Prosperity

Posted on January 18, 2011

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Our economy is based on the assumption that infinite growth is possible. It seems a bizarre oversight. Isn’t it obvious that we were bound to run out of resources at some point? Considering westerners more or less agreed that the heavens revolved around the Earth relying mainly on the word of one man (Ptolemy) for almost two thousand years , and considering that economics is one of the youngest sciences, this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. (Admittedly there were many forces at work to maintain the geocentric perspective, but it’s still rather embarrassing.) The obvious is only visible with 20/20 hindsight. The question is, where has this reliance on imaginary infinite resources gotten us?

We’ve been to the moon; discovered the building blocks of life, and recreated them from scratch; explored pretty much every nook of our home planet, and begun to explore our solar neighbors; created works of art and architecture that have endured for centuries (or seconds); all but raised the possible standard of living well beyond the reach of most of nature’s terrors; shrunk the time and cost for global communication down to almost nothing. Sounds prosperous, right? For all of this, many of us still die of hunger every day; many who are comfortable are unhappy, and either just get by or rely on drugs (or other “fixes”); we still kill each other for not being able to communicate (despite having the technology to do so); our methods of dispersing technology are having multiplicative unforeseen consequences (like King Thamus warned). While there’s a lot more good I didn’t talk about, that’s also not even half of the bad. Not so prosperous sounding anymore, eh?

Where do we go from here? The good news, as I see it, is we can choose–collectively–to be happy. It sounds like a throw-back to the Summer of ’69. But what if the hippies were right after all? What if we dreamers took over, and everyone embraced the idea that all you need is love? I think the reports of prosperity would have much fewer caveats.

More good news is I’m not dreaming so much as witnessing a change. Not really in the form of orgies in the grass and psychedelics being passed around, which isn’t sustainable. But in another kind of sharing–sharing of resources. Despite seemingly clear evolutionary imperatives for self-preservation, humans tend to want to share, help, and care. In other words, to be good. Some have expressed a perplexity about this. Yet from an evolutionary standpoint being good is an even deeper imperative than being selfish because nature forces us everyday (and has through millenia) to confront the fact that we would not exist without each other. Helping others is in fact helping ourselves–in some cases, quite directly, like with family and friends.

This is prosperity. Everyone living, working, laughing, crying, and dying together. (How the American ideal of the autonomous individual fits into this is a topic for another post.) And caveats will continue to multiply until this is clear to everyone. But it’s close. Much closer than we’ve ever been. Cheers, mate.

Inspiration: Cosmos, Carl Sagan; Prosperity Without Growth, Tim Jackson (also see video below); The Good Show, Radiolab; Managing without Growth, Peter Victor; Collaborative Consumption, Roo Rogers and Rachel Botsman; All That We Share, Jay Walljasper; The Transition Handbook, Rob Hopkins; Burning Man.

Author: Ian Mac Moore. Check his blog out: Incarnate Green.

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