The major driver of capitalism is wealth creation. I have thought long about this, and of its antithesis, which (after Illich) I call conviviality.
I define ‘conviviality’ in terms of harmony within oneself and with one's social, cultural and natural environments - as elaborated below.
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. How? Because wealth creation requires energy, and that energy over the past two centuries, and still today, has come from burning fossil fuels, which in turn liberate greenhouse gases that lead to warming the Earth.
To seek to avoid global catastrophe the rich countries of the world could adopt convivial policies and contract their economies, while the poor countries expand their economies to the point where the economies of the world converge. Hopefully at that stage the whole world would have become convivial.
THE FUTURE OF HUMANKIND
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 grave competition: the future of humankind will depend upon the outcome.
In 2009 (on my 77th birthday) I decided to put these thoughts into the public domain, in the worrying, but grandiose, belief that convivial policies offer an alternative to global man-made disaster. Since then I have added pages, amended some and deleted others. It may seem an esoteric discourse, but by 2016 the site is getting over 1000 hits every month .
Wealth creation is the prevailing ethos of the macro world of business and nations. This 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 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. This is how I define it:
‘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 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 their lives.
If the human world is to survive the disasters that global warming is causing, it will be necessary to recognise that in the micro-world 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 which I believe needs to be brought into the front line of politics.
HOW CONVIVIALITY COULD IMPINGE ON POLITICS
Politics 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 should impinge on politics.
A WORLD-WIDE VIABLE FUTURE IN WHICH ECONOMIES CONVERGE
These 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 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 contract and poor economies expand to the point where 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.
Economic stability (i.e. zero economic growth) is the hallmark of maturity. A mature country is a place that is socially just, democratically governed, environmentally responsible, culturally stimulating, and where its people live happy and contented lives. 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 trouble.
GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Combating global warming is the greatest world-wide challenge of today. The Earth is slowly warming, variously causing droughts that damage food production leading to hunger and starvation, catastrophic storms and floods that damage property, heat waves that kill people, and a rise in sea level that threatens low lying territories world-wide. The scientific evidence is that this is primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels since the start of the industrial revolution. It follows that global warming is driven by the almost universal desire for economic growth, which is nearly everywhere underpinned by energy released by fossil fuels.
The argument against economic growth centres on its agency in global warming and associated climate change.
Either humankind ends economic growth or it fries, drowns or starves.
CREATING A BETTER WORLD
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, 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!
CONVIVIALITY AND THE FUTURE
To survive humankind must begin to eschew the pursuit of further wealth and instead seek for quality of life for all. If we can connect the natural conviviality of people with the reality of political action, progress just might be made towards sustainable, peaceful and just societies throughout the world for our grandchildren - and for theirs.
As I put at the start of this essay, it is my "worrying, but grandiose, belief that convivial policies offer an alternative to global man-made disaster". That is the rationale for this website. It is why I have called it www.convivial-politics-could-save-the-world.com
First posted by Michael Bassey on 5 May 2009, amended on 28 January 2010, 25 November 2015, and 26 May 2016
On this site are six of what I call Essays for the Grandchildren, with the double meaning of writings and endeavours:
CONVIVIALITY - A SOCIAL CONCEPT FOR THE 21ST C
(TRAILBLAZERS: books that have influenced me)
They can be accessed from the left hand bar at the head of this page.