Irene observed that the question of right livelihood is much harder than it once was. It is very difficult to know that what one does for livelihood is actually contributing to the world. It is easy to think of moral arguments against almost any sort of job or profession. It is hard to think of a job or profession that is exempt from moral question.
Most people don’t think about right livelihood, I replied. They just think “livelihood, alright”!
This all ties into the sense that for all our talk about democracy and the consent of the governed, we have lost control of our world. We no longer can distinguish between actions for good and actions for evil. When we think about who gets what, we find ourselves in a frenzy of blaming others and rationalizing ourselves.
The world is in an era of plenty and of a new crowdedness. The right behavior for all of us, on the whole, is laziness, idleness, and satisfaction. We have designed a system than punishes laziness and rewards ambition, but our circumstances require more laziness and less ambition. We have no idea how to readjust our behavior because we have lost control of our reward systems.
This is an oversimplification, yes, of course.
We need people to do unpleasant jobs, and we need heroes, and we won’t have either if we don’t reward them somehow. Those are the exceptions, though.
On the whole, in the advanced countries we need to learn to be satisfied with less. We need to learn to respect people for who they are, not just what they do or what they own. To do this, we need to reconsider what wealth is, what livelihood is, what rightness is.
Update: Fergus examines how the G8 is adamantly oblivious to the real issues.
Another update: More interesting ideas about the growth quandary on the GlobalChange list.