LIVING FOR CHANGE
Time To Re-Think and De-Grow
By Grace Lee Boggs
Michigan Citizen, Aug 11, 2009
I am troubled by “not since the Great Depression,” an expression that has become popular in the media. It implies that things were much worse in the 1930s and ignores the reality that it took World War II for the economy to “recover” from the Depression.
In the 1930s millions were unemployed but our factories were still intact.. Automation, cybernation and the military-industrial complex were still a decade away. Most of the world’s cars were still being produced in Detroit. Labor had clout because once the plants began humming, they would need millions of semi-skilled workers. Global warming was not yet threatening to extinguish all life on Earth. A black president had not been elected, stirring increasingly dangerous counter-revolutionary resentments in a white middle class, uncertain of its future in a country that has lost two wars and where well-paying union jobs are disappearing.
In the 1930s things began to look up when millions of striking workers created the new industrial union movement and emboldened FDR to launch sweeping New Deal programs. Yet “full employment” was not
achieved until the 1940s after FDR turned the United States into an “arsenal of democracy” for a war in which over seventy million people, the majority civilians, were killed and which ended with dropping the
bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As Einstein famously said after World War II: “The splitting of the atom has changed everything but the human mind and thus we drift towards catastrophe.”
In other words, the time had come to rethink everything.
Fortunately today’s ecological crisis and economic meltdown are encouraging this rethinking.
For example, as I pointed out in a recent column, a “New Kind of Community Organizing” is emerging. It is based on challenging three assumptions underlying our market-based society: 1) that everyone exists primarily as an individual, not as a member of a community; 2) that everything people value can be delivered through the market system; and 3) that democracy means nothing more than casting an occasional vote.
I also recommend “Time to De-Grow,” an interview with economics professor Serge Latouche, which begins, as today’s rethinking must, not with the economic but with the ecological crisis.
Latouche calls “growth for growth’s sake, an insane objective, with disastrous consequences ” because “the earth’s resources and natural cycles cannot sustain the economic growth which is the essence of
capitalism and modernity.”
He argues, instead, for “a society of assumed sobriety; to work less in order to live better lives, to consume less products but of better quality, to produce less waste and recycle more.”
This new society would find “happiness in living together with others rather than in the frantic accumulation of gadgets.”
De-growth, he continues, “ is not the alternative to growth, but rather, a matrix of alternatives which would open up the space for human creativity again, once the cast of economic totalitarianism is removed. The de-growth society would not be the same in Texas and in the Chiapas, in Senegal and in Portugal. De-growth would open up anew the human adventure to the plurality of its possible destinies..”
“Principles of de-growth can already be found in theoretical thought and in practical efforts in both the global North and the South. For example, the attempt to create an autonomous region by the neo-Zapatistas in Chiapas; and many South American experiences, indigenous or others.”
De-growth in the global North would also open up alternatives for the global South. “As long as Ethiopia and Somalia are forced, during the worst food shortage, to export feed for our domestic animals, as long as we fatten our cattle with soya obtained after destroying the Amazonian forest, we are asphyxiating any attempt at real autonomy in the South.
“To dare de-growth in the South means to launch a virtuous cycle made up of breaking economic and cultural dependency on the North; reconnecting with a historical line interrupted by colonisation; reintroducing specific products which have been abandoned or forgotten as well as ‘anti-economic’ values linked to the past of those countries; recuperating traditional techniques and know-how.”