Beyond Individualism

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source : Possibilitator, November 8, 2015

Two books completed recently share some common ground although using different lenses to see it.

George Rupp, former Harvard Divinity School dean, President of both Rice and Columbia University and most recently president of the International Rescue Committee, has penned Beyond Individualism: The Challenge of Inclusive Communities (Columbia University Press, 2015). The chapters are largely recent rewrites of talks he has given over the past decade or so dealing with religion, universities, ecology, global affairs and the search for the ‘good life’. The book is in part memoir but more directly a thought provoking inquiry into how to move the human family forward. His global overseas work with International Rescue Committee which deals specifically with refugees from disasters, both natural and human created, clearly pulses through the pages. But he also ties the philosophy and theology of the great religions that he studied in depth over the earlier part of his career. Agnostics and atheists will not be uncomfortable reading his take on the need and possibility for inclusive communities.


Nicole Aschoff, a lecturer at Boston University and editor at Jacobin magazine has put her lens on five icons of the uber successful business world – Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, John Mackey (Whole Foods), and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) in The New Prophets of Capital (Verso, 2015). While she clearly notes their financial success she is more concerned with how they each frame that success and then proselytize it to others. In essence, assuaging any concern about their own massive accumulation of wealth and power.

Read in tandem, they provide a contrast in approaches to tackling the issues of incredible inequality. Aschoff does not linger on the individual wealth of her case studies, but rather on their unflagging belief that capitalism needs only a tweak to repair the damage it has wrought to date.

They believe that the solutions to our problems lie in refining the existing political and economic system, expanding the reach of capitalist markets,submitting more and more aspects of our lives to a market logic, and channeling our struggles for a better life through corporations. (p.144)

Aschoff holds a dash of hope.

Instead of thinking about how to fix capitalism, we can start thinking about a different kind of society. We can imagine a world designed for the needs of people instead of profit, and we can get to work building it (p.150).

Rupp delivers an approach that drives us towards increasing inclusivity. His studies and experience have forged a long-term view, one for which he still holds hope.

Seeking ever greater inclusion may seem like little more than the utopian aspiration of a head-in-the-clouds idealist. I plead guilty to being an idealist in both the philosophical sense (I find Hegel more persuasive than his detractors, to take what for me is a salient example) and also in the more down-to-earth meaning of not easily settling for so-called “realistic” solutions to pressing problems. But seeking greater inclusion cannot only be an aspiration that idealists cherish. It is also an imperative if the international community is going to have any prospect of addressing the crisis of sustained conflict among communities that share a common location. For that reason, the quest for greater inclusion is a worthy ideal and also a practical requirement (p.182).

I only could wish the candidates for President could read him before they take office. And  I wish I could be so hopeful.

The following two tabs change content below.
Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

Latest posts by Terry Link (see all)