by Thomas L. Friedman
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 496 pages
Reviewed by Robert L. Montgomery
Thomas Friedman’s latest book shows his thorough understanding of the changes that are taking place at an accelerating rate in the world, but also the essential elements of thriving community life. As usual, his writing shows important theological implications. Frequent illustrations, stories and inventive metaphors make his writing very interesting. Friedman ponders issues carefully and titled his book in response and gratitude to people for being late to interviews giving him time to think.
Friedman describes three accelerating, but unsettling, changes surprisingly given special impetus in the year 2007. He groups the three accelerations under exponential technological advancements; globalization of the market that is closely linked to technological changes; and changes in nature particularly shown in climate change and loss of bio-diversity caused by human beings. The last change was given special impetus much earlier in the Industrial Revolution, but as societies continue to industrialize, pollution of air and water becomes very evident.
Friedman shows his optimism with his various innovative adaptive approaches. He changes AI (Artificial Intelligence) to IA (intelligent assistance, intelligent assistants and intelligent algorithms). These innovative approaches involve the government, companies and the nonprofit social sector aiding workers to obtain and improve lifelong learning and efficiently connect people to where constantly changing jobs exist, as well as constantly improving these jobs.
From talking about broad issues and adaptive solutions, Friedman turns to a very detailed discussion of his biographical background in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis where he grew up in the 50s and 60s. He makes very clear his indebtedness to his Jewish community and to his various mentors. He also stresses how St. Louis Park became an accepting community in which people trusted each other and worked together in a number of areas, particularly in public education. He further describes how people in the larger Minneapolis community collaborated in groups based on mutual trust. In fact, the approach of building community extended to the whole state producing a group of progressive leaders.
Finally, Friedman emphasizes that the accelerating changes in the United States and the world are lifting up the central importance of trust in human relationships. Just as we have learned that the secular world is clarifying “the faith option,” Friedman shows us that the accelerating changes clarify the need for “the trust option” in human relationships. Friedman moves beyond the simple existence of diversity or plurality in populations (which is so evident in the U.S.), to a pluralism defined by diverse people and groups recognizing, respecting and, most importantly, trusting each other. His book reminds us that the seedbeds of democracy were congregations and church communities where people learned to debate each other on the way to making joint decisions and taking joint actions. This is the “salt” in society that spawned our many voluntary associations and democratic assemblies. I add my thought that it is not so much “faith” in the sense of “belief in” that God wants from us (even the devils believe and tremble), but trust and love that incorporates both God and others.
Robert L. Montgomery is an honorably retired Presbyterian pastor in Black Mountain, North Carolina.