27 04 2009

When I read all the gloomy articles about our current economic situation, an analogy comes to mind of a well-to-do man who insists on sleeping in the garden shed because he believes he can’t afford to live in his comfortable house. I mean it isn’t as if we’ve suddenly lost our ability to grow food and build houses.

Sometimes the bleeding obvious is the hardest thing to see.

What I’m talking about is uncommonly obvious, common sense and very big. The fact that our technological genius gives us the ability to look after humanity’s material needs with relative ease makes much of our economic thinking obsolete. Something is definitely out of kilter. Either we have lost sight of what of all this buying, selling and producing is for, or our methodology of going about it is seriously flawed.

I believe one of the most important things to be done in solving this problem is to see the simplicity of it’s solution. By simplicity I don’t mean that some complex actions wouldn’t need to be taken to unravel our current way of operating and set-up something new. What I mean is that by putting aside outdated economic paradigms and looking through the eyes of our civilisation and its amazing technological abilities, it is quite simple to see we are potentially at the very threshold of an economic utopia. Once that is seen on a large enough scale the energy to develop appropriate solutions will naturally be there. In fact I believe this is so big, that once seen it would unleash enormous amounts of creative energy and will to cooperate with each other on a scale never seen before.
Am I an unrealistic idealist? Maybe… but why not go for the best possible of all worlds, especially if it is so available.

Some will dispute all this, saying, most people aspire to a life with high levels of consumption that must be struggled for in the marketplace. I would counter that with several points. First, we have a technology that would allow us to have a comfortable survival on much less work than we currently do – perhaps on a two or three day working week. If people were given the choice between vastly more leisure time or more consumption, I think most would go for more leisure.
Second, we need to closely look at what really makes us happy. While there is a widespread belief in our world that more things equals more happiness, most of those who have gone deeply into this have found that is not the case. A simpler life with time to appreciate the world around us is where lasting happiness can be found, while more things offer superficial satisfaction followed by an addict’s desire for more.
And most important is that it is unacceptable to be living in a world where so many live in poverty, struggling even to find food for the day, when we have the ability to end the worst of it with relative ease.




3 responses

18 05 2009
Jonathan Shearman

well – yes. Certainly I can admire the reduction of desire. I think it is a worthy personal aspiration, but not the basis for an economic theory. Imagine if a small percentage of people took this path – what would stop the remainder from simply exploiting them? Philosophically, it really needs a return to the whole question of meaning, value, the aim of life, and so on. But how to communicate this to society at large? Didn’t the kibbutzim try this for generations?

19 05 2009

If reduction of desire cannot be the basis for economic theory, then neither can the creation of artificial desires, which is one of the bases of current economic theory. The reason given for increasing/artificial desire is to drive increased production. Whether that extra production is really needed, or is even destructive, is seen as a secondary issue.
Regarding the exploitation of people who simplify their lives, you only have to do a search of “voluntary simplicity” to see that millions of people (myself included) are already doing it.
To me it’s not so much about reduction of desire but rather about finding out what we really want. Maybe at the core they come down to the same thing. As you say – the whole question of meaning, value and the aim of life.

15 08 2009

Yes you are an unrealistic idealist, but as a somewhat pessimistic cynic myself, I would say keep it up we need a bit of balance.

I would agree with you that we should look more closely at what makes for a fulfilling and contented life. But the reality is most people won’t. The questions of meaning, value or what constitutes a good life are rarely given much thought by the majority and the minority that do ponder such questions have been arguing over the answers for centuries.

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