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The theme of Island by Aldous Huxley is almost the opposite of the theme of Brave New World, as it is Huxley's story about a utopian and pacifist island called Pala. The basic story is that a very cynical journalist, Will Farnaby, is sent by an entrepreneurial tycoon to Pala to persuade the people living there to allow the tycoon's oil company to use Pala's oil reserves. Farnaby is shipwrecked on Pala and is taken in by its citizens, who heal him both physically and mentally. While he is recuperating, they explain their social system to him, including their ethics and general philosophy. Pala combines certain elements of western knowledge and science with eastern philosophy. In Island, Farnaby represents our western view of life, while the perfect system of Pala represents a positive way of living that any optimistic human being might hope for. Huxley uses these two extremes to explain his own idea of a utopian society, as well as dealing with any criticisms people might have of it by viewing it through Farnaby's eyes. There is another island near Pala which is ruled by a dictator who wants to conquer the island and exploit the people as workers, and to industrialise and mechanise their country. This island, Rendang, is not a happy place: it is industrialised but this has led to overpopulation, slums and desperation of its citizens, which is how a dictator has gained control of it. The people on the island have chosen to take on some of the advances of the other world, but overall they have chosen to live simple lives that are fulfilled and happy. In many ways Island is empowering because it shows that people can live in a perfect society without needed excessive advances in technology; they just need to use their minds. I think Huxley researched Island incredibly well before creating the idea of Pala. He shows his thorough education when he describes the various nuances of the Palanese system, such as the use of hallucinogens as a way of increasing consciousness, which makes Pala seem realistic and more human. This is also a topical issue for us today, and if drug use was to be permitted in our own society, this is possibly the healthy way of doing it. Drugs in Pala are used to benefit all of society, and the reasons behind using them are fully understood and positive, rather than selfish or self-destructive. The way the Palanese approach medicine is also very healthy. Whereas we in the (real) western world look at treating physical conditions, and treat even mental illnesses as physical problems, on Pala they take the holistic approach of looking at lifestyle as the cause of illness, and remedying that to fulfil the individual. Again, this is seen as worth putting a lot of effort into (rather than simply prescribing pills) because it benefits all of society. This is what the original idea of Communism is meant to represent- people living together who do not see themselves as isolated individuals. There is a lot we could learn from this book today! For example, as resources become scarcer in the world, we may have to start living more communally as the Palanese do, and with less possessions. The Palanese culture is sustainable, and the Palanese maintain an open dialogue about making changes to their way of life. I really liked this book. The portrayal of philosophical ideas through novel form, but based in a reality similar to our's, shines an interesting light on current society. Huxley was well before his time with this book; he wrote it in 1962, before we had really embraced industrialisation, however Island predicts many of the things that were to come. Island shows that owning things does not make people happy, and that ere are more worthwhile ways of living to materialism. It is also a great read besides the heavy insights- it is gripping and unpredictable, and kept me hanging until the last word. This book is a great read for both pessimists and optimists. While Pala is an optimistic beacon in the world, in true Huxley style its overall chances of survival are slim, as it is surrounded by a world of troubled nations. The fact that Huxley conveys his ideas via allegory and through a novel makes it accessible to any reader, which a political manifesto would not have been, in the same way that Thomas Moore did when he wrote Utopia. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in different political systems, and the study of different ways of life, or anyway would like to read Huxley but doesn't want to read too depressing a book!
Kiva was set up in the United States in 2005, and according to its website it has already loaned over $231 million to borrowers all over the world. Although the company is based in America, people from all over the world lend money through it. Kiva's main aim is to help people from poorer countries to gain access to financial loans that they wouldn't otherwise have access to, which helps them to set up and maintain their own entrepreneurial businesses and livelihoods. Kiva is a microfinance initiative which aims to connect lenders to small businesses across the world. Kiva has fieldworkers across the developing world, who find local small-scale finance initiatives that require money to get their businesses off the ground, and then loans them the money they require. 'Microfinance' basically means that members of the public become lenders in place of Kiva, as Kiva must raise what it loans in order to stay afloat itself. What this means is that when, for example, the local village bank is unable to lend money to an individual, it can instead put that person forward to the Kiva association, which immediately loans money to the individual, whilst also listing the details of the person and his or her initiative on Kiva.org for potential lenders to see. I was introduced to Kiva by a friend who sent me a $25 Kiva voucher for my birthday. This is the smallest loan that can be given, and it translates to roughly £15. I spent a long time looking through projects across the developing world and eventually chose to donate my money to a Peruvian woman who needed funding to purchase ingredients for her food stall, to support her family. I have found it very easy to browse through businesses on Kiva, as the website is very easy to use, with a clear layout and a good amount of detail about the borrower and his or her business. I have given 6 loans in total since signing up to Kiva in 2009, and the first sum I loaned to the lady in Peru was returned to me within 8 months. I then reloaned this to a group of cereal growers in Senegal, and so on. I already knew that I would like to invest in agriculture, health or education, and the website allows the lender to narrow down his search to such sectors, as well as to the country he prefers to donate in. The lender can also narrow his search down by gender, though I have not used this option myself. With some loans, there is a small risk of the individual defaulting on their loan, ie not being able to pay it back to the lender, however this is a very rare occurrence. The longest a loan has taken to get back to me is a year, and the shortest took 7 months, but this is not a long time if you are not eagerly anticipating the return of your £15! Kiva is an excellent and ethical gift for the person who has everything, who lives far away, or who is generally difficult to buy for. I have given one to my best friend who is currently working in Africa, one to my father (who has everything), and one to another friend who loves supporting new businesses and is interested in microfinance initiatives. Once the loan has been returned, the gift recipient - the lender - can choose to refund the returned money to himself, send the loan to someone else as a gift, or loan it to a new initiative himself. On the Kiva website, www.kiva.org, the slogan reads 'Empower people around the world with a $25 loan', which I believe is something that they really do achieve. Kiva is an incredibly empowering initiative, as effective as any charity but not based on the idea of a one-off hand out. The company focuses on helping people to set up their own livelihoods, which means that they are able to rely on themselves in future - what is key is that it gives them financial independence. As an experienced lender who also gives money to various charities, Kiva has made me feel very involved with the people I have loaned money to, as I have been able to follow the progress of borrowers' initiatives, and see that my small sums have really made a difference in their lives - in a very affordable way.
The way that Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth is set out is in two parts. The first half of the book gives a series of different people's experience of giving birth, primarily at the intentional community 'The Farm', which is based in Tennessee, North America. The second half of the book is a comprehensive, structured and detailed guide of what to expect from childbirth, and the common procedures that currently occur in American hospitals. As a father-to-be whose wife is planning to have a home birth, I found this book to be immensely encouraging, especially with all the different birth stories of women who have been able to give birth at home successfully, and how their partners have been able to contribute positively to the birthing. By reading this book I realised that the birthing process is completely natural and that the need to worry and have medical intervention is not normal, as it is required in only a few childbirth cases. There is plenty of proof for this in the book as The Farm has such a low medical intervention rate, for example hardly any caesareans take place there. From reading the second half of the book, I feel far more capable of dealing with most situations that may arise during childbirth, and much more confident of being able to support my wife fully. It was very good to be able to gain the benefit of Ina May's decades of midwifery experiences, as she gives insights that most men wouldn't normally have access to, and I also really appreciated Ina May's reassurance that childbirth is a natural process and not something to be feared. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is nervous about giving birth or who feels that the whole process is happening very quickly and needs empowering regarding the impending birth. I look forward to reading Ina May's other books- Spiritual Midwifery is next on my list. One downside to this book is that a lot of the second half is focused on potential problems with the American medical system, which was not very useful to me as a British citizen.. Although it did make me appreciate the NHS a lot more! Overall the book is extremely positive, so don't let that put you off. There are also some graphic black and white pictures of childbirth in the book, which made it difficult to read in certain public places! But again, not a reason to avoid such an empowering and informative read. 5 stars from me.
Fascism: A History by Roger Eatwell is an academic but very accessible study of fascism. It is broken down into 3 parts. The first part of the book is about the ideological roots of fascism, where Eatwell argues that fascism is not, as many people believe, purely right-wing violent ideology. It is instead an ideology that attempts to synthesise the right and left of politics. Eatwell demonstrates that the general understanding of fascism today has been effected by the fact that a minority of violent and disenfranchised people have been attracted to it and therefore helped to shape it. In the second part of the book, Eatwell looks at in depth examples from 4 countries: Italy, which was the first officially fascist country and where the word 'fascism' originates (meaning 'union of people'), Germany, France and Britain. Eatwell uses these examples to study two countries where fascist governments have come into existence (Italy, Germany) and two where they have failed to develop (France, Britain). He examines why this is the case, looking at a range of factors including the length of the political establishment, popular opinion, financial circumstances of the country, colonial aspirations, and the philosophical and ideological nature of the public. In the third part of the book Eatwell looks at what has happened with fascism after the end of the Second World War (ie after 1945) by continuing his study of these countries. He looks at how fascism has been watered-down to become more politically acceptable in the form of parties like the BNP (British National Party) and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Eatwell describes fascism as 'the third way', as it is meant to improve the lot of the working person. whilst also seeking a strong authoritative state based on nationalism. Many of the key figures have identified with fascism in direct conflict with communism, hence its traditionally right-wing following. Eatwell argues that at heart fascism has always been very anti-materialistic and anti-decadence, which is sees capitalism as causing. It is clear that Eatwell does not like fascists, but he does want fascism to be seen as an ideology in its own right. Eatwell tries to put the book in layman's terms but the language is often quite academic, perhaps particularly because he has been researching the topic his whole life. He gives examples of individuals to demonstrate ideologies, which I felt brought a very 'human' element to the book, rather than relying on statistics too heavily. I found the book very interesting and easy to read compared to many academic books, but still a challenge to get through. It's a lengthy and in-depth book, not one you can carry around with you as it takes concentration to read, and may not fit in your bag! Also it only goes up to 1996, which means that it misses the rise of the BNP in the UK since Nick Griffin became their leader. Fascism: A History makes use of endnotes, as many academic books do, which requires the reader to skip to the back of the book for additional information. However, the endnotes constitute additional reading, so only people using the book for academic purposes will really need to read them as they go along. As someone who is fascinated by all aspects of history, I did read the endnotes, which meant that it took me a lot longer to get through the book, however I found them to be very enriching. When I first came across this book I was intrigued to know the light Eatwell would portray fascism in. It surprised me by covering different aspects rather than maintaining a single bias view. I think the people who would most enjoy this book are those who interested in history, politics, and/or psychology. This book is a valuable resource for anyone studying those subjects. It would also be of great interest to anyone who is strongly anti-fascist or anyone who is tempted to join the BNP.