November 25, 2017

The goal

Section 3: A Blueprint for Survival.

The Blueprint occupied the entire issue of The Ecologist Vol. 2 No. 1, January 1972, in advance of the world’s first Environment Summit (the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm).

The principal authors were Edward Goldsmith and Robert Allen, with additional help from Michael Allaby, John Davoll, and Sam Lawrence.

So great was demand for A Blueprint for Survival that it was republished in book form later that year by Penguin Books, on 14 September 1972.

311. There is every reason to suppose that the stable society would provide us with satisfactions that would more than compensate for those which, with the passing of the industrial state, it will become increasingly necessary to forgo.

312. We have seen that man in our present society has been deprived of a satisfactory social environment. A society made up of decentralised, self-sufficient communities, in which people work near their homes, have the responsibility of governing themselves, of running their schools, hospitals, and welfare services, in fact of constituting real communities, should, we feel, be a much happier place.

313. Its members, in these conditions, would be likely to develop an identity of their own, which many of us have lost in the mass society we live in. They would tend, once more, to find an aim in life, develop a set of values, and take pride in their achievements as well as in those of their community.

314. It is the absence of just these things that is rendering our mass society ever less tolerable to us and in particular to our youth and to which can be attributed the present rise in drug-addiction, alcoholism and delinquency, all of which are symptomatic of a social disease in which a society fails to furnish its members with their basic psychological requirements.

315. More than a hundred years ago, John Stuart Mill realised that industrial society, by its very nature, could not last for long and that the stable society that must replace it would be a far better place. He wrote[1]:

“I cannot . . . regard the stationary state of capital and wealth with the unaffected aversion so generally manifested towards it by political economists of the old school. I am inclined to believe that it would be, on the whole, a very considerable improvement on our present condition. I confess I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing and treading on each other’s heels, which forms the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human kind . . . The northern and middle states of America are a specimen of this stage of civilisation in very favourable circumstances; and all that these advantages seem to have yet done for them . . . is that the life of the whole of one sex is devoted to dollar hunting, and of the other to breeding dollar-hunters.

“I know not why it should be a matter of congratulation that persons who are already richer than anyone needs to be, should have doubled their means of consuming things which give little or no pleasure except as representative of wealth . . . It is only in the backward countries of the world that increased production is still an important object; in those most advanced, what is economically needed is a better distribution, of which one indispensable means is a stricter restraint on population . . . The density of population necessary to enable mankind to obtain, in the greatest degree, all the advantages both of cooperation and of social intercourse, has, in all the most populous countries, been attained.. . It is not good for a man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species . . . Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating a world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature . . . If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it.

“It is scarcely necessary to remark that a stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture and moral and social progress; as much room for improving the Art of Living and much more likelihood of it being improved, when minds cease to be engrossed by the art of getting on.”

The importance of a varied environment

321. In our industrial society, the only things that tend to get done are those that are particularly conducive to economic growth, those in fact that, in terms of our present accounting system, are judged most efficient!

322. This appears to be almost the sole consideration determining the nature of the crops we sow, the style of our houses and the shape of our cities. The result, among other things, is the dreariest possible uniformity.

323. In a stable society, on the other hand, there would be nothing to prevent many other considerations from determining what we cultivate or build. Diversity would thus tend to replace uniformity, a trend that would be accentuated by the diverging cultural patterns of our decentralised communities.

324. As René Dubos has pointed out:

“In his recent book, The Myth of the Machine, Lewis Mumford states that ‘If man had originally inhabited a world as blankly uniform as a high-rise housing development, as featureless as a parking lot, as destitute of life as an automated factory, it is doubtful that he would have had a sufficiently varied experience to retain images, mould language, or acquire ideas’. To this statement, Mr Mumford would probably be willing to add that, irrespective of genetic constitution, most young people raised in a featureless environment and limited to a narrow range of life experiences will be crippled intellectually and emotionally.

“We must shun uniformity of surroundings as much as absolute conformity of behaviour, and make instead a deliberate effort to create as many diversified environments as possible. This may result in some loss of efficiency, but the more important goal is to provide the many kinds of soil that will permit the germination of the seeds now dormant in man’s nature. In so far as possible, the duplication of uniformity must yield to the organisation of diversity. Richness and variety of the physical and social environment constitute crucial aspects of functionalism, whether in the planning of cities, the design of dwellings, or the management of life.” [2]

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Real costs

331. We might regard with apprehension a situation in which we shall have to make do without many of the devices such as motor-cars, and various domestic appliances which, to an ever greater extent are shaping our everyday lives.

332. These devices may indeed provide us with much leisure and satisfaction, but few have considered at what cost. For instance, how many of us take into account the dull and tedious work that has to be done to manufacture them, or for that matter to earn the money required for their acquisition? It has been calculated that the energy used by the machines that provide the average American housewife with her high standard of living is the equivalent of that provided by five hundred slaves. [3]

333. In this respect, it is difficult to avoid drawing a comparison between ourselves and the Spartans, who in order to avoid the toil involved in tilling the fields and building and maintaining their homes, employed a veritable army of helots. The Spartan’s life, as everybody knows, was a misery. From early childhood, boys were made to live in barracks, were fed the most frugal and austere diet and spent most of their adult life in military training so as to be able to keep down a vast subject population, always ready to seize an opportunity to rise up against its masters. It never occurred to them that they would have been far better off without their slaves, fulfilling themselves the far less exacting task of tilling their own fields and building and maintaining their own homes.

334. In fact ‘economic cost’, as we have seen, simply does not correspond to ‘real cost’. Within a stable society this gap must be bridged as much as possible.

335. This means that we should be encouraged to buy things whose production involves the minimum environmental disruption and which will not give rise to all sorts of unexpected costs that would outweigh the benefits that their possession might provide.

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Real value

341. It is also true, as we have seen, that ‘economic value’ as at present calculated does not correspond to real value any more than ‘economic cost’ corresponds to real cost.

342. Our standard of living is calculated in terms of the market prices of the goods that it includes. These do not distinguish between, on the one hand, the gadgets that we do not really need and such essentials as unpolluted water, air and food on which our health must depend. In fact it tends to place greater value on the former, as we usually take the latter for granted.

343. It is in terms of these market prices that the GNP is calculated, and as we have seen, this provides the most misleading indication of our well-being. Edward Mishan points out that

“An increase in the numbers killed on the roads, an increase in the numbers dying from cancer, coronaries or nervous diseases, provides extra business for physicians and undertakers, and can contribute to raising GNP. A forest destroyed to produce the hundreds of tons of paper necessary for the American Sunday editions is a component of GNP. The spreading of concrete over acres of once beautiful countryside adds, to the value of GNP . . . and so one could go on.” [4]

344. In the same way, many of the machines whose possession is said to increase our standard of living are simply necessary to replace natural benefits of which we have been deprived by demographic and economic growth. We have pointed out how true this is of the ubiquitous motor-car. Also, many labour-saving devices are now necessary because with the disintegration of the extended family there is no one about to do the household chores. The fact that both husband and wife must, in many cases, go out to work to earn the money to buy the machines required to do these chores can serve only to render such devices that much more necessary.

345. In a stable society, everything would be done to reduce the discrepancy between economic value and real value, and if we could repair some of the damage we have done to our physical and social environment, and live a more natural life, there would be less need for the consumer products that we spend so much money on. Instead we could spend it on things that truly enrich and embellish our lives.

346. In manufacturing processes, the accent would be on quality rather than quantity, which means that skill and craftsmanship, which we have for so long systematically discouraged, would once more play a part in’ our lives. For example, the art of cooking would come back into its own, no longer regarded as a form of drudgery, but correctly valued as an art worthy of occupying our time, energy and imagination. Food would become more varied and interesting and its consumption would become more of a ritual and less a utilitarian function.

The arts would flourish: literature, music, painting, sculpture and architecture would play an ever greater part in our lives, while achievements in these fields would earn both money and prestige.

347. A society devoted to achievements of this sort would be an infinitely more agreeable place than is our present one, geared as it is to the mass production of shoddy utilitarian consumer goods in ever greater quantities. Surprising as it may seem to one reared on today’s economic doctrines, it would also be the one most likely to satisfy our basic biological requirements for food, air and water, and even more surprisingly, provide us with the jobs that in our unstable industrial society are constantly being menaced.

348. Indeed, as we have seen, the principal limitation to the availability of jobs today is the inordinately high capital outlay required to finance each worker. This limitation is withdrawn as soon as we accept that, within the framework of an overall reorganisation of our society, it would be possible for capital outlay to be reduced without reducing our real standard of living.

349. One of the Bishop of Kingston’s ten commandments is:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain by calling on his name but ignoring his natural law”. [5]

In other words, there must be a fusion between our religion and the rest of our culture, since there is no valid distinction between the laws of God and Nature, and Man must live by them no less than any other creature. Such a belief must be central to the philosophy of the stable society and must permeate all our thinking. Indeed it is the only one which is properly scientific, and science must address itself much more vigorously to the problems of co-operating with the rest of Nature, rather than seeking to control it.

350. This does not mean that science must in any way be discouraged. On the contrary, within a stable society, there would be considerable scope for the energies and talents of scientist and technologist.

Basic scientific research, plus a good deal of multidisciplinary synthesis, would be required to understand the complex mechanisms of our ecosphere with which we must learn to co-operate.

351. There would be a great demand for scientists and technologists capable of devising the technological infrastructure of a decentralised society. Indeed, with the application of a new set of criteria for judging the economic viability of technological devices there must open a whole new field of research and development.

352. The recycling industry which must expand very considerably, would offer innumerable opportunities, while in agriculture there would be an even greater demand for ecologists, botanists, entomologists, mycologists etc., who would be called upon to devise ever subtler methods for ensuring the fertility of the soil and for controlling ‘pest’ populations.

353. Thus in many ways, the stable society, with its diversity of physical and social environments, would provide considerable scope for human skill and ingenuity.

354. Indeed, if we are capable of ensuring a relatively smooth transition to it, we can be optimistic about providing our children with a way of life psychologically, intellectually and aesthetically more satisfying than the present one. And we can be confident that it will be sustainable as ours cannot be, so that the legacy of despair we are about to leave them may at the last minute be changed to one of hope.

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1. John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy Vol. II. John W. Parker, London, 1857.
2. René Dubos, “Can Man Adapt to Megalopolis”. In The Ecologist, October 1970.
3. See comments. “Energy Slaves”. In The Ecologist, January 1970.
4. Edward Mishan, “The Economics of Hope”. In The Ecologist, January 1971.
5. Bishop of Kingston, Doom or Deliverance? Rutherford lecture, 1971.
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