The scourge of Covid-19 is still ravaging the world. The headlines are filled with stories of monumental measures directed to hold the virus at bay. Equally monumental efforts are being aimed at mitigating the disastrous economic fall-out from the need to avoid contact with others. Millions have been thrown out of work and, perforce, have greatly reduced their consumption. Others with sufficient wealth cannot spend it because restaurants, gyms, schools, and other service-offering enterprises have closed or greatly reduced their offerings.
The consequences show up directly in sharply reduced economic metrics and the likelihood of a period of recession. The globe is consuming less, which also means making and discarding less. And that in turn, lessens the burden on the Earth System. Air is cleaner and water is less polluted. Such positive results are overlooked by those making haste to get back to the state before the virus struck. But not in this community. Our concerns are quite the opposite, “Will these changes in consumptive behavior survive the end of the virus,” or, “How can these changes be made permanent?”
Vergragt and Brown and other contributors to the SCORAI blog and elsewhere strike an optimistic pose. I wish I could join them, but cannot. We share commitments to find a way toward “sustainable consumption.” I prefer to couch the effort as achieving a state where humans and other life flourish. But that is not the significant difference. Modern political economies, like that of the US, rest on a complicated set of foundational beliefs and institutional structure and rules. Remedies that change only the institutional piece and leave the foundational beliefs in place are insufficient.
Seminal changes in behavior and consequent institutions require not only different core beliefs, but a shift in the source of those beliefs, the human brain. Our modern concepts of human nature (self-interested) and the universe (machine-like) are the outcome of the way the left-brain hemisphere attends to the world. Over most of human history, the right-hemisphere has been the master producing a caring human being, who sees the world as a complex whole. My recent book, The Right Way to Flourish: Reconnecting with the Real World, builds on this model, developed by Iain McGilchrist, a British neuroscientist. This model, offers a powerful explanation of how modern cultural structures and behaviors have come to be, and also provides a pathway out of the mess. Virtually all proposed solutions here at SCORAI and elsewhere are rooted in the left-brain and cannot ultimately move the Earth System out of its present, unsustainable trajectory.
One consequence of rebuilding on the right-hemisphere is that our virtually complete reliance on positivist, reductionist knowledge (left) must be supplanted by pragmatic understanding, acquired by pragmatic methodologies (right). One general consequence of this is to engage in local small scale experiments (proposed by Vergragt and Brown some years ago) out of which pragmatic understanding can emerge and then be pushed upward to shape larger-scale policies and institutions. The move toward more STEM education (left-brain) should be halted and music art and other right-brain learning re-emphasized. Mindfulness exercises would strengthen the right-brain’s “muscle.” These are but a few possibilities. Pretending to be an expert is contradictory to the main theme of this model. Given the complexity of the world, rooted pragmatic learning must become the path to change. Space does not allow me to elaborate further. You can find more at my blog and in my book.