The Empowerment Model: A Guide For Collaborative Groups, by Starhawk
It is probably a good piece of advice to mentally discount the worth and perspective of anyone who writes a book and calls oneself Starhawk, as anyone who would call themselves by that name as an adult likely has some serious problems, as this author definitely does. What is especially disappointing about this book is that there is material here that could be useful, if it had been written from a less warped perspective. Indeed, it can safely be said that I am not the desired reader for this book on multiple grounds, as the author tragically associates empowerment and collaborative groups with heathen religious beliefs (the author herself is a proud witch and talks about people having roles like dragons, snakes, and spiders, clearly drawing from the dark arts of Satanism) as well as with leftist politics. This book is aimed as a practical guide to help other heathen earth-worshiping leftists to acquire the necessary community skills to run collaborative groups and check their privilege and engage in groupthink all while holding themselves to be enlightened sorts of people despite the moral chaos and disorder of their worthless and wicked lives. This is a case where an author assumes that she is speaking to insiders when she is in fact speaking, in the case of myself as a reader, to an outsider who holds her religious and political worldviews in extreme contempt.
This book is a bit more than 250 pages and is divided into 9 chapters. After acknowledgements, the book begins with a chapter that discusses the contemporary period as a new era of empowerment, which introduces the content and discusses the structure and the author’s approach (1). This is followed by a discussion of the book’s parable of empowerment in the Danish RootBound Ecovillage (2) and its human problems. After this comes a discussion of the circle of vision, including the importance of shared values, intentions, goals, and governance (3). Then comes a look at the axis of action and questions of power and responsibility, as well as some typical leftist whining about privilege and social power (4). After this comes a discussion of the axis of learning, dealing with questions of communication and trust (5). This is then followed by a look at leadership roles in leaderless groups (6), how to embrace conflict and learn to constructively disagree (7). There is a chapter after this on dealing with people whose experienced of trauma and whose hidden agendas make them “difficult” (8), and finally a chapter on a look at groups that work (9) from the perspective of the author, after which there are endnotes, a bibliography and list of references, an index, and information about the author.
The end result is that this book is a complete failure, but it is a failure of an instructive kind. The ideas that this book discusses are ones that would be very useful to people who do not happen to share the author’s worldview. Indeed, even those people who do share the author’s unfortunate and mistaken worldview would be able to get something out of this book if they recognize that the people they hate so much have at least as much in terms of skills at communication as they do. Given the manifest failures of groups to work together because of the shared flawed human nature that we possess, it would be good if the readers of this book (and the author!) turned the insight about the shared human nature that we struggle with into an avoidance of the holier than thou approach that tends to come from the “tolerant” left. This is a book that has potential, but is derailed by the distance that exists between the writer and the reader and between the writer and reality, even if the recognition of flawed human nature being a part of the left as well as the right is a way forward for the reader should she have the self-awareness to follow it.