GROWTHISM & the ruin of everywhere

Administrator’s note: For this post, I’m pleased to feature on GIM a guest article by Kent Welton. Kent maintains a number of websites featuring incisive commentary on key social and political issues. One, growthism.com, overlaps amazingly closely with the ideas here on GIM.

This essay very nearly says it all, and says it extraordinarily well. In fact, had I written it myself, I’d no doubt have used it as a sort of foundational essay for the whole site. But Kent wrote it, and it’s filled with cogent statements on the problem of the growth religion which has come to dominate our culture, and which could destroy it if awareness of these issues does not take hold soon. Fortunately, there are signs of increased awareness. And this essay can only help in that regard.

The essay is from the chapter on “Growthism” in Kent’s book, Cap-Com, The Economics Of Balance.

–JF
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By Kent Welton:

The root of our problems with the environment comes from a lack of constraint on the growth of population… it has grown to over six billion, which is wholly unsustainable in the present state of Gaia.. we have to make our own constraints on growth and make them strong and make them now. — James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia Reclaim the world

Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted…the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years. — Millenium Ecosystem Assessment

The dominant philosophy and motivating social force of our era is clearly economic. No other values so determine our fate today as do capital-defined notions of growth, profit, and efficiency. Under these narrow and material rubrics we are to appraise and measure virtually all human activity, relationship, and end purpose.

Worship of an ill-measured “growth” has naturally lead to an ideology of growthism – within which we now devalue and subordinate every other reason for living and being. No other rationale so prevails and undermines consideration of other elements and purposes of life, and nature’s own equations, as does the goal of “economic growth.”

In effect, economists and politicians seem to know no other objective, and no other ideation comes close to “growth” in demanding a social supremacy and utilitarian right to define and order our lives.

In any case, what is referred to as “economic growth” consists of two elements – i.e., one part productivity increase and one part population increase. However, only productivity and technological advance may constitute real growth, whereas population expansion means a perpetual decline of our per-capita earthly space.

Until we distinguish between real productivity and per-capita declines emerging from population growth, no true progress can be formulated, attained, or sustained. Indeed, “growth” is then simply growth-to-ruin, and the most un-economic of dogmas and behavior.

As the sine qua non of capital-controlled societies, “growth” has become both infallible ideal and secular ideology. It is a quasi-religious notion complete with its own church, high priests, and catechisms free of need for any earthly proofs.

As with other monomanias, growthism admits of no uncertainty or inherent bias. Further, growthism not only hides the facts of enclosure and labor’s loss of natural freedom, but fails to acknowledge any reason or necessity for balance in society or nature.

Like other faiths, growthism is to be swallowed whole and simply internalized as truth. Whether or not a majority desire capital’s dismal “growth” matters little where so many have lost their natural freedom, effective democracy, and any alternative to this mindless course.

If the global economic paradigm that we live under dictates infinite growth, then we must disengage individually and by community from that paradigm. — Michael C. Ruppert

This concern with “economics” to the exclusion of all other areas of life is also a reflection of our disparate estates – i.e., of the anxiety-ridden dependency of landless majorities and fears of ruling classes.

Bondage in “growth” schemes stems not only from disenfranchisement, dependency, and reproductive irresponsibility but also from enclosures of language and meaning as well. For example, the word “economic” is routinely followed today, in perfect Pavlovian cadence,- by the word “growth” – as if the two were inextricably synonymous.

In this way a state of Balance is effectively locked out of any relation to our definitions of economy and progress. As if fearing utterance of a great blasphemy, we seldom hear the words “economic balance” pass the lips of capital’s economists. As a result, a nebulous and assumed-to-be-salutary More imprisons the very definition of economy.

The ancient art and science of salutary social organization, and maintenance of a happy, human, existence, has shrunk to an obsession with numbers, to their endless increase, and studied avoidance of any meaningful, per-capita, measures or spiritual values. Dismal indeed is the modern definition of “growth” and “economy” – i.e., a classic art and study once dedicated to living in balance with nature.

When “economy” and “growth” are uttered in such lock-step fashion, economics becomes growth, and growth economics. Within this tautology any implementation of balance is seen as anti-growth, and anti-economic. As a result balance is presumed to be undesirable despite the fact “growth” as we know it is destroying society, nature, per-capita wealth, communal freedom, and democracy.

In the nature of this religio-economic dogma, “growth” is never to stop, and no limits is its credo. For capital’s sake, growth must proceed despite the fact it may be unwanted by a majority and is, in fact, generating social friction, per-capita ruin, and ecological disaster.

Nevertheless, given capital’s social supremacy, growth is never seen as the problem but, instead, is continually offered up as the only solution to every ill of our corrupt economies and degenerating environments.

Economics remains then, at best, a half-brained ideology missing essential concepts of factor and population balance, feminine values, qualitative measures, and right relation to nature’s sinks and capacities. The very language of growthism also reveals a male-defined drive for dominance – wherein we speak of “expanding” and “penetrating” markets and “dominating” the resources of other nations and people.

Growthists speak of forcing open markets with the same cunning, and sense of divine right, as those who once spread the legs of virgins to make bloody sacrifices to male gods upon a cold stone slab.

A growing nation is the greatest ponzi game ever contrived.
— Paul Samuelson

The rise of this inherently self-defeating “economic” philosophy and its increasingly dismal social conditions emerges from enclosure, factor imbalance, and the unnatural ways in which we have come to live and work.

Nevertheless, many continue to believe we can neither survive nor prosper unless we grow by invading another’s marketplace, securing their resources, and absorbing expanding populations. As a result, we seek to force trade, win economic contests by colonizing others, ever-increase our share of distant economies, and manufacture a global “interdependency” while labor’s clout, democracy, ecology and balance are destroyed.

Today, no local autonomy, democratic decision, or national or cultural freedom is to interfere with capital’s effectively-forced “interdependency” dictated by GATT/WTO and growthism. Not only is this dogma imperial in nature but it also admits no qualification to process or any measurement of the character and quality of what is growing.

Indeed, the quality of life is expelled from this obsession with numerical increase. Measures of real wealth, of per-capita space and freedom, remain taboo as they demonstrate the lie of what has become no less than a religio-economic theology of growth-to-ruin.

Society must cease to look upon “progress” as something desirable. “Eternal Progress” is a nonsensical myth. What must be implemented is not a “steadily expanding economy,” but a zero growth economy, a stable economy. Economic growth is not only unnecessary but ruinous. — Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn

As a process without limits, growthism has no relationship to the most important qualities in our lives, much less social equity, democracy, human rights, factor balance, or environmental sustainability. As a goal and good measured only by increases in widgets and beings, a short-term, quality-less, profit and per-capita ruin becomes an end unto itself.

Corrupt values and dismal measures drive a corporate need divorced from effective freedom, democracy, and eco-sustainability. Growthism has become the intellectual equivalent of perpetual-motion machines – i.e., driving a pseudo economics and feeding an empty ideology meant to give the illusion of progress, as predation and per-capita ruin proceed.

With capital’s mis-measures we then progressively destroy all real wealth and avoid issues of factor parity, natural freedom, and population balance. With empty statistics, we may then decline in real terms as we “grow” to profit stateless corporations.

By counting population increase as “growth” rather than per-capita decline, growth is not only synonymous with progressive ruin but devoid of reference to quality, purpose, justice, equity, natural right, ecology, and root estate. As a result, “growth” means incomes and disparities may increase, and societal power of capital expand, while the very quality of life, and per-capita space and freedom, decline.

To hasten growth is to hasten decay. — Lao-Tzu

As a quantity-driven faith without relation to equity, balance, or the condition of one’s community and environment, growthism lacks context. As such, it is doomed to produce social and ecological ruin. After centuries of “growth,” our enclosure, desperation, and disparities are greater than ever – a clear indication we are not only moving in the wrong direction but have no other motive force or ethic.

Despite its failures, growthism remains the dominant shibboleth of our time, one demanding genuflection from capital’s economists and politicians. Yet Balance, as a principle motivating ethic, is sorely needed and still it remains outside the pantheon of economic virtues and goals.

In any case, wherever enclosure and factor imbalance prevail, rights of the penultimate individual, and powerful possessors of capital, will become supreme. Few community rights and majority powers are not overruled by the influence of money as powerful individuals and mega-corporations become nearly, if not completely, omnipotent in society and around the world.

In this setting, without balancing principles, ethics and forces, we are destined to grow disenfranchisement, discontent, social pathology and eco-ruin. Packed like rats into ever-shrinking cubicles, and driven to compete for capital’s growth and benefit, this dismal ethic must soon collapse of its own absurdity and excess.

In the interim, growthism remains the primary force in our lives due to enclosure, capital’s supremacy, the extortion of labor, and a host of western, patriarchal, religio-economic, values from an age with little relation to our own.
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Image source: Erik Anderson’s photostream, posted on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 license

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29 responses to “GROWTHISM & the ruin of everywhere

  1. Dear Kent Welton,

    Seldom in my life have I read something so clear, incisive and compelling. John F. has it just right when noting that your essay “very nearly says it all.” Sharing your understandings with us is helpful.

    There is an idea in your work, one so plain, simple and obvious that has eluded me until now. It has to do with the unbridled growth of certain religions and the potentially profound implications to be derived from religious dogma underpinning ages-old efforts of many congregational institutions “to increase and enrich their flock.” Perhaps some religions have as much to do with promoting human overpopulation, human overproduction and human overconsumption as any other socio-cultural institution on Earth.

    Sincerely, with thanks,

    Steve

  2. Nicely put, Kent. And thanks for reminding me (through your other writing) of Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Economics prize, Bill Clinton’s economics adviser, and former chief economist of the World Bank. This article provides a taste of this thinking.

    Stiglitz I think would like your essay. He pushes a “third way” in economics that hopefully is gaining ground and which is I think consistent with what you are saying.

  3. I also noticed this quote from Paul Samuelson: “A growing nation is the greatest ponzi game ever contrived.” I had to look him up and found that he was a neoclassical (mainstream) economist. Heh, but he did speak the truth at least once!

    It’s amazing, too, that Solzhenitsyn was basically advocating a steady state economy. I wonder if Brian Czech knows that quote? 🙂

    Kent makes so many key statements in the article, but here’s on that stands out:

    “By counting population increase as “growth” rather than per-capita decline, growth is not only synonymous with progressive ruin but devoid of reference to quality, purpose, justice, equity, natural right, ecology, and root estate.”

    The point about population increase as per capita decline is a great thought clarifier.

  4. Regardless of how long the not-so-great leaders of the predominant culture choose to worship and ultimately prize the endless accumulation of wealth and power, and despite their perverse use of human intelligence so as to mimic the primary behaviors of the cancer cell and the ostrich, surely, it is not too late to more meaningfully deploy intelligence by limiting the expansion of the unbridled global economy and making other necessary, more reality-oriented behavior changes for the sake of the saving the world as we know it for our children and coming generations.

  5. Magne Karlsen

    Kent Welton: “Today, no local autonomy, democratic decision, or national or cultural freedom is to interfere with capital’s effectively-forced “interdependency” dictated by GATT/WTO and growthism. Not only is this dogma imperial in nature but it also admits no qualification to process or any measurement of the character and quality of what is growing.”

    Very well put, and absolutely true. This is one of the key problems of our times. Among other things, it is making the implementation (and even planning) of environmental policies virtually impossible to achieve. The capitalist democratic culture expects the political parties, associations and unions to protect and cater for the needs, interests and ambitions of business corporations. It is never the other way ’round.

    What these big businesses truly want is ever-lasting growth, both in production and consumption. We may come to understand that this is an extremely destructive philosophy, but as the political culture works to protect the big corporate business world from any harm, it is becoming clear that continued environmental destruction will be unavoidable.

    All societies of modern humans – and the vastest majority of individual human beings – have now been brain-washed into accepting the notion that modern human life quite naturally must involve a lot of careful economic calculation. It is the make-up of modern human condition, and one that we cannot do without. We’ve all grown used to it. Many of us have even grown fond of it. And we’re passing it on to coming generations at the highest speed possible. We’re producing a generation of perfect over-consumers here, and there’s not much anyone can do about that: it is the modern cultural norm; a development which may be unfortunate, but unstoppable too. We just do what we have to do. Parents as well as children. Often in front of wide screen television sets and personal computers.

  6. Hi,

    At least to me, the forbidding situation described above with regard to giant, ever expanding business conglomerations now overspreading the Earth may not be as difficult to address as it appears on first sighting.

    For example, the creeping degradation of the environment resulting from the ever expanding, pernicious activities of these corporate entities may cause people to enjoin their leaders to radically redefine the what it means to be a good “corporate citizen” in a small, finite, frangible world. Once that redefinition becomes law, then the corporations will be held to different standards and better business practices associated with whatsoever is found to be sustainable.

    At the current scale and growth rate of the global economy, the infinite increase of human enterprise on Earth runs the clearly unacceptable risk of becoming patently unsustainable soon.

    Corporations are created, designed, organized, managed and grown by human hands. Those leaders who are responsible for catering the unsustainable behavior of these business entities can change them.

    As you put it so well, Magne, the time is coming when people will “…do just as we have to do. Parents as well as children.” And by so doing, we will help our brothers and sisters who are the business tycoons and their bought-and-paid-for politicians to reform the institutions of big business enterprise. People everywhere are beginning to see and understand that there can be no such thing as a successful man-made economy without viable conditions on the surface of this planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit.

    The time is coming……..

    Always, with thanks to each of you,

    Steve

  7. Really well said, Steve. For businesses to survive they need a healthy Earth as much as anyone does. Eventually business leaders will begin to police themselves and each other with respect to damaging the environment, and consumers of all kinds will become knowledgable enough to insist on buying from and working for good corporate citizens. We need to help that process along.

  8. “For businesses to survive they need a healthy Earth as much as anyone does.”

    That’s a key, and something I hope they catch on to soon.

  9. What I would like to add here is that there is nothing that prevents human beings from learning to think and behave in new ways.

    This is only a guess, but I suppose the time is coming when the acquisition of a new consciousness is not difficult to achieve once people begin to widely share their experiences of the world as we are doing now.

    Who knows, perhaps such things as potential threats to the future of life and to the integrity of Earth will provide sufficient support for us to choose necessary changes in our thinking and, in other ways, to respond ably to requirements of practical reality in the world God has blessed us to inhabit.

    Because I am one of the old-fashioned people who believe humankind “is the measure of all things,” you will not be surprised that I fully expect the human community to survive, thrive and go on. Only the heirs of Ozymandias among us can ruin the prospects for human beings on Earth. Not even for one moment have I believed that these self-proclaimed masters of the universe would achieve the ‘success’ they are so adamantly, relentlessly and unrealistically seeking.

  10. I can certainly understand pessimism here. Humanity is facing its biggest challenge ever. And credible analyses range from seeing us muddle through, meeting challenges successfully, but with real difficulties ahead, to scenarios involving a a massive loss of humanity with the remaining population clustering around the poles as a result of climate change (see James Lovelock).

    It does seem clear, though, that the more we can raise awareness and get people talking about the ecological crisis we face, the better the chance to effect the necessary sea change in our view of our role on the planet, and the more people will be motivated to take positive action. It’s more than a tall order, but there seems no question that if people come together and act, as best they can, the end result will be considerably better than if they don’t.

  11. There are plently of reasons for cautious optimism. I just learned about the idea of a “energy descent action plan” and wrote about it here. In that post there is a link to an audio interview with Rob Hopkins that’s not just full of great ideas, but great ideas actually being implemented on the local level. We don’t have to wait for government and big business to act.

    Rob starts from the premise that peak oil and global warming are quite real and is working with communities that wish to begin the transition to an “energy descent” economy. He’s acknowledges that when you hit people over the head with a message that “peak oil is going to be a disaster” they tend to throw up their hands in dispair or denial — but if you talk about transitioning you can generate positive excitement and useful action.

  12. Thanks for that, Trinifar. I read your post, and it’s really inspiring to see those towns in the UK which are actively working on the transition to a lower energy economy. If this kind of thing could spread, it would be a huge factor in how humanity adjusts to the future. And, if I’m understanding it correctly, there are some similar movements in the US, such as this:

    http://www.bouldercountygoinglocal.com/index.html

    Gotta hand it to the peak oil folks. They’re really the ones spearheading this sort of thing.

  13. Well, peak oil is something everyone can relate to pretty easily. I mean, they may not think the peak going to be soon, but they do know that oil is what makes their cars go and the lights shine. Just one more link and they see how oil is critical to they our food supply. It’s a great way to frame the sustainability discussion.

    Compared to that, population complex and fraught with all sorts of emotional, racial, political, and historical issues — a much longer row to hoe.

  14. Hi Trinifar,

    Imagine that all global challenges, except one, are presented in the numerator of an equation and the “mother” of all the global challenges, the human population, is the denominator of the equation.

    Is it either reasonable or sensible to think that the daunting problems potentially presented to humanity in Century XXI can be solved by looking at the numerator and ignoring the denominator?

    Always,

    Steve

  15. Hi Steve,

    Yes, it’s good to have both eyes open when problem solving — most times anyway. Certainly as a species we need to be accounting for all the problems we are facing (growing population and consumption in the face of peak everything), but it may well be that not everyone has to manage to hold all that in their head at once. That is, many people might work hard toward making the world more sustainable without comprehending the problem of population, and that might be okay if enough of us keep our eyes on that piece of the puzzle.

  16. Don’t really know if this is the right place to post this link, but well, I couldn’t find another one; and this might once again demonstrate the problem of the strains we apply to natural resources because of both our economic growth and the overpopulation of some areas… One more species has been found extinct because of humans. One that had been here on earth for 20 million years, wiped away in a couple of dozen of years.
    http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article2843954.ece
    http://environment.independent.co.uk/wildlife/article2843953.ece

  17. Hi Trinifar,

    Of course, you are correct in every way.

    What worries me is that too many people who have assumed responsibilities as leaders of the human community are denialists when it comes to even acknowledging the largest, most forbidding piece of the puzzle.

    Hi Julien,

    Thanks for your comments. They are well-placed.

    Always,

    Steve

  18. Hi Julien,

    Yeah I heard about that. It’s a shame what we’ve done in just the tiniest fraction of human history.

    On that topic, I’ve recently been thinking about species loss and population. I believe species loss may be one of the problems that shifting to clean, renewable energy would not, in itself, solve. It’s something I’ve only started looking into, but since habitat loss is apparently the leading cause of the problem, and the taking over of land for agriculture or “development” seems inevitable as long as population growth continues, population reduction will ultimately be necessary to stop this mass extinction. (…all the usual disclaimers about not advocating eugenics etc.) Of course economic growth is closely tied in as well.

  19. John,

    I just had an eye-opening discussion on the moderately astute environment board of DemocraticUnderground.com, a progressive political blog. I asked the question, “Would fusion power be a good thing or a bad thing?”

    My intention was to see if anyone was thinking about the issues of rising per capita energy, specifically in that it appears to drive population growth. The implication is that no matter how clean the energy is, it will cause all sorts of other problems. Not just the species loss you mention, but the rapid depletion of other non-energy resources such as water, the acceleration of soil depletion through more intensive farming, the final stripping of the oceans, etc.

    The response was nearly unanimous in favour of “the more clean energy the better”. Once I realized they weren’t getting it, I tried to steer the discussion a bit. I got a lot of strong objections to the idea that there might be unanticipated ecological costs associated with having lots and lots of clean energy.

    There was a poll included in the thread, and the results were over 90% in favour of more energy from fusion. Only two or three of us suspected it might not turn the world into some blissful Jetson suburb-in-the-air.

    Unlimited amounts of clean energy is the last thing our species could handle, I’m afraid. In this race to the finish, unfortunately I’ve ended up cheering for Mother Nature.

  20. Hej Paul,

    Yes, I agree with you. The politicians and so called visionaries put forward the ideal of clean and cheaply available energy driven by fusion, or whatever it might be; but their end goal is to promote this kind of technology in order to continue to grow economically “as usual”, although with non-fossil energy sources. Human nature has deceived me a lot of times although I’m still young. A redundant feature is its tendency to abuse of everything that’s free; our constant way of refusing to look further our own, and in the end, insignificant life, when considered in a wider scale. Say to a child “you’ve got free cookies as long as you want them” and he/she (although HE might be, to my opinion, more appropriate) will eat till he’s full or sick. We are like children with fossil fuels, and we would be like this with clean energies.

    That’s why we always need our governments or some kind of upper steering to prevent us from being ourselves… Well, that’s what we learn at high school in France as far as I remember, during those philosophy courses. “Le contrat social” of Rousseau sets the rules.

    But in our societies, I’ve noticed that any type of governement aims primarily at driving the system as usual despite the warning signals from scientists and others who dare to think out of the box. Because those elected or put into power are, like us, humans, and are seldom left
    untouched by greed of thirst of power.

    Until the day when we all, populations of all over the world, ask for real representatives and leaders able to lead the world with a longer-than-5 years perspective, we will not be able to change anything to our problems.

    We are all children, we need to be taken care of. The tricky part is to choose the right mum.

  21. I think we are back to talking about carrying capacity.

    If global human population density was much lower other species wouldn’t be so pressed. (John rightly points to habitat loss as being a major contributor to decline in biodiversity.) A while back we were talking about the Hopfenberg hypothesis that population expands to the extent that food production allows. Now we have Paul’s (quite sensible) idea that something similar regarding ecological damage is likely to apply with respect to available cheap energy even if that energy comes from a “benign” source like nuclear fusion. The prevailing thought is that having too many people on the planet is bound to be a problem.

    I keep trying to envision a world with a billion or so people in it who have chosen to live under a “New Social Contract” which stipulates sustainable living with a safe and secure but not growing food supply, maximum and minimum bounds on lifestyles, and a particular value on growing knowledge rather than accumulation of material things. But Julien’s remarks about how we manage (or don’t manage) our desires keeps me from seeing my future world as anything more than yet another utopian fantasy.

    It’s not that such a world might not come to pass at some point in the future, but at best it’s a long way away. When he appeared here on GIM Hopfenberg talked about population reduction taking centuries. In the meantime we continue to damage the environment in irreversible ways. We can grow more trees in the Amazon but we can’t replace species that have gone extinct. We can stop adding more coal-fired power plants but we can’t extract the excessive amount of CO2 we’ve already put in the atmosphere (and it will take nature centuries to do it).

    All we can do is keep building the case for social change while limiting our personal contribution to the damage. “All we can do…” Maybe that’s not as gloomy as it sounds. As more people begin to understand, we might just get the tipping point quicker than I suspect.

  22. Fascinating comments. Till now, I Haven’t had the chance to jump in and reply, but Paul’s comment and Julien and Trinifar’s replies have had me thinking for the last two days. Paul’s comment clarifies what I’d been vaguely thinking. And it’s important, to my mind anyway, to get a clear handle on the relationship between rising per capita energy and population growth, and the ways in which the latter will deplete other resources even in a context of clean, renewable energy. Yes, the prevailing notion seems to be that if we can just solve energy then we can continue with business as usual. This is a real problem.

    Some comments of Trinifar’s add to that with the observation that having the maximum sustainable population means a less resilient population, less able to adjust to stresses. It may seem counterintuitive, but this would seem to be especially so if we were to maximize carrying capacity by minimizing consumption, then achieve whatever maximum sustainable population that allowed.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is a key topic to put out there. All those folks pushing for clean energy without regard to population itself need to start thinking about it.

  23. Pingback: Is it enough to “solve” energy? « Growth is Madness!

  24. Each culture presents its membership with much that is real and also much less that is illusory. From the standpoint of a psychologist, because humans are shaped early and pervasively by cultural transmissions in our perception of reality, it looks like an evolutionary challenge for humankind to see the world as it is. (If this note were sent only to fellow psychologists, rather than use the term cultural transmissions, I would deploy a term from the work of Dr. Carl G. Jung, collective unconscious.)

    According to Russell P. Hopfenberg and David I. Pimentel, culture may at times mesmerize human beings in that it gives rise to illusions of the world as it is. This research, like some evidence before it, seems to disturb, because they come into conflict with, certain culturally derived notions held by members of a culture about what it means to be human and about the “place” of Homo sapiens in the natural order of living things. Scientific facts of this particular kind are uniformly difficult for people to see, I suppose, because such data have a way of undercutting the pedestal from which we look upon our fellow creatures, nature itself and the universe. We humans may introject culturally biased and scientifically unsupported transmissions (i.e., memes) that confuse human reasoning and promote a certain cortical conceitedness which is not helpful when trying to see what is real or to recognize certain requirements of reality. For a very long time cultural transmissions or memes appear occasionally and accidentally to pass from generation to generation, distorting human perceptions and making it difficult for us to see a scientific fact for what it is real about it.

    When a psychological practitioner like myself thinks a patient is suffering from a mental illness, that determination is a matter of evidence-based clinical judgment. However, general standards of what is normal are not clinical judgments (and sometimes do not objectively correlate with reality), but are oten unverified matters of cultural norms and social conventions that are full of scientifically validated perceptions of reality alongside some misperceptions of what is real. Because some misperceptions are valued by those who share them, these memes get passed along AS IF THEY REPRESENTED REALITY.

    In the cases of deeply disturbed mental patients, they are inclined to distort reality so drastically that their distortions are not widely held shared and held by other people. Instead, these mistaken impressions are labeled as examples of ‘craziness’. By contrast, governments, social organizations and cultures appear not to misperceive reality so sharply, yet distortions of what people in a culture perceive do remain.

    A term of art in psychology is useful here, folie a deux. The term means that two people share an identical distortion of reality. This understanding leads to other terms, folie a deux million for a social order or folie a deux billion for a culture. These terms refer to misperceived aspects of reality commonly shared and held by many people of a government, a society, a culture. One way to define the highest standard of what is normal for the individual and for people in a particular socio-cultural aggregate is in terms of being able to see what is free of illusion, what is in scientific fact real. Hence, in taking note of the process of humankind becoming evermore aware of reality by means of the acquisition of valid scientific data through time, Homo sapiens can track the evolution of science.

    Nature is a perfected, self-regulating and self-sustaining system that has worked for millions of years, without human presence or input, and will likely continue for millions of years with or without human activities. Ancestors of Homo sapiens survived successfully on Earth for the past few hundred thousand years, and then some more. In all that time humankind presumably did not endanger itself, nor did we oddly expunge other creatures, massively degrade the Earth or recklessly dissipate its limited resources upon which our lives, other forms of life and even the global economy depend for their very existence.

    In this context it is worth noting that something happened several thousand years ago. At some point not long after the end of the Ice Age Homo sapiens appear to have turned to growing and storing food and treating it as a commodity. As humans produced more food than the population needed for its immediate survival, our population numbers began going up, up, up and not up and down as do the population numbers of other species on Earth. Instead of continuing to exist as hunter-gatherers and collect food necessary for survival, Homo sapiens produced, stored and sold more and more food. The (agri)culture-al economy that developed over the last 8,000 to 11,000 years is forthrightly man-made, ever expanding, seemingly limitless and, just now, soon to become patently unsustainable at its current huge scale and its fully anticipated growth rate, and, therefore, in its present form. As this artificially designed economy has grown, human population numbers appear to have stopped fluctuating in a natural cycle as they likely had through unrecorded time. During the past few thousand years human numbers began to increase in an unhealthful, nearly exponential manner. For the past several hundred years global human population numbers have skyrocketed.

    The “demographic transition” is descriptive not deterministic. The widely shared and consensually validated current evidence related to the automatic occurrence of a so-called demographic transition at 9.2 billion people around 2050 appears to be preternatural, culturally skewed and, therefore, scientifically unsound.

    Looking at regions where population is increasing at a decreasing rate or at a country like Italy and with its decreasing population numbers may be distracting us — and need not necessarily blind us — from the apparently unforeseen knowledge of our continuously increasing absolute global human numbers and their potentially profound implications. We wish to look at trees, but need to see the forest.

    According to the unchallenged and virtually irrefutable research from Hopfenberg and Pimentel, human population numbers are continuing to increase worldwide as a result of the production of food in greater and greater quantities. These food resources are then made ever more available by sale and delivery into areas on the planet with low human carrying capacity, where human life in large numbers and other life cannot simultaneously be sustained.

    Could it be that we are not making hunger go away by means of maximally expanding the food supply, but instead giving rise to billions of hungry people, extirpating biodiversity and undermining the integrity of global ecosystems?

    Please note that 3.7 billion people exist these days in our planetary home on resources valued at less than $2 per day. That number of people is greater than the total number of people on Earth in the year 1950!

    Certainly human beings have sophisticated, forward-planning cultures and a progressive world economy. And for all the wonders of our pyramid-like global economic scheme, still there is apparently not be a scientific basis for concluding human beings have broken the bonds of our placement among the creatures of the world. Nor have the conditions of the natural world likely been suspended somehow for human benefit. No, the
    Hopfenberg/Pimentel evidence indicate that certain biological and physical laws of nature likely apply to all creatures of Earth, including human ones.

  25. Dear Friends,

    Something of possible import “the madness of growth” has come to my attention that I do not understand. It has to do with UNECONOMIC economic growth. Perhaps someone can help here.

    The following comes from a blogger named Art who has contributed to a discussion at the Orion Magazine website. The thread for the entire discussion, Alter Call for True Believers, is at the following link.

    http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/discuss/342/

    The missive to which I refer is next.

    80 Art on Aug 30, 2007

    From what I have rsad here, I am seeing more agreement in general, but like looking through a prism at varying angles, interpretations are diverse.

    Speaking of growth, whether of people, poverty, wealth, or I.Q., I think we are evolving our economic paradigms. Within the standard neo-classical paradigm “uneconomic growth” is an anomalous category. You will not find it mentioned in any of the classics on macroeconomics. But within the paradigm of ecological economics it is an obvious possibility.

    The pre-analytic vision of standard neo-classical economics is that the economy is the total system, and that nature, to the extent that it is considered at all, is a sector of the economy – e.g. the extractive sector (mines, wells, forests, fisheries, agriculture).

    Read the rest…

    [Administrator’s note: Steve, I have truncated this upon finding the commenter, “Art,” lifted it from a speech of Herman Daly’s. Here’s a link to that speech:

    http://www.rightlivelihood.org/daly_speech.html

    I was reading the comment, thinking, “Wow, great stuff, this guy really knows his ecological economics, though it sounds like he’s kind of parroting Herman Daly.” Finally, he seemed to get so sophisticated in his argument that I got as little suspicious and had to google a phrase just to see… And there it was. So I’m leaving the first portion with the link. It is a great speech and a good overview of aspects of eco-econ. It’s just too bad the commenter didn’t give Herman Daly credit (and then just link to it). I don’t blame you for bringing it to our attention, Steve. You knew excellent material when you saw it! By the way, if you like that, you should really like the upcoming piece here on GIM. 🙂 — JF ]

  26. Thanks John for the assistance. I will look forward to what is to come from GIM.

    A link to a unusually helpful article follows,

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/books/review/Schuessler-t.html?8bu&emc;=bu

    All my best,

    Steve

  27. Subject: Press Release: Are We Ignoring Our Planet’s Future?

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Rachel Friedman, 727-443-7115, ext. 206
    Rachel@emsincorporated.com

    Are Short Term Financial Gains Killing Our Planet?
    How Reforms to Capitalism Can Save the Environment

    The polar ice caps are melting, species are facing extinction and our climate has become more erratic than ever before. It is impossible to deny the need for intense change in the face of today’s gathering ecological crises. Now that scientific facts support the theories behind global warming, why aren’t more people paying attention—and how do we stop the damage?
    Jonathon Porritt, adviser to the UK Prime Minister and author of the new book, “Capitalism as if the World Matters,” (Earthscan 2007) says the first step towards implementing change is to alter the approach to conventional environmentalism. To win people over and get them on board, he suggests focusing on the positive. “Change will not come by threatening people with yet more ecological doom and gloom,” says Porritt. “The necessary changes have to be seen as good for people, their health and their quality of life – and not just good for future generations.”
    As the book title suggests, the biggest players in the game- businesses and politicians- must undergo a paradigm shift. “Anything vaguely resembling ‘business-as-usual’ is no less than a death warrant for the highest ideals of contemporary civilization,” says Porritt. “And that means we have to dig a lot deeper than today’s superficial, febrile political debates seem inclined to do.”

    While Porritt acknowledges the big picture can be very threatening, he believes positive and profound change is possible. Through his work with Forum for the Future, an organization that works with a very wide range of some of the world’s biggest international companies, Porritt acts as an adviser to a number of chief executives. Porritt says the message that capitalism can be a change-agent for our future is starting to resonate. “Like it or not (and the vast majority of people do), capitalism is now the only economic game in town,” says Porritt. “And that, of course, means that the emerging solutions have to be fashioned with the embrace of capitalism.”

    Porritt suggests that today’s model of capitalism is more and more dependent upon liquidating our necessary natural resources. This in turn has a ripple effect of magnifying divides between the rich and the poor worldwide. Porritt suggests that there are three ways we can transform capitalism in order to stop this from getting worse:

    Pay real prices for the things that we take out of nature
    Get the balance right between the short and long term
    Promote responsible consumption (energy, food, travel, etc)

    “This combination is the most likely to provide a serious political alternative to today’s economic and political beliefs,” say Porritt. “Sustainable growth is understood as answering the inescapable challenge of living within our “natural limits,” providing unique opportunities for responsible and innovative capital creators, and offering people a more equitable and more rewarding way of life.”
    “Capitalism as if the World Matters” offers real-world solutions to the ‘destruction of the world’ problems that our global society faces. Porritt has put his experience to work, outlining frameworks for sustainable capitalism and pointing to the initiatives some governments and businesses are already beginning to follow. As Porritt so adroitly points out, unless conventional environmentalism throws its weight behind this type of progressive political agenda, the planet will continue to face steep decline.
    ###

    To interview Jonathon Porritt or for a review copy of Capitalism as if the World Matters by Jonathon Porritt (Earthscan, 2007; 356pp. paperback, $24.95) contact Rachel Damien-Friedman at 727-443-7115, ext. 206 or email rachel@emsincorporated.com Please include your name, publication, and mailing address with your request. Visit http://www.forumforthefuture.org.uk for more information.
    Paperback: 356 pages
    Publisher: Earthscan
    Available at: http://www.amazon.com http://www.earthscan.co.uk
    About the author:
    Jonathon Porritt is Co-Founder of Forum for the Future (the UK’s leading sustainable development organization) Jonathon is an eminent writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development.
    Porritt was appointed by Tony Blair as Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission in July 2000, the government’s principal source of independent sustainable development advice. In addition, he has been a member of the Board of the South West Regional Development Agency since December 1999, and is Co-Director of The Prince of Wales Business and Environment Program which runs Senior Executive’ Seminars in Cambridge, Salzburg, South Africa and the USA.
    Porritt was formerly Director of Friends of the Earth (1984-90); co-chair of the Green Party (1980-83) of which he is still a member; chairman of UNED-UK (1993-96); chairman of Sustainability South West, the South West round Table for Sustainable Development (1999-2001); a Trustee of WWF UK (1991-2005). For his services in environmental protection, he was made Commander of the British Empire in January 2000, which is the highest honor one can receive that does not confer a knighthood.
    Rachel Friedman
    Print Campaign Manager
    Event Management Services, Inc.
    1127 Grove Street · Clearwater, Florida 33755
    Phone: 727-443-7115 ext. 206
    Fax: 727-443-0835
    http://www.emsincorporated.com

  28. For me, there is something supremely ironic in the awarding of a Nobel Prize to a banker named, of all things, Muhammad.

    There are plenty of successful bankers in New York City alone. Has one of them ever been nominated for such a prize? Why is Mr. Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh, a banker described by many people worldwide as a “banker to the poor,” selected for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize?

    I suppose it is because nowhere else on the surface of the Earth can anyone find another banker who is not servicing the rich and powerful and, therefore, willing to say something like, “Everybody is busy buying, everybody is busy consuming, but they don’t realize how much of the exhaustible resources that we are using up by this wasteful way of living, the lifestyle. So we need to look for a new kind of lifestyle, which will be consistent with the resources that we have in this world.”

    The successful bankers I have met in the course of time uniformly display a certain imperious reserve associated with excessive wealth and power as well as a willful religiosity that forbids them from speaking out loudly and clearly what is true for them about such things. Perhaps they will tell you what I have been told for many years, SILENCE IS GOLDEN.

  29. Pingback: Let’s talk about inequality; blog action day 2014… | this fragile tent