The Global Paradox

Our aspiration for a better world

We all hold somewhere in our mind an image of what we would like to be or could be if we were empowered to be who we really are and do what we truly aspire to. Then because we live in the world, this vision of an ‘ideal’ or truer self is accompanied by a vision of what this world ‘could’ be and what a better, great or possible future would look like.

Those images, often subconscious, are the foundation of our effort to achieve and contribute to the world around us. They may not be vivid and detailed visions but they are, at least, the silent aspiration within the heart of every human being for a life of peace, comfort, respect and happiness.

This aspiration is an inner and spontaneous movement of hope which truly motivates our endeavour to improve our lot. It sustains our determination to be and remain free, moral and sharing individuals. It is often very alive in young people but later tends to disappear in adulthood, buried under the weight of responsibilities, memories and experience when ‘I know’ replaces ‘I could’, when cynicism silently kills love and creativity and when life limiting beliefs settle as the norm in our consciousness.

Unless they have been suppressed by fear or corrupted by the repeated exposure to immorality, selfishness or violence either through real life experiences or electronic medias, most people seem to be intrinsically driven by the motivation to do well and grow toward the realization of what they consider as a ‘right’, ‘good’ or ‘ideal’ future.

They wish to live in a world in which we have the right to be who we are, where schools are places of discovery, learning and fun, where individuals are respected and appreciated for their unique talents, and can freely access resource to express them, where nature is friendly and abundant, where relationship are fulfilling, work an expression of love and care for others and where communities are supportive, caring and behave like families.

Yet, the world in which we live today does not reflect this dream of peace, happiness, respect and contentment we are seeking. It even seems that the way in which we attempt to achieve those goals generates a host of undesirable side effects which end up defeating the very purpose of our original good intention and frustrating us from the fruits we were expecting to reap.

The Consumption paradigm

For the last four centuries, the world has been dominated by the belief that everything that exists is material and that consciousness and inner states of being, things like happiness, love, well being and self esteem, are the result of physical/bio chemical processes taking place inside the body/brain complex.

Consciousness is defined as a by-product of brain activity and happiness as the result of a physiological process – the result of biochemical, hormonal, sensory, nervous processes. This implies that happiness is something that you generate through physical means. It further suggests that happiness is something you induce and experience through consumption: something you can buy in cans, boxes or capsules, something you can drink, eat, inject or absorb in some way; something you need to consume through your senses. This naturally leads to the idea that by developing or increasing your buying/consuming power and being skilled at accumulating or maintaining stocks of whatever produces happiness for you, you can achieve satisfactory and stable levels of happiness. Simple.

This model applies to physical things such as money, resource, possessions, consumables, legal drugs, cars, clothes and technological gadgets, but it also extends to information, social recognition, status, relationships and people – the more you get of them, the more you can own and control them, the higher your chances to be ‘happy’.

This is, in our opinion and at risk of making a caricatured oversimplification, the paradigm in which we live today – the good idea that drives the world and motivates people on the path to progress. Although it appears attractive for its simplicity and obvious effectiveness in terms of stimulating the creation of wealth through economic growth and technological innovation, it also presents a number of serious flaws.

First it promotes dependency and addiction – you need to consume to be happy and your degree of happiness depends on what you can ‘buy’. The experience of happiness gained through consumption – call it pleasure – is by nature temporary and addictive: it arises, lasts for the time it takes for being assimilated and soon fades out leaving you yearning for ‘more’.

Second it breeds insecurity – When your comfort and happiness depends on external factors, you tend to end up living on a subconscious bed of worries that what makes you happy may be taken away from you – and when it is, because it always does, it generates a deep sense of loss not only of your happiness and contentment but also of your social value and self worth.

Third, this model denies the role of character, morality and righteous/positive action in the pursuit of happiness – you can be a happy and amoral person. Success is evaluated in terms of how well you manage to get what you want, irrespective of the way in which you acquire it, either it is moral or not, either it contributes something to society or not, either it is harmful to yourself and others or not.

Fourth it promotes selfishness bred by an illusory sense of scarcity of resource and therefore an attitude based on looking for potential threats leading to a readiness for competition and conflict – if happiness is dependent on external resource, then the logic goes that by grasping, dominating and preventing others to access them, we can claim the greatest amount of happiness.

Fifth and last, it is deceptive because ultimately it is not – and it has never been – personal acquisitions which guarantee happiness but it is character.

We are not saying here that prosperity and technology are not necessary to the well being of individuals: it would be denying basic facts of life and the idea of progress itself. Yet, it is also another undeniable fact that accumulating wealth and building more clever machines for the purpose of entertaining ourselves – and more powerful weapons to protect them – is not all there is to the business of living.

The global paradox

The strange paradox of our times is that, although we do everything we possibly can for the purpose of being secure, comfortable and happy, it seems that we tend to reach the exact opposite of what we are looking for.

The figure on the right is an exponential curve – a curve representing a mode of growth which characterises almost everything in the new global world. It symbolises a phenomenon happening everywhere, in all areas of live and activity: an uncontrolled and extraordinary race forward toward what seems to be, from our current point of view, an impossibility.

Booming population, rising levels of consumption, of industrialisation, trade, innovation and urbanisation; explosion of knowledge, of technologies and communication means; pollution, global warming, resource depletion, ‘irreversible’ environmental damage, natural disasters, failures of leadership, inadequacy of obsolete educational systems, breakdown of values, increasing revenue gap between the rich and the poor, social unrest, fragmentation of families and communities, widespread human right abuse, life styles based on compulsive consumption, addictions, soaring levels of stress and psychosomatic diseases, all out competition and conflict looming at all levels of society, from nations to families up to the inner life of the individual, extremisms of all sorts and terrorism: all seem to be geared to follow the same trend of exponential, fast, unprecedented and obviously catastrophic growth. The list is endless and the figures are sticking.

Yet, as Marilyn Hempel executive director of Blue Planet United, a non-profit organization dedicated to integrated thinking, education and grassroots action on issues of environment, population, and sustainability, puts it, “We persist in our belief that more is better. Why? Is it because overconsumption is an addiction? An infection? A result of advertising? A byproduct of the profit and growth imperatives of capitalism? An indicator of weakened social bonds? Or is it because we’ve bought into the notion that consumption can fill all our needs? The basic human needs for material security and comfort are real and can be purchased. But beyond a certain point, consumption of more, better and different stuff tends to be substituted for the harder-won yet more enduring values.”

Consumerism has proved a very effective formula to produce more wealth than we have ever created at any other time in known history: enough to easily meet the needs of all. Shouldn’t we therefore be happier than we have ever been? Reality seems to tell a very different story.

A research conducted in the UK at the turn of the century showed that, although between 1950 and 2000, average earnings have multiplied 8 times, the number of people suffering from depression multiplied 4 times, family problems 20 times, street violence, 30 times and teenagers addiction 200 times.

 NOTE

The numbers we publish in the following pages are drawn from various sources and are estimations. The facts may be significantly different from the numbers as estimates are … estimates based on research which is, by definition, incomplete and based on assumptions which tend to distort the real facts. Yet, we have tried to look for what were the most reliable and ‘objective’ ones. Most are about the developed world, the US in particular, simply because this is where social statistics are most widely conducted. Yet, we believe that, apart from areas which greatly differ because of cultural factors, like the number of divorce in India for example, similar trends would be found in most societies participating in the global economy.

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