In Ghana, there’s a popular saying someone says to a not-so-close friend when you see them in town looking fly and living good. Like “Chale see you, your money come!” The usual response would go something like “oh nah,” and dismiss the earlier claim that in fact “the money hasn’t come,” at all, or if it has, it hasn't come as much as the other guy. Then it’s all laughed off in the brief moment's lightheartedness. This piece isn’t on my issues with small talk content in Ghana, but the hidden meanings of the term “Your money has come.” What if your money never comes? Does that make you less a person, or deemed not successful, that you aren’t wearing new clothes or roving around town in a spanking new car? The statement goes a long way in setting the tone of what is expected from all of us, to earn and earn and keep earning. And I, sitting here, as a student of sustainability science, know that that might not be what we want, giving that if everyone pushes for this, the limits of our Earth to maintain a habitable climate will be pushed to its limit, and us, humans and our society, to collapse.
Not the planet’s, our own.
Expanding the topic to the global arena, is it so hard to think of a World where the onus for every venture is not the creation of absurd wealth? Is it so hard to think of a World that is built on collaboration instead of competition? Where innovation isn’t narrowly defined as being able to solve a problem while making money? Putting a value on success? A value on values. A value on the human desire to help other humans? A value on your happiness? The mark you hit that makes you say “my money has come!” Where does it end? Where does it begin? And how do we begin to change it?
Maybe it is easy for me to talk of World development as decoupled from material wealth since I have lived a very comfortable life. But is that enough to label any thought I have as privileged and therefore insignificant? I hope not. But if so, then I will remain quiet for the rest of my life (probably not).
Inside of me burns a repulsion to the World that we live in, or I should say, a repulsion to the dominant ideas running our World. Because in this World, there live many variations of life. But we can all see that we are undergoing a global experiment of globalization that has seen the rampant homogenization of land, culture, and beliefs. A lot of it in the name of Economic Growth. The Growth Monster, that will eat up our World and commoditize it to be exchanged in the market. The market being the arena in which humanity is fought over, and those who ‘win’ and reap the profits, are able to define it, then reproduce it in their image. And those who win are the very very few, and not necessarily the best to reproduce (Freedom Jacob Caeser — cough!) (Also, not saying that I am either).
I have been reading more on the system of anarchism and how it can be married to ecological economics. These two systems have been explored more and more, not only because of their harmony with each other but because they potentially have the key to solving our socio-ecological problems.
Anarchism isn’t chaos, but rather focuses on horizontal connections. Anarchism strongly believes in doing away with the top-down, centralized capitalist industrial economy that is driving us straight to societal and ecological collapse. What it is in favor of is solidarity and freedom in solidarity, the building of strong community bonds, and having a true democracy, where citizens have a say and ownership over their day to day affairs at work and life. Rather than having some abstract government sell off portions of the state, in the name of development, to foreign entities as we see going on in Ghana as we speak (monopolization of development rhetoric article coming soon). Rather, the government is made up of smaller social and economic units that are more locally-focused but still integrated into the World system (something which Ghana already has a framework for, but which the local governments aren’t empowered enough to act in their own interests).
Ecological economics, is a strong proponent of de-growth, a focus on qualitative rather than quantitative growth (as our current political economy is focused on now) and reducing the material flow through our economy. On this point, I want you to look at the objects in the room you are in right now. Take your time and pick out the different materials, substances that make up your World. Now imagine the sources of these materials, where they were brought from, how they were extracted, and then merged and distributed to you. The water used to make it, the electricity used to produce, which energy source was used to make that electricity. The hands, the time, the sort of transport, their food source. Think about that within the context of efficient resource use, and tell me if you do not feel a little uneasy that these products are being mass-produced across the globe, and will continue to be mass-produced. We must ask ourselves the difficult question of “what are the material requirements of development?” What should every person be entitled to, and how much of it? Because, if we are all to aspire to a Western lifestyle (The 7 billion soon to be 9 billion people), and we were to achieve it (impossible) then we would be surely doomed. But alas, there is little thought (by those near the seats of power) being given to these pressing issues that I have not done so well in elucidating. When I talk about material requirements, I do not wish to limit humankind, but instead, provide a framework for us to decide what we prioritize in our lives. Currently, it's an all-eat-all World, where the very rich want to own and possess everything and in doing so eat up a larger footprint in comparison to everybody else.
During this period in which I have begun to rethink what success would mean in my life, I have had to ask myself what I can do without, and one of the biggest things I have taken for granted is the amount of space I have to myself. Physical space. My own room, my own bathroom, private estate, with a field near my house that I can’t imagine living without (where I jog and play football by myself). Then I think of the water I use in my life, and electricity, and other subtle amenities that have silently supported this life of mine. How much of it can I give up? The car I drive by myself to work, while there are people walking each day. Is the next step for me buying a newer car? Or is it buying a city bicycle and putting my life in harm’s way? Or is it buying at all? The question of a socio-economy that views success as being beyond profit, is a society radically changed from the one we have now. Not so radical as to be seen as idealistic. But rather as being impossibly possible. The vision for it is there. And I will get into more of that soon. I just want to drive home a point “our lives are not going to get better with more and more money. Our lives will get better when we have security for the future, have time to spend in the present with our family and friends, and where work isn’t alienating but rather a fulfilling process that builds self-worth and value. I do not think it is so hard to envision a World where this is the norm for everyone (keeping that none of it is encroaching on another’s right to life). However, I do think our current political-economic model makes this vision a near impossibility, for everyone. We must begin to decouple our ideas of success and wealth from money and rather embed it in the richer aspects of life. Humans are of their society and society is derived from nature. All the nature around us isn’t defined by ‘survival of the fittest’ but rather ‘survival of the fitting,’ that is, of cooperation, interdependencies, and realization of oneself as being part of this web. It all sounds hippy-do-da, I know, but truly this is what it is. And when you get down to the crux of it, that's all we want. A chance to live our lives and be fulfilled.
So maybe next time you see your friend in town you can start the conversation by saying “chale see you, you at ease craaa,” then he can respond “yeh chale, life make cool. Abi what we for do?”