Mark, you say:
“But when presented with a choice of hard work and sustainable simplicity, or resource-hungry luxury, I fear that human beings of all cultures and backgrounds are programmed to go, in their bulk, for the easier option. Whether Amazonian tribesman or newly-comfortable middle-class Chinese or Indian.”
Yes, most people make that choice, but it’s interesting what is wrapped up in your statement. When you describe it as you have, it paints a picture of humans being driven by greed, base desire and the easiest option. It makes all of us into ‘a bad lot’ and that we will inevitably decimate the planet because of the way we are ‘programmed’.
The time I spent with Helena Norberg-Hodge in Ladakh taught me a great deal about these issues. She set up ISEC (International Society for Ecology and Culture http://www.isec.org.uk ) as a result of what she was witnessing in Ladakh, a Tibetan Buddhist community high up on the Tibetan plateau. Their borders had been closed due to their proximity to China. She was there when the first tourists came in late ‘70’s, and witnessed the radical change to their culture as a result of the influence of western ideals.
She also heard the same old phrase “Oh, well it’s inevitable that the place will get spoilt, it’s the same all over the world. It’s what the Ladakhi people want, and who are you, as a westerner, to try and stop them in their ‘progress? Which would you choose, after all?”
Helena was incensed by what she saw. This was a combination of at least two things:
· Ladakhi people who were seduced by the apparent ‘paradise’ of western lifestyles (based on tourists with apparently large quantities of money and time and fancy technology).
· Western companies who ‘pushed’ their products onto unsuspecting local people who simply didn’t have the info to know better (eg powdered milk is much better for your baby than breast milk; insecticides will help you grow veg….and so, on I’m sure you know the line)
She set up ISEC with the intention of introducing renewable technologies into the culture so they could ‘leap frog’ the industrial age, as well as consciousness raising about the ill effects of western culture – so that they could make a real choice. (and much more besides….)
One of the projects was to bring community leaders to the west to be shown our shadow side – I hosted a couple of women in the early 1990’s. They would then go back and tell the tales of anorexic women in hospital, people sleeping on the streets, sex shops, and so on. Not the paradise they imagined, (and of course not to deny that some of the great things we have)
The point of this is that it modernity would have us believe it has to be ‘either/or’ – either “hard work and sustainable simplicity, or resource-hungry luxury”. ISEC has shown that when people are presented with a more rounded picture of what happens when you take this path or that one, many of them make different choices – not about staying in the past, but about moving into more comfort without destroying their environment. It’s not that we are programmed for this or that.
Moving from hutongs to modern flats would seem like a very healthy choice when people don’t have the complete picture.
And onto your other point about what lies ahead. I agree – talk talk talk, build community, and prepare as best we know how. I think that the Transition Movement has all of that.