Enough – An Essay from John Smith
We cannot be what God wants us to be without caring for the Earth.
At a time when our society is moving from an age of prosperity (or excess) to an age of austerity (or sustainability), new and old moral economic principles may need to be emphasised.
The churches are well placed to support an idealism of restraint, which could have a major effect for good on our society, the land, ecology and economics. Religion can and has been an important agent for change. “Enough” is a political, community and personal ethic which, if embraced and explored by moral agencies both secular and religious, can empower human beings in their politics and communities, as they care for the planet and our human societies by restoring a measure of equity between communities and nations. Enough is a principle, which if adopted, can ensure that economics is contained within the limits of ecology; a fundamental principle for a good future.
Enough is an evolutionary principle, one of the biological laws. Nature is not red in tooth and claw but operates on a colligative principle, a system of partnership as well as competition within an ecosystem. The territorial imperative, used by most species, ensures that living by enough enables survival. Homo sapiens may be the exception. Cooperation for some species is vital, such as the communities that create coral reefs or lichens, or the vital interactive nature of insects and plants they pollinate. Others live in a dynamic balance between the hunter and the hunted such as the wolf pack and the elk herds.
The balance of nature can be seriously disturbed, even leading to extinction, by the thoughtless introduction of species from other ecosystems such as cane toads and rabbits into Australia, grey squirrels and Japanese knotweed into the UK, hedgehogs on a Hebridean island or bluebells from Spain, or by eliminating a key species such as mammoths or wolves. The introduction of unnatural materials such as non-biodegradable plastic will also cause major environmental changes, notably the gyre in the Pacific. Human beings, as economic creatures, are not recognising the principle of enough to their and the environment’s long term disadvantage. Such a disregard cannot be ignored without eventual collapse. It is vital to recognise that the economy must be contained within the ecology of the planet, not vice versa as we in the First World are now doing.
So what is enough? Animals, birds, insects and plants survive on a territorial basis. Ecosystems are complex and sensitive and ‘enough’ has evolved as part of that sensitivity. Enough and survival are damaged by the human-induced processes of habitat destruction, introduction of invasive species, pollution, competing pressures of human numbers and hunting and overharvesting the generosity of the land and seas. Humanity is now using 40% of the annual terrestrial plant growth, 60% of the annual freshwater run off and 35% of the oceans’ productivity as well as irreplaceable oil, gas, coal and other materials. That is close to and in places beyond the limits of sustainability and threatens many species and habitats with extinction through the effects of climate change. There is a loss of species with a reduction of diversity, all caused by human activities.
The Political Challenges for Christians and Those of Goodwill.
Christians in the rich First World need to live by the challenge of enough.
Can our planet cope with the growing number of the human species, now at 7 billion and projected by the UN to increase to ten billion before the end of this century? Can we balance our national, community, personal and political ecologies to solve the huge problems of sustainability and climate change? Can we live in contentment and sanity and help our neighbours of the Third World, those who do not have enough? Can we use the time to do the things we enjoy and not commit ourselves to a needlessly growth economy working and earning to buy what are unnecessary and possibly polluting trifles?
The practise of being not doing needs time for that freedom to be learned and used. Many people constantly complain of what they cannot afford, yet do not need. Others with high incomes and many without see ‘retail therapy’ as a source of pleasure as they win bargains for material goods that are not essential. Many cheap goods are manufactured in slave like conditions overseas. Fairly traded and local goods are morally worth supporting, even though they are more expensive. The advertising industry, always seeking to promote such desires and debts, stimulates the need for such gratification for profit. Happiness has been proved to rise when we have enough, but that satisfaction declines under the constant pressure to acquire more and more. Keeping up with the Joneses wastes the time and resources we need to spend on important parts of our lives and at the same time these unsustainable activities damage the planet. Starkly, if we take more than our share then there will not be enough for the natural world on which we depend, the wildernesses which we need, or for future generations on whose capital we are now living.
Yet the mirage of economic growth is raised by politicians as an anodyne and solution, despite the paradox that economic growth is unsustainable, at the same time as negative growth destabilises economies. How does Homo economicus cope with these challenging contradictions?
Moderation and Sustainability
The Bible constantly urges us to live by the principle of enough. The Mosaic law condemns greed whereas the simpler and humbler Gospels and more esoteric Epistles suggest that excess is a sin. Moderation is not meekness but a relationship; an essential part of a successful community, as Benedictines find. Moderates who choose and have enough are generous, forgiving, concerned for the other and live healthily.
Another paradox is that with seven billion humans, and rising, is there enough employment to go round? Keynes thought that with increased prosperity the need for work would reduce and hours would be devoted to culture and other activities as far as the UK is concerned. This is happening in some economies but not in the UK.
Enough means repairing, reusing and renewing not misusing, serving not exploiting and being accountable for our goods and our giving.
Enough as a religious principle reconsiders the ground rules of economic performance to one of need from one of greed, from one of excess to one of rights of more than humanity, to one of freedom from oppression and the grind to earn for what we do not need. The poor will always be with us, but some religious, such as the Franciscans and Pope Francis choose poverty as a calling. God, as creator of the ecological system, charges humanity not to abuse it and offers the principle of non-violent dominion as a standard for human lifestyle. Jesus, as a servant leader, taught about a kingdom of right relationships with God, with the Earth and with our neighbours in the rest of creation. These principles are the basis of a quality of life for all creation not just a few lucky humans in the First World. Part of that relationship is the need for rest or the Sabbath, alongside a natural gratitude for kindness, peace and enough. Part of that is also the need to live sustainably generation by generation and not indebt our descendants by our excesses.
Traherne, an early spiritual guide, has the idea of ‘felicitie’, which includes delight, pleasure, happiness, beauty, bounty, enjoyment, blessing, amiableness, satisfaction, contentment, peace sweetness, treasure and goodness. This is at the heart of the current eco-spirituality movement and part of its essential sustainability and “enoughness”. All of these ‘felicities’ enhance the concept of enough and can be the result of its community and individual adoption, leading to joy and wellbeing. There is a necessary communal partnership between humanity and creation that will end the damaging competition that we now adopt in our competitive economies of more and more and more.
Transition: From the Personal to the Political, the Individual to the Community.
The development of ‘enoughness’ moves from the personal development offered by John Naish where he breaks free from the world of more to the localisation of the economy and community development. The growth of this movement is now global in the Transition Town movement, paralleled by the Downshifting and Downsising ideals in the USA, Australia and elsewhere.
A local economy can find more jobs, especially local ones, than a multinational whose profits go elsewhere. Local currencies such as the Totness and Bristol pounds stimulate community wealth and wellbeing with small scale breweries, cheese makers, bakers, farmers markets; fairtade applied locally as well as internationally is morally essential. Community industry, craftsmen and women can prosper in such economies and a spirit of localism is encouraged, which reduces travel costs and increases community resilience.
Market gardens, garden food exchanges and local energy generation are just a few of the ways by which Transition Towns prosper and community is encouraged. The establishment of a community centre as a focus for many developments such as credit unions, woodworking, painting and pottery demonstrate the variety of opportunities that the ideal of enough, developed locally, can stimulate. There are now both national and local organisations for these movements where ideas, inspirations and learning support can be found.
A more equal society is one that lives in harmony with itself. There are proven advantages of such an approach, namely; better health, longer life, less violence, lower birth rates, healthier children, low obesity rates, less mental illness, fewer prisoners and a wider social mobility. There is however more positive attributes; prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, all of which recognise the natural limits of enough by which a humanity that wishes to survive and thrive, must observe. Equity is therefore a vital component of a good future.
Contraction and Convergence: Practical Sharing
In order to achieve a global limit on the use of the commons there is a need to limit and ration not only the use of the planetary commons but also the waste (CO2 etc) created by burning fossil fuels and the consequent global warming. What is suggested is that eventually every individual is given a carbon limit and that this limit will be reduced over several years to bring equity to everyone. This will mean that over the agreed period the heavy polluters; USA China, Europe etc, will bring down their carbon emissions to a common level with which the planet can cope and which will not increase the threat of global warming. This will entail a greater sacrifice by the rich nations and a reflection by those less economically disadvantaged on how they could achieve a sustainable economy, which will be the aim of all.
This proposal has been seen as too idealistic. Would the rich nations reduce their economies to achieve such ends? Probably not, but an agreement to reduce carbon pollution to uniform and planet coping levels, which would include mitigation and adaptation, would cause the human prospects to appear to be more optimistic and show that the ideal of enough is much more than a personal aspiration. It has both national and global implications.
Justice and the Golden Rule
Enough is a principle that raises the questions of equity and justice and the Christian command to love our neighbour as our self. It also asks anew the question “who is our neighbour?”, and given the recognition that all creation is our neighbour there are few if any non-neighbours in our world today. Jesus spoke of humility and simplicity in the gospels and spoke as Socrates did to the common people asking them to question, think and follow those who are good and to live that moral courage that can remake civilisations.
The UN has forecast the global population to rise to nine billion by 2050 and 10 billion by the end of this century, from seven billion now and six billion in 2000. There is a limit to the agricultural productivity of the planet. Moreover, the impact of such human population levels on the planet’s biodiversity are already leading to extensive extinction. Can such human numbers be managed, recognising that the current increase is not only due to new births which are currently stabilising, but also a rapidly increasing longevity.
Also, the wealthier the family the more stuff is consumed, more meat is eaten and more waste is made. The planet is stressed with such excess. The answer is to consume less in the richer economies of the world, where material consumption is far above the level that can be sustained for everyone. A new discipline of enough will have to be adopted or even enforced.
Consumption is something we all do. We consume goods and services, the goods are the commons on which we depend like clean air and fresh water. We live in a finite world and it is important that all people are treated equitably. Sustainable consumption is good when it enlarges the capabilities of people without adversely affecting the well being of others and the planet. It is as fair to future generations as to present, respects the carrying capacity of the planet and encourages the emergence of lively and creative communities. Thoughtless consumption will waste the planet as well as its people and biodiversity. This can be changed.
The Third World and Not Enough
It is calculated that two billion human beings live in poverty and do not have enough. Many in the Third World live in poverty and starvation. Our First World concern for our cars, our heating and our lifestyles is fuelling climate change and increasing the stresses on a third of our fellow human beings. Then there is the economic need to support Third World agriculture so that children can go to school, simple health measures can be afforded and there is some dignity in a lifestyle without a slide into poverty. The solutions are not easy but enough should be an equitable principle for all nations as is fair trade. There needs to a period of ‘catch up’ when the First World slows down its development and allows the Third World to develop and use the limited commons of the planet in a sustainable way.
Modern living is bedevilled by too much information, so much that most individuals have not the time to cope with the quantity. Information overload is now a recognisable medical condition. Its symptoms are stress, insomnia and damaged relationships. Recent studies have shown that the condition, called ‘info mania’, is more damaging than cannabis abuse. Within all this we are replacing correspondence with emails, activity with video games, abstract thinking and philosophy and in-depth reading with sound bites and too much television which is known to be bad for the brain. Mobile phones provide immediate access with texting as well as instant communication.
Information is vital, but we need to be able to choose and set time budgets for our info-consumption. It is important to rediscover the space that the modern media encroaches on and revive our data addled brains. Local news is important as this encourages community, whereas national news can increase uncertainty and fear. Emails and mobile phones provide instant communication. Is this always necessary? It is a sheer impossibility to keep up with the mass of today’s electronic media. Why try? Be selective. Retreat from communication for a while. Right information in ecology is a moral need but too much mis-information leads to confusion, indecision and error. Silence and listening are important skills to be cultivated.
Food and Diet
A balanced diet is essential for life. Too much and we become obese, too little and we starve. Colin Tudge suggests that the ideal diet is one low on meat and that farming even with the increase in human population could easily meet the requirements for a healthy diet. He recommends eating meat no more than twice a week and that our bodies have evolved to be healthy on such a balanced diet. We need to think about what we eat and its quantity. As human beings we evolved to eat irregularly. As food is now more easily available in the rich First World, we tend to gorge and become obese. There are other matters; that we eat too quickly, known to be bad for our digestion. Fatty, sugar rich diets are unbalanced and addictive. Mealtimes should be sacred times, special time round the family table where food is shared, not bolted down in front of the television. A healthy lifestyle promotes good eating, sleeping, loving and living. These are principles of enough. The Eucharist symbolises the relationship between food with the creator, Jesus and humanity. Ideally a meal is an occasion we share.
Many of us own too much and we are constantly adding stuff to the collection. There is a need to de-clutter for a simpler life. This can be a spiritual discipline and ‘in a world where people seek peace from the cacophony of pressurised living, Christ’s followers need to be attractive’. De-cluttering can help this. There is a need to have enough to be comfortable, but today most of us have much more than we need, whereas in the Third World many people have less than enough. We need to purchase for sustainability and fair trading. The rich First World buys 90% of the world’s consumer goods and we are the stressed ones! Is there a connection here?
Covetousness is banned by the 10th commandment. Extravagance does not bring joy. Excessive consumption is bad for the individual and the planet, yet people can suffer from a ‘shop until you drop’ addiction. There is a spiritual dimension here with a need to practise restraint, not only for our own development but also for the community, which we choose to share.
One of the consequences of all this is too much rubbish. Waste is a growing problem as we fill the reducing available landfill space and pollute the atmosphere with carbon, but we are constantly encouraged to buy more and more of what we do not want and certainly what we do not need. In particular, plastic, which is oil-based, does not easily degrade and is polluting the planet. Quality long-lasting useful goods are replaced by poor manufacture, unrepairable machines and rubbish.
Working more than 37-40 hours a week is damaging. People who work more than 41 hours a week are more likely to have high blood pressure than those who do less. Humans need leisure as well as work. Workaholics are often earning more to purchase the luxury goods they don’t need. There is need to pursue and expect a work/life balance, having time for work, family and leisure and for enjoying life and food. The more we work, the more we are stressed and the more likely we are to make mistakes due to that stress. The Sabbath as a day of relaxation, relationships, non-purchasing and rest was a religious imperative and as of social value is missed. J. M. Keynes, the economist, wrote that as the economy improved and efficiency and robotisation increased we would spend less time working and more time in creative pursuits. This development is seen in some successful European countries.
There are however ways that we do not have enough. These are often the spiritual and religious elements. In our learning, humanity can never know enough as we each seek to learn more about the world in which we live. There is a need to grow in knowledge of God’s creation and know a gratitude for all its blessings.
Never Enough and Being Grateful
There are areas of our lives where enough is never enough. Knowledge and research, which can be shared, and spirituality are thoughtful areas where enough does not prescribe a limitation. Time given to the spiritual quest invites meditation and prayerfulness. Gratitude is crucial to contentment as it does not alienate us from others. Giving time to thankfulness and love are attitudes that go beyond shopping, work and status. Wishing for what we don’t have can be replaced by thoughts and actions which reflect the blessings and the relationships we do have. Community and leisure and caring for others can be life-enhancing, given the time to share with others by unselfish and good living. The arts and sports can add to the quality of the sustaining life. Humans need to be mindful of the reality of creation and the sustainability of living materially by enough and no more. Choosing to live fully within each day that is given needs knowledge, thought, compassion for others and a commitment to a future of goodness, beauty and truth. Christians should be the people of the common good, for whom there is life beyond that of acquisitions and who are grateful for our many blessings if life.
Sustainability and Enough
The concept of sustainability is one that believes current human needs should not live at the expense of future generations and the rest of creation. Christians need to promote the sustainability of all creation; the natural feedback processes that sustain life as defined in the Gaia theory. For enoughness the economy must be contained within the limits of the planet’s ecology.
Shrinking the Footprint
Churches are now seeking to address the issue of climate change and whether they can demonstrate ways of practising enoughness and ‘shrink their footprint’. They are asked to check the need for lighting, inside and out, heating and insulation and the lifestyles, including shared transport, of the congregation. One task of churches, as moral exemplars in their communities, is to demonstrate and teach the vital principle of enough.
Politics: Measuring and Having Enough
Good politics is about the good life or achieving the common good. There are basic goods, which are good in themselves like enough good food, clean air fresh water, even a faith in a loving God; all matters that should be universal to all. The Skidelsky’s list of seven ‘basic goods’ comprises health, security, respect, personality, harmony with nature, friendship and leisure. Such measures lead to happiness and good will, all obedient to a moral law if they are to be fulfilled. It is therefore the state’s priority to create the material conditions of the good life. Growth, if is to be undertaken, should be a means to these common goods and not to increase pollution. The goal of the common life should be an equality that supports our collective existence or community, with no huge divisions between the rich and poor. Religion can provide inspiration for this with a new individual or collective leadership for the common good as a basis for community. A new Benedict is needed, according to MacIntyre who suggests that we are entering a new age of darkness where we need new forms of community where the moral life can be sustained and encouraged. This would appear to be evolving in the Transition Town, Downsizing and Downshifting movements across the globe with over a million examples of these community initiatives.
As Christians we should live by ‘enough’. It is a practical ethic to be considered individually by each of us, as well as in community, nationally and internationally. What is enough for me and what is not enough for me, followed by what is enough for others and how can we help all creation to give and live sustainably, are survival questions we must address. The religious need to determine their limits as part of their spirituality as the Franciscans and Benedictines do. If the human future is to be as successful as it could be, then the principle of enough will need to be accepted globally, politically by nations and regions, in communities and by individuals as a foundation of their life ethics. The church should be seen as supporting these movements, even inspiring them.
Contemporary non-violent revolutions such the Transition Town and Occupy Movements by ordinary people who are against being governed by the rich for the rich indicate that we are living in interesting, changing, confused and hopefully non-violent times. Colin Tudge writes that the future is either dire or glorious. At the moment it is hard to be more precise. He takes it we prefer glorious. If that is to be achieved the future will have to be based, for all humanity and perhaps all creation, on the principle of enough. It is a principle the religious, the churches and those of goodwill should encourage, for upon this gift depends the future of our civilisation and our faith should be based.
We Need to Ask Many Questions
What is enough food and meat for me?
What clothing do I need?
What space, energy materials do I need?
What makes me happy or fulfilled?
Do I buy fairly traded or ethical branded goods?
When is my knowledge enough?
Is there a limit of enough to my spiritual development?
Many other questions will occur as we limit, change or expand our lifestyles based on the ethic of enough.
Do we live non-violently?
How can we live in a sustainable community of enough?
What does enough mean to politics?
How can human intelligence and God’s common purpose be fulfilled?
How can enough become a global movement?
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