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A Growth-Sceptical Manifesto

  • Environment
  • Philosophy

Like many others who work in the 'tech sector', I was equal parts amused and equal parts horrified to read Marc Andreessen's The Techno-Optimist Manifesto last month. Others have dissected it far better than I, but, to describe things charitably, it exists in one of those parallel realities so beloved of political extremists; you know, the one where the world population is already shrinking, free markets prevent monopolies, wars are only ever started by religions, and capitalism lifted us all out of poverty long ago.

Rather than get bogged-down pointing out all of the factual errors and logical inconsistencies in such a viewpoint, I thought it would be more productive to write a short little manifesto of my own, and then to invite you to make your own mind up about about how things are.

A Growth-Sceptical Manifesto

I believe that current Western Society is fundamentally incompatible with sustainability.

Sustainability is about using less resources than naturally regenerate; not over the next 10 years, nor 100, but indefinitely. There are also fundamental, physical limits to how efficient we can make technology; energy can not be produced from nothing.

If all we do is put our efforts into making our systems more efficient, while still measuring success by profits and economic growth, we will exceed those natural limits. It may not be this decade, nor even this century, but it will happen. Continuous growth can not be sustainable.

I believe that absolute authority, whether political, social, or financial, is bad for people.

Those who want to will always find ways to abuse power, and those in positions of authority can not know what is best for everyone; a kind, benevolent dictator can still harm their subjects through lack of knowledge or consideration. The only person capable of knowing what is best for someone is themselves, even if they may need others' help to realise this.

I believe that, while it can be difficult to separate the two, technology is not the same thing as the ways in which we use it.

Technology has vastly improved our lives, as well as harmed them. Just because computers and other 'modern' technologies were developed under a certain set of social conditions, however, does not mean that those conditions are necessary to sustain them; the use of fire was discovered by our earliest hunter-gatherer ancestors, but has been put to use by every form of society that has existed since then.

I believe that everyone is different.

A lifestyle that is perfect for me will not be perfect for you. As long as they do not harm others, people should be free to live their lives as they see fit. Every one of us is a unique individual. This is a strength, not a weakness.

I believe that we are a part of nature.

We depend upon other forms of life for our continued survival. If it was not for plants, bacteria, fungi, and other animals, we would not have enough air to breathe, food to eat, or shelter to live in. We are a part of the ecosystem, just like every other animal, and depend upon it being healthy for our own health and well-being.

Furthermore, we have no more 'right' to the use of land and the world's resources than any other form of life. Humans are not divinely special, nor the inevitable pinnacle of evolution, but merely clever, and often unscrupulous, apes.

Forming your own opinions.

As you are all well aware, my opinions are based upon how I see the world and want it to look like in the future, whereas Andreessen's are based upon his own viewpoint and goals. Like him, I also have not referenced my manifesto with links to sources for my claims, as they are my own beliefs, not bold statements of fact (Andreessen does make some bold statements, and no, they are not backed-up by sources). Unlike him, however, I would ask you to look these things up for yourself, and to form your own opinions; please do not take anything you read or hear at face value, especially if it comes from the internet.

A good starting point to see how the world is currently changing from a hard-data standpoint is my current project, the World Change Tracker. This doesn't show things like inequality or numbers of wars (at least, not yet), but will tell you how the global population has shifted over time, or levels of some atmospheric pollutants. All of the data is properly referenced, and comes from such reliable sources as the United Nations, and NASA.