Connecting for a better future?
20/10/2014 § 3 Comments
I was on the train the other day (in west Wales, a remote part and beautiful of the UK) and met Rita. Rita was, I estimate, around 80 years old and dressed predominantly in sky blue, the sort of blue the Queen would wear. Almost the first words that came out of Rita’s mouth were a complaint about wind turbines ruining the landscape (there has been a rash of them appearing in the area). I am glad to say that I managed not to react to this, or to follow my initial temptation to stay in my own little world, and I ended up having a really good chat with Rita, who turned out to be bright and well-informed and to have strong opinions. She had even been involved in building one of the first computers, at Philips Electronics in Fleetwood in the 1950s.
I spoke to her about my interest in organising. She explained to me patiently that the thing is, men don’t really know how to organise whereas women do, since they have to organise themselves to cook, look after the children and the household. Yet most of our organisations are run by men…
One thing Rita said that stayed with me was that her children and those who come after her won’t be so well off as her generation. I wonder if this is true. I am not someone who buys into the myth of progress, the idea that things are just getting better and better and that it will continue in this way, with the odd hiccup, into some mythical utopian future. But I do believe that we are evolving, not just humans and also all life on the planet (and indeed the planet herself). In the second half of the 20th Century and the start of this, there’s been a lot of wealth around, particularly in rich countries. We have more food, bigger houses and we move about more. We take more drugs, watch more TV and have more information. We have, in short, more stuff. Yet I also note that all this stuff is poorly distributed and in many cases is accompanied by more illness, more stress, more loneliness and mistrust, more drug-taking and more general busy-ness.
So we may be better off in material terms but barely so in terms of well-being. Our acquisitive habits seem to be driven not by our true physical and emotional needs but rather by our need to fit in, to keep up with (but not get too far ahead of) the Jones or Patels. If our society changed to one where everyone had a lot less stuff, would we really suffer? Those who have less often learn to collaborate more and to help each other.
Although nothing is certain, it is at least possible to imagine a world where our material wants are significantly reduced and we all collectively are far more joyful, far more connected and have far more of our real needs met. So I am hoping that Rita is wrong. Yes, inevitably future generations will have less quantities of stuff – this is clear. What is much less clear is what their quality of life will be. So much of our quality of life is dependent on how we relate to others – both in our immediate community and outside it. If we can just get on with each other, and learn to live according to ecological principles, seeking harmony not domination over the planet, then we have a chance of, if not a better life, at least a more joyful one. Don’t we?