Living a middle class lifestyle, would you just want to give it up?
Living in poverty, wouldn’t you be enticed by the images you see of better lives?
This, of course, is the great problem that a transformation to better ways faces.
The one, still smaller, part of the world’s population belonging to the middle class and above lives in rather comfortable conditions and doesn’t want (that to) change; the majority of the world’s people, who live in worse circumstances, aspire to lives that are so easy.
Now, we may know that things aren’t quite all that easy. You can live in the supposed land of opportunity, be employed, but hardly be able to get by; you can live in the middle of the high levels of development and the social safety nets of many a European country, but know even less what you should do to make things better. You can even be rich enough to not have to worry about money… and yet worry, because others still have more, others who have less may want to take what you have, and so on.
No matter what the difficulties, though, the very images alone are powerful.
As we have just seen, the story of lack drives a lot of our inertia and often prevents even those who want a better world from realizing that there are better stories and better ways, in the ‘cultivation of better.’
Comfort makes for great inertia, even – and especially! – when you have to fear that the future will be worse.
The conclusion: better enjoy what you have now and resist the unknown.
Hope for a better life (plus the necessity to struggle to get by and the example of others who “have made it”) makes for great motivation (see China). So, do something, anything, to get by and make it.
Here lies the great conundrum of our time:
We are starting to realize that we cannot just go on, considering, for example, what we are learning from ecological footprint analyses. According to those looks at our use of resources and ecological capacities, expressed in the form of area, we’d need more than the one planet we have even if every single person alive now lived like the average contemporary Chinese – which is far from the way of life we’d want.
We see that the whole world cannot industrialize and live consumer lifestyles, meaning that both industrialized and industrializing countries would need to take a turn towards the truly ecological if we are to achieve any kind of equity, peace, and livable futures. Increasingly, we even notice both the relative comfort and the rising unhappiness that “modern” lifestyles have led to, the declining quality of life and increasing precariousness that capitalism has lately led to.
What is it, then? Welcome to the misery we will all share in?
We decide we want for us and humanity to survive, we need to scale back into the pre-modern? Or, we refuse to change and get thrown into a (similarly) bleak future because the climate shifts, ecosystems collapse, and the resources necessary for civilization – not just rare earths and minerals, but even water and fertile soil – become objects of violent conflict?
(And no, a “greening” of the economy – such as in efficiency gains of appliances, hybrid/electric cars and the like is, given the same look at ecological footprints, not going to cut it. It still requires fossil fuel to produce, still sees consumption rise, so any hope for such an “outside” solution alone – without change in our desires and doings – won’t save us.)
What we usually get is a game of “yes, but…”:
Yes, we need a shift – but let the others go first.
Yes, things can’t go on forever – but they’ll change when situations change.
Yes, maybe growth won’t make everyone happy – but it’s what we know and what’s worked alright so far.
From there, everything revolves around the arguments for and against, everyone just tries to convince the others – but nothing much happens. No wonder, though, when aspirations for better aren’t taken quite seriously.
It’s not the ecology of happiness we typically hear about, let alone get to see convincing visions of, it is but survival. And to get even just there, everyone’s supposed to switch to just getting by, be happy in shared misery, give up any hope for better lives. Or so it seems, compared to the dream of the easy good life of the consumerist world.
The big question, then, is this: Are there other ways of living – and of making a living – that are not just for survival, not just for making it through future hard times when and if they should appear, but better than a possible muddling through a potentially tough future, better even than the lifestyles that we currently have and aspire to?
We are highly critical of any such alternatives that often require lots of energy and hard work, if not, seemingly, conviction of an almost religious fervor. Strange people, them who go back to the land, re-inhabit and change abandoned villages, work to make a living directly off the land.
Then again, we are increasingly seeing how living with more concern for doing good, not just as a green veneer but as richer living, is better than constant attempts at making a killing and being well-off thanks to loads of money and lots of stuff…
The better ways of living are clearly not just wondered about, but also wandered on, explored, experimented with, and there as examples…and this is a wake-up call not to keep circling around critiques and slightly “green” consumerism, but to present these positives and the practical, radical, ways to get there, to better, in our aspirations and our actions.