vrijdag 26 november 2010

King Chaos makes the scene

Maxus has more friends and followers than Zero. You’ll find them in places like China, South Korea, Morocco and Germany. His biggest friend however lives in the United States of America and is called US. Maybe you are not aware of it, but you are an extra in a play about Economics, Ecology and Ethics.

Dealing with King Chaos, part 4.

by Frank van Empel

The quantity of oil in (and on) the Earth is limited. We can explore it, burn it in our furnaces, or use it for medicines. But there comes a time when there will be no oil left. The same story goes for iron, silver, uranium, and all other natural resources. That’s the general pattern of thought in physical science and biology. The world is finite and in a finite world continual growth is impossible. Basta! A matter of logic. When you take from a stock, the stock shrinks until there’s nothing left.
The future looks rather grim, taking into account the forecast that the number of people on Earth will grow from 7 billion now to 9 billion in 2050. The more people, the faster natural resources will shrink until they reach point zero and life on Earth will not be possible anymore.

This though is linear reasoning at top level. All doom stories about climate change, diminishing bio-diversity, fossil fuels et cetera are based on such way of thinking. The environmental doom stories are derived from the assumed positive causal relationship between population growth on one side and depletion and pollution on the other side. And they all lead to the same conclusion: we better hold our horses and start thinking about a higher quality of life in a Steady-State Economy. By steady state the Zero-growth apostles mean a constant stock of physical wealth (capital), and a constant stock of people (population).

In a book on 4 scenarios for the future of energy, we (nonfiXe) wrote in 2003 for then Dutch (now German) energy company Essent, we coined this Steady-State Scenario ‘Voluntary Simplicity’. According to this Zero growth scenario, people start to realise that they don’t need three cars, two refrigerators, four television sets, three holidays a year and sixty pairs of shoes in order to be happy. We can be rich without money if we act different in daily life.

An economist, who shares this pattern of thought, is John Stuart Mill. Mill already in 1857 foresaw that the human economy would some day reach a stationary state, beyond which economic growth is impossible, leaving human ingenuity the task of improving the quality of lives through arts, culture, and improved distribution of incomes. ‘I am not charmed with the ideal of life,’ Mill writes, ‘held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other’s heels which form the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human kind, or anything but the disagreeable symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress.’

Sounds good, but a little bit unrealistic. Mill is an odd character in the Land of Growth and Wealth Adepts. The mainstream of economists thinks and acts in a completely different way, although they too have a linear approach to keep their models simple. When there’s no oil left, they say, we’ll find substitutes. They even think it’s likely that the world can get along without natural resources. If cars cannot run on gasoline anymore, we humans let them run on water and air (hydrogen). The sky is the limit. If God doesn’t solve the problem of scarcity, the engineers and entrepreneurs will.

Maybe you are not aware of it, but you are an extra in a play about Economics, Ecology and Ethics. This play has four characters:
1. the sympathetic, idealistic, green and egalitarian fool Zero tells the truth, but nobody listens to him; most people think he’s a dreamer with a lot of imagination;
2. Prince Maxus, who wants to live to the max, who doesn’t have to worry about money and knows how to spend it, a metaphor for the US;
3. King Chaos, who takes care that nothing’s going to happen according to expectations, predictions, plans, whatever.
4. Lady Lay, who has to choose on behalf of the people, falls in love with Zero, but marries Maxus, and is being abused by Chaos.

Maxus has more friends and followers than Zero. You’ll find them in places like China, South Korea, Morocco and Germany. His biggest friend however lives in the United States of America and is called US. Without overstretching the metaphor of the world economy as a play, we conclude that Wealth underlies America's sense of itself as a special country. It's also cited as evidence that America is better than other economies on a range of variables, from economic freedom to optimism to business savvy to work ethic.

Statistics show the flexibility, creativity and mobility of Americans. Economic gloom and doom aside, America remains the world’s richest large country. Of course, there are fools too in America, like former vice-president Al Gore, who gave a splendid presentation about climate change for the whole World, but is loosing his power of words and licked graphics since the financial crises attracts all attention of the public.

When the economy is down and growth is stalled, nobody’s getting applause for a plea for Zero-growth or voluntary simplicity. Especially not the sick – Greece, Ireland – who need financial injections. No lip service for Zero anymore. Maxus rules the stock market and takes every occasion to give positive signals. The American Dream has to be fulfilled. Maxus won’t stop until every American is a millionaire. As a consequence of that drive, the economy bounces back after each crisis, to arrive at a higher ground with more wealth for all after all. Fear is swept aside by greed over and over again. Thirty years after the Club of Rome predicted the end of growth, the economy is performing the same trick over and over; running on oil and feeding ever more mouths. Ecology still is in the doldrums.

The Angles are with Maxus, we think, but Zero knows better. In the end it’s King Chaos who decides what’s really going to happen. And because he’s so unpredictable it is of no use to plan the future. We better stick to some global principles like Mill did in his books On Liberty and Principles of Political Economy, or just listen to our hearts, knowing that everything can change in a whisper. If we want to survive as a species we’ll have to love change.

That is were you come in, the extra player. You may think your acts don’t make a difference on a global level, but they do. You, me, each and every individual make changes happen by our little decisions and our reactions to the decisions of the other, every day again.

Every individual is able to create the world he or she wants to live in. We do so by our behaviour, by using our creativity to find solutions for appearing problems and by the government we accept as a ruler. Maybe Mill was right to formulise ethics as the main force in the world, individual ethics. Martin Luther King, Gandhi and other great change agents followed Mills footsteps. They decided to work on change to come closer to the world they liked to live in. Doing so, they got the support of King Chaos and overthrew every linear reasoning on the future, their contemporaries thought of.

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Op 11 april 2015 kwam 'Parkinson Hotel' uit. Een uitgave waarin Franky de dialoog aan gaat met Parkie. Zie: http://www.studiononfixe.nl/parkinson-hotel/ Deze blog is een aanvulling hierop. Doel is o.a. de bekendheid met de ziekte te vergroten, ook voor hen die net als ik een ongenode gemene gast herbergen en hun partners. Ik hoop mensen met de ziekte van Parkinson te inspireren om niet bij de pakken neer te zitten. Sinds de diagnose Parkinson’s Disease, voorjaar 2004, strijd ik tegen de ziekte, tegen toenemende medicatie en de bijwerkingen van pillen. Ooit zei een collega dat ik 'sneller typte dan God kon lezen'. Ik was politiek en economisch redacteur van o.a. NRC, Elsevier en Haagse Post (in omgekeerde volgorde). De ziekte van Parkinson staat bekend om haar progressiviteit, de symptomen worden met de tijd erger. Mijn verzet bestond en bestaat uit het trainen van hersenen en lichaam. Ik promoveerde in 2012, voetbal iedere zondag, doe aan Nordic Walking en andere sporten. Ik speel gitaar. En bovenal, ik blijf schrijven. Allemaal dingen die ik graag doe. Op 24 april 2015 onderga ik een 'deep brain stimulation' en schakel ik naar hogere frequenties van levensgenot.