Posts Tagged ‘manfred max-neef’

STUPIDOLOGY, a serious subject – reprise

June 9, 2011
Manfred Max-neef

ABSTRACT: A STUPID WAY OF LIFE, Manfred Max-Neef Adapted from The Schumacher Memorial Lecture, Bristol, England, October 8, 1989.  [Manfred Arthur Max-Neef (b. October 26, 1932, Valparaiso, Chile) is a Chilean economist and environmentalist. He is of German descent. Mainly known for his human development model based on Fundamental human needs. Max-Neef started his career as a teacher of economics at the University of California, Berkeley in the early 1960s.]


Since childhood, I wondered: “What makes human beings unique? Is there a human attribute that no other animal shares?” The first answer was: humans have a soul,  animals do not. I love animals; a just and generous God – which I believed in then – would not make such a discrimination.

I was told that we are the only intelligent beings, animals only have instincts. Wrong again. We know animals have intelligence. Are humans the only beings capable of humor? No, studies prove, even birds make jokes and “laugh” at each other. My father said: “Why don’t you try stupidity?” I am probably founder of a new and important discipline — stupidology. Stupidity is the unique trait of human beings.

In 1975, I gave a course in Wellesley College entitled “Inquiry into the-Nature and Causes of Human Stupidity.” It was very well-attended. The first two  sessions were fun; by the fourth, there were long faces. We discovered that it was a damn serious subject.


Later, after three trips around the world in twenty months, I thought: “I have seen too much. I don’t want anymore. I am fed up!” What grows fastest and is diffused widest with greatest efficiency, velocity and acceleration is human stupidity. Whether bulldozing thousands of rural villages in Rumania to modernize and expand agricultural production; or transporting millions from one end of the country to the other in the colossal World Bank-financed transmigration for the Indonesian development program; or Thailand proudly announcing destruction of several hundreds of villages in the forested north with people reinstalled in fourteen urban centers “with all the amenities they would require for a developed society” — all reflected the same kind of stupidity.

Stupidity is a cosmically democratic force. It contaminates everyone. No one is safe. North, South, West or East, race, creed and ideology, we commit the same stupidities over and again. Something renders us immune to experience. But, there are positive trends. We watch the last few meters of a race between two irreconcilable forces; one will win by the most important “tip of the nose” in history. Two forces, two paradigms, two utopias make a schizophrenic world. This is our reality, we cannot fool ourselves. How do we face and interpret it? The world has not always been schizophrenic.

Ludwig Wittgenstein focused me on the problem of language. Language is the expression of and generates a culture. If language is poor, culture is poor; we are trapped by language. The way we use words or concepts influences and determines behavior and perceptions. Every generation has its own theme, preoccupation, and language trap.


We are trapped, like it or not, in the language of economics, which has domesticated the entire world, permeating everyday life and expression; used in the kitchen, with friends, scientific associations, clubs, work place and even bedrooms. It dominates the world influencing behavior and perceptions. If a certain language domesticates it is not necessarily negative, although in this case it is. It boils down to a question of coherence or incoherence. In the late 1920s and early 30s, the language of Keynesian macroeconomics emerged as response to the “Great World Crisis,” enabled interpretation, and was an efficient tool to fix it. It was a language coherent with its historical moment.

The next language shift in the 1950s was optimistic “development language”, not due to crisis; but to enthusiasm for spectacular economic reconstruction of post-war Europe, based on belief that we could eradicate poverty by use of its clichés: rapid industrialization, modernization, urbanization, self-sustained growth, etc. It delivered important spectacular changes in the 50s and 60s that encouraged optimism. Again a case of coherence between language and historical reality.

Since the mid-1970s through the 80s (called “the lost decade” in the United Nations), a new mega crisis we are still unable to fully interpret arose. This crisis has not generated its own language. We still use the language of development, “enriched” by the most reactionary principles unearthed from the cemetery of neo-classic economics. We have a language based on enthusiasm for unlimited economic growth and expansion faced with a reality of social and ecological collapse. Our language is now [dangerously] incoherent with our historical reality.

More coherent alternative languages may enter the dominant language as cosmetic improvement. “Sustainability” metamorphosed into “sustainable growth.” The merits of unending growth are undebated, its assumed virtues are paramount in conventional economic fundamentalism. The dominant language only allows “nicer” growth.

If alternative languages do not penetrate to those with conventional and traditional positions there is no intelligent dialogue, we remain schizophrenic. Skeptics will not go away; to change things we must be understood. It is our turn and we need a sense of self-criticism; we do not own the truth; we search in good faith, but we may be wrong.

Making mistakes is not wrong; but dishonesty is; we cannot afford it. Humans naturally make proposals and propositions, and we tend to believe that every proposition is right or wrong, passionately taking sides. Propositions are not necessarily right or wrong. Perhaps the majority are nonsensical, keep in mind. It is very dangerous when beliefs turn rigid and inflexible. I shudder at fundamentalist intolerances.


The world is tired of grand solutions and people who know exactly what has to be done. The world probably requires something extremely simple—to be together with it, and enjoy the magnificent diversity such an effort brings about. I mean be, not be this or be that. The greatest personal challenge we each face is to be brave enough to be.

Societies are increasingly interconnected and interdependent in everything positive and negative. This should be true of all living systems. Yet, due to the human attribute of stupidity, we do not take advantage of interdependence and interconnectedness so that solidarity can display its synergic possibilities for overcoming our grave predicament. We still favor the economic efficiency of greed and political dynamics of paranoia in a global system in which poverty keeps increasing and major scientific and technological effort is directly or indirectly aimed at destroying the human species.

It makes no sense to talk about developed and developing countries, unless we add under developing countries or countries headed for underdevelopment. This category fits most presently rich countries, where quality of life is deteriorating at alarming speed. In 1989 one in five U.S. children were below the poverty line [one in four in 2010], in a country with 6 percent of world population and 55 percent of world total energy consumption.

UNICEF reports that the majority of poor are children and, worse, the majority of children are poor. Unsustainable development will not solve unsustainable poverty.

The paradox is that we know a lot, probably all we need to know, but understand little. We tend to believe that having described and explained something, we understand it. Describing plus explaining does not equal understanding. We can never understand love, unless we fall in love. This is valid for every living system. You cannot attempt to understand something of which you are not a part. Hence, how can we understand a society, a world, a planet, a biosphere by detaching ourselves from it?

How many actually understand the problems we are trying to solve? Problem solving belongs to the realm of knowledge and requires fragmented thinking. In the realm of understanding problem posing and problem solving do not make sense, because we must deal with transformations that start with, and within, ourselves.


Now, what about the future? Dr. Gilberto Gallopin proposes three possible scenarios.

Scenario one: total or partial extinction of the human species. The most obvious way is nuclear holocaust. But a number of processes can do it: destruction of the environment, pollution of seas, lakes and rivers, greenhouse effect, ozone layer depletion and so on.

Scenario two: barbarianization of the world. A new way of turning human kind into barbarians. Bubbles of enormous wealth, surrounded by fortresses to protect from immense territories of poverty and misery; a Mad Max scenario. It is in mental attitudes and actual creation of isolated areas for the very rich who do not want to be contaminated by seeing, hearing or dealing with poverty. It includes resurgence of repressive regimes cooperating with the wealthy bubbles to impose further hardships on the poor.

Scenario three: the possibility of a great transition—the passing from a dominant rationality of blind economic competition and greed to a rationality based on the principles of sharing and solidarity. Passing from Mutually Assured Destruction to an era of Mutually Assured Solidarity. But can we do it? Have we the tools, the will and the talent? Can we overcome the stupidity that keeps such a possibility out of reach? I believe we do and can. But there may not be too much time left.

We want to change the world, but are confronted with a great paradox. I lack the power to change the world or any significant part of it. I only have the power to change myself. If I decide to change myself, there is no police force in the world that can prevent me from doing so. It is just my decision and if I want to do it, I can do it. If I change myself, something may happen as a consequence that may lead to a change in the world. But we are afraid of changing ourselves. It is always easier to try to change others. The dictum of Socrates was “Know thyself,” for he knew how afraid human beings are to know themselves. We know a lot about our neighbors, but we know little about ourselves. So, if we simply manage to change ourselves, something fascinating may happen to the world.

I hope the day comes [when] every one of us may be brave enough to say in absolute honesty: “I am, and because I am, I have become a part of…” It seems to me that this is the right direction to follow if we want to put an end to a stupid way of life.


‘Dramatically Poisonous’ Economy Heading to ‘Catastrophic’ Collapse, Says Acclaimed Economist




January 26, 2011

The Last Bald Eagle, a Patriot's Dream

This is not a wail of sorrow, but a call to action and the elements of a plan. The Catch-22 is that each one of us, cliché, has to ACT, and oh, I wish it wasn’t so, because it’s nice just lying around, drinking beer, Chablis, so forth, munching chips, caviar, watching Oprah, whatever.


I became a genuine environmentalist while in the Navy in the second half of the Sixties. I did some South Seas reef diving and became a bogus shell collector, proud to take only “live” shells, boiling them clean when I got home, thinking that the conches smelled like particularly good seafood. The conches taught me what I needed to know. I found one lying on the sandy bottom, spotted more, and soon harvested five. Score! I took them home, and while they were boiling, did the research – which strikes me as humanity’s general approach to nature, learning about it after we’ve shot, stabbed, strangled and/or overbuilt it. On this occasion I learned that conches eat the brittle star, which eats live coral, exposing the reef to erosion, which exposes the island to the waves, which erode the island – no more island. I had helped to destroy the balance, enabling one species to overwhelm another, breaking the co-dependent chain that sustains all. My ignorance gave the planet deeper grief than could be guessed. Multiplied by a legion of ignorantly indifferent shell collectors, the islands were doomed. Adding greed and superstition to the equation, which institutionalizes and exalts ignorance, we have the entire human race’s approach to the planet today. Personal note, I never took another live shell.

Global warming, global dimming, and overpopulation beset us. We are overheating the planet, interfering with its rainfall, changing the ocean currents, destroying the bottom of the food chain, and breeding like rabbits. But, not to worry, it’s all in some cockamamie book or other; written by ancient nomadic desert dwellers that knew nothing about science, who maintained – unreasonably – that’s it’s all out of our control. Some supreme invisible sky being is “planning” everything for us and in the end, if you believe this drivel, all will come out just hunky-dory. It’s all for the best, just ask Pat Robertson, or any other nut bag right wing true believer.

The rich who benefit most from natural destruction, and all who help them, are intentionally committing high crimes and misdemeanors against life on this planet; they would be felonies if committed against human beings – “but we gotta kill those forests to feed all those babies” (lining fat pockets). Until it ends. Completely.

The numbskulls are corrupting our laws and tossing aside every value other than material profit and individual power, still subdividing farmland, planting high-rise condos on our waterfronts, eating the spoils of the global holocaust, and taking immense pride in their ability to waste gas and ruin the air in a Hummer, which they have somehow mentally transmuted to the end-all of human existence. Well, they’re about to find out how right they are. I hope those Hummers come with deep space life-support.

Many people care more about some redneck bastard’s paternity on Jerry Springer, than the planet’s survival (literally, “some redneck bastard”). Money, sex, drugs, and cheap thrills prevail – as commodity, as constant pastime, as life pursuit. It’s obvious that we’re much too stupid as a species to prevent our own extinction; it’s just too bad we have to take most other species with us when we go – bad sports us.

Alas, it was such a beautiful planet. Now, it’s on its way to becoming a lifeless and barren husk. Don’t think of it as desert, think of it as Palm Springs after all the water runs out. Mars is us.

According to the best science, we’ve got ten years left to take this issue on seriously and save our butts. It may well be less, no one can accurately predict the rate of decay. It will take most of us to accomplish any earthly salvation, but if we don’t confront and dispose of our garbage: religion; overpopulation; short-term economic self-interest; and our ostrich-like tendency to duck and cover in order to avoid seeing our approaching doom, we’re screwed.

We must stop over consumption, kick capitalism into a servant’s status in our democratic life, and curb the excesses of individual and tribal (read also national) self-interest, and put the societal kibosh on religious fanaticism – it is a mental disorder, pure and simple. Impossible, you say? That’s my point: good luck wishes and the spin of prayer are about all we seem willing to invest in our own survival. If it is impossible to resist, I want to use a different word than extinction, which the movies have helped us to accept as, oh, yes, inevitable, that. Suicide must apply, instead – insane self-extermination.


WAYS TO REDUCE CARBON FOOTPRINTS: Abstracted:Not So Carbon FriendlyJennifer Anderson, Portland Tribune. Sound Off –

ACTION: Measure: Lifetime carbon dioxide saved in Metric Tons)

  • ·        Recycle newspaper, magazines, glass, plastic, and aluminum cans – 17 tons
  • ·        Replace old refrigerator with energy-efficient model – 19 tons
  • ·        Replace 10 incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient ones – 36 tons
  • ·        Replace single-glazed windows with energy-efficient windows – 21 tons
  • ·        Reduce miles driven from 231 to 155 per week – 147 tons
  • ·        Increase car fuel economy from 20 miles per gallon to 30 – 148 tons
  • ·        REDUCE NUMBER OF CHILDREN BY ONE 9,441 tons 

Data from U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s personal emissions calculator and calculations by OSU statistics professor Paul Murtaugh. Annual totals based on lifespan of 80 (female expectancy U.S.) Source: Paul Murtaugh.

Under current conditions, each child in the U.S. adds about 9,4441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the parents’ carbon legacy during his lifetime. That’s 5.7 times more than the average childless person. A child born in China has a fifth of the impact of a child born in the U.S. The carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of having a child is almost 20 times more important than other ecologically minded lifestyle choices like driving a fuel-efficient car, recycling or being energy-efficient. The same conclusions roughly apply to fresh water consumption.


DROWNING – In 1994, the Smithsonian‘s Wilson Quarterly stated, “Some of the environmental changes may produce irreversible damage to the Earth’s capacity to sustain life.” The island of Tobago in the Caribbean is being inundated by 3-4 feet per year (ten times faster than ten years ago) and is expected to lose 30-40 feet per year in the next ten. “Science and technology may not be able to prevent either irreversible degradation of the environment or continued poverty for much of the world.”

Seven Feet Not Only Possible, But Likely

It’s been widely acknowledged that the IPCC estimates from 2007 are too conservative when it comes to sea level rise. Unofficial updates to that research, publicized in March 2009 at the Copenhagen Climate Congress, said at minimum the world is likely to see half a meter, with more than a meter well within the realm of possibility. A new piece in Yale Environment 360 goes beyond that.

The world’s major coastal cities will undoubtedly receive most of the attention as sea level rise threatens infrastructure. Miami tops the list of most endangered cities in the world, as measured by the value of property that would be threatened by a three-foot rise. This would flood all of Miami Beach and leave downtown Miami sitting as an island of water, disconnected from the rest of Florida. Other threatened U.S. cities include New York/Newark, New Orleans, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Tampa-St Petersburg, and San Francisco. Osaka/Kobe, Tokyo, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, London and Nagoya are among the most threatened major cities outside of North America

Preserving coastal cities will require huge public expenditures, leaving smaller coastal resort communities to fend for themselves. Manhattan, for example, is likely to beat out Nags Head, North Carolina for federal funds, a fact that recreational beach communities must recognize when planning a response to sea level rise.

Which brings up the appalling fact that many cities are developing public housing in floodplains. It may be just in time for property developers to cash in before the land goes under. Will we, the dense public, be invited to bail out subsequently sinking subsidized housing? Will we eventually build seawalls thirty feet high at public expense to protect uninsurable money pits?

SUFFOCATING – We may not have to worry about that. If the Arctic becomes six degrees warmer, half the world’s permafrost will likely thaw, probably to a depth of a few metres, releasing most of the carbon and methane accumulated there over thousands of years say experts on permafrost. Methane is a 25 times more potent warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). This why some climate scientists call for a rapid phaseout of fossil fuels, recommending that emissions peak by 2015 and decline three per cent per year.

Meanwhile, energy experts believe a new generation of low-cost, thin-film solar roof and outside wall coverings being made today has the potential to eliminate burning coal and oil to generate electricity – if governments have the political will to fully embrace green technologies. Read more:

We have to stand up to those fossil fuel giants and make them stand down. They are working against all life as we know it. There is NO excuse for it.

GROWTH and DEVELOPMENT – As to population, experts predict twice as many people in the United States by the year 2050. More babies are being born today than during the so-called “Baby-Boomer” generation and we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! The ridiculous taboos around the issue of human population – usually “politically correct” arguments of small practical value – are a direct threat to our own dear, precious, misdirected, unthinking selves. We’re breeding ourselves out of room.

No brainer: unchecked growth demands greater and greater amounts of shrinking resources. The scale of many of our dilemmas – e.g. public health and housing – is attributable to too many people competing for too few resources in too small a space. Get a clue! It would seem, therefore, that some education and some action on this issue might be in order. Yet, religious institutions militantly urge membership to procreate, and sponsor armies of child-producing sectarian immigrants. Business leadership focuses on lower wages, larger markets and plentiful cheap labor. Timorous local, state and federal elected leaders bicker over tax-funded population education, and resist tax-funded birth prevention. We argue over sex education, birth control, and abortion while our overcrowded house burns down. But we can get kiddie porn on the Comcast cable monopoly!

The nation has conducted the biggest prison-building program in history, even as the hard crime rate falls. This may be due to “effective community policing,” but it is also systematic suppression of a youthful surplus male underclass without family wage jobs. Statistically, economic development largely benefits a relatively small group of players: nine-tenths of the people grin and bear eroding livability, falling wages and rising prices in a rat race fueled by non-productive speculation. We have, created whole new crimes – e.g. “simple” marijuana possession – and longer “minimum” sentences to keep our disaffected unemployed off our city streets.

For many leaders, there is no apparent alternative. Most business, elected and mainstream media leadership extols an almost mystical faith in “growth,” pursuing mythical future taxes that can never catch up with the infrastructure stresses the growth produces – particularly as corporately manipulated voters cut off tax money via “popular” ballot initiatives, and corporate lawyers run loops around the bureaucrats, do-gooders and the long-suffering public.

HOPE, THOUGH – We can turn the whole thing around right now if we have the courage to do it. We can join action committees, raise our voices in common cause to insist on green jobs, rebuild our decaying infrastructure and repair the damages of unchecked “growth and development;” there’s plenty of money, and posterity in that. Let’s clean up the Super Fund and Brown Sites – there’s work there for generations and we can charge the polluters for the damages – why shouldn’t they pay for their own destructive mess? Franklin Roosevelt improved our National Parks; they all need a spruce up right now. We can make the corporations pay us to reforest the slopes and lands they have butchered in their quest for the almighty dollar. We can make them pay a fair price for the minerals and resources they tear out of public lands for $5 per acre; why are we giving away our gold in the ground without a public cut? Cries for private enterprise are all well and good, but the public has a collective need for a life free from want and fear – have we forgotten that? Why should we let one class of narrow-minded, mean-spirited, selfish people stand in the way of the rest of humanity and planetary survival? What is this, Easter Island all over on a global scale? Let’s build those damned statues, gang, it’s all they’ll remember us by, whoever they may be. What a race of wusses we have become. Bawk-bawk-bawk, hear the chickens squawk.


“We have it in our power to remake the world!” – Thomas Paine, American author, patriot, founder.


In 1956, C. Wright Mills wrote in the Power Elite:

“Two things are needed in a democracy: articulate and knowledgeable publics, and political leaders who, if not men of reason, are at least reasonably responsible to such knowledgeable publics as exist. Such a public and such leaders – either of power or of knowledge – do not now prevail, and knowledge does not now have democratic relevance in America.”

The rich are generally blind or indifferent to the social consequences of ignoring the welfare of the general citizenry. In the end, we all pay for their selfish indifference. If we, the people don’t get smart pretty quickly, we, the people will perish much sooner than expected, and NOT due to any particular plan, but simply because of plain old human selfishness and self-deception. The rich will succeed in killing us; our only consolation is that we will take them with us. Won’t we?

The time for each one to reach one, each one to teach one, is NOW.

“Act. There may be no result in your lifetime, but without action, there will be no result at all.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

Worthy and Effective Progressive Volunteer Action Groups:


  • Center for Biological Diversity


    Eve of Extinction