Living Like Crazy, 2nd edition,byPaul Gilbert, York. Anmyn House, 2018. 610pp.
It seems appropriate to review this book by Paul Gilbert, the originator of Compassion-Focussed therapy, at a time when Extinction Rebellion is desperately trying to draw attention to the fact that we cannot go on as we are!
The title says it all: the way we live today is indeed crazy! We are part of the earth and therefore dependent on it for our survival – yet rather than working out how to look after it, we allow large corporations to plunder its resources with disastrous consequences. We do, however, spend millions on weapons and seem enthralled by a predatory form of capitalism that results in increasing inequality between the haves and the have nots.
This bizarre situation has come about, Gilbert argues, because our brains have not really changed since our hunter-gatherer days, when our main concerns involved survival and reproduction. So, our minds are ill equipped with the modern world and have trouble grasping that profound change is not only desirable, but imperative. Ever since the agrarian revolution there has been a conflict between the part of our nature that wants to share what is available, and the part that is basically greedy and wants to accumulate wealth and possessions. There is now a great deal of research that shows that how we feel mentally is profoundly affected by the context in which we live. As our current culture is based on greed and limitless consumption we are, says Gilbert, literally driving ourselves crazy.
The book’s chapters range from a detailed exploration of the mind, religion, leadership and power (or its absence) to the development of callousness and cruelty. Gilbert challenges the myth of competition as a good thing and in the last chapter discusses what we might do to create a more equal society. He argues that we need to develop Buddhist qualities such as kindness, helpfulness and a compassionate rationality, not just to others, but also to ourselves. Compassion-focussed societies do indeed appear to have existed in the past, which is encouraging as that means that it might be possible to create such a society again.
The book is very readable although a bit more editing would not have gone amiss, as there is more detail than perhaps necessary. However, the overall message is clear: we have a choice, either we go on as we are and face extinction, or we work together to create a more compassionate world! According to Gilbert: “..caring for ourselves, each other, our environments and the world we live in may be the most important archetypal potentials within us that we now desperately need to develop” (p443).