Book Review: Wielding the Force: The Science of Social Justice by Zainab Amadahy

i bought my first copy of Zainab Amadahy’s book, “Wielding the Force: The Science of Social Justice” after a book launch and workshop put on by octopus books, a well-known bookstore in ottawa.  i immediately gave that first book to my therapist and friend. although i’d only read the introduction i knew from articles i had read previously and from the workshop that the focus on healing, relationships, community and hard science would be precisely the type of book that she would enjoy and that would be useful for her professionally.

i bought my second copy of the book several months later (i’m poor and my insufficient income is from the Ontario Disability Support Program or i would have bought and given away many copies by now, i’m sure.) this is one of those books that i read at exactly the right time in my life: a book about how our individual and communal well-being effects and is effected by the activism we do that i was reading while in the midst of an intense healing process (from ritual abuse) and as i was re-engaging with activism after taking an 8 month hiatus due to interpersonal conflicts caused, primarily, by emotional and mental health problems.

i am planning to give my second copy away as well, or at least lend it out to another friend who has been going through her own healing process and coming to terms with the extent to which the activist community we are both a part of too frequently (dys)functions.

in Wielding The Force: The Science of Social Justice, author Zainab Amadahy addresses how kindness, generosity and compassion promote individual and collective well-being, and the hard science that confirms this. she contrasts this with the negative impacts that rage and negativity have on people and communities, with a focus of the book being activists and social movements.

one of the main difficulties that social movements in canada face is the extent to which the emotionally dysfunctional dominant culture damages us as individuals and the difficulties this creates for healthy sustainable relationships and activism – and yes, health relationships and healthy activism are intimately interconnected. as my therapist says, “activists need to be well-fed, well-rested and well-connected”. of course, this is something that EVERYONE needs. the reason for emphasizing activists is that due to the global systems of capitalism, colonialism and different systems of oppressions, too many people are not well-fed, well-rested and well-connected, and activists have made a commitment to changing this situation. if we can’t prioritize this, or even bother to try, to do this for ourselves, how are we going to help co-create it with everyone else?

while this book does examine new findings from “hard” science for examples that show how compassion and joyfulness positively impact individual health, it is also a critique of the mainstream and materialist perspective of science. the mainstream scientific paradigm is critiqued as an epistemology that fails to adequately explain the world, and as one that creates and reinforces the individual and social problems that we experience in our daily lives.

a good example of the flaws with the dominant, mainstream materialist analysis comes from the “science” of capitalist economics, specifically the concept of externalities: “[i]n economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit”.  in capitalist economics, some relationships matter, and some do not, and a number of those that do not matter to capitalist economic theory are called “externalities”. specifically i am thinking of the extent to which environmental destruction caused by industrial and capitalist production is largely ignored by capitalist economic theory. in reality, human beings are not and cannot be separated from their environments, environments that we are a part of and that effect us, just as we effect them, and our actions cannot be considered external to the world that live in.  in fact, this elision serves to mask the true costs of production, and the actual relationships that human beings have with one another, animals and the natural world. so, for example, the pollution of the land, air and water through burning coal for electricity can be ignored in capitalist economics as an externality, while the reality of polluted, waters, airs and lands cannot be ignored by all of the plants, animals and humans that experience them. and this pollution provides a sad example of how we are all connected, of how “an injury to one is an injury to all”. when water, a lake, or a river is polluted all of the life forms that live in that water will be negatively impacted. all of the life forms that live off the life in those waters – say kingfishers , or ospreys, will also be negatively impacted. and any humans that fish that river and hunt in that area will also be negatively impacted. we are all connected in very real and tangible ways. and this reality of how we are all interconnected is fundamental to the relational framework that the author describes in her book.

i used this example from ecology because it is a concept that is, these days, easily understood and commonly known to many people. however, this book is not focused on ecology, but on the human heart, mind, spirit, and how activists need to prioritize healing for ourselves, our communities and the natural world. healing individually and collectively is essential to effective social justice movement – without it we are, sadly, bound for and to failure. not only is it necessary to have healthy and transformative relationships, consider this: trauma effects our ability not only to relate to each other in a good way, which is a requirement for the type of unity we need to truly challenge this whole, capitalist, colonialist and oppressive society, it also effects our ability to think and act strategically – and if we can neither unite, nor act strategically, then how, i ask you, can we hope to win?

in this book you will find many concrete examples of why love and compassion are beneficial to human beings and to social movements. for example, researchers at The Institute of HeartMath have found that “a mere five minutes in the FFF [Fight/Flight/Freeze] state buys you six hours of depressed immunity, high blood pressure and the biochemistry of stress (such as high cortisol and adrenaline levels)….HeartMatch research shows the following consequence of what might be called “negative emotions” (although such emotions have their functions) such as less capacity to think clearly, less efficiency in decision-making, less ability to communicate clearly, reduced physical coordination, higher risk of disease, increased risk of high blood pressure and so on.”



conversely, when people experience positive emotions, such as thankfulness and gratitude “HRV [Heart Rate Variability] scans show a smooth, consistent heart rate that corresponds with the best states of health. HRV coherence is an indicator of longevity and physical wellbeing.”

finally: “Hearth Math states that the consequences of “positive” emotions include: enhanced physical and mental performance, enhanced creativity, innovative problem solving, more effective decision-making, a greater capacity for flexibility, improved memory and enhance immunity. In sum, cultivating feelings of compassion, gratitude, generosity and forgiveness, love, appreciation and other optimistic, pro-social states can play a significant role in maintaining a healthy relationship to self.”

it is easy to see how all of these consequences of “positive” emotions would enhance our activism and make us, our groups and our movements more effective.

there is much more to say about this book, but, as I have been busy and struggling to get this review finished, I will leave it at this in the hopes that this brief description gives you a sense of why this book is important and why I think that you should buy it, read it and give it away.


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