(The Age. 2008. Chevron full-page Newspaper Advertisement. November 26th)

Introduction

Section
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
Page
3.1

“The ‘economy’ became a god such as never before, and a happy, successful society was one that could please this god – sometimes by sacrificing beautiful things, to keep the deity from getting angry and harming people by withdrawing favours. And, of course, our political leaders are the priests who mediate with this god and make holy wars in his name.

“It is an increasingly devout culture. Each day must now begin with the ritual calling to people of the FTSE, the Nasdaq, the Dow Jones, the Hang Seng, the All Ordinaries, and so and so on – all the high and sacred indices must be sung to the world as surely as the Muslim muezzin would sing out the call to prayer from the minaret at dawn.”

(Leunig, M. 2009. More Greed and More Loneliness. The Age, May 23rd. For full article see Section 1.1.3 ‘Articles’)

 

“In the second decade of the 2000s, economic growth remains the guiding principle for human endeavour…more than ever the prize, the goal, the indispensable foundation.”

(Higgs, K. 2014. Collision Course: Endless Growth on a Finite Planet. MIT Press, Cambridge, USA. For full article see Section 1.3.4 ‘Books’)

 

“It is scarcely necessary to remark that a stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress, as much room for improving the Art of Living, and much more likelihood of it being improved.”

(Mill, J.S. 1848. The Principles of Political Economy. JW Parker, London, UK. See also ‘Books’ 1.3.2)

 

“About the Department: the Department is tasked with ensuring that Victoria has the right conditions to enable economic growth…”.

(Department Environment, Land, Water and Planning [Victoria, Australia] website, May 2017; my underlining)

 

(The Advertiser. 2004. A Growth High Priest – Australian Treasurer Peter Costello – experiencing pre-growth rapture as a result of his Baby Bonus1. adelaidenow.com)

 

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: the religion of capitalism and its god of growth. I am completely serious when I say this and agree entirely with Leunig when he identifies this modern form of worship as a type of cargo cult. Capitalism and Growth have all the characteristics of a world religion, despite their protestations of being no more than mere processes, a technical exchange mechanism without beliefs, morals, rituals and ‘priests’.

A good definition of religion can be found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2019: “Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviours and practices, morals, beliefs, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, and spiritual elements”. Putting this into list form, we can see it is all there:

  • worldview: growth is good; the economy is all; consumption = happiness/purpose/meaning;
  • designated behaviours and practices: shopping; consumption; procreation; advertising; trade ‘agreements’;
  • morals: good = spending, profit, selfishness, greed; bad = thrift, modesty, selflessness, restraint, others, future;
  • texts: neo-classical economics ‘bibles’, such as Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ and Friedman’s ‘Capitalism and Freedom’, as well as a raft of Treasury and other documents measuring growth, or lack thereof, such as GDP, Quarterly Accounts, Population Growth rates, consumer spending, etc…etc…;
  • sanctified places: shopping centres, stock exchanges and trade centres;
  • prophecies: obeisance will bring endless growth and rapture; heresy (low growth/no growth) will bring the wrath of the gods and misery and doom;
  • organisations: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Forum, business councils, chambers of commerce, Treasury and associated departments (my neighbouring state – Tasmania – now has a Department of State Growth!), etc…etc…;
  • sacrifices (my addition): quality of life, autonomy, social justice, environment, the future, the old;
  • supernatural/spiritual elements: the ‘invisible hand’; TINA (there is no alternative), technology, the market, infinite growth and substitution.

The High Priests of the new world religion, dressed in their clerical robes of sombre suit and cropped hair, deny this latter supernatural element, but it is core to their power and they know it. Their nightly prognostications on what must be done for growth, what must be sacrificed, are so deeply entrenched in modern media and politics that they are hardly ever challenged, and the key to this is to present growth and capitalism as ‘natural’ states, natural laws, like physics, or gravity, that only a child would rail against. The fact that they are nothing of the sort – they are entirely man-made – doesn’t seem to occur to commentators or public alike, and these ‘laws’ are left, ‘out there’, numinously, operating like the gods of ancient Greece to reward or punish the saints or sinners of growth on earth.

The complete disingenuousness of commodifying and colonising everything on earth, while at the same time pretending to be doing nothing of the sort, of being a benign technical process for the good of humankind, seems to have worked, seems to have the modern human mind in a sort of vice whereby we can’t think ourselves out of this contradiction and deception; so much so that this modern-day god, religion, and its consequences, are rarely named, let alone explained. This zombie-like idolatory was brought home most starkly to me in the 1990s when my state – Victoria – elected a strident right-wing government, which promptly changed the car number-plate slogan to (yes, embarrassingly, we have these facile things, too; as if a state is some sort of breakfast cereal or kitchen appliance): ‘Victoria – On the Move’. On the move to where? You might ask, or even, why?, but no, the essential rightness and ‘logic’ of this call to mindless agitation – and surrogate growth – seemed to require no explanation or elaboration and was blandly accepted by all. Global religion indeed.

 

(Postle, B. 1996. Victorian Premier with new car numberplate. Warrnambool Standard, 2014)

 

Just occasionally, this automatic acceptance of the Growth God is disturbed – perhaps even challenged or questioned, however minutely – such as when the Global Financial Crisis upset the delivery of ‘ever more’. At such times there is a mountain of resources that can be brought to bear on the insurrection to snuff it out. Perhaps the most powerful of these is advertising and one of my favourites is the following from fossil fuel company Chevron. It was a full-page (broadsheet page) ad in my state newspaper in 2008 and it says it all: growth is progress/progress is growth; growth/progress is infinite; technology is infinite; humans are gods, or at least god-like; more humans = more ‘gods’; energy growth and progress is inexhaustible and for the benefit of the Third World. Triumphant, glorious, optimistic faith – who could not believe? Who would not want to believe?

 

(The Age. 2008. Chevron full-page Newspaper Advertisement. November 26th)

 

 

1 Note: Australia introduced a Baby Bonus in 2004 to encourage people to “have one baby for your husband and one for your wife and one for the country”. It started at $3,000 and rose by $1,000/yr. The identified ‘problem’ was that Australia’s population was not growing fast enough, even though it was growing at 1.3%/year (www.macrotrends.net/countries/AUS), above the world rate of 1.25%/yr (www.worldometers.info), and would result in a doubling of the Australian population in approx. 50 years! (For more detailed analysis of the population component of growth, see Section 5).

Explore Other Replace the God of Growth with the God of Quality

3.1 Introduction

“The ‘economy’ became a god such as never before, and a happy, successful society was one that could please this god – sometimes by sacrificing beautiful things, to keep the deity from getting angry and harming people by withdrawing favours. And, ...

3.2 Sustainability

“Sustainable development – development that is likely to achieve lasting satisfaction of human needs and improvement of the quality of human life.” (Allen, R. 1980. Summarising the World Conservation Strategy1)   “Developm...

3.3 De-coupling Growth from Environmental Impact

After sustainability, the second and more recent prop for eternal growth, has been the notion of ‘de-coupling’; that growth does not, or need not, lead to environmental impact. Below are three responses to this assertion, starting with Ross Gittin...

3.4 Growth, Happiness and Diminishing Marginal Utility

Age economics’ journalist, Leon Gettler, nicely introduces the topic, below. He explores why “Most people want more income and strive for it. Yet as Western societies have become richer, their people are no happier than they were 50 years ago. In ...

3.5 The Slow City Movement

3.1-3.3 concentrated on our growth obsession and how it has been fostered and bolstered. 3.4 begun to undermine its hegemony with questions about its links, or lack thereof, to happiness and wellbeing, and now it’s time to turn our attention to an...

3.6 The Slow Food Movement

The Slow Food movement got underway before the Slow City movement and thus is, perhaps, more developed at this stage than the latter. Their website is a mine of information and they offer a range of services, networks and chapters. For instance: ...

3.7 The Slow Fashion Movement

Slow fashion is a more recent development than Slow Food and Slow Cities, but is based on the same idea – quality, not growth (quantity). The term arose in 2007 when textile consultant and author Kate Fletcher shone a light on the issue in The Eco...

3.8 Arts and Crafts and Artisan Movements

In many ways the modern ‘slow’ movements can be said to have come out of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th and early 20 centuries, which in turn had roots in medieval craft guilds. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London...

3.9 Hooked on Growth

Dave Gardner is the perfect heretic: softly-spoken, mild-mannered, unflappable and with a sense of humour; very hard to demonise and marginalise as ‘crazy’, ‘eccentric’, ‘dangerous’, ‘racist’, or ‘anti-people’. Heretics are, at best, dismissed - a...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship

This section is designed to foster appreciation and insight that will – hopefully – lead to novel ways to build a better relationship between human beings and Nature. This section is also atypical ...
2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

In a supposedly secular age there has arisen a global religion and god like never before, a religion whose reach and power makes every other belief system before it seem pitiful and insignificant: ...
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

What we do in our day-to-day lives can have great impact. Section Four divides up these actions into three groups – Work (4.2 & 4.3), Volunteering (4.4), and Action, e.g. voting, protesting, et...
5. Reduce Population
5. Reduce Population

5. Reduce Population

Even on top of Mt. Everest, in one of the remotest, most difficult places on earth, there is a great traffic-jam of people jostling for position. And yet, ever more vociferously, we deny that overp...
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

The media is one of the three, great ‘poles’ of power in the world (alongside political and corporate power) and how they frame and present ‘the environment’ has a profound effect on how we respond...
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species

New York is an exciting, mesmerising place. Human culture is extraordinary and often wonderful. Our powers of transformation of the natural world seem limitless. The trouble is, we don’t seem to be...
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

Our current energy largesse is an extraordinary ‘gift’, an unprecedented gift of the ages; millions of years to produce and from millions of years ago. Coal, oil and gas, forming...
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems

Just as with the previous section – ‘Energy’ – which is, inescapably, all about fossil fuels so pre-eminent and extraordinary has been their dominance and transformation of the world in the last 20...
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation

Section 10 will attempt to organise this enormous topic by addressing the context and status of pollution in 10.2, before focussing in on air pollution; particularly greenhouse gas pollution and cl...