- Valuing Diversity: Buddhist Reflection on Realizing a More Equitable Global Future by Peter D. Hershock
Peter D. Hershock’s Valuing Diversity: Buddhist Reflection on Realizing a More Equitable Global Future is an ambitious book, yet fits squarely in the trajectory of Hershock’s career thus far. In his previous works, Hershock has dealt with issues similar to those which are taken up in Valuing Diversity, bringing a broadly Buddhist perspective to such issues as technological advance, the rise of mass media, and economic expansion. In the present book, he considers these issues once more, but from a different vantage point and with a different goal in mind—namely, to use a Buddhist conception of diversity and difference to consider how to ensure that our increasingly interdependent and globalized world does not simply sustain (or aggravate) current patterns of poverty and inequality. Hershock argues that we should not seek to address poverty and inequality by striving for overall equality, but by enhancing diversity. While this entails a significant shift in contemporary thinking about respect, support, and freedom, Hershock seems optimistic that, if we become more aware of the foundations and patterns of contemporary thinking, we will be better able to make the necessary shift. This is indeed optimistic, but thankfully, Hershock does not simply make the argument that a shift is needed—he does a significant bit of the work for us, tracing the historical, economic, and societal trajectories that have contributed to contemporary thinking about equality and inequality. The hope is that if we follow Hershock’s line of reasoning, we will contribute to a change in current patterns of thought and practice.
This line of reasoning begins in the introduction, where Hershock suggests that Buddhist, Confucian, and Daoist perspectives are particularly pertinent to contemporary issues of poverty and inequality, due to their ability to acknowledge and deal with interdependence in contemporary global dynamics. For Hershock, the Buddhist idea of interdependence reconciles the polar perspectives of universal equality and fundamental particularism, providing a framework in which particularities can exist in relational equity. Much of the remainder of the book is dedicated to fleshing out how this framework interacts with contemporary global issues and the theories that seek to manage them.
The first third of the book is for the most part conceptual, dealing with ideas of difference, variety, diversity, and temporal change. Chapter 1 proposes changing our current understanding of difference to as “a relational process that occurs or ‘carries forward’ in a particular direction” (p. 28). In other words, difference is not a fact about something already in existence—there are not first things and then contingent differences between them. Hershock uses postmodern thinkers such as Derrida and [End Page 1069] Deleuze to make this point, although he thinks that the postmodern conception of difference ultimately falls short as well. For postmodern thinkers, difference is still a means of distinguishing individuals from one another, whereas according to the Buddhist conception of difference presented in this chapter, differences arise out of relational patterns of interdependence and interpenetration. Hershock argues that only if we are aware of these patterns and the means of differentiation they give rise to, can we actively make a difference and change harmful patterns.
In chapter 2, Hershock looks more closely at the current competing conceptions of difference and how they might be resolved according to the Buddhist perspective. He makes an important distinction between variety and diversity, characterizing variety as superficial variation (as in a zoo) and diversity as “a distinctive and achieved quality of interaction” (p. 49) such as that which takes place in an ecosystem. Hershock argues that while we tend to think of the value of difference in terms of variety, it would be much better to conceive of the value of difference in line with diversity, as the relationally embodied value of “new arcs of differentiation” and “newly emerging meanings of presence” (p. 60). In other words, difference understood as the value of diversity captures the...