Children playing in snow

Returning Forward

Get into “environmental(ist)” vs. economic debates enough, there’s always the point where the “greens” want to stop and re-consider, the “techno-optimists” want to forge headlong into the future. It’s just “out with the old, in with the new” vs. “let’s just go back” – unless, perhaps, the economically-oriented also want to go back, but only to the 1950’s of their imagination…

It’s been a while since colonial empires ruled the world’s people, assuming that theirs was a “natural” place at the top because they were more developed and therefore entrusted with bringing civilization to those still caught in barbarianism.
This evolutionist perspective is still around, though.

It has just become wrapped up in ideas of democracy and, above all, technological progress and economic development. It’s not “we bring civilization” anymore, now it’s “welcome to the consumer’s paradise” – and it is tempting. Modern technology and medicine have brought many advances, indeed.

We are, however, also in an era that seems to be facing no-low-point disasters like global climate change and mass extinctions (and drug-resistant infectious diseases, and economic unravelings) which show no signs of reaching rock bottom and getting better from there on.

And so, economic growth is still put forth as the only possible answer, anyways, as the development that made for development and therefore must make for development, as if things could never go wrong and never had to change.
Much of what is suggested as alternatives, not being easily imaginable unless in negative terms, gets criticized as a step back, a supposed return not just to the land, but up the trees, into the caves, down into poverty.

So much of what is suggested as a potential better is well-worth criticizing when it naively assumes that the old and traditional, the return to nature, the switch “from ego to eco” would just magically make everything all good and forgets about the positives that have, indeed, been achieved by our very human work with the “unnatural,” technological, creative and changing.

In the same fashion, however, a simplistic belief in the naturalness of progress, the overwhelming positive of everything and anything new, the human ability to adapt and techno-magically come up with new solutions, needs to be criticized whenever it goes astray, too.
This view all too often fails to consider the negatives that go hand-in-hand with the “progress” and even the fundamentals of life as an organism, a human being, in this world and dependent on its (ecological) functioning. “The God Species” we are not; we are being asked to take the reins of nature and the whole planet but cannot even manage our own body weights.

It is only too easy to pick one of those sides, focus on its good sides, and become so convinced of the veracity of that perspective that the other side just gets endlessly criticized and critiqued. After all, there is always something to find; some positive or negative that, in the mind of the proponent/critic, outweighs all other arguments.

The great challenge and the actual intent of calls to better – as made through The Ecology of Happiness – is to weigh the merits and costs of different ways of doing things, old and new, in action, with an eye towards their ‘fittedness’ to place, ‘planet,’ and person.
Often enough, old ways will thus be found to have great merit (such as homemaking and the skills it requires, a focus on quality and durability, steps towards self-providing with food), but so will new things be found to offer advantages (online learning and communication, all the potential uses of a modern smartphone,…).

It’s not about returning back to anywhere, it’s about ‘returning forward:’ finding those practices that actually make sense in providing for human needs while not costing the future in the process, and intentionally using and combining them to co-create better through their conscious employment.

The challenge is to not discuss endlessly what is good or bad, and end up chasing after the promise of the latest gadget (and rhetorical tails), nor to fall into the trap of retreating to a past that never was (let alone tell others how good it is they’re living like that while ensconced in a comfortable modern life oneself!) but to actually do better, allowing for (and better yet actively creating) a diversity of approaches and life ways.


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