I've found that it eventually pays, to let my moral dilemmas hurt my feelings if I actually want to know the answer. I don't ever dwell on emotional pain. I just know I can learn from it if I attentively listen to what it's about. Our world is spiraling out of control, yet again, as if people had no clue as to why.
The Pentecostal anthem "May the Circle be Unbroken" contains a kernel of systems physics I hadn't noticed until recently, in a spiral the circles don't connect, but are eve more separated. It came to mind when a question led me to think about the heartbreak of alienation that people all over the earth feel so personally, when they realize that are living in societies leading them into desperate troubles.
That was one of the common recognitions among the generation born after WWII, and the popular impetus for the "counter culture". The sense everyone seemed to share was that the post war culture seemed like it would just repeat the same sort of horrible sequence of global catastrophes it had just experienced, and might learn nothing from it at all. That time lots was actually learned from the experience, of course. Only thirty years later, though, world society is clearly creating conditions for the same scale of mega-catastrophe for mankind again.
We have an economy requiring everyone's energetic cooperation, running into destabilizing limits in virtually every direction at once, with no offer of a solution but "try harder"... That's a total formula for disaster. It helps to face the fact "we're doing it again". The "circle" today is ever more broken.
People keep making cultures and economies that spiral out of control. They abuse the love, cooperation and talents of their people, steering their lives toward performing tasks leading to great evil. But.. who is society but a consensus on common purposes? No one is "in change". Still people somehow build great societies with all good intent, that contain an internal logic that is "broken". Gradually over time we just notice them "spiraling ever further out of control", each loop an ever further break from the past.
These aren't metaphors, really. Growth is a spiral process. It physically builds upon the changes of to past to create ever greater changes in the future, diverging ever further from its prior path on every cycle. That we're now losing control of it is generally felt. It's also accurately observed in the "fishtailing" of over-corrections and panicked avoidance of terrible consequences, dodging the consequent failures of guesswork on which excess reliance was placed.
Economic planners are "shooting from the hip", unsure what to do, because nothing is really working. The general progression is of events becoming ever more unmanageable. Having things spiral out of control is a very natural process, like some cosmic storm of misfortunes, that happens in environments. The error if there is one is our failing to notice it in time to reign it in, to make our "circle" unbroken again.
I write little notes to myself when I have an idea, the following one starting on a sandwich napkin while sitting at the bus stop. It might help explain the emotional trap that makes all kinds of people feel helpless to change "the system" as it spirals out of control. What points to it how our solutions for stabilizing the "broken circle" just end up causing it to spiral further out of control, fishtailing when .
There are naturally lots of other kinds of errors of knowledge and intent too, but not many being made by nearly everyone at once. I think there's just one main reason everyone's sincere efforts to solve societal problems might keep making them much worse, though.
The error is our responding to strain by trying to do a better job, of solving the old problem, and so making the problem worse. At natural limits we face NEW problems, but people don't generally think its their job to define the problems.
To keep the family circle unbroken, everyone makes choices thinking of it as a whole. No one has the job of doing that for society. At work our purposes are mostly controlled by our employers, whose own purposes are generally determined by others too, and all need to play by the rules of their competition. What happens naturally is that businesses that are managed to multiply their own business interests, take over, without any goal but continuing to grow as fast as they can and not hold back, even to prosper against each other if the society as a whole gets in trouble.
As a rule to follow the standardization of endless growth for every business gives our work life a goal of keeping up with making ever bigger and more complex changes to the earth, till they become unmanageable. Both employees and managers, however, think it's "none of their business" what purposes set by the business are. We're reminded it's none of our business if we bring it up too, or are asked to leave.
So, without realizing, we end up thinking we are trying to keep ourselves whole, while also trying to multiply our businesses till they and the economy they're part of go out of control. We go along with expanding our own tasks by ever bigger steps. It then spirals out of control for no one's particular fault at all, except our own error in agreeing to accept ever expanding tasks. We work to maintain the broken circle of our society, with no goal for it but to have it spiral out of control. To change that we'd "only" need to discover our economy's goal and purpose, and start closing the circle toward it.
Thinking its the someone else's business to think of the system as a whole makes it no one's business. We see the gifts of growth as rewards for doing the right thing, not realizing that coming from a broken circle they're more "on loan" suggesting what could last if the circle were ever made whole.
It's painful to realize our task is to be "abnormal" somehow, as what's "normal" is our collective effort to create ever more tasks that can't be finished and become unmanageable.
It's not just that growth is a process of changing things by ever bigger material steps. It's that as a physical process, aiming to maximize its use of all the earth's resources, its implicit objective is to deplete everything humans find usable on earth as quickly as possible. If you look at resource use figures, improving efficiency in using them always increases their use, creating expanding access to more rapidly depleting finite natural supplies.
If historically we've always had a culture of destroying our resources as a way of creating prosperity, it doesn't make multiplying it's scale a workable goal of life. If that has also bothered a lot of people, for quite a long time too, doesn't mean the moral problem is just morality. Historically it does appear to be the main source of the greatest of human societal tragedies. We naturally organize our societies around growth, and they seem to fail because everyone assumes its someone else's job to change the culture as its old goals approach destabilizing natural limits.
From my (relatively light) readings on the range of complex societies and how they failed, it seems they all saw their self-destruction coming, a long way off, and just did nothing about it. There were writings at the time of Rome's decline, like this one, on why Roman society was disintegrating, unable to live on a budget and taxing its farmers and soils to death. That takes real time and effort! It was certainly clear to the Easter Islanders, who went so far as to cut down the last tree when their island economic system relied heavily on making boats from great trees.
They all apparently saw it coming but didn't realize it was each person's job to identify the next purpose of society, to name what to home in on. Nor did they seem to realize that being ever more efficient at familiar societal purposes that had become self-destructive was much of the source of what drove them to collapse. The solutions they chose, and we are choosing, to be more efficient at outmoded societal purposes, directly make the societal strains they are intend to reduce still greater. It adds to the urgency to do them with more effort, adding a very vicious feedback for cooperative societies of creative people, to make their own problems worse.
In a world of intense demands for shrinking resources, for example, it means "sustainable development" naturally creates more poverty. As the whole system meets natural limits, making it more efficient for people to deplete resources would only add to its strains. The effort would go to adding to the strains on the whole system rather than changing its purposes, undermining the local efforts too by undermining the prosperity of the whole.
I don't have an actual catalog of sustainability plans, though I've been "in the business for four decades and in touch with many of the leading advocates. There are probably some that actually describe sustainable plans. The vast majority are clearly designed as innovative ways to solve the old problems of growth by being more efficient.
There are lots of extremely smart and creative people in the field, though, so I would not be surprised if some of the business plans that sell themselves as promoting growth, might also include options for using their profits to invest in their environments or other true sustainability purposes, rater than in multiplying themselves. I've not been able to get people in the community to have continuing discussion of the subject, though.
What we seem to have at present is another utterly massive tragedy brewing. It multiplies the tragedy further that so many devoted, energetic and wonderfully creative efforts to address the strains holistically have been designed so as to make the whole problem worse. We really do have strains on our economy, distortions in human relationships and harms to the earth as a consequence.
It's unfortunate that the efforts to heal our world have been designed to help us do better at causing the problems, the opposite of the intended effect, accelerating not reversing the growing rate of our making insolvable problems, like trying to prosper by using up our shrinking resources faster and faster.
We're not alone in history, of course, in having to face this strangest of human cultural experiences. Evidence seems to go back many thousands of years, signs of high cultures that vanished completely for no apparent reason. It seems to be the rather well worn path of human societies that use their collective talents to accomplish great evil, they "had excuses" it seems. Whether we make it worse than it needs to be or not seem to only rest on whether people "get the signal" to look for another purpose. We have huge resources to apply to good ideas if people think to look for them, to give the growth of our society a goal other than spiraling out of control.
We might find that our social and institutional networks are good at the complex conversations that will be needed. Given how tricky the problem is, and that dozens of other complex societies apparently went through it and vanished with no one even learning what the problem was, it's obviously both naturally confounding and dangerous. If all we do is learn what the problem is, it'll be a tremendous accomplishment. It's up to you.