Omelas – Walking away ain’t an option.
In the first part of the article, the intention was to establish that we are an integral part of the larger natural ecosystem, and that our life is a result not just of our actions, but of a concerted effort by the billions of species that we share the planet with. Yet, we have so far pursued economic progress at the cost of social and ecological systems, the very things that make life possible and worth living. While we know the right from the wrong, the incentives in the system aren’t widely tied to doing the right things and to doing them the right way.
Walking away from the Omelas isn’t an option. Committing to taking care of the child underground, feeding her, nursing her regularly, using technology to ensure the same etc, is an option… But, that too is just about becoming efficient at responding to the situation, after having accepted the situation. These options aren’t inspiring as they don’t challenge and decimate the crippling paradigm that the town’s happiness should hinge on the child’s continued suffering.
Irrespective of where we are from, how we look, what we eat, or who we pray, what makes us similar is the commonness of what we all fundamentally need: A resilient capacity to fulfil our basic needs, respect, love, good health, an unthreatened sense of security, a worthy honourable purpose, the freedom to choose, and a steady pursuit/practice of happiness.
How is the popular idea of development ensuring these? There exists a disturbing disconnect between what we want in life, and what we measure the quality of our life with. As they say, we become what we measure… What are we measuring?
Our system is singularly obsessed about measuring GDP as the measure of progress. Simon Kuznets, who developed the concept of GDP insisted that the same shouldn’t be considered a measure of wellbeing of communities, nations and the planet. Here are a few thoughts on the disconnect:
We need good health, and the popular measure of success is whether or not we can afford a doctor. Our ability to afford and consume the doctor’s services adds to the GDP of the country. Does our effort to build immunity and to not need a doctor add to the GDP?
We need peace, and the measure of success is whether or not we have the most sophisticated weapons of war. In fact, GDP makes no distinction between weapons of war and diapers…. More the mess, higher the GDP!
We need Love, Respect, a sense of security and happiness… Socially and biologically, these come from how well our community is organised. Life does not thrive in isolation. However, The measure of success is our ability to consume.
Community service, domestic work, raising a child in general or a differently-abled child in particular, looking after an ageing relative… these invaluable activities that grow us as people, count for nothing in the GDP.
Per-capita GDP doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying everyone in the super market is on an average a crorepati just because Mr. Mukesh Ambani happens to be shopping there at the moment.
What is good about it if it leaves 99% of people resentful at how the 1% is making good.
It’s a joke to accept a pyramidal structure for the society and then take pride in working at the bottom of the pyramid, because, the pyramid will always have a bottom! In a system that allows poverty to perpetuate, the exercise of poverty eradication is like wanting to do a world trip… on a treadmill!
We should exercise our collective intellect and influence to rebelliously re-think the paradigms, re-construct our collective idea of progress, re-define what we measure, re-calibrate the metrics, re-think the means, re-configure the incentives, re-purpose the institutions and reengineer the systems in a concerted effort to re-imagine and re-build the Omelas that works for all, and in which everyONE has a life worth celebrating!
The vision for the new normal should grow from a responsibility born out of freedom, empathy and creativity, and not from an obligation born out of fear apathy and conformity.
The design question is – How do we build a measurable system for sustainable progress that works for all without eroding to nothingness the finite wealth that belongs to all? (all includes humans too).