A Global New Deal
Part of “quality of life” for most civilized people is knowing that they aren’t getting rich or living well at the expense of their neighbors. The new technologies that have brought the world’s people so much closer together have also changed our definition of neighborhood, and with it the psychological and moral ramifications of our individual lifestyles, relative to those of people in what used to be impossibly distant and largely unimaginable parts of the planet.
In view of this, we now quite suddenly are forced to revisit the reality that “organic” relates as much to people’s minds and hearts as it does to their stomachs. The 1970’s ground-breaking “limits-to-growth” argument, so brilliant in so many ways, still undervalued the influence of the degree to which, in the historical short run (a few hundred years in this context), unchecked population growth has been, if indirectly, generally good for people in the “organic” sense that more people equals a higher demand for products, which in turn, within sustainable ecological limits, leads to more personal wealth and a better quality of life for an increased number of us. Rather, their argument focuses almost entirely on the fact that only managed population growth and a managed ecology, which would constitute an unprecedented readaptation in the relatively brief history of civilization, is truly “organic” in the long run. Otherwise, at some point unchecked population growth/consumption will eventually use up the natural resources (food, water, soil, fuel, etc.) upon which people’s lives are based, as well overwhelming the world ecosystem’s natural capacity to absorb the waste products that result from our use of those resources. "Eventually," however, has usually been proven a difficult concept to grasp, particularly while things seem to be getting better "at the moment."
Reformulations by the Meadows and others of this initial argument do concede that, since human beings are organic, everything they create (refrigerators, microchips, etc.) must in some sense also be organic, but they still distinguish between behavior sufficiently in harmony with the rest of nature, and that which isn’t. Even this language, however, tends to carry a weight of negative judgment untempered by just how recently and suddenly what used to be more or less adaptive behavior has become dramatically maladaptive. A less punitive and, I think, more accurate notion is that a balanced future lies somewhere between the fires of ethnocentrism and the enlightenment of awareness.
For those of us who wish for more scientific grounding, both theory and proof still seem tenuous. E.O Wilson, arguably the most well-known evolutionary scientist who is also a populationist, has written, “As part of gene-culture coevolution, culture is reconstituted each generation collectively in the minds of individuals. When oral tradition is supplemented by writing and art, culture can grow indefinitely large and it can even skip generations.” He goes on to say, however, “But the fundamental biasing of epigenetic rules, being genetic and ineradicable, stays constant." Somewhere in this still poorly understood dance of biology and culture reside the answers to most of our key questions.
Arguably, the human race faces its greatest challenge ever: how to reinvent our current market system so that it constitutes a viable compromise between the economic and organic long- and short-term. Everything that touches upon our humanity, from spirituality to microbiology, will be involved in this process of reinventing ourselves. To achieve such a large goal will require great and balanced leadership, but just as obviously, it will also require the positive participation of a critical mass of people on the planet. If we want a future in which a majority of the world’s population can live bountiful and fulfilling lives, our history must substantially cease to be about which nation or nations will next rule the world, and much more about how, by putting our best minds and hearts together, we might create that “generation-skipping” culture of change, and usher in the era of a Global New Deal.
(1) Meadows, Donella and Dennis, et. al., The Limits to Growth (Signet,1973).
(2) Wilson, Edward O., Consilience (Vintage Books, 1999),p.138.
Lee Strauss (Copyright @ 2018)