Reading books such as The End of Growth and That Used to be Us one gets the impression that it’s all over for us in North America: oil is never going to be cheap anymore, governments are bust, corporations are hoarding their money, and the best jobs have gone to China and India. These books also attempt to convince us that less is more and a back to basics approach is best for us now: save more, spend less, study hard, work hard and invest wisely.
All this is good, except that the standard we use to measure human growth is still weighted heavily towards a monetary yardstick, a simple but crude measure: GDP. Translated down to the individual level, when introducing yourself at a cocktail party, it’s easier to say, “I am a lawyer,” or “I am a corporate executive,” for that implies a guaranteed income potential and its accompanying elevated social status. I had some of those monikers in the past and it was smooth sailing in social circles. Now, when I say, “Umm, let me see, I write books and blogs, I play in a band, I do infrequent consulting gigs, I edit for a publisher, I dream a lot, I take lots of walks and I am learning much about myself,” people look at me as if I am a weirdo. “He has no MONEY!”
The United Nations made some strides in developing the measure of human development, going beyond the GDP yardstick. The Human Development Index (HDI) measures education, health, mortality, inequality and poverty, in addition to GDP. But as this is an aggregate country•level measure it only serves at that summary level – a good alert for a government on whether a “spring uprising” is brewing in that country, perhaps. Others have tried by measuring happiness quotients (HQ); there are tests and exercises on how to increase this measure, some people even self•medicate by repeating “this is the best day of the rest of my life,” several times a day to ramp up their ratings.
I think we need to go beyond HDIs and HQs. We need to measure self•awareness and make that a key driver of human success. Who am I as a person and why did I come to this earth? What is my role and am I on the path to achieving that measure before I pass on? The extent to which we are closer to achieving our life goal should be the measure of happiness, social status and all the other measures we use to grade human beings. We might find some surprising results: the multi•millionaire who is hopped on drugs may be lower on this scale than the poor fisherman who catches his daily supply of food and has a little surplus to share with his neighbours. Likewise, newly emergent nations, guzzling up the world’s energy supply and its jobs and on a path of consumerism never experienced in their histories may pause and say, “Hey, wrong track, must switch, chop, chop.” Arms factories may close, wars will stop or never start.
I’d like our ever shrinking census questionnaire to add the following questions: “Do you know what you were born to accomplish?” and “How far along that path are you at present?” and “Are you a net producer or a net consumer” and “If you have assets to leave behind, who should benefit from these after you die?” and the guilty question: “Who should pay for your debts?”
Tree•hugger philosophy? Utopian? Ballsy? But then nations are built by utopian and ballsy leaders, and I prefer a tree•hugger to a vote•hugger. And as our established western nations are under threat of falling behind, we need a lot of balls in our camp and some out of the box thinking.