Depart Reevaluating Economics

Transition to Regenerative Economies

A regen­er­a­tive econ­o­my con­sti­tutes a bold move in the direc­tion of estab­lish­ing a health­i­er society.

“It’s all a ques­tion of sto­ry. We are in trou­ble now because we don’t have a good sto­ry. We are in between sto­ries. The old sto­ry, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effec­tive.” — Thomas Berry

Space­ship Earth geo­des­ic sphere, Ben­jamin Suter, 2018

Eco-the­olo­gian Thomas Berry devel­oped a world­view that sees humans inte­grat­ed with­in a cos­mic cel­e­bra­tion of the uni­verse. With a depar­ture from an old world­view that places humans as sep­a­rate from nature, we can begin to real­ize how the uni­ver­sal prin­ci­ples the cos­mos employs to build sta­ble, healthy, and sus­tain­able sys­tems can, and must, be used as a mod­el for eco­nom­ic-sys­tem design. The idea that an eco­nom­ic sys­tem can work in har­mo­ny with our solar sys­tem is as far out as it is close to home.

Berry’s work has been brought into eco­nom­ic dis­cus­sion by John Fuller­ton, founder and pres­i­dent of Cap­i­tal Insti­tute. Fullerton’s orga­ni­za­tion is self-described as “a col­lab­o­ra­tive work­ing to illu­mi­nate how our econ­o­my and finan­cial sys­tem can oper­ate to pro­mote a more just, regen­er­a­tive, and thus sus­tain­able way of liv­ing on this earth.”5 Com­pa­nies that make invest­ments in mod­els of coop­er­a­tion and col­lec­tive uplift can help to do their part to close the gaps in wealth dis­par­i­ty. This kind of cor­rec­tive mea­sure will then gen­er­ate fur­ther ben­e­fits for improved eco­nom­ic dynamics.

A regen­er­a­tive econ­o­my hon­ors its place among peo­ple and envi­ron­ment. It oper­ates to nur­ture healthy, sta­ble com­mu­ni­ties, and biore­gions. Shar­ing his ideas in Fast Com­pa­ny, Fuller­ton explains the eight ele­ments to what he calls Regen­er­a­tive Cap­i­tal­ism.6

Light instal­la­tion in a garage, Mar­ius Masalar, 2016

To para­phrase: Right Rela­tion­ship speaks to respect­ing how the econ­o­my is embed­ded in human cul­ture and the ecos­phere, and that each of these rela­tion­ships must be nur­tured. Entre­pre­neuri­al­ism, as a prin­ci­ple for regen­er­a­tive eco­nom­ics, draws on the innate abil­i­ty of human beings to inno­vate and “cre­ate anew” across all sec­tors of soci­ety. Wealth Viewed Holis­ti­cal­ly defines true wealth in terms of the well-being of the “whole” which can be achieved through har­mo­niz­ing the mul­ti­ple forms of capital—social, eco­log­i­cal, man­u­fac­tured, and finan­cial. Shared Pros­per­i­ty refers to how wealth can be equi­tably dis­trib­uted in the con­text of an expand­ed view of true wealth. Real Econ­o­my Cir­cu­lar­i­ty pro­motes a ver­sion of the econ­o­my that con­tin­u­al­ly strives to rad­i­cal­ly min­i­mize the amount of ener­gy, mate­r­i­al, and resources used through­out all phas­es of the pro­duc­tion cycle. “Edge Effect” Abun­dance explains how cre­ative and diverse col­lab­o­ra­tions increase the pos­si­bil­i­ty for val­ue-adding wealth to emerge through rela­tion­ships and exchanges. Resilien­cy refers to how a whole system’s adapt­abil­i­ty to change devel­ops over long-term learn­ing and is val­ued more high­ly than our cur­rent brit­tle con­cen­tra­tions of pow­er. And last­ly, a regen­er­a­tive econ­o­my Hon­ors Place in its abil­i­ty to nur­ture healthy, sta­ble com­mu­ni­ties and biore­gions in phys­i­cal and vir­tu­al space.7

Alter­na­tive eco­nom­ic pri­or­i­ties guid­ing future invest­ment can be found in B Cor­po­ra­tions, the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion title for com­pa­nies that keep eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions in mind—in terms of qual­i­ty of life for work­ers, impact on local com­mu­ni­ties, and the pro­tec­tion of the environment—while still main­tain­ing their busi­ness. This com­mu­ni­ty of com­pa­nies observes strict guide­lines that ensure fair and just busi­ness prac­tices, and that strive to bal­ance social respon­si­bil­i­ty and trans­paren­cy with the demands of their share­hold­ers. The core mes­sage of the B Corp Dec­la­ra­tion of Inter­de­pen­dence is:

“That we must be the change we seek in the world. That all busi­ness ought to be con­duct­ed as if peo­ple and place mat­tered. That, through their prod­ucts, prac­tices, and prof­its, busi­ness­es should aspire to do no harm and ben­e­fit all. To do so requires that we act with the under­stand­ing that we are each depen­dent upon anoth­er and thus respon­si­ble for each oth­er and future gen­er­a­tions.”8

Accord­ing to John Fuller­ton, oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties to imbue cap­i­tal with eth­i­cal deci­sion-mak­ing appear through social finance, impact invest­ing, local-liv­ing economies, and crowd-fund­ing, as well as a num­ber of ini­tia­tives like B Team and Break­through Capitalism.

The rea­son for draw­ing atten­tion to the prin­ci­ples of these com­pa­nies is to illus­trate how the depar­ture from our cur­rent eco­nom­ic sys­tem is already under­way. The empha­sis on change reminds us that the dif­fi­cul­ty with embrac­ing change has to do with how deeply root­ed sys­temic issues become over time. The more time and rep­e­ti­tion our species spends on con­tin­u­ing pat­terns of pro­duc­tion that have cat­a­stroph­ic con­se­quences, the more intran­si­gent peo­ple con­tribut­ing to these prob­lems can feel, despite what­ev­er evi­dence sug­gests the need to shift course. Change doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly ever get eas­i­er, though. It remains its own unique and evolv­ing chal­lenge. Yet, as the peo­ple exchang­ing what we val­ue with­in eco­nom­ic sys­tems, we can cer­tain­ly voice our pri­or­i­ties to a much more mean­ing­ful effect.

Depart Reevaluating Economics

Mystic Insights for the Marketplace

The way our cur­rent eco­nom­ic sys­tem is designed does not attract the health­i­est peo­ple. Ego-dri­ven com­pe­ti­tion is ready to be replaced. Sys­temic coop­er­a­tion will reaf­firm con­nec­tions between peo­ple, ecol­o­gy, and economy.

“Thai Bud­dhist Shrine, Super Brand Mall”, Liz Hin­g­ley, 2016

In Feb­ru­ary 2019, John Fuller­ton spoke in record­ed con­ver­sa­tions with Thomas Hübl about eco­nom­ic prin­ci­ples that can sys­tem­i­cal­ly change how cap­i­tal is man­aged and dis­trib­uted. Hübl describes him­self as a “mys­tic in the mar­ket­place”, whose “teach­ings aim to guide prac­ti­tion­ers toward a deep­er lev­el of self-awareness—from an ego-cen­tered world­view to a life of authen­tic expres­sion, ser­vice, and align­ment.”9 Respon­si­bil­i­ty, as Hüble says, can be described in terms of an abil­i­ty to respond where atten­tion is need­ed most.

Hübl points out how the super-intel­li­gence of the human sys­tem evolved over hun­dreds of thou­sands of years. He explains how the future is call­ing us while the past has a grav­i­ty that can hold us down. The path for­ward is paved with excite­ment, inno­va­tion, and eros. The fire of change is cur­rent­ly look­ing for oxy­gen to flour­ish. We want to aspire to a future built to exceed the lim­i­ta­tions before us now. But if we fail to rec­og­nize how deeply engrained the past is with­in us, we may encounter an invis­i­ble break­ing point and we will not be able to progress onward. How­ev­er, if we can gain the skills to under­stand the trau­ma with­in us as a les­son from the past, then we have all the nec­es­sary ele­ments to move for­ward unencumbered.

Work­ing on one’s con­scious­ness offers a path­way into deal­ing with the prob­lems that afflict human­i­ty. Humans run the sys­tems like econ­o­my that we have invent­ed. And, when humans in lead­er­ship posi­tions feel stressed, that stress enters those influ­en­tial sys­tems by way of bad deci­sions, affect­ing large num­bers of com­mu­ni­ties and environments.

In response, Hübl pro­pos­es that each one of us estab­lish con­tact to one’s body. He believes it is our body that often holds many of the answers we seek. Healthy self-reg­u­la­tion occurs when we are relaxed enough to rec­og­nize what’s hap­pen­ing with­in us and why we’re feel­ing what we feel. That con­tact with our inner being brings us clos­er to bal­ance and bet­ter equips us to break pat­terns that do not serve us.

The basis for life is a healthy fam­i­ly sys­tem. If that fam­i­ly is dys­func­tion­al, then it’ll affect how we act in groups as well as com­pa­nies. If we don’t know who we are and don’t feel right in rela­tion to our­selves, that will affect every­thing else. Neg­a­tive cor­po­rate cul­tures are rife with infight­ing, dis­trust, and mis­in­for­ma­tion. These qual­i­ties do not lead to wise deci­sion-mak­ing. For the symp­toms of greedy self-inter­est to yield to the good of the true major­i­ty of a com­pa­ny or a col­lec­tive, more peo­ple need to be involved in finan­cial deci­sions. When only a small num­ber of elite indi­vid­u­als con­trol a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of cap­i­tal, they are nat­u­ral­ly more prone to engag­ing in risky deci­sion-mak­ing. A sure­fire path for less knowl­edgable deci­sions is one built upon lim­it­ed per­spec­tives. We believe that peo­ple who pos­sess intu­itive, car­ing inter­ests in the envi­ron­ment and their fel­low human, will work well togeth­er to redi­rect cap­i­tal toward our future economy.

The more we fos­ter car­ing and embrace change, the bet­ter we can main­tain our cap­i­tal mar­kets. But care must come from a place of per­son­al invest­ment. Think of com­mu­ni­ty trash pick­up events at the beach. Think how effec­tive it is when every­one par­tic­i­pates to restore a space toward its true beauty.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty for wide­spread par­tic­i­pa­tion in a trans­for­ma­tion of the glob­al econ­o­my is cur­rent­ly under­mined by wealth dis­par­i­ty. Accord­ing to a report by Oxfam (a glob­al orga­ni­za­tion aimed at end­ing pover­ty), the total of all wealth owned by the poor­est 3.6 bil­lion peo­ple is equiv­a­lent to what the rich­est 8 peo­ple con­trol.10 This dis­par­i­ty is such a clear exam­ple of eco­nom­ic mis­align­ment. The wealth is clog­ging up at the top. Clogs do not end well. Shit spills over. To ease this unpleas­ant effect of any clog, cap­i­tal of all kind needs to be redis­trib­uted. Wealth needs to be cir­cu­lat­ed even­ly, much like oxy­gen and nutri­ents need to cir­cu­late even­ly for a healthy body to be at its best.

“The cir­cu­la­tion of mon­ey and infor­ma­tion and the effi­cient use and reuse of mate­ri­als are par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal to indi­vid­u­als, busi­ness­es, and economies reach­ing their regen­er­a­tive poten­tial.” — From the Cap­i­tal Insti­tute White Paper11

The Cap­i­tal Insti­tute calls this cru­cial aspect of a regen­er­a­tive econ­o­my Robust Cir­cu­la­tion. Accord­ing to this notion, when all the basic needs of human­i­ty are met, then every­one is empow­ered to par­tic­i­pate in the glob­al econ­o­my. The more that cap­i­tal becomes con­scious­ly redis­trib­uted, the more that all peo­ple can con­tribute to the ongo­ing health of that entire species-wide system.

“Star­dust Par­ti­cle”, Ola­fur Elias­son, 2014

By design­ing eco­nom­ic prin­ci­ples with respect to prin­ci­ples of bio­log­i­cal health, we gain the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reshape our eco­nom­ic rela­tion­ships in a ben­e­fi­cial man­ner. This shift in eco­nom­ic atti­tude can occur if we dis­tance our­selves from ego and redi­rect our focus toward a more holis­tic, future-ori­ent­ed per­spec­tive. To bring about more trans­for­ma­tive eco­nom­ic poten­tial, the idea of mys­ti­cism must con­tin­ue to gain ground in the marketplace.

Depart Reevaluating Economics

Depart from Reductivism

Humans are so much more than the data we gen­er­ate. Claim free­dom from being reduced to mere prod­ucts of data-col­lect­ing corporations.

The rich trail of data behind every dig­i­tal inter­ac­tion and page impres­sion is exploit­ed at every con­ceiv­able cor­po­rate turn. In The Age of Sur­veil­lance Cap­i­tal­ism, author and Har­vard Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor Shoshana Zuboff explains what’s at stake for the future of human auton­o­my.12 Com­pa­nies effec­tive­ly mis­di­rect people’s use of their prod­ucts and ser­vices to look as though they increase options and free­doms. Yet, the real­i­ty is that our inter­ac­tions serve to sup­ply those same com­pa­nies with the raw mate­ri­als for them to exploit in order to sell prod­ucts and ser­vices back to us in a vicious cycle.

So where are the pro­tec­tions against this preda­to­ry prac­tice? It’s not that peo­ple weren’t warned. Instead, the prob­lem is noth­ing was done with that infor­ma­tion about how atten­tion was being manipulated.

Zuboff ref­er­ences a Unit­ed States Sen­ate com­mit­tee hear­ing in 1977 on the effects of behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion (a term that describes the abil­i­ty for one’s inter­nal deci­sion-mak­ing to be con­trolled via select­ed behav­ioral pat­terns), stud­ied under con­ceal­ment, by the CIA in the 1950s and ‘60s. One of the big take­aways from this hear­ing was the fact that behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion posed a seri­ous threat to democ­ra­cy and human auton­o­my. How­ev­er, despite this knowl­edge no pol­i­cy was made to pre­vent behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion against unsus­pect­ing cit­i­zens. And so, when we arrive at the onslaught of behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion that now occurs online, most of us are caught unaware. This sets the stage for, not only elec­tion inter­fer­ence, but a whole host of small­er, tar­get­ed efforts to influ­ence our indi­vid­ual choices.

“Occu­py the Amend­ment”, Jeff Hem­s­ley, 2014

Tech­nol­o­gy con­tin­ues to pro­vide avenues for manip­u­la­tion. As long as enti­ties like GAFA (Google, Apple, Face­book, Ama­zon), main­tain their iron grip on con­sumer infor­ma­tion, this data will be used to fur­ther shape our rou­tines and influ­ence our deci­sions. It’s imper­a­tive we find ways to pre­serve unmedi­at­ed spaces in which we can inter­act with­out hid­den influ­ence. Zuboff explains how “every ser­vice that has ‘per­son­al­ized’ in front of it is noth­ing but sup­ply chain inter­faces for the flow of raw mate­r­i­al to be trans­lat­ed into data, to be fash­ioned into pre­dic­tion prod­ucts, to be sold in behav­ioral futures mar­kets so that we end up fund­ing our own dom­i­na­tion. If we’re gonna fix this, no mat­ter how much we feel like we need this stuff, we’ve got to get to a place where we are will­ing to say no.”13 Resis­tance and rejec­tion are our best course of action in order to reshape the mar­ket­place into one that is more sup­port­ive of human auton­o­my and demo­c­ra­t­ic values.

We must remain vig­i­lant in defend­ing our right to exist with­out the con­trol of self-inter­est­ed cor­po­ra­tions claim­ing to be mak­ing the world a bet­ter place. We must con­tin­u­al­ly claim author­i­ty of our own atten­tion. The integri­ty of all our expe­ri­ences depends on this vital condition.

Depart Reevaluating Economics

The End of Manipulation

Pause the psy­cho­log­i­cal tricks. Con­sumers should not be hackable.

As machine learn­ing and Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence become more sophis­ti­cat­ed, these com­plex tech­nolo­gies will large­ly be turned toward the gen­er­a­tion of per­son­al pro­files for each indi­vid­ual. The aim of such an appli­ca­tion of tech­nol­o­gy to the nuances and demands of every­day life, is to cre­ate entire­ly per­son­al­ized, tai­lor-made con­sumer expe­ri­ences. This essen­tial­ly means reduc­ing peo­ple to mar­ket seg­ments of a mas­sive, aggre­gat­ed user experience.

Samuel Zeller, 2019

Addi­tion­al per­son­al data—including bio­met­rics har­vest­ed from wearables—will make this process even eas­i­er. Our psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files will be built out with pre­dict­ed emo­tion­al respons­es to cer­tain stim­uli, allow­ing the right com­bi­na­tion of words or images to be intro­duced to us to com­pel us into a pur­chase. And, sad­ly, we will be com­plic­it in this exchange. After all, shop­ping releas­es dopamine, a “reward” chem­i­cal in our brains, and these new algo­rithms will become ever more adept at trig­ger­ing this phys­i­o­log­i­cal reac­tion. So what’s the prob­lem here? If our desires are being met more reg­u­lar­ly and accu­rate­ly, isn’t that a good thing? The issue lies in the manip­u­la­tive aspect. This is not just a pas­sive­ly respon­sive process. Tech­no­log­i­cal com­pa­nies aren’t just ful­fill­ing our cur­rent needs and demands, more nefar­i­ous­ly, they’re man­u­fac­tur­ing new desires. Com­pa­nies then prof­it off the feed­back loop of telling poten­tial cus­tomers what they should want and then sup­ply­ing those fab­ri­cat­ed demands right back to them.

“Maske I”, Jonathan Bal­dock, 2019

In 2018, hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars was spent glob­al­ly on adver­tis­ing across tele­vi­sion and inter­net plat­forms.14 The fact that so much mon­ey is required to sell a range of con­sumer prod­ucts shows that demand for con­sumer goods is large­ly man­u­fac­tured. As the trove of our per­son­al and inti­mate data becomes more plen­ti­ful and our emo­tion­al respons­es become more pre­dictable, it will become eas­i­er for com­pa­nies to make it look like they’re offer­ing increas­ing­ly inti­mate expe­ri­ences when, in fact, buy­ing into that mar­ket will effec­tive­ly mean that we’re giv­ing up our auton­o­my. Mean­while, the creep­ing monop­o­liza­tion of online ser­vices only means that a scant four or five com­pa­nies will soon own all the lat­est psy­cho­log­i­cal manip­u­la­tion tricks. If this comes to fruition, soon our urges and men­tal states may end up exist­ing at the var­i­ous whims of a small selec­tion of busi­ness­es. We vehe­ment­ly oppose this sce­nario and encour­age stead­fast resis­tance against giv­ing into such bla­tant monop­o­liza­tion over human agency.

Ulti­mate­ly, we all have a choice to make. Sure­ly, some would make the argu­ment that as long as our desires are being met, then it hard­ly mat­ters what the process is that led to such sati­a­tion.  This argu­ment for­wards a reduc­tive view of the human: our sole pur­pose being to expe­ri­ence the indul­gence of pass­ing impuls­es. But we think oth­er­wise. We think this is only one part of us. We are more than just our plea­sure cen­ters and our cred­it cards. We are com­plex, often con­tra­dic­to­ry, cre­ative crea­tures.

There’s much to be learned from the ten­sion we expe­ri­ence with­in our­selves, with­in our rela­tion­ships, and with­in our soci­ety. Pop­u­lar sci­ence fic­tion offers an espe­cial­ly cre­ative space for explor­ing how cer­tain ten­sions might play out, and has con­sis­tent­ly guid­ed thought around what the future might offer. Two major dystopi­an works of the 20th cen­tu­ry, George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, pre­sent­ed two almost dia­met­ric oppo­site views of our future.

“Dear Steve”, Her­man Assel­berghs, 2011

The nov­el 1984 is set in an extrav­a­gant­ly oppres­sive, and relent­less­ly mis­er­able, author­i­tar­i­an regime. The antag­o­nist of the book sum­ma­rizes the mood, “If you want a pic­ture of the future, imag­ine a boot stamp­ing on a human face—forever.” In this sce­nario, the human spir­it is crushed into a state of sub­servience and sub­mis­sion, with no space for indi­vid­ual desires.

In con­trast, Brave New World envi­sions a soci­ety awash with sen­su­al indul­gences. All dis­sat­is­fac­tion is root­ed out by the pres­ence of high-tech recre­ation­al activ­i­ties, sex­u­al free­dom, and the reg­u­lar use of “soma”, a drug that imparts total bliss. Here, the com­plex­i­ty of the human being is reject­ed. All neg­a­tive emo­tions are dis­card­ed in favor of con­tin­u­al stim­u­la­tion of our base-reward mech­a­nisms. Soci­ety is made com­plete­ly pre­dictable and unchang­ing, each class of peo­ple made com­fort­able in their own sta­tion through con­di­tion­ing in infan­cy. This vision of the future is dystopi­an because of its reduc­tion of the whole human. We believe that it is only through access to the full tex­ture of our emo­tions that we man­age to learn, grow, cre­ate, and evolve.

The streets of Incheon, South Korea, Steven Roe, 2018

Con­sid­er­ing the mount­ing evi­dence to sup­port the idea that we are more in con­trol of our evo­lu­tion than we might have pre­vi­ous­ly believed, it’s incum­bent upon each of us to choose the ways in which we want to evolve. The ques­tion of what future we wish to inhab­it hinges upon, not only how we regard events tran­spir­ing around us, but more impor­tant­ly, what we believe we can be a part of cre­at­ing… To this end, inno­va­tion must not be about find­ing more effi­cient ways to con­trol and pre­dict human behav­ior. Inno­va­tion is bet­ter turned toward the empow­er­ment of peo­ple, allow­ing each of us to choose the ways we intu­it will enhance life. We do not want to be treat­ed like organ­ic machines with ful­ly-decod­ed inputs and out­puts. As we become more capa­ble of affect­ing our sen­sa­tions and moods at will, we must be cau­tious that we do not become mar­i­onettes to an algo­rith­mic pup­pet mas­ter. Rather, it is crit­i­cal we con­struct nar­ra­tives in which life is sup­port­ed to grow organ­i­cal­ly, with­out manip­u­la­tive inter­fer­ence, and to the full poten­tial of our innate gifts.

“Sys­tem Aes­thet­ics”, FIELD, 2017
  1. Ken­neth S. Kosik is a neu­ro­sci­en­tist whose work in Colom­bia on famil­ial Alzheimer’s dis­ease has appeared in The New York Times, BBC, CNN, PBS and 60 Min­utes. His Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San­ta Bar­bara Arts and Human­i­ties com­mence­ment address was archived at the Grad­u­a­tion Wis­dom Best Com­mence­ment Speech­es website.

    When Words Fail

Depart Reevaluating Economics

Invest in Baseline Empowerment

Depart from wealth amass­ing wealth. Degrowth is the way to go, espe­cial­ly in overde­vel­oped coun­tries. We can reroute wealth in a sim­i­lar way to how plants grow, from the very bot­tom upward.

In 2010, about 500 peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing 40 coun­tries con­vened in Barcelona for the Sec­ond Con­fer­ence on Eco­nom­ic Degrowth for Eco­log­i­cal Sus­tain­abil­i­ty and Social Equi­ty. The focal point of this gath­er­ing con­cerned how to inten­tion­al­ly “degrow” the glob­al economy—in oth­er words, reduce the dele­te­ri­ous effects of a mis­aligned eco­nom­ic system—through over­hauls in sec­tors like food, hous­ing, and trans­porta­tion.15

The degrowth move­ment pro­pos­es that down­siz­ing the role and impact of the econ­o­my will offer a sound response to curb cli­mate change. The argu­ment goes: the less mate­r­i­al wealth we feel we need to have, the bet­ter off our well-being will be.16 This shift in our pri­or­i­ties will require greater atten­tion direct­ed toward pub­lic ser­vices. With an increase of access to pub­lic wealth, col­lec­tive co-cre­ativ­i­ty will have a sig­nif­i­cant­ly bet­ter shot at suc­cess. We also believe this invest­ment in base­line empow­er­ment will open up a wide new range of innovations.

“We can be what­ev­er we have the courage to see.” — Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez & Avi Lewis

In the short film, A Mes­sage From the Future With Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, the audi­ence is told to imag­ine a future after the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment enacts the Green New Deal.17 For right now, the Green New Deal is still just pro­posed leg­is­la­tion designed to address cli­mate change and eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty through sys­temic trans­for­ma­tions of trans­porta­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and social con­tracts in Amer­i­ca. Inspired by Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—that cre­at­ed pub­lic works projects as well as social and eco­nom­ic reforms in response to the Great Depression—the Green New Deal looks to, for exam­ple, cre­ate new union jobs to restore wet­lands, to install a uni­ver­sal child­care ini­tia­tive, and to insti­tute increased wages for teach­ers and health­care work­ers. Pro­po­nents of the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion feel this will help ensure a more sus­tain­able, and dig­ni­fied, future soci­ety. One of the big aims of the Green New Deal is to over­come fear-based deci­sion-mak­ing with the pow­er­ful force of shared purpose.

“Ham­p­den Boat”

We can already see oth­er opti­mistic inno­va­tions on the hori­zon. Effi­cient and var­ied mobil­i­ty choic­es, rang­ing from autonomous pods for short dis­tance, to high speed fric­tion­less rail lines for long dis­tance trav­el, will offer peo­ple the abil­i­ty to no longer own cars the way most of us are forced to now. In addi­tion, ideas are being dis­cussed to shift eco­nom­ic levers from com­mon, preda­to­ry prac­tices into uplift­ing mech­a­nisms. Some of these pro­pos­als include con­cepts like a robust pub­lic fund that would make col­lege edu­ca­tion free and rid the work demands required to pay back cum­ber­some stu­dent loans.

Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez joins an envi­ron­men­tal sit-in, Sarah Sil­biger, 2018

If we can bring this pool­ing of resources into exis­tence, soci­ety will ben­e­fit from a much larg­er group of informed, inspired, and skilled cit­i­zens. Uni­ver­sal income might also become a means of sub­si­diz­ing costs of liv­ing and, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, short­en­ing the hours in the work week. Automa­tion and Extend­ed Intel­li­gence will also con­tin­ue to help increase pro­duc­tiv­i­ty along indus­tri­al lines. Once these inno­va­tions are firm­ly in place, work­ers will be able to invest more time into activ­i­ties that ele­vate qual­i­ty of life, like time spent pur­su­ing pas­sions, fur­ther­ing edu­ca­tion, or enjoy­ing time with loved ones. A recent study con­clud­ed that the aver­age work­er derives psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits from about two hours of work a day. After that thresh­old, there’s a dimin­ish­ment of returns. It’s obvi­ous that work­ing too much results in more stress, burnout, and oth­er harm­ful effects.18 There are more ben­e­fi­cial ways to arrange our schedules.

The case for work­ing less hours in the week feels rel­a­tive­ly easy to make. The big­ger chal­lenge is fig­ur­ing out how to share the impor­tance of liv­ing in con­gru­ence, with degrowth prin­ci­ples in all areas of dai­ly life. That change requires ask­ing some big ques­tions like: do we real­ly need to be dri­ving in cars and fly­ing in air­planes that burn gas? How else will we get to work, or school, or vis­it fam­i­ly when we don’t all live and work in the same place? While there are def­i­nite­ly com­pelling answers to these ques­tions (rang­ing from emerg­ing exper­i­ments with hydro­gen pow­er all the way to the more far-out notion of fifth-dimen­sion­al tran­sit) today’s pub­lic infra­struc­ture doesn’t yet sup­port a dif­fer­ent lifestyle. Pub­lic funds are still being spent to expand and main­tain road­ways rather than replace pow­er plants with micro-grids. Yet, as the con­ver­sa­tion around sus­tain­abil­i­ty spreads through­out the world, we will begin to find more pro­posed ideas which, we hope, will trans­late into cor­re­spond­ing ini­tia­tives, leg­is­la­tion, and ulti­mate­ly regen­er­a­tive results.

One cur­rent exam­ple that can push soci­ety toward sus­tain­abil­i­ty is invest­ing in clean ener­gies. The clean ener­gy sec­tor, with all the new jobs that it will cre­ate, offers inspi­ra­tion for a larg­er trend of pro­duc­ing val­ue while lim­it­ing neg­a­tive byprod­ucts. We need more con­crete strate­gies to lim­it the excess­es of our cur­rent cap­i­tal­ist sys­tems. The way to cre­ate greater sup­port for these strate­gies is to con­tin­ue to appeal to the pos­i­tive impact on all who participate.

Grass­roots move­ments work because they gal­va­nize peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in activism to pro­tect col­lec­tive, human inter­ests. These move­ments mobi­lize the pow­er of com­mon­al­i­ty. Bot­tom-up cre­ativ­i­ty works because there’s a strong moti­va­tion com­ing from the core of where an ini­tia­tive begins. These are the prin­ci­ples that we believe will under­pin the suc­cess­ful move toward degrowth and fos­sil fuel decou­pling. We must con­tin­ue to look toward inno­va­tions that pro­vide the great­est ben­e­fit to the par­tic­i­pants involved in each cor­re­spond­ing movement.

“Blank Com­pose”, a 3D Gen­er­a­tive Adver­sar­i­al Net­work (GAN) by PCH and Waltz Binaire