The arrival of author Richard Docwra’s book appears to be well timed: the stream of news about the financial system imploding and the UK finally announcing a recession remind us of the bits of our capitalist system that we’d rather not think about.
Richard Docwra’s book suggests that despite the pressures of living in the 21st century – economic woes being one of them – we should be able to think otherwise. Keen not to present his book as another call in the litany of the moan genre, Docwra’s aim is to consider “what we might be getting wrong, and what we can do about it.” Divided into three parts, the structure of the book looks as the ‘problems’, ‘causes’ and ‘solutions’ in a modern world that appears to have taken a wrong turn. Each of the chapters look at particular issues of the modern predicament: rushing around, diminishing natural spaces, shopping habits, communities (lack of), consumerism, political apathy, complication, and, what he terms as the 'pressures on identity.'
Undoubtedly these highlighted trends need urgent reassessment, but unfortunately Docwra seems to rehash many well-rehearsed arguments. At times it feels as if he could be a bit more critical and push out the envelope on his critique of capitalism, instead of listing simply what is wrong and what we might be able to do.
Discussing how society might be changed, the pages on a new economic system and the redistribution of wealth don’t really offer any more insight or substance. Perhaps readers coming to the book would not necessarily be aware of what alternatives are possible.
Where Docwra’s strength lies is in discussing the individual and what he describes as the mental tools that need an update for a more fulfilling and equitable existence. Big issues often subsume individual autonomy and by relocating the individual in the bigger picture, so to speak, Docwra suggests that this would enable us to better navigate through the modern world.
As an introduction to many of the issues that sustainability seeks to redress, Docwra’s book works well, but it feels lacking in substance when it goes into specifics.
Richard Docwra set up ChangeStar, a mixture of think tank, consultancy and service provider to the not-for-profit sector that uses practical wisdom to seek a more sustainable, just and intellectually coherent world.
Modern Life: As Good As It Gets? by Richard Docwra (Green Books, £10.95)
This article first appeared in the Ecologist October 2008