Happiness. by Steven Shafarman. 175 pages, paperbound. Copyright 1998 by the author.

reviewed by Hanno T. Beck

Moshe Feldenkrais.(1904-1984) did a lot of work studying babies. During their first few years of existence, infants learn an enormous variety of things, including many complex things such as human language. How do they manage that, and can we as adults do anything to bring back that super-learning state that we all once enjoyed? Feldenkrais gained some insights and answers to these questions. Today, people who practice Feldenkraisí principles help others to gain new awareness and heal distress.

Steven Shafarman, an author and Feldenkrais practitioner, wondered what the Feldenkrais principles would mean if they were applied to a society instead of an individual. Certainly our society is ailing and needs some healing; certainly conventional approaches have been ineffective. Shafarmanís "thought experiments" and their results make up his new book, Healing Americans.

Now such a procedure has traps to avoid. "Nations are like people" is an analogy that is wrong at least as often as it is right. If one is looking for fresh, new ideas, one must be willing to dig a good bit deeper than that shallow analogy, and fortunately Shafarman goes into some detail to explore and explain where and how these comparisons can help or hinder our understanding.

Reading this book will take you to a new understanding about a lot of things, not only about our society and economy, but about your own personal life. At some level, we all sense that various aspects of our lives and cultures are interconnected; this book brings those interconnections forward.

Shafarman's exploration, consisting of thought experiments based on Feldenkrais principles, winds up with a set of policies that would, in all likelihood, go very far toward addressing the entire range of problems besetting our modern society and our economy.

This is a personal book. It does not pretend to be written by an omniscient, invisible source, nor is it pretentious in any way. Rather, the book is more like a conversation, where Shafarman is talking with you about important problems and new ways to think about them.

The author has better things to do than spend his time trying to impress you with pages and pages of impersonal statistics. If you are looking for that sort of book you wonít enjoy Healing Americans. To get the most out of this book you must be ready to participate, to chew on ideas, and to use your brain.

The particular answers that Shafarman finds are significant. One ingredient is a citizenís dividend. (But again, note that he arrives at this idea for utterly different reasons than usual.) However, bear in mind that Shafarmanís healing proposals are not intended as the end of a journey -- rather they are tools to help stimulate and enrich your own journey on the path to new insights about society and the economy. Your own ideas may modify, suppleme nt, or reverse some of Shafarmanís, but thatís fine, because that is part of the process that the author wishes to promote.

Is anything wrong with this book? Well no!, not really, but it canít be considered everyoneís cup of tea. If you are looking for statistical arguments in favor of a citizenís dividend, or are seeking new ammunition for arguments for or against the citizenís dividend concept or some of the book's other proposals, you are not likely to find such details here. Healing Americans argues in favor of a citizenís dividend and other innovations, no question about it, but the argument is not full of conventional logic.

Itís as though you were on a long train ride, and another passenger sat down next to you, and the two of you began talking about modern society and how to bring economic prosperity and wholesome values to more people. Your conversation would extend in certain directions, develop in other ways, reach a conclusion here and there, review and revise here and there. When you leave the train, you may have some new ideas and attitudes, and those came to you from that convers ation. (Also, that conversation might continue to serve as a source of new insights for you, for a long time to come.)

Most books are like an organized, refined summary of such a conversation, while Healing Americans is the conversation itself, in the original. You make up your own mind whether to try it. The Progress Report gives this book high marks. Weíre going to have a terribly difficult time deciding on a Best Book of 1998, because we already know of four great candidates, and this book is one of them.

(Also note -- this bookís publishing was overseen by the author himself. When this happens, you should normally worry a bit about two things: was enough proofreading done, and was enough care spent on editing the material. Shafarmanís book is the best I have ever seen at avoiding these dangers.)

Healing Americans is available from the Banneker Center. For information, just click here to go to the Empowerment Shop.

for more Citizen's Dividend information, visit the Citizen's Dividend site

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