This morning about 4am I was lying in bed awake from a curry-induced nightmare about missing the train from Gillingham station (Dorset, not Kent). I had wandered away from my suitcase which I had left at the very end of the platform, and when the train arrived I realised that it was too far from me to be able to get back to the suitcase and then lug it to the train. Especially with that very slow walking that happens in bad dreams.
In a sleepy state, where much more is possible than during the day, I began thinking this: if I was as focussed, visionary, driven and capable as, say, Bill McKibben (350.org) what global movement would I set up? Three came to mind, as follows (obviously the names need more work):
1. Coco: creating compassionate colleges and universities
A few months ago I read a comment by someone (and I have forgotten where I read it or who wrote it) that it is a pity that our great universities just churn out people who perpetuate the establishment. I thought about this and realised that it is partly true and, inasmuch, it is an immense tragedy.
The great universities do a lot of great stuff – pioneering research into curing diseases, inventing low-energy materials and so forth. If you have the world’s brainiest young people working for you for free, you would expect to do a lot of great stuff. You’d even do it by accident.
But the people who leave Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford and so forth go on to be the leaders in our society; and they have been going on to be leaders in our society for centuries. While society under their leadership has made some great steps forward – huge steps technologically, and some quite big steps culturally, there are some really huge, bad gaps: not least that the human race needs a completely different attitude to other living things on the planet – despite and because of all our progress our economy is still pretty much slash and burn. Despite and because of all the progress there are still unspeakable, medieval cruelties and injustices happening in the world and not just in poor countries.
We have more than enough technical and organisational skills – most of the problems we have today have been solved, prevented or obviated at one time or another by societies with far less wealth and technology. So instead of teaching people to be smart but unwise, universities should now be focussing far more on teaching their young charges wisdom, compassion and responsibility for the natural world.
This global movement would be about that: getting universities to be much more self-critical; not to be satisfied at the troubled world which reflects in part the desires, deeds and failures of their alumni and therefore in part their own teachings; to take far more responsibility for the future impact of their students on society; and to be like fonts in which our young people are baptised with compassion, wisdom and care for our planet and its inhabitants.
2. Believe! Putting belief into economics
Belief Economics (described ad nauseam in this blog) is the study which uncovers the relationship between the beliefs, motivations and aspirations of people and the nature of the economy. It argues that all economic activity is the result of something that goes on in the minds of people (desires that we decide to satisfy through exchange), therefore to really understand the economy we have to understand the accumulated minds of individuals in the economy. This is vitally important because many of the things which are imperilling the lives of plants, animals and humans on the planet – and thereby threatening the existence of the economy – are to do with the satisfying of human desires. The study of economics is at risk of irrelevance unless it better incorporates understanding the human mind.
Being able to work out how value an option is a completely frivolous skill when 35,000 elephants are slaughtered a year to satisfy the status whims of rich Asians (unless the options trader channels his gains into the fight to save the elephant). Rather, the economist might wish, for example, to understand how he can change the desires of the rich Asians in such a way so that their economy is founded on wholesome aspirations rather than the incidental destruction of the world’s forests and the slaughter of its wildlife.
Another example is the challenge to create an economically viable culture in the face of constrained resources. A culture that is thrifty with water, for instance, might have an economic advantage over a profligate one by virtue of being more resilient in times of drought. Knowing the value of that cultural pre-disposition to be careful with water could prompt us to devise effective ways to build a thrifty culture.
The development of the global movement for belief economics would be vital for the most influential science of economics to retain its relevance and importance in the future.
3. Prime time: priming children with a love of nature
This is definitely the single most important thing: to prime children so that they are filled with a love for the natural world, so that in later life there is a higher probability that they will be mindful of nature and care for it.
Today most children (in the rich world) are primed by images on screens encouraging them to pursue resource-intensive lifestyles and not give a fuck for the world around them. Little wonder that that they grow up into adults which are ignorant of the impact of their lives on the natural world and, even if they know about it, they feel incapable to do anything about it, such is their thrall to spending money on crap.
There are already wonderful movements set up to address this problem: The Wild Network in the UK and the Children and Nature Network in the US. These organisations are about getting young children out into nature, re-connecting with the real and wild world, imbuing into them a love for plants and animals. They have a huge amount still to do in their own countries, and there is a desperate need for similar movements (with subtly different focusses or angles) in other countries of the world, not least developing countries. In the latter places is the greatest risk that what has not yet been destroyed will be destroyed in the rush to escape from peasantry and from the constraints of nature.
A global movement would support national networks and work to spread the word to all countries of the world.
Call to action? Unfortunately I don’t have the focus, vision, drive or capabilities of Bill McKibben. If someone out there has, please consider these. Meanwhile I will deal with a fourth movement inspired by last night’s curry.