Friday, 23 July 2021

Unite Behind the Science

In 2019 Greta Thunberg accused the entire adult world of acting like "spoiled, irresponsible children". She called for politicians, heads of state, worldwide corporations and individual families to "follow the science" by starting to live "within the planetary boundaries". Under present circumstances, it is a big ask. We may call for reform, for repentance, for change. But who is going to lead that change? In 2020 worldwide Lockdowns resulted from following the 'science', bringing unprecedented chaos to the world social order. And the question remains unanswered: where do we go from here?

On the one hand we must agree with Greta. As a species we are indeed acting as "spoiled, irresponsible children". But the task is not to change 'them up there', the politicians and the corporate heads. They are too busy working to give us what we have been taught to want - electricity at the flick of a switch, food grown, processed, packaged, transported and ready to eat, clothes, shelter, holidays, leisure activities and so on. All is magically available to us through a financial system that acts like a parent figure. Without thought we go to work to earn a wage or salary from the unsustainable system, so that we can buy from the system those goods and services it supplies, regardless of the impact upon the living world around us.

The task is to recognise that the man-made economy that sustains our life on earth, is indeed man-made. Every day of our lives we consume the goods and services designed for us by the corporate world. Every day we use the money system to maintain and care for our homes and families. We go to work as farmers, teachers, factory workers, bankers, medics, office hands and sewage workers so that we can buy the gods and services we need to be fit and healthy workers. Generation after generation, we bring babies into this world, feed them into the school system, prepare them to be the next generation of waged and salaried workers, tend them in their hours of leisure, and care for them when they can no longer work for money.

The disruption of Covid invites us to think about our daily priorities, and the assumptions upon which they are based. On reflection, the health crisis can be seen as a symptom of the economic, the social, and the ecological challenges of today. It could well be that, as Pope Francis observed in Let Us Dream, they have a common solution. "Could it be," he asks, "that the replacing of the objective of growth with that of new ways of relating will allow for a different kind of economy, one that meets the needs of all within the means of the planet?"

Having recognised the problem, it is tempting to grasp at ready-made solutions, but in doing so we can end up in a greater pickle than we are already. Hence the need for discernment. "What is the Spirit telling us? What is the grace on offer here, if we can only embrace it; and what are the obstacles and temptations? What humanises, what dehumanises? where is the good news hidden within the sombre news, and where is the bad spirit dressed as an angel of light?" (p60-1) When it comes to a time to choose, these are questions for those who humbly search and listen, to reflect and pray before launching into action. Addressed to the world at large, and raising the fundamental economic, ecological and social issues of our times, Let Us Dream provides an excellent starting point for study and reflection.

We are called to redesign the economy so that it can offer every person access to a dignified existence while protecting and regenerating the natural world. And that means that, as individuals, we are called to transform our relationship with money and finance. How much of what we do every day is motivated by the need to acquire funds - wages, salaries, expenses? How many of our daily necessities are supplied by exploited labour and ecologically disastrous use of the resources of the land? Humanity has failed to master technology. As a result, technology has ceased to be our instrument and has become our overlord. It has changed our mindset so that we become more intolerant of limits. If it can be done, and it is profitable, we see no reason why it shouldn't be done. As we neglect the needs of Mother Earth, we lose what we need to survive. At the same time we lose the wisdom to live well together.

The finance-driven industrial-commercial corporation is central to contemporary existence. Hence our educational programmes have become subservient to its control. Students must prepare themselves for jobs within the all-enclosing bubble of the industrial-commercial world. Under these circumstances, working outside the financially endorsed economy seems to make no sense: it is contrary to rhyme and reason. As a result, we find ourselves lacking the intellectual tools necessary to develop the wisdom to live well together. To unite behind genuine science and human-centred technology we need to revisit our history, so that we can revive the study methods and practices of the worldwide Adult Education movement of the 20th century.

The above thoughts combine insights from Let us Dream (2020) with those of Thomas Berry's The Dream of the Earth (1988). Both books appear on the 400-strong Booklist that appears on the opening page of the Yorkshire Education Association. See

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