BURNT TOAST OR
WARM TEACAKES ?
An essay by Michael Bassey December 2016
PART FIVE: CULTURAL CHANGE FOR MODERN BRITAIN
COULD WE BE LESS SELFISH, LESS GREEDY ?
Those of us who have been
around for a long time sometimes feel that we, the people of Middle England,
have become more self-centred (perhaps more selfish), more acquisitive (perhaps
more greedy), and less tolerant (perhaps more aggressive). I suspect that this is not just rumination of
the old but a real change that has come among the so-called middle class with
increase in their affluence. Why this
could be is not clear, but if I am right this needs to be tackled as part of developing
a new political framework.
Can there be a cultural
change in which acquisitiveness for new possessions is replaced by savouring the
old. Can we learn to be satisfied with less rather than seeking for more? Can we dismiss the obsessive materialism of
Can such changes be
encouraged by government curtailing the ubiquitous advertising that promotes
acquisitiveness? Perhaps through
taxation? Advertising of goods and
services floods into most homes day by day through commercial television and
through the letter box. This started in
1955 and has steadily grown. The
difficulty, of course, is that (other than those of the BBC) the quizzes,
dramas, chat shows, news bulletins, features, films, and sporting events that
we enjoy on television are financed by advertisements.
Can the idea that “we must
have progress” be challenged? Or, can
we redirect it towards humanity? Can we
curtail the march of the robots? Can we
be content with today’s technology – the wonderful cars, televisions, washing
machines, mobile phones that we have now and which would have been mind-blowing
a generation ago – and say that we don’t need better ones? Can we state that
abolishing poverty world-wide is fundamentally more important than spending
vast sums on trying to explore the surface of Mars? Putting it simply, can we assert that
humanity is more important than new technology?
It is people that matter, not machines!
People enjoying life, working together, supporting each other, building
friendships and discovering how to love one another: can we establish that this is what life for
everybody should be about?
Clearly education has a key
role if change is to be achieved.
Schools need to be less
concerned with academic prowess leading to a “good” job for oneself (as pursued
by governments obsessed with economically supporting a materialistic future)
and more focussed on all-round preparation for a good life within the local
community. Schools should not be exam
factories, but seed beds where all individuals can thrive physically,
creatively, culturally, emotionally and intellectually and grow into citizens
prepared not only for enjoying good lives but of contributing to the common
weal of changing times. Most teachers
recognise this, but are constrained by a system that demands higher and higher
test and examination results. These
constraints need to be reduced and schools freed to prepare their pupils for
the kind of community future set out in the previous section.
Beyond schools our whole
society needs to engage in an educative process that embraces ideas for a
stable future. Government can only keep
fossil fuels in the ground, instigate citizen’s income with progressive
taxation, and promote localised community development with the democratic support
of the electorate. People need to recognise the imminent perils and understand
why major change is necessary. Ideas for
the future, like these in this booklet, need to be widely discussed.
The media has a vital role.
Newspapers, television and radio need to educate rather than titivate! Government needs to make it happen.
The slogan should be:
selfish, less greedy:
more content, happier
These are the changes
that the new Industrial Revolution will need if there is to be a fair and
harmonious society in the future.
However they need an ethical underpinning to support them. The next section describes a possible
philosophical stance – conviviality.
So far this paper has
discussed ideas in the context of the United Kingdom. The final section focuses on the whole world.
CONVIVIAL POLICIES, NOT OBSESSION WITH WEALTH
The major driver of capitalism is wealth creation. Its antithesis,
I call conviviality.
‘Conviviality’ can be defined in terms of a state of harmony within
oneself and with one's social, cultural and natural environments - as
elaborated below. Convivial
policies offer an alternative to the much feared, potential global man-made
Wealth creation has produced prosperity for many people across the
world and misery for many others. Today it can be seen to be the prime agent of
man-made global warming and incipient climate change. Wealth creation requires energy, and that
energy, as discussed earlier, has come from burning fossil fuels, which in turn
liberate greenhouse gases that lead to warming the Earth.
While wealth creation is the ethos of business and governments,
conviviality is the ethos of families and local communities – by whatever name
they call it. Yes, they are in competition: the future of humankind will
depend upon the outcome.
The prevailing ethos of the macro world of business and nations is a way
of living where wealth creation is central - in the expectation that this will
continually give greater access to goods and services and hence endlessly
improve the quality of life.
Wealth creation tends to put people
in competition with each other and this is seen by its protagonists as the
engine of progress leading to greater affluence.
Historically wealth creation has
achieved remarkable levels of affluence: it has built towns, transport systems,
communication systems, schools, hospitals, churches; it has funded great
architecture, geographic exploration, scientific discovery; it has filled our
shops with desirable goods and made widely available many public services.
But also it has led to devastating
levels of misery through the greed and hedonism of those who have put wealth
creation for themselves above the needs of others who are less fortunate.
Politically the struggle to create more wealth has sometimes put nation against
nation, occasionally leading to wars.
Today the ethos of wealth creation is
pushing the world towards global socio-ecological catastrophe, particularly due
to global warming caused by the excessive production of atmospheric pollutants
and the over-exploitation of natural resources.
But there is an alternative ethos:
conviviality. Ivan Illich, the South American philosopher, introduced the term
in his book Tools for Conviviality (1973) and I have tried to develop
it, including ideas from Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful (1973), so that
the adjective ‘convivial’ and the noun ‘conviviality’ are given a profound
meaning which goes far beyond the jovial to identify the roots of human joy.
is a way of living through which people gain quality of life and enjoy
happiness by striving to be in harmony with themselves and with their social,
cultural and natural environments.
For each individual this can be a
life-long learning project: for every society it can be the source of peace,
prosperity and sustainability.
Convivial people seek a state of deep
and satisfying harmony with their world and through this a joyful meaning to
for harmony with their natural environment they use it for their needs, but try
not to exploit it; they strive to conserve the land and the living things that
it supports and, seeing themselves as stewards, aim to safeguard the land for
for harmony with their cultural environment they learn from it, savour it,
contribute to it, and aim to pass on what they see as worthwhile to future
harmony with their fellows: convivial people try to co-operate rather than
compete with them; they endeavour neither to exploit others nor to be exploited
by them; they participate in the management of their society through democratic
structures; they strive to live in concord with all - to love and be
harmony with their inner selves: convivial people search for understanding of
their own rationality, spirituality and emotions in order to develop their
talents effectively; and by trying to use their talents harmoniously in
relation to society and environment, experience the joy of convivial life.
If the human world is to survive the
disasters that global warming is causing, we should cherish the fact that in
the micro-worlds of families and small communities conviviality is usually the
prevailing ethos. Mostly the members of these live in altruistic harmony
with each other, supporting each other, conserving their surroundings and
aiming to pass to future generations that which they hold worthwhile. Likewise
most teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, charity workers, carers for the
elderly and sick, and some lawyers, reflect the ethos of conviviality.
It is this ethos that needs to be
brought into the front line of politics.
CONVIVIALITY COULD IMPINGE ON POLITICS
• Conviviality is a way of
living through which people gain quality of life and enjoy happiness by
striving to be in harmony with themselves and with their social, cultural and
describes a process by which people make collective decisions about the
management of their affairs: local, national and world-wide.
Here are some of the major ways in
which conviviality could impinge on politics.
global warming is a convivial issue because
conviviality entails trying to safeguard the Earth for future generations and
conserving the Earth and the living things which it supports. It follows that
rich countries must limit the consumerism that contributes to global warming
and replace economic growth by concern for the quality of life and the
well-being of all.
poverty and malnutrition
wherever it exists is a convivial issue because conviviality entails seeking to
live in harmony with fellow human beings and so supporting them in their times
of need. It follows that poor countries need to be able to grow their economies
– aiming eventually to converge with the reduced economies of the presently
for nations to be more or less self-sustainable in food production, energy
provision, water availability and other natural resources arises as a convivial issue because conviviality entails using the
natural environment for needs, but not exploiting it, conserving the land, and
stewardship of precious resources to safeguard these for future generations.
to avoid or reduce conflict arises
as a convivial issue because conviviality embraces the idea of harmony between
peoples, trying to co-operate rather than compete with them and neither
exploiting them not being exploited by them. This ideal stretches from
in-family feuds and workplace bullying to terrorism and international warfare.
to replace individualism by community involvement arises because conviviality includes the idea of harmony with fellows
and co-operation rather than competition. It embraces altruism.
to reduce inequality arises
as a convivial issue because conviviality endeavours neither to exploit others
nor to be exploited by them and embraces democratic ideals of social justice as
fundamental aspects of harmony between people. For these same reasons the
convivial ethos embraces values of honesty, respect and empathy for others.
worthwhile and life-long education is convivial, because it embraces harmony with one’s cultural environment and learning from it,
savouring it, contributing to it and aiming to pass on what is seen as
worthwhile to future generations; and from the notion of seeking harmony with
one’s inner self and searching for understanding of one’s rationality,
spirituality and emotions in order to develop one’s talents and lead a convivial
WORLD-WIDE VIABLE FUTURE WHERE ECONOMIES
These convivial ideas are a key to
seeing how a viable global future could evolve. Our descendants across the
globe – children, grandchildren and beyond – must be able to enjoy what they
will perceive as a worthwhile quality of life.
To achieve this the convivialist
suggests that the industrial countries of the world need to replace the ethos
of wealth creation by the ethos of conviviality in national and international
life, while the developing countries need to create sufficient wealth to raise
the standards of living of their peoples and at the same time develop convivial
policies to ensure that these standards are shared by all of them.
Thus rich economies should contract
and poor economies expand to the point where eventually they converge. Those
in the rich economies of the world who say that the notion of contraction is
outrageous and cannot be done are inevitably pointing the way to global doom.
In order to succeed in this just
mission of contraction and convergence it needs to be recognised that economic
growth (i.e. wealth creation) is only a phenomenon of societies moving to
maturity, once they have reached it economic growth should end.
While global warming is recognized by
many as the greatest world-wide challenge of today, it is not widely recognized
that it is driven by the desire for economic growth, which is nearly everywhere
underpinned by energy released by fossil fuels. Hence the concern about global warming and
associated climate change needs to focus on the agency of economic growth.
stability (i.e. zero economic growth) is the hallmark of maturity. A
mature country is also a place that is socially just, democratically governed,
environmentally responsible, culturally stimulating, and where its people live
happy and contented lives in neither poverty nor richness. It is a
country that prospers mainly on the renewable resources and produce of its own
territory. It will trade minimally with others, but enjoy cultural
intercourse with other countries around the world. In times of
need it will give generous support to other countries that are in
To create a better world not only the anthropogenic causes of global
warming need to be tackled but also the world-wide issues of strife,
malnutrition, sexism, poverty, and lack of education. A better world
would avoid wars, famines, and eco-catastrophes. It would celebrate the
cultural heritages of its peoples, ensure social justice for all, and focus its
technological advances on ensuring the sustainability of life on Earth. Ok,
it sounds banal - but we need to keep on saying it, because it is true!
from convivial living.
[i] Tools for Conviviality, Ivan Illich (1973)