To fail?

Are we pro­grammed

NZ Lifestyle Block - - The Good Life -

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

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