The year 2016 gave us Brexit, Trump and the evidence from the recent ANU survey of Australian voters that trust in our political leaders is at an all-time low.
Change the Story: Change the Future is the title of a 2015 book by American author and Member of the Club of Rome David Korten. In their foreword, the co-presidents of the Club of Rome say that what is new in this book is Korten's description of the new "story" that is needed to move global society away from its mad preoccupation with money and economic growth. Korten wants to replace the current story with one about a society that meets the basic needs of all its members and pays vital attention to the health of the planet.
It seems that voters in Australia are unimpressed with the "story" and the current policy focus of the leaders of our major political parties.
Korten is certainly not alone in arguing that we will not avoid the early collapse of human civilisation without a change away from the current driving narrative, which he labels "Sacred money, sacred markets". He says we must stop promoting the idea that money is humanity's defining value, and move to a new story – "sacred life and living earth" – that is built around an understanding of life, wellbeing, collaboration and deep respect for the integrity of the universe.
The Club of Rome was largely ignored in 1972, when it published its highly prescient report The Limits to Growth. Since that time, neoliberal economic thinking has reigned supreme everywhere. Money and wealth creation have become the key preoccupation of politicians. Nevermind the increasing human inequality, climate change and the trashing of the ecosystems on which the health of all living beings depend.
David Korten has strong economic credentials and is a former teacher at the Harvard Business School. He has also worked in several developing countries. He is highly critical of the way modern economics has developed and the influence it has had on the growth and behaviour of international corporations. Corporate thinking is now dominating politics everywhere. It is thinking that assumes that money and wealth accumulation are the ultimate determinant of planetary wellbeing, a view the author categorically rejects.
So how is this pertinent to us in Australia? Many Australians now feel our political leaders are out of touch with them and their needs and concerns. There is also concern in the community at the central roles that corporations and big business play on the political scene. Free trade and globalisation seem more important to our leaders than the wellbeing of all of us, not just those who are clever at playing the money game. There is also concern that our system pays little or no attention to nature's needs.
If Korten is correct, as I believe he is, we need to change the story that drives modern Australian society. We must stop growing the Gross Domestic Product at the expense of the environment. We need to craft a new vision for our society that pays close attention to the quality of lives of all humans as well as to the elements of nature on which our survival as a species depends utterly.
Changing the story will not be a trivial task. The change will not begin with the politicians, the economists or the corporations, all of whom are riding high on the "sacred money, sacred markets" narrative.
The change must come from those people in the community who believe that our democracy has been debased by the sacred money story, and that a radical transformation will only be led by a compelling counter-story.
The world has changed radically many times before, but as Korten points out, the current narrative has been evolving progressively for about 5000 years and has entrenched what he describes as a "suicide economy that is being driven by money-seeking corporate robots".
As we contemplate a new year, thoughtful representatives of the community should be building the framework for the new narrative that we need our political representatives to embrace.
What about this for a new story line?
"The sacred money and markets story that is driving our world is failing us because it rests on a foundation of bad ethics, ignorance of ecology and destructive economics. We are living beings for whom life comes before money and for whom satisfying relationships, collaboration and compassion are the central elements of a good life. We are motivated by concern for the health, resilience and sustainability of every member of the community and the planet on which we live. We demand a change in the story, which must recognise the need for every person and every living being to be able to contribute meaningfully to the integrity and wellbeing of the community in which they live. And we know that the economic system can be modified to focus on those needs rather than pandering to money-seeking corporate robots."