The Growth Dilemma

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Perhaps the moment has arrived to reject the myth of economic growth. Photo by the UN-aligned design team.
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Read this article in Italian (Leggi questo articolo in italiano) →

Transcending simplistic assumptions

Society is faced with a profound dilemma. To reject growth is to risk economic and social collapse. To pursue it relentlessly is to endanger the ecosystems on which we depend for long term survival. This delusional strategy has reached its limits. Simplistic assumptions that capitalism’s propensity for efficiency will stabilise the climate and solve the problems of resource scarcity are almost literally bankrupt.

Our own relentless search for novelty and social status lock us in an iron cage of consumerism. Affluence itself has betrayed us. We lose the shared prosperity that we sought in the first place. We can however create and recreate the social world. This is where a social transformation is needed. The starting point for all of this lies in a vision of prosperity as the ability to flourish as human beings within the ecological limits of our finite planet.

To realise that well is part of the ability to give and receive love, to enjoy the respect of our peers, to contribute constructively to society, to have a sense of belonging and trust in the community, to help create the social world and find a credible place in it. In brief, an important component of prosperity is the ability to participate meaningfully in the life of society. This is the wisdom of the sages from time immemorial. But material wealth has made it harder and harder to see where real wealth lies. On the other hand, asking people to give up material commodities is like inviting a kind of social suicide.

Growth with a sense of shared meaning

Frugality may seem hard to us, but its linguistic roots do not lie in sacrifice and hardship

Consolidating the things that matter to us and reducing unnecessary commitments increases our resilience to external shocks and can even improve our quality of life. Frugality seems hard to us, but its linguistic roots do not lie in sacrifice and hardship at all, but in the Latin word “fructus”. Being a good ‘fruit’ means being honest and temperate, dedicated to long-term flourishing; traits that are vital for human beings and for the earth itself.

Now our challenging mission is to reconstruct growth from the bottom up and fully participate in the task of transforming society with our sense of shared meaning and purpose; to continuously create and materialise the dream for a prosperous future. This should make prosperity possible beyond consumerism. We learn and appreciate how to be happy by consuming less. A core element here is the revitalisation of the notion of public good; to review our sense of common space and common good for a shared purpose of well-being, both individually and communally.

A different kind of economy is essential for a different kind of prosperity. The ability to share in a common endeavour and yet to pursue our potential as individual human beings. Through creative working and living we create the social world and find a credible place in it. As Steve Jobs used to say: “the crazy people matter”. I add to it 3 C’s, as they are “curious, creative and courageous” people.

Perhaps the moment has arrived – if it is not too late – to be wise and to act accordingly, thus dismantling the myth of economic growth in order to define it with new parameters for the economic and productive activities. Only in so doing can we spawn another culture that can be more conducive to wholesome living on Earth. Thus, a new type of learning and understanding is urgently needed if we are to proceed consciously towards harmony and wellbeing for all.

A joint effort

It is thus urgent and necessary to anticipate and ascend to the future and accordingly create a positive change. Hence, it is in our self-interest to work together to preserve and enhance our quality of life, as well as giving it a deeper meaning. Thus, the primary challenge that confronts us is to discover and develop the skills we need, and based on that, to think and act collaboratively. This is the way evolving societies develop proactively towards a sustainable future for life on earth.

This will be a new era in human history, whereby, through a profound social transformation, conscientious and ecology-conscious human societies will emerge. This newly born society may then remove all the roadblocks to human becoming, thus strengthening the dwindling human values of respect, justice, ethics, benevolence, reciprocity, communication and sharing with all human beings as well as with all living systems.  Last but not least, the focus will be on caring for Nature and the environment with empathy and love towards a sensible transformation of individual human beings and societies.

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