Sustainability

Small is beautiful^

Photo by Pinakeen Bhatt on Unsplash

‘In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man. If only there were more and more wealth, everything else, it is thought, would fall into place. Money is considered to be all-powerful; if it could not actually buy non-material values, such as justice, harmony, beauty or even health, it could circumvent the need for them or compensate for their loss.

The development of production and the acquisition of wealth have thus become the highest goals of the modem world in relation to which all other goals, no matter how much lip-service may -still be paid to them, have come to take second place. The highest goals require no justification all secondary goals have finally to justify themselves in terms of the service their attainment renders to the attainment of the highest.

This is the philosophy of materialism, and it is this philosophy — or metaphysic — which is now being challenged by events. There has never been a time, in any society in any part of the world, without its sages and teachers to challenge materialism and plead for a different order of priorities. The languages have differed, the symbols have varied, yet the message has always been the same: “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and these things (the material things which you also need) shall be added unto you.’ They shall be added, we are told, here on earth where we need them, not simply in an after-life beyond our imagination.

Today, however, this message reaches us not solely from the sages and saints but from the actual course of physical events. It speaks to us in the language of terrorism, genocide, breakdown, pollution, exhaustion. We live, it seems in a unique period of convergence. It is becoming apparent that there is not only a promise but also a threat in those astonishing words about the kingdom of God — the threat that ‘unless you seek first the kingdom, these other things, which you also need, will cease to be available to you’. As a recent writer put it, without reference to economics and politics but nonetheless with direct reference to the condition of the modern world:

If it can be said that man collectively shrinks back more and more from the Truth, it can also be said that on all sides the Truth is closing in more and more upon man. It might almost be said that, in order to receive a touch of It, which in the past required a lifetime of effort, all that is asked of him now is not to shrink back. And yet how difficult that is!

We shrink back from the truth if we believe that the destructive forces of the modern world can be ‘brought under control’ simply by mobilising more resources — of wealth, education, and research — to fight pollution, to preserve wildlife, to discover new sources of energy, and to arrive at more effective agreements on peaceful coexistence.

Needless to say, wealth, education, research, and many other things are needed for any civilisation, but what is most needed today is a revision of the ends which these means are meant to serve. And this implies, above all else, the development of a life-style which accords to material things their proper, legitimate place, which is secondary and not primary.’

^E. F. Schumacher. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

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Writer. Pic of abuelo (c.1930)

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Pol

Pol

Writer. Pic of abuelo (c.1930)

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