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If you know Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”, you will know that the last two lines are:
“I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I think it is time that the world took the road less travelled. Our current path is a collision course with disaster. And that is because most people, and most countries, want more. And when they get more, they want even more. They are never content with what they have. Clever marketing and advertising makes us feel constantly dissatisfied, even when we have more than we need.
Not surprisingly, shopping has become the new world religion, and the giant shopping malls are the new cathedrals, where people go nearly every day to worship at the altar of materialism.Just to be clear, I am not saying that all of us have what we need. Clearly this is not the case. It is a tragedy and scandal that in today’s world of plenty and of miraculous technology, there are still many millions who go hungry and homeless.
They undoubtedly need more. However, a great many people have more than they need, and their daily quest is to get even more. At a national level, this is called the pursuit of economic growth, and it has become the holy of the holies in business and political circles. It is taboo to question it.
The consequences of this relentless push for more are all too clear. We are destroying all our life-support systems (clean air, clean water, forests, topsoil, aquifers, fisheries, wetlands, and biodiversity), and we are changing the climate, probably dangerously. That is bad enough, but it is not all.
In our frenzy to produce and consume more, we have distorted our basic human values. In today’s world money, things and property are valued higher than people and the planet. So it is no surprise that we have corruption on an industrial scale, and that we have resource wars in Africa, the Middle East and South America.
But it goes deeper than this. Because the “free market” needs us to be compliant workers and consumers, we live in an era of “dumbing down” to an extent that I still find hard to believe. It manifests in all kinds of ways – such as celebrity, superficiality, and the appalling quality of the mass media. Even Orwell would be shocked at what is happening.
As Clive Hamilton has written, in his book Growth Fetish, “Growth not only fails to make people contented; it destroys many of the things that do. Growth fosters empty consumerism, degrades the natural environment, weakens social cohesion and corrodes character.”
Promoting more growth as a way of solving our problems is like using petrol to try to put out a fire. We need much better ways of understanding, achieving and measuring social well being and national progress. It is abundantly clear that we need to take a new road – the road less travelled. But what would it mean, and how would we get on to it?
First and foremost, it would mean consuming much less, and therefore producing much less. So, “working long and hard” would no longer be seen as a virtue. On the contrary, working to produce and consume unnecessary things will eventually be regarded as a form of insanity.
The road less travelled will be the road where we human beings demonstrate that we really are the most intelligent species on this planet, rather than the most dangerous and destructive, as at present. And how will we get on to the new road? We will do it by changing what we believe and by changing the way we live our lives.
In practice, this will mean slowing down, consuming less, working less, and having less. It will be the road where “less is better”. None of this will be easy, because we have become so accustomed to “constant progress”, which is code for “more is better” and economic growth. But if we want to save this planet, and our societies and our souls, then we have no choice but to take the road less travelled.
What do you think?