We all have aspirations for our lives. Aspirations are good and should be the goal of human economic activity – what better goals could we have? We like economic growth as we expect this to facilitate the achievement of our aspirations in spite of the fact that we are more than likely to die before we fulfil any of them. The next generation tries again, having learnt nothing from the previous one. We spend our life chasing the myth of ‘more’ and ‘bigger’. It is time to look at this from a different angle. We shall put growth to one side for a while and we will take a shot at articulating our objectives.
I have looked at the results of surveys carried out in different countries on the subject of what people ultimately want from life and I have combined these aspirations into a list. The aspirations are not listed in any particular order – here goes:
Happiness; Freedom; Peace; Enjoyment; Balance; Fulfilment; Confidence; Stability; Passion; Health & Fitness; New Experiences; New Skills; Learning; See the World; Connecting with people.
What we wish for ourselves we also wish for others as aspirations have value only if shared with others. You will have noticed that these aspirations have mostly to do with emotional wellbeing and point starkly at our emotional poverty in spite of having so many possessions. This list also shows that we have an impressive in-built moral compass. Although having a sound moral framework available does not actually mean living by it, the presence of a moral code entrenched in our being is nonetheless significant. I believe that this moral code has developed from the fact that collaboration is what has allowed us to survive as a species. Collaboration necessitates win:win outcomes and therefore implies empathy, an interest in the wellbeing of others. Collaboration as a joint effort for survival is found across nature. There is also self interest involved in collaboration and that is acceptable.
This collaborative disposition provides the ground for that which is good and altruistic in humans. This ‘goodness’ is our birthright and each and every one of us is born with it and we should not subscribe to belief systems that would try to sell us what we already have. Moreover, the logical inference is that the numerous species, with who we share our DNA, must also have this inherent ‘goodness’.
People do give importance to jobs and money, however only as a means to achieving their aspirations. It is true that money, to a degree, oils the wheels of our effort towards achieving our goals. It is the obsession with money that is the problem of course and not the actual money. Money tends to take over and become an end in itself as we strive to fulfil our ever increasing perceived needs. The emphasis on money is one created by the particular model we have chosen to adopt – there are other models.
Gideon Rachman, Financial Times foreign affairs correspondent recently wrote “Economics is – or should be – part of a moral philosophy. Successful politicians have to do more than just deliver economic growth. They also need to offer voters a vision of the economy that makes moral sense, in which virtue is rewarded and vice is punished.”
We should value educational and caring services carried out within households. Households bring forth the most important element for any business enterprise or society – people.
It is evident from experience and observation that people are mostly amicable, helpful and are able to empathise at some level or another. We can easily experience these emotions even when relating to other species particularly in the realm of family relationships and survival. We are as touched by a mother and child dolphins or orang-utans as we are by the human equivalent. We do empathise with the suffering of both people and animals when we are forced to look. Tens of people on a beach will mobilise to save a one beached whale or dolphin and yet we are also slaughtering cetaceans in the open seas by the hundreds of thousands annually. Individually we are not so bad, so how did we let the destruction of the natural world and ongoing extinction of species go so far.
My explanation is that in order to get on with our daily lives we have abandoned our value judgements and moral ground and left these to me usurped and managed by the political and business elites. This has turned out to be a mistake of monumental proportions. We must claim back this lost ground if we are to save ourselves and our fellow co-habitants on this planet. We should make it clear to all who think they know better, that we are taking back control.
Society needs to be cohesive based on trust and reciprocity created in social groups brought together as a result of their common history, networks and relationships. Communities (smaller rather than larger) are vital to humans. Families and communities bring out the best in us. We collaborate, empathise and give of ourselves and of ours, generously and selflessly. At the opposite end we have the soulless cosmopolitan environment in which millions live and where loneliness, greed, crime and egoism reign supreme – any of this beginning to sound familiar?
Current economic theory depicts the typical human as calculating and utilitarian, constantly weighing his options in order to acquire by effort and money that which has most use for him to satisfy his needs. The marketing and public relations industry is based on the precept that people have infinite needs. This concept of ‘infinite needs’ came to be once our needs were no longer tied to survival. We consider our fascinations and random mental wonderings to be ‘needs’, hence our unhealthy attachment, for example, to plastics, fashion, gadgets, junk food and waste. We are gullible in the extreme and glorify ignorance of consequences as a status symbol. We turn to commerce and government to mediate our social and ecological relationships rather than appealing to our own in-built social norms, values and morals – this is a tragedy.
We find ourselves displaced within a black and white world view when in fact the world is all the colours and shades in between. We, as human beings, understand this in a flash – the rigid and inflexible rules we live by do not.
In order to save ourselves, our country and the Earth we must balance the biosphere’s ecological and life giving characteristics with human aspirations articulated as deliverable economic goals in a win:win situation where we strive to improve both. Our past and present value and belief systems have so far created the two dynamics of social inequality and ecological degradation that are the blue print for disaster. Billions of people still face deprivation while the few own half of the world’s financial wealth. The future needs to be encompassing and regenerative. A regenerative economy means taking out of the biosphere much less than we are putting in, or not taking out anything at all.
The third in a series of five articles on sustainability – Article published in the Sunday Times of Malta, 25th March 2018