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Book Review ‘Born on Third Base’ by Chuck Collins

September 20, 2016

bornonthirdA review of Born on Third Base: a one percenter makes the case for tackling inequality, bringing wealth home and committing to the common good by Chuck Collins.  Chelsea Green Publishing.

I am regularly, and rightly, asked about the extent to which the Transition movement successfully engages with disadvantaged communities and communities of colour.  But I can’t think of a single time when anyone has asked me how successfully the movement has engaged with the 1% community, the wealthiest members of our society.  As Boston-based Transitioner and inequality campaigner Chuck Collins argues, it’s a conversation we urgently need to have, indeed we will struggle to do Transition properly without having that conversation.

The book he has produced, which both argues that those of us working for change need to reach out to the 1% and that the 1% need to step up and get involved, is utterly brilliant.  It’s a seminal, vital book which will be looked back on as one of the most important books on Transition ever published.  “Wealthy friends and neighbours”, he writes, “it is time to come home”, and “to come out of your gated communities and gated hearts”.

Collins grew up in a one percent family in the US, and when he came into his inheritance at 26, he gave it away to good causes, and has since dedicated his time to tackling inequality through a mixture of writing, public speaking and activism, including the founding of Jamaica Plain New Economy Transition near Boston.  He argues that for too long there has been a class war, a distrust between rich and poor, and the book calls for a truce. “How is that rage and class war thing working for you?” he writes.  “Is it leading to any real social change?  And how is it affecting you personally?”

He argues that building a more equal society requires the wealthy to step up or, as he puts it, to “come home”.  He writes:

“Coming home will require us to deepen our personal stake in a web of systems and services in our communities.  It will inspire us to act, draw on our social networks, money, and sense of agency to make institutions more accountable, better resourced, and more responsive.  We need the wealthy to opt back in to our communities, not from a charitable arm’s-length distance, but up close and personal.  This is the pathway toward a truly more egalitarian society”.

Chuck Collins leading a Transition Tour of Jamaica Plain, Boston. Chuck Collins leading a Transition Tour of Jamaica Plain, Boston.

While the bulk of the book is aimed at the 1%, he also makes a powerful case that the rest of us need to up our game too.  He believes we need to:

  • Organise our communities to defent ourselves against the worst excesses of predatory and extractive capitalism – to build racial and economic equity and resilience
  • Recognise the 1 percent that lives in all of us – the ways in which we have privileges and advantages compared to others around the world.  Allow this to inform our strategy. Proceed with empathy
  • Reach out to the isolated and disconnected members of the 1 percent and build real connections with them, founded on respect and empathy
  • Create opportunities to invite the wealthy home – to bring to a locality their investment capital, charitable giving, social networks, and deep personal stake in their own liberation and well-being.

The book doesn’t argue that change without the 1% is impossible, but he reimagines the title of Ralph Nader’s novel, from Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, to Only We Can Save Ourselves, But It Will Happen Faster (and Less Violently) If We Have Some Super-Rich Allies.

The part of the book that gave me goosebumps was the chapter called “Wealthy, Come Home”.  It includes his 10 elements of a way forward.  While they expounded on in the book, their titles are pretty much self-explanatory:

  1. Root yourself in a New Story
  2. Tell True Stories about Wealth
  3. Help Redefine Wealth and See the Commonwealth
  4. Put a Personal Stake in a Place and Work for the Common Good
  5. Bring Wealth Home
  6. Catalyse Change around the Ecological Crisis
  7. Share the Wealth
  8. Pay Your Taxes
  9. Support the Leadership of Others, Especially Working-Class People
  10. Organise Your Peers.

It’s a deeply radical, compassionate, and inherently appropriate set of suggestions, one that I could feel rewiring my brain, and my approach to thinking about Transition, while I read it.  When you think about it, a key ingredient in most major social shifts are wealthy people moving to support innovators.  We all have a role to play here.

If I had one reservation, it is whether the arguments that are presented in this book are the ones that will unlock the hearts of those to whom it is (partly) aimed.  I don’t know anyone (apart from Chuck!) who qualifies as being a member of the 1%, so I don’t feel qualified to know.  But will this book, its tone and its content, be the key that reaches them?  I hope so, and the proof of that will be in how the book goes down.  But it’s the best shot I’ve seen at it so far…

Chuck

Buy yourself a copy, then buy 10 more to give away to the people you feel need to read it.  Finding the best way to navigate the troubled times that lie ahead will require our making the art of finding common ground the most important task at hand.  Doing so is not just about what other people need to do, it’s about what we need to do, how we need to change our thinking, our feeling, our being.  Collins writes:

“Changing these systems is fundamentally heart work.  Our larger project is about cracking hearts and minds open, starting with our own.  Notice the moments when your heart is beating, when the goosebumps flow down your back, when the connections happen with other people.  Savour them, and make more of them happen every day”.

This book is utterly essential, and will do amazing things to your brain, will confront you with some challenging questioning and thinking, and will shake up how you think about Transition.  If that’s not the perfect ingredients for a book destined to become a classic then I don’t know what is.

Originally posted at Transition Culture.