I don’t remember who first coined the phrase “Homo consumerensis” as a description of the human species, but it has been around for a while. It is a take-off on the scientific designation of our species, “Homo sapiens.” In today’s world, government policy and the corporate world would have us be known in terms of our economic viability and ability to consume.
As you may know, Homo sapiens means “humans with wisdom.” We evolved from Homo erectus and other ancestors in the human evolution family tree; when it came time to name us, it was decided that wisdom was an appropriate term to apply to modern human beings… hence Homo sapiens. It seems an ironic designation to me as I despair that we are not so very wise!
Since the Industrial Revolution—and even before—the worth of humans in the Western world became attached to our ability to consume goods and services. We came to be seen as unique economic units. The economy became the focus of governments and those that wanted to succeed in government began to appeal to the baser parts of our human nature, the want for more and the desire to get ahead. I began this blog with reference to the cheeky human designation “Homo consumerensis,” but now I think we should be known as “Homo economensis.”
My own sense of self in relation to others, which stems from my spiritual beliefs, is that I am part of an intricate web of life. I am not a separate unit, least of all a separate unit of economic viability. I am a human being, gifted with life, part of the web of life. Life for all is what is important, not our ability to consume.
In BC politics, we are facing an unprecedented time of cooperation… at least, I hope we are! The Green and NDP Parties have formed a coalition and are forming a government. I was outspoken during the recent election that the economy is not the most important thing in politics; community is more important, as is justice, hope, life and the web of life. The Liberal party kept hammering away at the fact that the Greens and the New Democrats would destroy the economy; the Liberals kept repeating, “It’s all about the economy, stupid.”
Well, it isn’t all about the economy. It is about enhancing life for all. I hope that the NDP and Green coalition will help us shift from seeing the economy as the most important thing to seeing justice, hope and the enhancement of life as the most important things. God knows, and we must learn, that endless consumption and growth is destroying our planet.
I’ve been reading a bit about a guaranteed basic income; some economists suggest that poverty in over 65 countries could be alleviated with a basic income. John McArthur, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, has suggested that a guaranteed basic income would help hundreds of millions of people; McArthur is also an advisor to the UN Foundation and a board governor for the International Development Research Centre.
There have been pilot projects in Namibia, Brazil, Finland, Manitoba, and now in Ontario. Denmark, Norway and many other countries around the world have experimented with various forms of a guaranteed income. I was speaking recently with a Scottish cousin of mine whose son lives in Denmark; he talked about research in Denmark showing that work satisfaction is high, anxiety is low, and costs related to unemployment very low; he further said that people don’t abuse the system.
We need a humane model for dealing with the economy, one that is based on the inherent value and worth of each individual… and not because they consume goods and services, but because they are part of the web of life.