Understanding the interplay of power[i],[ii] identity, and social change is critical to those who recognize that modern societies are at the limits to growth, in ecological overshoot[iii] and undergoing a first phase reaction of economic contraction;[iv] disintegration of modern finance, as evidenced by massive corruption and wealth destruction;[v] and political upheaval[vi]. While responses to these dilemmas can take the form of involvement in community localization, disengagement from modernism, studying yoga and Zen Buddhism, shrugged shoulders, political activism, or focusing on one institution –like health care, education, transportation, public banking, or the food supply, they all contain layers of nuance involving the relationships among power, identity (personal and collective) and social change.
I want to speak to those who feel, as the cultural, thermodynamic and biophysical clocks enter the eleventh[vii] hour,[viii] either confounded or bludgeoned and “powerless” facing the deep-seated cruelty, incapability and intransigence of modern civilization to recognize overshoot and the limits to growth. I speak also to those who have a seemingly contrary reaction: flickers of intrepidness and hope despite recognition of enormous obstacles and dilemmas. This essay in addition is addressed to health professionals, most of whom do not comprehend overshoot and the limits to growth but find themselves in hierarchical bureaucratic systems that will increasingly malfunction and are susceptible to punctuated collapse[ix] or “failure cascade”[x] –which will present the best opening for fundamental change- as the world lunges into degrowth.
- Can this formulation of power aid people to remain sane[xlviii] as they undergo, and observe in others, changes in personal and collective identity?
- The differences between a growth-based modernist identity and a sense of self that is rooted in an understanding of ecological theory are many and profound.
- How can this conception of power inform a cultural narrative that explains why degrowth is occurring?
- How can it guide us to develop strategies to both overcome neoliberalism –a negation of the present- and live within ecological boundaries –an affirmation of what is emerging?
- How can this narrative help to ameliorate identity crises and enable personal and collective identity transformations?[xlix] In other words, taking care of oneself is not narcissistic but healthy[l].
- What does entering into degrowth mean for the possibility of some form of genuine political/economic democracy[li]?
- How to prevent neoliberalism from transforming into a neo-feudal, totalitarian, authoritarian, or non-egalitarian dystopia?
- Neoliberalism currently has massive power –“regimes of truth”- in the cultural/mythological and political/economic dimensions. A sociologist laments, “We face a system that is now much more integrated, and dominant groups that have accumulated an extraordinary amount of transnational power and control over global resources and institutions.”[lii]To be fair, there are also critics and observers who believe that neoliberalism is in decline,[liii] and many who know it’s moribund but marvel that its power persists[liv].
- However, the “amassed power” of neoliberalism is merely a social construction of reality –or collection of definitions of situations. Indeed, peak oil and other ecological forces, following Pickard’s thesis, are undermining neoliberalism’s cultural and political power and producing degrowth –the situations in Greece and Egypt are illustrative. This juxtaposition is well known among those who understand the limits to growth and ecological overshoot, but baffling to those unaware of ecological theory.
Foucault, Complexity Theory and Environmental Resistances. Thesis Submitted to the University of Nottingham for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. JULY 2010. http://etheses.nottingham.ac.uk/1450/1/Thesis.pdf.
Sunshine and flowers image via shutterstock. Reproduced at Resilience.org with permission.