Are we programmed
Associate Professor Niki Harre specialises in the psychology of sustainability. She wants to know how to engage people in creating a more sustainable and equitable society. At a recent talk she gave, she had me re-wondering a fundamental question: are we programmed to fail?
The talk also contained one of three rounds of middle-class applause I’ve heard recently, and it was this response which I’ve also been contemplating in my amateur psychologist-like way.
Harre recently wrote a book, Psychology for a Better World and I’d already heard her speaking about it from a writer’s perspective. This more recent talk went a little deeper, and I came away more pessimistic than when I’d gone in, which I’m sure is hard for many of you to imagine!
The gist of her book is that if we can avoid projecting a gloomy picture of the future, if we demonstrate that we can have fun and fulfilment walking the sustainable walk, then others will be more likely to follow.
I don’t buy it. Not any more. There were perhaps 50 of us at her lecture, while outside there were 100,000 others busily indulging in unsustainable consumption. What’s more, those others were being bombarded with encouragements to continue consuming, in the form of advertising and marketing, psychologically-tailored for maximum effectiveness. Indeed, the encouragements are to indulge ever more and ever faster. The 50 people at Harre’s talk were the converted, true believers in sustainability and hard core at that.
Harre talked of putting her bike helmet in full view on her desk and of using keep-cups and drink bottles in public arenas. I do that too and so do others who have reached logical conclusions about our suicidal collective trajectory. But my generation knew all that stuff in the 1970s, have talked about it then, and many of us walked the walk. But over time, community interest has become self-interest and competitive consumption is increasingly defined as ‘winning’.
Most people seem to have decided to