I publish here the text of the conference I gave on 11 March 2020 in the Graduate Hall of the Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Murcia. It was presented by the vice-dean Federico Martínez-Carrasco Pleite, Professor Mª Teresa Vicente and Professor Eugenio Sánchez Alcázar.
It is a great honor and a great opportunity to be here this afternoon sharing reflections on such a crucial issue in our lives and in the moment that human civilization lives..
My reflection will revolve around five key expressions:
- Happiness economy,
- sustainable development,
- voluntary simplicity
and the interrelationships between them.
Let's start with the happiness economy.
As you know, the term "economy" comes from the Greek oîkos ‘casa’ and némein 'distribute’ the ‘administer’;
The economy would therefore be the efficient and reasonable administration of the property of the house that is shared.
Speaking of World Economy, the shared house is Planet Earth, our common home.
The DRAE defines the economy as "Science that studies the most effective methods to satisfy material human needs, through the use of scarce goods ".
In this definition appear the key terms: material human needs and scarce goods.
The happiness economy would then be one that manages to satisfy the material needs of all human beings using scarce goods in a sustainable way.
Now let's ask ourselves a question: Is this the economy we find in today's world?
If we are honest, the answer cannot be other than NO.
1º. Because the basic material needs of all human beings that inhabit the planet are not being met.
2º. Because there is a bloody injustice and lack of equity in the use of scarce goods.
3º. Because there is an irresponsible lack of solidarity with subsequent generations, misusing current assets in an unsustainable way.
Why does this happen? Because what is currently applied is not an economy of happiness, but of predation:
- An economy of the enrichment of a few (abusive accumulation of goods in few hands), unfair and unsupportive in the current generation and unsupportive with subsequent generations.
- An economy of wasteful overproduction and insane hyperconsumption.
- An unsustainable "scorched earth" economy, of overexploitation of goods that does not take into account their scarcity and the time necessary for the regeneration of resources.
There are many of us who are already aware of this situation. The agenda 2030 of the UN and many other initiatives at the international level, national and local inspired by her, as the CRUE or the Vice-presidency of the Agenda 2030 of the Spanish government, point out these problems, indicate possible solutions and are committed to transformation.
For me, as a Buddhist priest who makes the study and practice of Zen teachings a way of contributing to the well-being and happiness of human beings, I would like to present what for me constitutes one of the main causes of this situation.
- On the one hand, it is a confusion or a cognitive error of much of today's humanity, which is none other than confusing needs with desires.
- And on the other hand, the utilization, exploitation and perverse stimulation of this confusion by a few, who seek their own personal and / or corporate profit.
Let's address needs first.
If the economy of happiness is the science that aims to satisfy the material needs of all human beings, we must be very clear about what those needs are.
“Una necesidad es aquello a lo cual es imposible sustraerse, y cuya carencia pone en peligro la conservación de la vida misma”. (DRAE).
Humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow locates basic needs, the physiological, at the base of your Pyramid of Human Needs. These are:
- Need for oxygen or clean air.
- Need for water in a good state of sanitation.
- Need for food and nutrients (protein, shall, sugar, calcium and other minerals, vitamin, etc.)
- Need to maintain pH balance,
- Need for adequate temperature.
- Need for sufficient sleep.
- Need for rest.
- Need to eliminate waste.
- Need for protection from cold and heat.
- Need to avoid unnecessary pain.
- Sexual need.
Is the current economy focused on meeting these needs for all human beings that inhabit the planet?? It is obvious that the answer is NO.
But what is more serious: Are most of us human beings clear that our basic priority should be the satisfaction of these needs?? It is very surprising to realize that NO, that we are not clear.
Why is it not clear to us? Because we confuse need with desire and, victims of manipulation, we pursue the satisfaction of fictitious desires more than the satisfaction of real needs.
What is a wish?
The DRAE defines it as "affective movement towards something that is desired". Fancy is the key. Craving is not the same as needing. “Appetizing” is “wanting something you like or pleasing”., while needing is "having a need for something" essential for the maintenance of one's life.
There is nothing wrong with desire. The force of desire, when it is at the service of satisfying the needs, is the force of life. We are all born of desire: of our parents' desire. The flame of desire is the fire that sustains life but, like physical fire, we must learn to tame it.
The domestication of fire.
In the process of learning to tame the fire of desire we would have, first, to learn to discern between "healthy desire" and unhealthy desire ".
The healthy desire is the form that the need takes in each culture, in every age. Although the basic human or physiological needs are the same in all times, culture and geography of the planet, the forms they take in each circumstance are different. These forms would be the healthy wishes.
- Although we all need oxygen or clean air, some prefer the sea air, others the one in the mountains, others the one in the fields, the forests, etc.
- Although we all need clean water, Some prefer it with gas and others without gas.
- Although we all need food and nutrients, culinary tastes vary greatly from culture to culture and person to person.
- Although we all need a suitable temperature, some prefer to live in cities with a warm climate, and others prefer cooler climates and bundle up more. We all need to cover our bodies with clothes, but the taste of dressing of each one is different.
- We all need enough sleep, but some prefer to sleep 8 hours in a row, others distribute the hours of sleep during the day, siesta.
- Although we all need rest, some rest in one way and another in another.
- Although we all have sexual needs, some satisfy it in one way and others in another, some have some tastes and preferences and others others.
The characteristic of healthy desires is that they are at the service of the satisfaction of needs and, Thus, of survival.
That is not the case with insane desires. These:
- or they are not at the service of satisfying the needs. For example, we can come to desire something that is even contrary to survival, for example, the adictions, the fatal attractions, obsessive desires.
- O well, meet needs in a way that is neither fair nor sustainable. For example, use the heating in winter to keep the body warm without wearing warm clothes. THE, for example, use far more resources than necessary to meet a need: greed, gluttony, greed for food, for example.
Does the Planet have sufficient natural resources to meet the needs of all human beings in a sustainable way?
If we reflect carefully we can realize that the insane desires of human beings are the main cause of social and environmental injustice., ecological disaster, of a large part of international conflicts and, of course, of the non-sustainability of our current way of life.
How did we get to this situation? Have we human beings become stupid animals that no longer even know what they really need??
Well unfortunately yes. That is just our situation: we do not know how to distinguish between real needs and unhealthy desires.
But this global situation has not arisen by chance, spontaneously, Rather, it constitutes the manifestation of one of the great perversions of the current economic and social system.
I explain: the current economic system does not have as its ultimate goal the sustainable management of resources to satisfy the real needs of all human beings, but the generation of wealth (capital) for the owners - an immense minority- of the production-consumption system. This machinery is based on obtaining benefits (capital) from the production of goods and from the consumption of those goods produced.
The Ten Commandments of the Market Religion
First Commandments: The maximum economic benefit (capital, material objects, services, material wealth) it's paradise on earth.
Second commandment: The market economy is the natural order of the world, objective truth, the ultimate reality.
Third commandment: Human life is work time, productive capacity. You are what you produce and what you consume. Work is governed by supply and demand, a simple cost in economic exchanges. You don't have to work to live, you have to live to work.
Fourth commandment: Nature is nothing more than a reserve of resources necessary for the production process or a land mass with which to speculate. Nature is nothing more than a set of inert objects whose only use is to be exploited to extinction.
Fifth commandment: Social heritage, cultural and spiritual is fungible capital that can be bought or sold like any other product.
Sixth commandment: The value of things is only represented by the price, by GDP and by its market value.
Seventh commandment: The producer-consumer individual is the basic unit in the market economy. Its function is to produce and consume.
Eighth Commandment: You must believe in unlimited economic growth. In the future, more and better material goods will be produced and it will be possible to consume more and accumulate more benefits..
Ninth commandment: Happiness consists of consuming more and more goods. For this you must have purchasing power. To achieve purchasing power you must sell your life time in exchange and insert yourself in the productive machinery. This is the greatest happiness on earth.
Tenth commandment: Only the strongest win. Competitiveness is the golden rule. Ethical principles such as compassion, altruism, solidarity, generosity should be considered superstitions of the past.
The more production, more profit (if there is demand, and if there isn't, is artificially created).
The more I consume, more profit.
It doesn't matter what is produced, if it generates profits (capital)
It does not matter what is consumed, and how much, if it generates profits (capital).
The ultimate purpose of this system is not to satisfy the real needs of the majority., but the accumulation of capital by a minority.
What is the critical fuel that keeps this machinery running? Human desire, or rather, the insane desire of human beings:
- On the one hand, the insane desire of the minority of owners of the means of production-consumption to continue accumulating capital, can, influence, etc.
- On the other hand, the unhealthy desire inoculated into humans through advertising so that consumption does not stop.
Using a raw image, we are like chickens on farms that have been inoculated with the virus of insane desire. They keep us constantly salivating for illusory satisfactions that fail to even satisfy our real needs.. And this salivation, this state of perpetual desire, it is the blood that makes the system work.
If we are not aware of this, if we do not individually transform our habits in our concrete daily life, if we don't ask ourselves again what do I really need?, if we don't purge ourselves of the unhealthy desires that the system is continually inoculating us, global approaches that aspire to transform the structure of the system will be ineffective.
Just what is necessary! can be the catalyst expression of a new way of using natural resources.
Just what is necessary! It means neither more nor less than I need.
The ecological footprint
You have all heard of and surely know the principle of the ecological footprint.
The ecological footprint (from the English ecological-footprint) It is an indicator of the environmental impact generated by human demand that is made of the existing resources in the planet's ecosystems, relating it to the Earth's ecological capacity to regenerate its resources.
From a global point of view, It has been estimated at 1,8 ha2 the biocapacity of the planet for each inhabitant, Or what is the same, if we had to distribute the productive land of the earth in equal parts, to each of the more than six billion people on the planet, they would correspond 1,8 hectares to meet all your needs for one year. With the data of 2005, the average consumption per inhabitant and year is 2,7 hectares, so that, globally, we are consuming more resources and generating more waste than the planet can generate and admit.
But not all countries consume the same: while some have an ecological footprint well above the average, another do not even consume the necessary average to satisfy the basic needs of the population. According to the Living Planet Report 2018 the WWF:
- Some countries like the USA, Canada, Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Denmark consume more than 7 HA per inhabitant.
- Another like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Australia, consume between 5,25 Y 7 Ha per inhabitant.
- Spain, France, Italy, Britain, Poland, China, Japan, Chile, Argentina we consume between 3,5 Y 5,25 Ha per inhabitant.
- Much of South America, Mexico, Eastern Europe, Iran, Iraq, consume between 1,75 Y 3,5 Ha per inhabitant.
- Much of africa, India, Southeast Asia do not reach 1,75 Ha per inhabitant.
According to the data of the 2005 del Global Footprint Network:
What this means is that:
- The 15 % (high-income countries) consume the 355,5 % of the planet's capacity, a 255,5 % more than their fair share. 3,5 planets.
- The 47,8 % (middle income countries) consume the 122,2 % of the planet's capacity, a 22,2 % more than their fair share. 1,2 planets.
- The 36 % (low-income countries) consume the 55,5 % of the planet's capacity, a 44,5 less than their fair share.
And these are data from 2005. Since then, general voracity and inequality have only grown.
Since Planet Earth is a finite and limited ecosystem, the overconsumption of some necessarily implies the underconsumption of others = injustice.
A new culture of desire
At the base of this imbalance is human voracity. The insane desires of human beings, They are the fire that is devastating life on the planet, the fire that is destroying not only ecosystems but human civilization itself.
This planetary fire is fueled by the fire of insane desires that burn in each of us.. Thus, in addition to global initiatives, governmental, institutional necessary to reverse this situation, we have to face the essential individual commitment to appease this fire within ourselves and adopt a model of life based on voluntary simplicity, in the decrease and, definitely, at the beginning of just what is necessary!
We have to learn to discern between real needs - healthy wants and unhealthy wants., this is, harmful to us, for our fellow men and for the planet as a whole.
Moments before his death, the Buddha Shakyamuni historical founder of Buddhism, gave his last teaching known as The eight principles of life of the Great Beings.
The first one is "having few wishes". In Buddha's words:
“Aquellos que tienen muchos deseos buscan ávidamente la fama y la riqueza y, Thus, suffer greatly. Conversely, those who have few desires live free from suffering and accumulate many merits and virtues. It is important to know this. Those who have few desires do not need to win the favor of others nor are they enslaved by the sense organs. They live with a serene mind and without worries, since they are satisfied with what they have and do not suffer from any lack. That's how, Finally, they experience peace and joy ".
But this is not a wisdom of life exclusive to Buddhism. Saint Augustine of Hippo said:
"Poor is not the one who has less, but who always needs more to be happy ".
Or our popular proverb:
"It is not happier who has more, but whoever needs the least ".
This wisdom tells us that less is more, que debemos dejar de correr detrás de las satisfacciones efímeras e ilusorias que proporcionan los deseos insanos y atender más el contentamiento y la dicha profundos que surgen de la satisfacción de nuestras necesidades reales.
Esto es ‘simplicidad voluntaria’, ‘decrecimiento’ y ‘¡justo lo necesario!’
11 of March 2020