Holistic local sustainability; food, water, energy, money, people
WHEN I WAS TEACHING in Japan 20 years ago, one of my students introduced me to The Three Great Humiliations of Man [sic] in an essay I’d assigned. I was so impressed by her powerful choice of plagiarism, that I passed it with flying colours.
Incidentally, I stopped using the term ‘man’ (and ‘mankind’) 35 years ago. I’m amazed to find people still using it today – alongside some who claim we’re not a biologically sexual species. So much for social cohesion. Forgive the rant.
Just now I searched online for The Three Great Humiliations of Man. There were many references to the Century of Humiliation in China, but it turns out Sigmund Freud coined the term. They are:
I don’t think we can accuse Freud of humility!
The Fourth Great Humiliation – or Humbling – of our species is upon us. We’re stuck on this beautiful blue gem in space and we’d better learn to live within it’s limits. If we do, we have a chance at peace, harmony and happiness. We also have a chance to reach a similarly livable planet in the galaxy in the distant future. If we don’t, our prospects are very grim indeed.
Evidence that the human mind is grappling with this Great Humbling is all around us. We’ve known the limits to growth for 50 years. Having disregarded the warnings, we are hitting multiple walls; resource depletion, energy decline, deforestation, climate change, depleted top soil, desertification, fresh water scarcity, overpopulation, peak oil, the 6th mass species extinction, pollution and toxification. All of these are caused by us; by what we’re doing and how many there are of us.
Denial is rampant, especially in the corridors of power. Wealth and power aspirations continue to abound in ordinary individuals and at the state and corporate level. Envy, competition and greed are now hurtling us toward WWIII.
However, if enough of us take the humbling to heart, we have a chance.
There is a groundswell of change called degrowth. This might sound grim, but think of it as shrinking to abundance. Apart from espousing frugality, they point to better measures of well being than GDP, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator and the Happiness Index. A few sage leaders are looking this way, such as Jacinda Ardern and Chuck Feeney. The movement takes many forms: The Great Simplification. Sustainable Population. Post Growth. The Simplicity Institute. The Steady State Economy.
The conundrum is, however, that this movement is not in a position of influence. Whilst it aspires to replace the current paradigm, its modesty is trumped by the blind ambition of the ruthless. Capitalism and society have rewarded the powers that be. That’s why they’re there.
They’re not completely blind, however. Some of them know collapse is a very real possibility. Some tech billionaires fantasize about escaping. Think Don’t Look Up. In this gloomy scenario we don’t take humiliation well. Amid a lot of fighting, a few of us survive. The culture continues and we go on to ravage other worlds. Happy days.
Let’s hope enough of the uber wealthy and powerful become a part of Team Human voluntarily. It’s never happened before. Wars and depression have been the great levellers [sic] in the past.
What can you do? Change starts at home, but it depends on your starting point. If you have a debt-free roof over your head, you’ve got the one big-ticket item you need. If you don’t, do what you need to to get it. Beyond that, stop accumulating. Stop speculating. Stop wasting. Stop working hard. Be happy. Help others. Be like me. I’m humble. I coined the term The Fourth Great Humiliation of Humanity! We behavioural scientists have a knack for humility.
“Galileo” by tonynetone is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
“Charles Darwin” by Alun Salt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
“Sigmund Freud” by Psychology Pictures is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
This story was published by Independent Australia with unauthourised alterations.
Pingback: The Fourth Great Humiliation of Humanity is Upon Us. – Olduvai.ca
While I fully agree with the claims here regarding the limits to growth and the problems we are collectively facing by hitting those limits, I respectfully dispute some of the other claims in this article. First, it’s not evident to me why I should accept as the truth what Freud and Darwin said; indeed people still dispute their ideas, especially Darwin’s. Secondly, I’m skeptical if what Gallileo et al found should be called the ‘Great Humiliation’ of HUMANITY. WESTERN man, maybe, but other cultures? (Buddhists always believed there are countless other worlds besides ours.) This brings me to one of my greatest objections here: that the realization that our world’s resources are limited constitutes another great humiliation of HUMANITY as well. I really don’t think it does, because many if not most pre-industrial cultures already learned to live within the limits of Nature from the beginning. It was WESTERN MAN who challenged these limits, so HE’s the one who’s going to get humiliated, not the rest of humanity (except that part that has been thoroughly converted to the ways of the white man, of course).
You make a good point about the Western-centric assumptions I’ve made. My understanding is the Buddhists’ view was speculation, but that doesn’t invalidate your point.
Pre-industrial cultures lived – by and large – within the limits of Nature because they didn’t have the technology to do otherwise. In fact there are numerous examples of civilizations that collapsed (e.g. Meso America) because the technology they had enabled them to overshoot their ecological limits. Check out the Fall of Civilizations podcast videos on YouTube – fascinating stuff.
Thanks for reading and your comments!