Friday, January 22, 2010

Toto had the right idea

Progress is learning from your mistakes. Progress is
discovering the art of going nowhere. Progress is getting
getting along, and across, and through, and back.
Progress is growing up; and down. All these are valid
forms of progress, but the dominant, the hegemonic
concept of progress in our time is materialistic progress
measured by economic statistics and technological
developments. We are so in thrall to it that we don’t
even notice our enslavement most of the time. Perhaps
because we prefer to see our own lives in terms of a
journey towards something better or more successful we
need to believe that the society around us is, or ought to
be, going upward, onward, forward. This was not an
issue in, say, medieval times, when life was experienced
essentially as stasis, with the real action coming after
death; it is probably precisely in reaction to that attitude
that Western peoples, anyway, for the past three or four
centuries have been captivated by the idea of getting
somewhere in this life rather than the next one. Darwin
probably has a lot to answer for, too.

What inspires politicians, excites the media and brings
businesspeople, investors and bankers to orgasmic pitch
are reports of increases (good) rather than decreases
(bad) or no change at all (boring). Yet I don’t think it
would be such a huge mental shift if we adjusted to the
idea of the ‘steady state,’ as currently advocated here.
Events will force us to, anyway, sooner or later. What irks
‘gloomy Green Malthusian millennialists’ like me (I owe
this epithet to Sanctuary, in a recent comment on a blog
of mine; thanks, Sancs) is the sheer stupid waste, and
harm, of pretending that economies can go on growing
indefinitely, that crucial resources will never run out, that
the environmental damage done since the Industrial
Revolution, and still being done on an ever-increasing
scale, won’t somehow have to be paid for—and not just in
living standards but in lives, let alone anything else.

Each one of us could make a start by refusing to fall for
the conjuring tricks of modern economics, which,
purporting to measure the world’s wealth and health,
underpins the policies and actions of all governments
and all international institutions such as the IMF and the
OECD. Yet it does it in such a narrow cramped way, and
so entirely in the interests of unfettered global capitalism,
that it has come to be ahuman, if not downright anti-
human. The first step towards economic sanity, and
indeed a reclaiming of ‘economy’ in its true original
sense, is to expose this nonsense. I have used the image
of the king’s new clothes before; perhaps an even apter
one is the Wizard of Oz. With his hocus-pocus he held
his land in thrall; his magic seemed terrifyingly real.
Thanks to Toto, we now know that he was just a funny
little man hiding behind a curtain and cranking up the
volume. How scary was that?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A small aside - an item on TV. Announcer (breathlessly) "the NZ dollar at Aus .7979 is just below the magical exchange rate figure of 80 cents."

In the interest of informing the public of other key information, in the same day the NZ dollar was worth 23.6767 Thai Baht, just below the magical exchange rate of 23.7000 and (news just to hand) the dollar is trading at 1.9119 Papua New Guinean Kina and has therefore broken through the magical figure of 1.900 Kina.