Things are going swell. And not well at all.
Life is not too bad, and even the lives of those who have it really worse seem to be getting rather better. At the same time, the “better” the poor are moving towards is the same lifestyle that has not made those of us in “developed” economies particularly happy – and the future looks like it will bring even fewer chances for our flourishing.
It is in this dilemma that we seem stuck.
Many people just end up in feelings of well-informed futility or denial. Some give up hope, and not so few prepare for the worst. Most don’t want to or can’t see the problems, or simply don’t want to be bothered, and have too much on their heads already, anyways.
As a result, people aware of the problems and engaged in the search for attention struggle to raise awareness. Crisis, however, is often proposed as the only way real and lasting change will come about – except that it’s leavened with the thought that it may be too late then, if not for humanity, then at least for civilization.
Meanwhile, we are seeing people, from those into personal development and life hacking to those joining forces into Transition movements, for “Slow Food” (and “slow” lifestyles), permaculture, and many, many others, experiment with alternatives, look, long, and work for something better.
It is here that change will come about, with or without stronger crisis (which could also make people want nothing more than to just get back to “normal” and assign blame): through desire and strategy.
Desire, for better.
Yes, we can be made to work to avoid punishment, to just get a few scraps and the idea that things may be better in the future, somewhere, somehow – but we come to life as human beings when we work for something that taps into our innate needs not just for food and sex (though the power of such primal drives should not be underrated, or they themselves denigrated), but also for community, influence (self-efficacy) and meaning.
For things that let us remember that we are not just animals here to survive and procreate, not just hedonists looking for a quick fix of pleasure, but human beings who make sense.
Strategy, because not everyone ever wants to change.
Just try to stop smoking, or go on a diet, and it’s obvious how resistant we are to change.
At the same time, though, when we see someone do something different and be better-off for it, in some way that is appealing to us, we start to wonder. Get a few more people like that, and we start to copy what they are doing. A few more again, and what was strange and alternative has gone from being a better, fashionable alternative to being what is just normal then and there, particularly so when it changes conversations, attitudes – or infrastructures.
When it’s become easy and normal to bike, chances are you’ll bike and not drive. Environmental concerns don’t even go into the equation anymore once that point is reached.
There lies the reason why “better ways of (making a) living” are the phrase you’ll often come across on these pages.
We do not only need ideas of better, by which the best of our qualities as human beings are supported (as are the ecosystems we depend on and live by), we need to actually live those alternatives, experiment with what fits for us, our social and natural communities, and get by and better through it.
As long as it’s all just a little add-on to otherwise destructive ways of feeding, clothing, housing ourselves, working and making money, there is no real change. All the awareness-raising that has once again gone into overdrive as Rio+20 is fast approaching will not amount to much if there is little practical example of “better” to follow.
Once we create rather than just consume, produce and don’t just purchase, really live in the ways we see as better rather than just chase after vapid lifestyles, though, the change will arise.
As Wendell Berry so nicely put it, though:
“You can describe the predicament that we’re in as an emergency… and your trial is to learn to be patient in an emergency.”
Change, he says, is going to come from “people at the bottom” doing things differently.
“[N]o great feat is going to happen to change all this; you’re going to have to humble yourself to be willing to do it one little bit at a time. You can’t make people do this. What you have to do is notice that they’re already doing it.”
So now, if you want to be an agent for better – and live better yourself – do it yourself. Do it for others. Do it with others. But do, in the living, in making a living, in the hard ways that will lead to happiness…