By John Perkins, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 240 pages
The word “inspire” comes from being “in spirit” and the book Touching the Jaguar: Transforming Fear Into Action to Change Your Life and the World by John Perkins on Berrett-Koelher Publishers encourages that we rise to a better understanding of what it means to have and apply the power of human spirit on this planet.
Touching the Jaguar encompasses Perkins’ decades-long sojourn around the world with his interest in shamanism and indigenous societies’ fight against the efforts of oligarchs. In the words of an Ecuadorian indigenous man who lived in the rainforest, “Your oil companies have poisoned the rivers of our neighbors. They murder women and children with their poisons and kill our warriors who try to defend their lands. They drop fire from their planes. Your people have no respect for the forests and the rivers and the animals – when they come to a place, it turns to ash and black oily mud. The trees and animals vanish, never to return.”
You might view their perspective as seeing the glass half empty but some indigenous people see “our” lifestyle as highly materialistic and they feel that “the unsustainable lives that the majority of us now lead are linked to a cultural evolution of crowded cities, pollution, extreme waste, and income inequality whereby we are seemingly destined to end in self-destruction.”
The author introduced a group of potential NGO investors to the indigenous Amazon in Ecuador and a plan was hatched to create the NGO to empower indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest “to preserve lands and culture and educate/inspire people everywhere to bring forth a thriving, just and sustainable world – facilitating personal and global transformation to a life economy whereby a social-governmental-economic system would be developed to clean up pollution, regenerate devastated ecosystems, and develop new technologies to benefit people and nature.”
In a conversation with a former Boston University professor, Perkins was told, “We’re all guilty. We have to admit that although the big corporations own the propaganda machines, we allow ourselves to be duped. But you can set an example to show people the way out – redemption comes from confronting and changing it. Take action.”
School textbooks in America cast us as defenders of democracy but it is our job to prepare the next generation for the challenges to come. Perhaps the current direction of teaching students’ skills to think and apply what they learn is a better educational path. Perkins’ challenge is that “either we change our ideas, values and actions, and accept new ways of relating to other people, resources, countries, governments and cultures OR we will propel ourselves into extinction.” He asks if we are smart enough to stop shortsighted divisiveness and instead unite to protect our common territory – our living planet.
We possess abundant human and natural resources and the choice is to continue using those resources to maximize short-term materialistic gain regardless of environmental and social costs, leading to the “Death Economy,” or to use those resources to create a “Life Economy” system that is sustainable, renewable, and regenerative.
Perkins outlines the key characteristics of the Death and Life Economies. The Death Economy goal is to maximize short-term profits, promoting the outlook that for someone to win, another must lose. It is predatory against humankind and the environment, valuing goods and services that are extractive and materialistic above those that enhance the quality of life. There are another dozen characteristics of this economy that Perkins goes on to discuss.
The Life Economy maximizes long-term benefits for people and the environment, serving public interest, cooperation, valuing the quality of life and spiritually enhancing activities. It includes externalities in financial and economic measurements while developing new regenerative sustainable technologies. The Life Economy is based on a foundational knowledge that humans are in a symbiotic relationship with the planet where we must respect, honor and protect the natural world.
Examples of Life Economy could include the Green New Deal, B Corporations, cooperatives, benefit corporations, organic farming programs, the long-term stock exchange, and so on. In August 2019 there was a Business Roundtable held with 192 corporate CEOs promising to abandon the goal of maximized profits for shareholders above all else, and instead commit to balancing the needs of shareholders with customers, employees, suppliers, and local communities. Perkins suggests that we demand that these corporations take actions to honor those commitments.
In Touching the Jaguar, there is a resource section that asks who you are and suggests how you can change the world with examples of daily practices. Much of the book covers Perkins’ biographical activities including an attempt on his life. His books have been published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, which is an independent publisher dedicated to connecting people and ideas to create a world that works for all based on values of quality, partnership, inclusion and sustainability.
Roger Lohr of Lebanon, NH, who owns and edits XCSkiResorts.com, has published articles and promotional topics on snow sports, sustainability, and trails in regional and national media. He is also the Recreational Editor for Green Energy Times.