An essay by Michael Bassey December 2016



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 today?   

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:   Less 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.


The major driver of capitalism is wealth creation. Its antithesis, after Illich[i], 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 disaster.  

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.

‘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.

Looking 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 future generations. 

Looking 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 generations. 

Seeking 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 loved. 

Seeking 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 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.
• 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 could impinge on politics.

Tackling 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.

Tackling 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 rich countries. 

> Aiming 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.

Aiming 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.

Aiming 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.

Aiming 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.

Espousing 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 life.  


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.  

Economic 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 trouble.   

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!   The slogan is:   Happiness from convivial living.

Tools for Conviviality, Ivan Illich (1973)