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  • Writer's pictureCrone


The other day at the gym, the coach said to me, "Growth is intrinsically rewarding. We are biochemically tuned to seek growth."

This was in response to my saying that the concept of unlimited growth is more damaging than the concept of hierarchy. That it's what makes capitalism so damaging. He's more concerned about power. I understand that. but he seems to think that anarchy would be easier to reach than a zero-growth economy.

For a start, one could say that hierarchy is biochemically moderated in that there are rewards - serotonin? dopamine? - for being dominant and certainly systemic hormonal insults to being dominated.

In fact, I'd argue that hierarchy is more closely related to our biochemical settings than growth. I think growth is only rewarding because of a (false) ideology that encourages us to believe that unlimited growth is possible and beneficial. That it's not is just obvious.

Finite space.

Finite natural resources.

Finite lifespan.

Trees, which can grow for hundreds of years, do cease their growth and even grow down. Ultimately they shrink back into the earth. Growth stops.

Size has consequences. Sea mammals can be bigger than land mammals because being earthbound limits the size that bone and muscle can support and move around. Land creatures simply can't be that big.

Mind you, there is an equal (ideological) reward for shrinking - smaller processors, cameras, computers, robots. We seem to want unlimited growth in some things and ultimate smallness in others. Both are, I think, about fashion and ideology rather than having intrinsic worth.

Whether or not all human groups have always been hierarchical, which is a moot point, it is certainly not the case that all human groups have yearned for growth - as in more stuff, more knowledge, more power. It seems they sought simply enough. Until it was possible to settle in place and secure property - as land and as stuff. Once things could be gathered, power became reified and desirable as something else that could be accumulated. I think hierarchy is made morally suspect when it arises from that greedy-growth concept. I don't think there's anything wrong with "looking up to" a person (or wolf or chimpanzee) who is skilled socially or practically. Instead, that seems to drive a benevolent sort of development. The negative aspects come to the fore when the one who is followed is the one with more stuff or money or greed for power.

Other animals don't seem to hoard. Nor do they appear to want more for the sake of more - instead they seem to seek more in order to sustain their numbers. If they cannot get more, their growth is curtailed. There is no divine right to growth. In fact, there is usually a kick back toward a certain homeostasis.

The balance of nature is a contested idea. There is not some "right" situation in which everything is at the perfect number. But there are many wrong places in which the dynamic imbalance of a living ecosystem tips to the fatal imbalance of a dying one.

That's what our growth and our celebration of growth has done to the planet.

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