Ken Jones
Jon Carpenter Publishing: Oxford, U. K., 1993.
212 pp., £9.99 (paper).


Beyond Optimism is good, albeit occasionally bitter, medicine for a species caught between two conflicting realities—total dependence on wealth created by unsustainable economic growth, and the deeper reality of a planet gradually withering under the impact of it. Ken Jones, a long-practicing Buddhist and Welsh social activist, presents a scorching analysis of the contemporary human predicament, and even more poignantly, the ideologies we most often turn to for solace from it. His eloquent manifesto for political, social, and spiritual transformation casts a critical eye on all the current sacred cows.

Proclamations of another New Age fill Jones with apprehension. He notes that the utopian dreams of high-minded and impassioned ideologues have often come to nothing, or worse, denigrated into new nightmares of oppression, poverty, and sheer human waste. Ideology itself, says Jones, is the “historic disablement—the collective expression of our individual blindness about who and what we are.”

While Ken Jones advocates a “radical green project”—one that would result in a broad human obsession with inner work and sweeping ideological disarmament—he just as quickly faults anyone lost in hopefulness or smitten by a romantically intoxicated over-idealization of one “ism” or another, whether it be tribalism, smallism, activism, optimism, conservatism, or even Buddhism (particularly with a capital B).

No one, including Arne Naess, Teddy Goldsmith, Matthew Fox, or even Fritz Schumacher, is safe from Jones’ uncompromisingly sharp eye and incisive critique. The book’s acknowledgments are a presage of the ideological slaughter to come when jones offers an apology for those “who may feel hurt by my wide-ranging critique of what I perceive as ideology in certain green and spiritual movements.”

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