In 1972 a report was published by the Club of Rome, called Limits to Growth. The writers of the report had decided to come out with something that’s perfectly obvious but no-one wants to hear: you cannot have perpetual growth in a closed system. Mankind must reach the limits to growth on this planet eventually; the only question is when.
|The report was updated most recently in 2008. I attended a meeting of the All-Party Policy Group on Peak Oil (APPGOPO) at the House of Commons in 2011 when it was shown that the predictions contained in the report closely matched actual events including oil and commodity price rises, food shortages and general economic indicators including the 2008 crash.
Dr Graham Turner of the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation gave a talk which included a simple graph with two curves: downward for resource depletion and upward for resource exploitation, coinciding in 2020 with a resulting sharp fall in resource availability, economic and industrial activity, pollution and CO2 output. Notes on the June 2011 All Party Policy Group on Peak Oil (APPGOPO) meeting at the House of Commons…
Opponents to the Limits to Growth report, notably US economists, argue that it is a doomsday prophecy that does not hold up to scrutiny, and that its policies would consign billions to permanent poverty. The report, however, contains no policies, only probabilities. And the truth is that billions are already living in permanent poverty because global capitalism, with democracy as its scurrying servant, concentrates money, resources and political power in the hands of the rich few who want to carry on business as usual, despite the inevitability of collapse sooner or later.
Why doesn’t our government act in our interests? Because we live in a democracy, and democratic government is all too frequently powerless in the face of truth. The democratic process is based on the self-interest of the majority, so invariably facts are fudged, statistics massaged and important issues ignored, while unimportant ones are given undue emphasis in order to attract the support of the greatest number, with the result that democratic governments are elected on a platform of deceptions and half-truths which they have to maintain while in office. Not to mention the obligations they incur to powerful vested interests during the election process and in government.
Imagine a political party today campaigning on a strictly truthful platform. ‘We have reached the limits of resource availability so we must stop industrial and economic growth, and we must reduce our population. We must stop emitting greenhouse gases so that future generations will have a habitable planet. We must live and work more locally and sustainably and stop jetting off on holiday and business destinations. We must restructure our financial dealings so that it is no longer possible for individuals to make huge profits out of a fictional economy which then impacts adversely on the tax-payer.’
No-one would vote for such a manifesto. Human beings don’t do anything unless there is a perceived need and there has never been a perceived need for enforced restrictive legislation except in the case of a major external threat such as a war. And even in that case – more particularly in that case – truth is the first casualty.
How then can we organise our lives on the basis of truth? The first thing is to recognise that no effective social organisation can be based completely on truth. Truth doesn’t emerge into social consciousness that way. It helps to accept that we live simultaneously in two domains with different rules: socio-political and personal. And it also helps to recognise that everything in human life is ultimately about psychology.
The unconscious mind is the repository of all the beliefs that motivate us deep down, about whether the world is safe or dangerous, about whether we are rejected or accepted, seen or ignored, lost or found. Truth in the objective sense has nothing to do with these powerful drivers. Which is why political speech has always appealed to the unconscious, and why events always overtake policies. We are always fighting bygone wars. Our unconscious drivers exist at the level of archetype, myth legend and belief. Those stories are more powerful for us than conscious stories, and every successful politician taps into them. ‘The national interest.’ ‘Sustainable growth.’ ‘War against terror.’ ‘Health and welfare.’ ‘Change for the better.’ None of these well-used and sonorous phrases actually has any meaning – or rather, they can have any meaning you like. They are vague concepts that invoke our unconscious stories about heroism, success, abundance and the survival of the tribal community. They are forms, in effect, of unconscious language.
Our personal lives, on the other hand, can be lived differently, and usually are. Here our subconscious drivers are based on the ‘family survival contract’: be considerate, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t boast, don’t make a fuss, don’t cause harm or upset, don’t exploit others for your own gain. How often do we find socio-economic imperatives over-riding these values!
Beyond the family sphere we seem to obey different rules, much as physical bodies obey different rules at subatomic and macroscopic levels. We are forced to inhabit two worlds simultaneously: the world of personal value and the world of political expediency – truth and untruth. It must always have been so since the first emergence of polities larger than the nomadic band. There’s no point in attempting to work against a system that re-establishes itself whatever you do to it, like one of those toy cars that rights itself automatically; eventually it will run out of power on its own. It’s more effective and more permanent to live truthfully and teach truth to your children, so that at least they’re not confused by the apparent conflict between personal and politico-economic values.
Dirk Campbell, TTL.