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The need to rethink progress

Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, it has become an absolute necessity to rethink progress. It is no longer possible to equate progress to growth in wealth production, measured by GDP, the prevailing, relatively successful, approach of the last century. Today, this has led to a multidimensional crisis (economic, social, environmental and cultural, indeed one affecting the whole of civilisation) which threatens the deep-rooted balances in our societies, calling for a rethinking of objectives. Since the early 2000s, several international institutions, including the Council of Europe, the European Union and the OECD, alongside a number of governments, have turned their attention to this problem, following the line of various NGOs, such as the Rome Club, which had been raising the issue since the 1970s.

There are two main, interconnected reasons for this need for a rethink. The first is the globalisation of trade and the circulation of material and non-material goods, along with the resulting widespread interdependence, making it impossible to approach the issue of progress from the perspective of a single country or continent. The second is the limited natural resources available. A model of infinite growth of wealth production is ultimately sustainable only where resources are unlimited, which might still have appeared to be the case last century. Today, it is all too obvious that resources are limited, thereby rendering such a model obsolete and calling for a radical change of direction.

The most pressing aspect, which is also undoubtedly the most difficult to address if we are to bring about a change, is the need to reduce inequalities. If we can tolerate the existence of increasing inequalities in a world with infinite resources, taking the view that the poorest will ultimately become richer, even though this may take some time (the Rostow model), such a concept is indefensible in a world in which resources are limited: if resources are over-exploited by some, they are no longer available for others. The extremely rapid and large-scale consumption of fossil fuels and other underground resources that has been undertaken by a minority of people for two centuries, bringing us close to exhaustion point with all the many consequences this entails (climate change, overproduction of waste transcending processing capabilities), is the most manifest illustration of this.

Rethinking progress in the context of the 21st century therefore presupposes no longer viewing growth in terms of wealth production but in terms of the better use of existing resources and wealth so as to ensure that everyone can have access to a dignified life and well-being, without compromising the well-being of future generations. That's why the objective of progress enhanced by SPIRAl is the well-being of all without using no renewable resources (namely without no renewable energy, either fossil or mining). To build a society which is able to progress from now toward this objective is the main challenge of the humanity today.

Three untapped sources of progress

There are many possibilities for progress along these lines for several reasons:

1- The progress achieved so far has focused primarily on the production of goods and services, but only minimally on saving resources and even less so on consumption and its links with satisfaction and well-being. In contrast, the needs of growth in production have led to an across-the-board increase in consumption, resulting in a rise in the number of abnormal and unsustainable situations.

2- The growth in production of goods and services is based on an implied but unproven premise, namely that human well-being is limited to the satisfaction of material needs (food, health, housing, clothing, income, etc.). However, while this is a priority in a situation of underdevelopment, it quickly becomes clear that it is essential to satisfy other dimensions of well-being, which all too often are overlooked or indeed belittled, such as the need for recognition, human dignity, relationships, justice in society, personal balance for each and every individual, the opportunity to express one’s views and take an active part in society, the meaning of one’s commitments and responsibilities, decent living conditions, the environment, etc.

The model of progress based on infinite growth of wealth, measured by GDP, therefore ignores whole areas of as yet untapped sources of progress. Rather than focus our efforts on the search for new sources of fossil fuels, at the now very real risk of triggering an irreversible climate upheaval, we suggest that efforts should be directed towards tapping into these three untapped sources of societal progress, namely: 1- fostering more effective use of resources; 2- ensuring a better match between our consumption models and our well-being; and 3- focusing greater attention on the non-material dimensions of well-being which are so often ignored or disparaged.

Co-responsibility and sharing as cornerstones

Each of these three sources of progress presupposes co-responsibility between all players in society: everyone should be able to see themselves as stakeholders in this approach to societal progress and be able to count on the others. Co-responsibility for the well-being of all, including future generations, is the general direction to be followed. It is closely linked to the concept of sharing. It is not possible to ask everyone to feel truly co-responsible in a world in which inequalities are excessive and on the rise. The concepts of equal opportunities and equitable access should therefore lie at the heart of the progress to be achieved. Sharing and co-responsibility are the cornerstones of a new culture to be nurtured of living together on the same planet.

Building a shared vision of well-being for all: the essential starting point…

Co-responsibility for the well-being of all presupposes first of all: 1- looking in new terms at the question of well-being: what exactly does it mean? How should it be defined? How can it become an objective of progress? And 2- carrying this out in an inclusive approach to the well-being of all.

  • We need to look in new terms at the question of well-being in order to contextualise material well-being, which has been magnified in a model of infinite growth in production and consumption, in order to (re)discover the other dimensions of well-being and acknowledge their true importance.
  • It is essential to do this in an inclusive approach to the well-being of all, not only to secure peace and security between peoples, but also because well-being cannot be viewed simply at the level of the individual: the well-being of one part of humanity is unattainable if another part is in a state of ill-being or if it is to be achieved at the expense of future generations.

Building a shared vision of well-being for all is therefore an indispensable starting point. It is the very basis on which the SPIRAL methodology has been developed.

...and the basis for a renewal of democracy

Well-being for all cannot be defined by specialists, no matter how competent they are in their respective fields (psychology, sociology, philosophy, etc.) or by the market, as happens today. By its very nature, it is a matter for citizens themselves, as no-one can define a person’s well-being in his or her place. Building a shared vision of the well-being of all as an objective of societal progress is therefore an essential task, the basis of a genuine renewal of democracy, above and beyond mere participation in elections.

Similarly, co-responsibility is the very manifestation of an advanced democracy, in which everyone feels that they are genuine stakeholders in society and the way it operates, and in which human rights/the right to well-being for all and democracy are indissociable.

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Page last modified on Sunday 26 of April, 2015 02:44:04 UTC