This essay was archived on 25 November 2015, the evidence now being ten years old.
The Academy of the Social Sciences includes many of the most eminent social scientists of the UK, who have been elected by their peers for their contributions to the social sciences. In January 2005 I sent a postal questionnaire to the 411 academicians of that time asking a few questions which were related to my concept of conviviality – although I avoided using the term itself.
Respondents were asked to put a tick against one of the suggested answers to each question to indicate the response that was nearest to their present opinion. Recognising the potential difficulty that social scientists could have in giving a simple answer I put this in the rubric: “If none reflects your opinion, or if you feel you know either too little about it, or too much and so see the question as simplistic, please use the response ‘Cannot answer this question’.”
411 questionnaires were posted to academicians at the end of January and by 1 May a total of 197 had been returned – a 48 % response. I was delighted with this number of responses which is high for a postal enquiry. Rather than give percentage results, which I consider would be misleading since half of the academy did not respond, the numbers of responses in each category are given.
Q1 How life threatening are some of the changes in the global environment that are being made by humankind?
(a) Very serious and needing worldwide urgent action now: 124
(b) Quite serious and needing worldwide action in the near future: 58
(c) Not serious enough to need worldwide action in the near future: 7
(d) Cannot answer this question: 8
Q2 Will economic growth in the UK slow down and stop at some time in the future and, if so, should we be planning for a ‘no growth’ society?
(a) It is unlikely that the limits to economic growth will ever be reached: 72
(b) Economic growth will virtually cease at some time in the distant future, but there is no need to act yet: 29
(c) Economic growth will slow down and stop in the foreseeable future and we should be planning what to do: 54
(d) Cannot answer this question: 42
Q3 How can malnutrition and starvation be eliminated across the world?
(a) By increasing trade throughout the world in order to promote economic growth for all countries, rich and poor, and so lift the poor out of poverty: 19
(b) By rich countries providing immediate aid plus intermediate technology which enables people in the long term to live on the resources of their own territory: 33
(c) By a combination of (a) and (b): 135
(d) Cannot answer this question: 10
Q4 Where survival is reasonably assured and basic needs are met, will an ethos of wealth creation or an ethos of harmony (with others, environment, and self) give the better quality of life and worthwhile meaning to individuals’ lives?
(a) A worldwide ethos of wealth creation would give a better quality of life for all: 14
(b) A worldwide ethos of harmony would give a better quality of life for all: 88
(c) Both (a) and (b) are needed: 86
(d) Cannot answer this question: 9
Q5 Sustainability is taken to mean a way of life which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. What is the best interpretation of sustainable development?
(a) Sustaining development through economic growth year by year – while developing policies to alleviate poverty and protect the global environment: 77
(b) Developing sustainability by striving for societies which prosper mainly on the resources and produce of their own territories while protecting the global environment and supporting each other in time of need: 85
(c) Cannot answer this question: 35
As the table shows, nearly everybody saw that changes being made by humankind in the global environment were serious and needed urgent action worldwide now or in the near future. But it was a surprise that while 72 took what seems to be the conventional view that it is unlikely that the limits to economic growth will ever be reached, 54 of these social scientists thought that economic growth will slow down and stop in the foreseeable future and that we should be planning what to do about it. [Remember that these questions were being answered in January 2005 - nearly four years before the 54 were proved right!]
Most people thought that a combination of trade and aid is needed to lift the poorest countries out of poverty and starvation, and 85 looked for developing sustainability by striving for societies which prosper mainly on the resources and produce of their own territories while protecting the global environment and supporting each other in time of need.
The welcome surprise was that 88 thought that a worldwide ethos of harmony would give a better quality of life for all while a further 86 thought that a worldwide combination of wealth creation and harmony would be needed. But only 14 thought that wealth creation alone was sufficient.
It was clear that conviviality (for which I used the word harmony – ‘with others, environment, and self’) – seemed widely supported as an ethos for the world. Some saw it as sufficient and others that it was needed in conjunction with wealth creation.
I reported these findings to the Academy of the Social Sciences at the time. Would the answers be different four years later? I doubt it.
MB (posted 16 July 2009, archived on 25 November 2015)