We live the stories we feel our lives to be. As followers of the way, we learn to see through these stories, to find liberation in our understanding that our stories are not carved in stone, that there is room for improvisation and freedom. In social terms this is also true, although the collective stories which come together as ideology, institutions and structures seem to overwhelm us. Ken Jones’s Beyond Optimism is a compelling attempt to see through the main trends in social ideology—those he might call “red,” “gray” or various shades of “green.” Using tools of Buddhist analysis rooted in nonduality and nonself, he moves from personal practice to social vision and back again.
Jones writes, “If there is one underlying theme of this book it is our need to cultivate awareness through a self-awareness which can liberate us from distorted perceptions of the world and from behaviour alienated from our intrinsic humanity.” While always looking for an inclusive synthesis that transcends seemingly contradictory positions, Jones raises difficult questions regarding authority and democracy, global and local economy, idealism and pragmatism. Many of these questions are directed at the task of building an ecological movement at the very root of our varied societies.
The language of Beyond Optimism is dense, and the ideas are not easy to encompass, particularly if one is not conversant with social theory and green politics. But Jones’s heart is warm and his vision is broad, so keep reading. If socially engaged Buddhism is to take root and flower as real transformation, beyond the quick fix, we need more books like this.