Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

1 Oct, 2006

Time to redefine the buzzwords that drive “wealth creation”

Originally Published: 01 October 2006

Of the many buzzwords that drive economic and corporate growth these days, three stand out: “development,” “progress” and “success.” All of these are rooted in the assumption that they must be measured in terms of monetary advancement – also known as “wealth creation.”

But as deep misgivings begin to set in about the real fallout of “wealth creation” exercises, calls are emerging for those three motivational buzzwords to be redefined.

Last week, a new book from the Worldwatch Institute flatly suggested that the world’s religious and spiritual traditions could accelerate advancement toward a better world by weighing in on what constitutes “progress.”

Inspiring Progress: Religions’ Contributions to Sustainable Development by Gary Gardner, Director of Research at the Institute, claims that stronger ethical norms are needed to help guide civilization in this new century, and people of faith can make important contributions to this effort, according to a WorldWatch news release.

“Better policies and greener technologies alone will not make sustainable societies,” Gardner was quoted as saying.  “We need a change in our very understanding of progress.”

According to an excerpt from the book posted on the WorldWatch website, the technological gains and massive accumulation of wealth that characterized the 20th century overshadowed the darker signs of a progress unbounded by ethics.

“The century set records for organized violence, mass poverty, and environmental decline. At the end of the century, some 1.1 billion people (more than 1 in 6 worldwide) did not have access to safe drinking water, while 842 million (nearly 1 in 7) were classified by the United Nations as ‘chronically hungry.’

“At the same time, people in wealthy countries enjoyed cornucopian consumer choices, with consumption in wealthy countries creating disproportionate claims on the world’s resources.”

Gardner writes in the book that “these shortcomings are not just cranky footnotes to an otherwise stunning story of human achievement. Instead, they are major failures that threaten to unravel many of the great advances of the century,”

“But growing awareness of major global concerns—from water shortages to collapsing ecosystems to unstable climate—may mean that human readiness to accept major changes in societal course is likely also growing,” says Gardner.

The book calls for a new, values-based vision of progress in which economies work in harmony with the natural environment, and in which well-being, not just wealth, is the end goal of societies. The ethical and moral teachings of the world’s great religions are well equipped to articulate that vision.

Many religious communities have already made significant contributions towards this new vision of progress, from the efforts of Interfaith Power and Light in the United States to “green” congregations, to the efforts of Buddhist monks to protect forests by “ordaining” trees, to the work of the World Council of Churches in helping island nations adapt to climate change.

[I wonder if the book mentions the Islamic injunction against investing in any company promoting alcohol or the Hindu belief that God’s presence is felt through Nature, otherwise known as “the environment”.]

But more can be done, the book argues. “People of faith need to take seriously the power of their own teachings and acknowledge their value in the realization of a better world,” asserts Gardner. “Religious leaders and communities of faith need to bring their social voice to the public square on these issues,” he says.

Commenting on the book, the Rev. Sally Bingham, Executive Director, Regeneration Project/Interfaith Power and Light was quoted as saying, “Finally, someone has pulled together a comprehensive book on the influence of religion on cultural change. Inspiring Progress is just that—an informative accounting of the diverse ways that faith communities will lead and inspire a more sustainable lifestyle.”

The book discusses what one chapter calls “The Paradox of Progress in the 20th Century,” then discusses the contributions of various religions as “Tools for Course Correction” and then elaborates on ways to “re-root progress” by putting nature ahead of economies.

It refers to nature as “Sacred Ground” and devotes a number of chapters to climate change, the consumption challenge before calling for “mindful investments” and a “New Vision: Toward an Ethics of Progress.”

Upon reading through the book review, two questions came to mind: How would any of that be different from what His Majesty the King has been saying for several years in his self-sufficiency economy concept?

And, does it not prove true, belatedly as always, the dictum of that loincloth-clad Indian independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi that “there is enough in this world for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.”

One of the great lifestyle revolutions taking place today is that the West is becoming increasingly enamoured of the ways of the East – as embodied in the sudden interest in yoga, meditation, ayurveda and the various “holistic” medical treatments designed to alleviate the stress-laden consequences of pursuing “progress.”

But that is being accompanied by what the book calls a “paradox” as we in the East – where many of the holistic treatments originated — are becoming increasingly enamoured by the ways of the West.

As “they” seek to become more like “us”, “we” are becoming more like “them.”

Which raises the question: Will “we” then land up facing the same kind of problems “they” face today? If so, should “we” be learning from our own “alternative” and “preventive” therapies that “they” are avidly pursuing today?

Perhaps what we need to do is to market His Majesty’s self-sufficiency economy theories in the hallowed financial, banking and economic forums of the world with the same thrust and vigour as McDonald’s, Coke and Pizza Hut are marketed in this part of the world.

Many coffee drinkers would agree that our own homegrown Doi Tung coffee is far superior in taste and aroma than Nescafe. The only difference is that Doi Tung does not have Nescafe’s marketing muscle.

Books like “Inspiring Progress” are symptomatic of a far broader restructuring and re-engineering revolution under way in the West. They are learning the hard way. Our problem is that like rats after the famed Pied Piper, we are being led in the same direction – and will probably suffer the same fate.