What is it about our formative years and life experiences that make some of us much more aware than others? I believe that the answer to this question is important at this point in time. What is it in the case of Peter Seidel, the author of Invisible Walls: Why We Ignore the Damage We Inflict on the Planet...and Ourselves? Could it be the time he spent in Europe? His upbringing? His psychological type? A combination of the above? As one reviewer states: "The author's achievement is particularly astonishing because he does not belong to those [professions who are] dealing with these problems..." Could specialization create blindness in all things important? Hmmm....
I found the following excerpt to capture, in particular, the tone of our times:
Directly rewarding people with money and prestige has an even greater potential to influence what they do. A young person who has a way with words may become an English teacher or an advertising copywriter. We have a shortage of good English teachers, but are well-supplied with clever copywriters. What would we like this bright young person to become? We offer low pay and little prestige to those who choose to teach, while those who persuade us to buy something we don't need are rewarded with high pay and membership in a country club. To carry out unappreciated tasks such as teaching and running government agencies, we rely on idealists willing to make personal sacrifice, and when such people are not available, we are content with incompetence. The way we remunerate people has little to do with their contribution to society. Some of the most highly paid people have a negative effect, such as those who produce violence-filled television programs for children, or lobby to lower environmental standards to benefit corporate interests.
Talent and ability in my own profession, architecture, is poorly utilized. Take two college classmates: One wants to make the world a more attractive place and has talents that would help her do so, the other wants to earn a lot of money and has a gift for doing that. The former becomes an architect, the latter goes into real estate development. The architect makes plans that are either ignored or drastically changed by the developer so that profits can be maximized. The configuration of our environment is a by-product of the developer's pursuit of profit. He ends up both making money and shaping our surroundings. The architect ends up with an ulcer. Talent that could be used to make our environment more beautiful and livable is largely wasted. [p. 96-7]
Could it be that our institutions of higher learning are failing us as a result of their pursuit of the corporate agenda? Are these institutions failing to develop students that can comprehend the complexity of our current society?
The following appears in a publication of the Society of College and University Planning and was produced in conjunction with Campus Sustainability Day III (October 26, 2005):
Higher education institutions bear a profound moral responsibility to increase awareness, knowledge, skills, and values needed to create a just and sustainable future....
They go on to state:
Colleges and universities are important and remarkably stable components of their communities. [Followed by this bullet point] The late Clark Kerr studied the longevity of institutions since the Reformation, over a 500-year period, and found that of 70 still in existence after five centuries, 66 were universities (two were churches and two were parliaments).
In my opinion, if higher education institutions continue to do nothing but support the concoction and marketing of drugs that help us chemically cope with the complexities of today, their longevity record should end. (An earlier post revealed how my alma mater had just cut a deal with Eli Lilly.)
October 27, 2004
From Limits to Growth:
According to our computer model, our mental models, our knowledge of the data, and our experience of the "real world," there is no time to waste in easing down below the limits and setting goals for sustainability. Putting off the reduction of throughputs and the transition to sustainability means, at best, diminishing the options of future generations, and, at worst, precipitating a collapse.
There is no reason to waste time, either. Sustainability is a new idea to many people, and many find it hard to understand. But all over the world there are people who have entered into the exercise of imagining and bringing into being a sustainable world. They see it as a world to move toward not reluctantly, but joyfully, not with a sense of sacrifice, but a sense of adventure. A sustainable world could be very much better than the one we live in today. [p.253]
There is no reason why a sustainable society need be technically or culturally primitive. Freed from both anxiety and greed, it would have enormous possibilities for human creativity. Without the high costs of growth for both society and environment, technology and culture could bloom. John Stuart Mill, one of the first (and last) economists to take seriously the idea of an economy consistent with the limits of the earth, saw that what he called a "stationary state" could support an evolving and improving society. More than 150 years ago he wrote:
I cannot...regard the stationary state of capital and wealth with the unaffected aversion so generally manifested towards it by political economists of the old school. I am inclined to believe that it would be, on the whole, a very considerable improvement on our present condition. I confess I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, cruching, elbowing, and treading on each other's heels... are the most desirable lot of humankind....It is scarcely necessary to remark that a stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the Art of Living, and much more likelihood of its being improved. [p.256]
Refreshing words in this time of Artless Living.
More from Limits to Growth:
Educate for flexibility and creativity, for critical thinking and the ability to redesign both physical and social systems. [p.259]
It is not easy to practice love, friendship, generosity, understanding, or solidarity within a system whose rules, goals, and information streams are geared for lesser human qualities.
I also found the section on Truth-Telling to be particularly helpful. [p.276]
We will not be able to look back on these times and say that we did not have a blueprint for change. We will only be able to say that we failed to implement.