This book is a contribution to a big worldwide movement that involves many people and groups. We are posing serious questions about how we can live well now and in the future, and devising solutions to problems of ecology and social justice. The questions include:
- How can we live in harmony with nature? How do we stop global warming, associated climate change and the destruction of ecosystems?
- How can we eliminate poverty, establish security and sufficiency and provide justice and fairness for all the people of the earth?
- How do we restore an ethic of care for people and for the earth?
In short, how can we put human and planetary well-being at the centre of all our decision-making? The book explores how we can all participate in this movement by cultivating a philosophy and practice of enough in public and private life. Enough applies insights from flourishing ecosystems and from moral thinking to these big philosophical questions about how we should live. Given the crises of ecology, economics and social justice that we currently face, the need for a new worldview is as crucial as new technology. We are all born with the capacity for enough; everybody has a part to play in the creation of new ways to understand the world and live in it.
The concept of enough is developed throughout this book. I begin here in this introduction, continue in a chapter of reflection, and then move on to chapters showing how enough is relevant to public policies and personal resources. The approach I take recognises that the practice of enough is not uniform throughout the world; it can take different forms and expressions for individuals and cultures.
Thinking about enough highlights how misery, sufficiency and excess differ from each other. Our current economic and social systems discourage thinking about these distinctions. It is usually assumed that we should not put any brakes on accumulation, even if that sometimes means having far in excess of what we need. This kind of indiscriminate growth shows up as an increase in goods or services traded for cash, also known as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Many economists equate increase in GDP with progress for the human race, even as the great contradictions of global growth politics are becoming more and more clear: the economic systems that provide indiscriminate increase in GDP are harming the resources that sustain us. Economic growth has brought about benefits but its downsides are considerable. The general impulse of growth economics as currently practiced is to exploit resources such as people, land, animals and ecosystems. It is not about serving, fostering, caring for or conserving them.
In the worldview that favors this kind of easily measurable growth, rising levels of consumption, production and cash wealth are all considered to automatically bring about improved human well being. Markets, money, trade, science, technology, competition and profit are good, creative activities in themselves. But with the current emphasis on growth at all costs, they are conducted in ways that are ecologically destructive and morally unacceptable. The world does not have enough resources for everyone to live a consumerist lifestyle. As “standards of living” rise for the materially wealthy, they fail to rise for the less well off. And the means by which we create material wealth and consumer goods often destroy the features of life that make life enjoyable and worthwhile in the first place, such as time for self, family, friends, community, civil society and nature.
Enough has an immediate value in this culture of untrammelled growth. It can help us cope with the personal and social effects of what can sometimes seem like a runaway world. Working out what is enough in one’s life is a way to get some peace of mind and capacity to deal with hectic daily activities. It is a way to be content, not in the sense of tolerating poor quality, but in the sense of knowing what is valuable and what is not, and relishing the good things we have already. It provides security in times of boom and recession.
But another spin-off of enough is that what helps us cope well with the world is also good for us morally and ecologically. If we apply enough to our health, finances and personal energy, we automatically restrict the kinds of damage we might be unwittingly doing in the wider world. Enough is a concept that is intrinsically moral, intrinsically ecological and intrinsically healthy. Practising enough allows us to get what is needed from the world to sustain human flourishing, but without taking too much from individuals, or from social and natural systems. It is also about how to give adequately to the world around us. So it is about the relationship between humans and the world, how we get and how we give. In our modern worldview, we have limited our understanding of how everything is connected to everything else. The emphasis on economic growth at all costs has encouraged us to deny the consequences of always using resources from communities and eco-systems, but never giving to them.
This book shows that the problems are all connected with each other. But just as important, the solutions are also interconnected. A sense of enough creates the conditions that will allow a critique of growth. It can also nourish a culture of adapted human behavior, which will give at least some of the earth’s ecosystems a chance to renew themselves and at the same time allow social justice to emerge.
In the past, we did not need to make a big deal of enough; it was built into our lives in many ways. Our language recognized it in phrases like “enough is as good as a feast”, and “waste not, want not”. But in modern life the sense of enough is badly underdeveloped; in affluent societies we have largely forgotten the wisdom captured in the old sayings. Enough is as different as it is possible to get, from our current affluent western obsession with expansion and accumulation. We would benefit from naming enough again and exploring its value for us in the future. It is knowledge recognized by earlier generations; its value has become obscured in the world of more, but it can be very useful to us at this time. Knowledge, including knowledge about enough, takes many forms; it can take the form of practical skills, interpersonal skills, self-knowledge and critical thinking. All forms are essential, and of equal importance.
Thinking about progress
This book appears at a time in human history when we humans need to make collective plans in ways we have not needed to do in the past. Now we need to plan very seriously, as a global, connected species, because developments have for the most part gone beyond the optimum. We need to make choices that will ensure all aspects of human security, including climate, finance, food, water and peace.
One of the most important choices we have to make is to stop denying or ignoring the consequences of growth. We have never had so much information available to us about the consequences of our actions. We know that we need to reduce demand and slow consumption in the world economy, in order to stop global warming and climate change, and to allow forms of economic activity that would be more life-enhancing than relentless growth. A second choice is even more important: to apply wisdom and passion in acting on the information we have. We need to examine our situation honestly, profoundly and self-reflectively. This is not about inducing a guilt-trip or causing a paralysis of blame, but about acting responsibly.
Part of acting responsibly is to ask what other options are available. We need to ask what is really going on when elected leaders and economists repeat the dogma that there is no alternative to growth. Sometimes they even tell us that we need the money generated by growth in order to sort out the problems it causes. We need to investigate the assumptions implicit in the growth-oriented worldview, and look at who benefits from it and who is disadvantaged by it. Most importantly, we need to ask how we can promote other ways of knowing the world, responding to it and acting in it.
If a tree, for example, continues to grow upwards, it will become unhealthy, unable to support itself, and will topple. A system that grows in only one direction eventually collapses under the weight of its own unbalanced growth. We have seen this happening with the banking system during the financial crisis and recession of 2008 and 2009. Yet the G20 talks about this crisis have focussed on stimulating or “kick starting” economic growth again. Governments are trying to recreate the same type of growth that has already shown itself to be unhealthy.
In many systems, the end to growth in one direction happens spontaneously when optimum growth is reached. In economies and markets, however, this stopping has to be consciously chosen.
It would be easy to dismiss enough as a form of stopping progress or even as a naïve attempt to reclaim the past. But if we look with discernment at the modern emphasis on a restricted form of economic growth, we see that it has taken the wonderful concept of growth and given it a very narrow definition: accumulation of material wealth for a few. It has channeled humans’ capacity for growth through a very narrow gate. In this channel, the stream gets very fast and turbulent. Survival is difficult and this has resulted in the development of our worst human capacities: indifference, cruelty, denial, a narrow materialism and short-term thinking in an effort to compete with others.
Enough is about creating many different channels for human growth and expansion. A culture of enough would judge human progress in diverse ways and not just in the quantitative sense of increasing GDP. Such a culture would always attempt to balance the considerable technical and scientific achievements we humans have made, with an increase in our moral, ecological, spiritual and emotional development. Humane and ecologically sound cultures would be a mark of progress and human advancement. I have for some time sensed an increase in hope; many people in the midst of out-of-control growth economies have been searching for something better than the modernist obsession with individual material wealth and never-ending accumulation. For many more, who had not previously appreciated enough, the recent economic downturns have led them to consider it as a worthwhile philosophy and practice.
This book is based on an optimistic view of human nature. People are capable of appreciating the beauty of enough. We can find fulfilment in joining with others to create cultures and laws that make the world secure and humane for all. Humans are motivated by much more than money, although many economists wrongly think that money is the only motivator.
Plan of the book
In this book, I mix very specific proposals for putting enough into practice, with more reflective and qualitative aspects. I survey some frameworks for action that have been put forward by independent thinkers and activists, including philosophers, politicians, economists, psychologists, educators and citizen-activists. I also engage in social and philosophical discussion. I have included endnotes to each chapter so that readers can easily trace the sources of the ideas and quotations. For the most part, I avoid names of authors, organisations and activists in the text, since I think that doing so makes for easier reading. But I want to stress my debt to all those whose work is discussed here.
Chapter 1 contains further reflection on enough as an idea, examining how it is intrinsically ecological, moral, spiritual and elegant in nature.
Chapter 2 examines how, in the drive for economic growth at all costs, we lose sight of limits. We also lose the capacity to distinguish between suicidal and destructive growth on the one hand, and intelligent, ecologically sound and morally acceptable economic activity (including some kinds of growth) on the other. And we fail to recognize economic activity that does not contribute to growth.
Chapter 3 continues this examination with a look at industrialization in agriculture, which is probably the single most disastrous choice humankind has made. Industrialized agriculture is incapable of providing food security for the world in the long term.
For a while, I resisted writing Chapters 2 and 3 because they go over distressing ground that I did not want to impose on readers. I thought that most readers would know the problems of monetarization and industrialization and would not want to read about them again here. Nevertheless, I later concluded that I should include them, in order to sketch the context that makes a renewal of enough so important at this time.
Many readers will not want or need to be reminded of the problems and can skip Chapters 2 and 3 and proceed to the more solution-oriented chapters that follow. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 are about concrete proposals and frameworks for change, based on a philosophy of enough.
Chapter 4 concentrates on the need to find the fairest process for halting global warming. Given the imperative that exists to reduce the global carbon dioxide emissions that are a huge cause of global warming, the crucial question is how to draw everybody and every country into the process. The answer lies in equity, which has largely been ignored in proposals for change. However a framework called Contraction and Convergence gives equal attention to equity. Contraction is the reduction part of the framework; convergence is the process part. Contraction is about reducing the carbon dioxide emissions. Convergence depends on the notion that all countries should participate in reducing carbon emissions, and that every person in the world has equal entitlements to the atmosphere (part of the global commons) and is thus entitled to “dump” a certain amount of carbon in it. Under a convergence policy, our entitlements would come in the form of a fair quota for each citizen of the globe. Each person could use their quota in total, or trade it in a legitimate worldwide carbon market, without the involvement of a “middle man”. Trading by individuals in excess carbon quotas would also provide a type of citizens’ income to offset higher energy costs.
Chapter 5 outlines how basic financial security for everybody in the form of a Citizens’ Income can contribute to general security and a global retreat from harmful growth, while also encouraging local development. A Citizens’ Income also provides a way out of the ‘poverty trap’, which is a major problem with current welfare systems. The chapter explores who qualifies as a citizen and how a Citizens’ Income transcends the left-right political divide. A Citizens’ Income can also benefit employers, because it replaces the minimum wage, which can make businesses difficult to sustain. I also examine how a Citizens’ Income can be financed: taxation has been suggested, but there are more exciting possibilities, such as the sharing of dividends from earth resources. The chapter ends with a look at the likely localisation effects of a Citizens’ Income, and this theme of localization is taken up again in Chapter 6.
Chapter 6 is about the growth and development of a worldwide food movement, based on intelligent local agricultural practices and the renewal of a food culture in places where it has died out. The basic premise of intelligent agriculture is that food production and food consumption should take place as close together as possible. The chapter cites evidence from around the world that the principle of enough can support farming systems capable of producing sufficient high-quality food in each bio-region. Intelligent agriculture is the only approach that is capable of providing food security for all people in the world, indefinitely.
Chapter 7 examines some policy principles that underpin the proposals for contraction and convergence, Citizens’ Income and intelligent agriculture. Among those principles are security, deep stability, maximum participation, diversity, resilience and whole-system health. I argue that such principles should inform all public policy.
Chapter 8 examines the role of culture in creating a fertile ground for the introduction of public policies based on enough. It goes on to explore the notion of the citizen-leader, who plays an essential role in creating cultural change, which in turn may eventually educate elected leaders and lawmakers.
Chapter 9 looks at those human capacities that the citizen-leader can value and cultivate, in order to counteract some of the ways that modern life has stunted human personal growth. It examines critical reflection, the capacity to feel, and an ethic of care. The concluding chapter outlines entry points that readers may choose to the path of enough. Mainly, however, this final chapter emphasizes the need to maintain a questioning attitude and to be hopeful about creating a better world.
I have constructed this book in a particular way that was manageable for me. But many other ways were possible. I invite you to dip into the chapters in any order you like. While each chapter can stand alone it is also linked to the others. The book is not comprehensive in the sense that it does not attempt to cover every single facet of enough. But it surveys what I consider the best proposals and the most relevant human capacities.
You, the reader and me, the writer
If you are someone who thinks that the solution to our problems is to keep growth going, to make and spend more money, to invest in technology and infrastructure, you will probably have little sympathy with the ideas in this book. If you are one of those “deep ecologists” who envisage a complete breakdown of societies, with famine, war and destruction in the wake of the collapse of the unwieldy growth system, and if you welcome that as “nature re-establishing a balance in the world” with greatly reduced populations, you probably won’t have much sympathy with the book either: the ideas will be too ordered and rely too much on global solutions.
The book may speak to you if you are searching at this time. You are probably concerned with finding convivial ways to live well in the world as it is. But you are also open to a critique of the world, in the sense of seeing it with a discerning eye and questioning received wisdom. You are probably also concerned about participating in the creation of better ways of living in the future. You value imagination and diversity and want to embrace the new while valuing good traditions and wisdom. At the same time, you know that the present is all we really have, and you are interested in how we can act now to put ideas into practice in daily life. You are interested in politics, economics, philosophy and psychology in equal measure, because you can see how they are all interlinked.
This book is a tool for reconnecting with your intuitive knowledge of yourself as a moral and ecological being. It is an affirmation of a kind of knowledge that most people have already, but which tends to get lost in the busyness of daily life or the struggle to just get by. It is also a contribution to developing this knowledge in response to our times. If you are motivated and caring enough to ask whether society should serve the economy, or whether economies should serve society, then you are already developing this kind of knowledge.
I write as a middle-aged, middle-class white Irish woman, currently working as a university lecturer. My views are shaped by what I have seen, thought, experienced and done in my life. While that may limit the book somewhat, it does not invalidate the ideas. I am first and foremost an educator and learner and I am convinced of the human capacity to learn and to create something better when a current system does not serve us well. I know that we can develop and grow in many different ways.
My values will come across to you as you read, but I am inviting you to avoid reading this book as my statement of a final “truth” or solution. It is a contribution to the conversation that is already going on about the difficult issues facing the world and its people. The book is my side of the conversation with other writers and activists and with you. I see it as an act of collaboration, through which we can reach better understandings of how we might proceed to create positive futures. The book shows what government can do and what we can do as citizens even when government will not act. Possibility is a hallmark of the approach I take to enough.
Throughout this book, there will be break-points where you disagree strongly with me, places where you do not want to go. There may be times when my tone annoys you or you think I am so naïve or “western”-oriented or arrogant, that you cannot read any further. I urge you to not give up on the questions for those reasons alone. If you are surprised or angry at something you read here, if you disagree or if you detect contradictions in the writing, maybe they are the things to reflect on for a while. I am inviting you to explore with me, but also to explore the ideas in conversation with other people. Contradictions and flaws are the places where new knowledge gets made and where we keep good ideas moving and living. Come on a journey with me to discover and create enough.