do you ever get those moments, perhaps sitting in a coffee shop, or elsewhere, when you indulge in people watching and a number of thoughts suddenly arrive in your mind?
I do, and quite often they revolve around the same old themes. One such theme is a combination of many questions, almost naïve and childlike, about what I see happening around me, as the busy people of the urban world swarm like ants.
How did we get to this, do we want this, why and how does it sustain itself (the way of life...and sustainability of this way of life is not a long term option I would argue)?
The same question rumbles along – where are we going and will we ever stop?
Of course, this question is broad and encompasses too much to explain in one post. I'll concentrate on aspect, our aims for progress and the relationship with time, namely, unless you are dabbling in the higher levels of physics, you will consider that time is moving forward in one direction only. Time is essentially irreversible. All will become clear.
The mantra of the modern Western world is about 'progress'. The rhetoric of politicians and businessman is that we must 'progress' and nothing must stand in the way of 'progress'. Of course a lot depends on what is progressing, and who considers it 'progress'. We could certainly say that some issues of rights and democracy have progressed over time in some areas, and regressed in others (namely the recent legislation 'needed' to fight 'terror'). Most of the time, it is to technology, markets, and the economy that we refer to when discussing progress. Wifi, ipods, 'choice' in education and hospitals, rising GDP, more holidays abroad, latte's on the go, enormous plasma television screens...all instances of what I would guess people would refer to as progress in the modern sense. Banks and oil companies reporting record profits (and asking for lower taxes and government handouts when they make a mistake....poor banks), new markets and 'democracy' in Iraq. All progress?
Natural resources being depleted, climate change, a retreat on basic human rights and international law, rising inequality for the highest and lowest deciles of global population and riots for food. Progress? These are the symptoms of the the 'progress' we have achieved. In our desire to sate hunger for consumption and material rewards, and we are all guilty to some extent, in chasing economic growth and embracing all technological development as good, we have contributed to a growing number of serious problems which threaten human life and ecosystem survival.
So, must we always 'progress'? Who is deciding what progress is? The economists say we must always make our economies grow, but why? When is enough enough? As we lurch forward in time, we will encounter points of no return, at least on the human timescale. What are we busily chasing? Where are we heading? Do we have any idea, or is it enough to just 'progress' and 'grow'? Would you run into a pitch-dark alley? No i guess. So what is the difference here?
It seems humans are rushing forward for something they don't even know about, and dare not question whether they want it or not. Is there not a way to decide, on the basis of the finite resources and environmental sinks the Earth has, and a global social contract, on a way of life that gives us what we need, for all, and allows the Earth to retain it's ecosystems and sustain natural resources for future generations? It seems obvious really. I guess some will see this as communism. Read into it what you will, I believe it is merely common sense. Why should a minority of the world take so much more of the world's resources for no more reason than accident of birth? With a rising population, eventually we might reach Malthusian concerns, but we have not reached that yet. Our problem is that the progress we need is not the progress we are chasing and embracing and legitimizing.
It is high time, we started working together in the face of reality, and determined what we can actually take each, and why we need it. Much of what we have in the West, I would contend, does not make us any happier. The opposite in many cases. Freedom of speech, movement (in environmentally friendly ways!), good health, good diet, participatory democratic systems (or whatever works best, or least worst), adequate shelter, education, and other basic materials: these are things I believe we need.
I recognise I am writing this on a computer, and maybe they will have their place for some functions in society, but we don't need them. We have create a world that justifies and demands them. Ditto for mobile phones, ipods, sports cars, TVs and so on. Living is the main thing, and living without oppression, environmental degradation, poverty and with sustainability.
I hope we change course soon, and work out what we need to do before it is too late. Time's arrow means our decisions are path dependent, let us not put the future generations on the wrong path with our actions now.