A prophetic article from the brilliant Michael Leunig on the insanity of our obsession with economic growth. Leunig is one of those rare individuals who has the ability to speak truth into a culture, to go straight to the heart of a matter and speak it like it is. Following a previous post of mine on our addiction to growth, Leunig tells the story of a childhood friend of his working in Papua New Guinea whose hosts in PNG were fascinated and pained by our way of life and how it lacked any semblance of community. The quote which haunted her when she explained that her family home had separate rooms with private bedroom for each of her daughters, was when they responded “”How sad for your children. How sad for your family. Everyone lost from each other in such a big house with so many walls.”
‘The lonely crowd’ is a term friends of mine sometimes use to explain the loss of community and the feeling of lostness and aloneness despite living in a city of millions of people. To the ‘primitive’ people of PNG with their apparent superstitions and strange rituals, our lostness was bewildering. Leunig then goes on to explain our own superstitions and rituals. The question is then, who are the ‘primitive’ ones? He makes points which seem so obvious but blind us in our desperate search for more and better. His points, which are so pertinent in today’s climate, are:
“Yet surely an economy, as well as our personal lives, are doomed to malfunction if greed and its subsidiary behaviours and consequences are not factored in and collectively acknowledged as a central scientific reality. Just as we all have a heart, we have natural greed, and unacknowledged is uncontrolled. For economics to bypass it would be like the aviation industry refusing to acknowledge the fact of gravity or the Catholic Church refusing to accept that the Earth is not the centre of the universe.
We are asked to believe in eternal economic growth (upon which we have become dependent) when we know in our hearts and minds that such growth will destroy the Earth. This is worse than any cargo cult. It is a massive, absurd, depressing conflict.
So when the economy has a “downturn” we might think to look further and wider than new regulations or the replacing of cogs and washers and wheels. Underlying the financial dysfunction is the possibility of a conflicted, dispirited human culture that has consumed so flagrantly and ruthlessly that it has grown sick and ashamed of itself, to the point where it has lost its meaning and vitality: a society sitting exhausted and faithless in its own poisonous bathwater, regurgitating its worn-out gestures, stuck in its jaded, reactive modes, and generally incapable of sufficient originality, courage, innocence or honesty to make a healthy life.”
We have much to learn from our brothers in sisters in poorer parts of the world. What St Paul said many years ago still seems to hold true today, that the things of this world are foolishness in the eyes of God.