We are searching for an inclusive and sustainable world. A world of self-driving cars as well as hand-knitted sweaters. Where work happens in sterile, robotic factories, and messy, shared attic studios. A world of high-tech and low-tech, where everyone gets a basic income, and where hand, head, and heart are equally appreciated. A world without the high and low educated, and without a diploma democracy. A world where social status has shifted from ‘I have’ to ‘I am’. Where exhibiting material wealth doesn’t imply social status, thus decreasing the need for consumption. A new world in which aging doesn’t cause poverty, and where there is more stuff for less people.
Scientific Bureau Seeks Political Party
At Monnik, we wonder why society needs to grow. There are more and more people increasingly making and using stuff in ever-growing cities. What does the growth paradigm mean for the individual? How long can we continue to grow? When are we fully grown? What does a post-growth society look like?
During the Workplace for the New World exhibition, we present ourselves as a scientific agency that is looking for a political party. We present a proposition in which a historical interpretation of our working past provides a basis for possible post-growth scenarios. We present two scenarios: one positive and one negative. Both are realistic. We are looking for a political party – a social movement willing to adopt and cooperate with us and willing participants – to further devise, imagine, and give form to the New World.
As a scientific agency, we developed a new methodology, the World Tree Model. We investigated the propositions of our past, our present, and our future. Today, you are surrounded by this proposition and the assumptions and definitions on which it is based; and by the fieldwork, historical models, forecasts, prototypes, simulations, and future political manifesto with which we test this proposition.
Again, we believe in a sustainable and inclusive future, but this wasn’t always the case. In light of our new hope, we have renamed our practice:
Office for New Romantic Politics
World Tree Model
The World Tree Model is a qualitative historical-futuristic model that creates future simulations. The World Tree Model is a ‘soft’ model: it does not examine society’s hardware, such as calorie production or population growth, but its software, such as the dominant ideologies and conventions.
The World Tree Model is inspired by the quantitative World3 Model: a ‘hard’ model that mimics the interactions between the earth’s population growth, industrial production, raw materials extraction, food, and the limits of its ecosystems. It was developed in 1972 for the Club of Rome. The results were published in the report The Limits to Growth. Complementary to the ‘hard’ World3 Model we developed a ‘soft’ model: a model that produces cultural simulations. The World3 Model explored the limits to growth. The World Tree Model maps potential post growth societies.
A society’s dynamics are more than the sum of its parts. What we experience as society is the outcome of interactions between physical, biological, social, psychological, and neurological subsystems. It is an unparalleled outcome, because most of these subsystems’ properties, patterns, and regularities are non-linear and, for modern science, are unapproachable or unknowable.
Since modern science cannot see the whole picture of the forces at play in society, a ‘hard’ model fed with quantitative values makes little sense. In an objectively unknowable environment, we have no choice but to rely on qualitative values. And that’s what a ‘soft’ model does: it relies on our subjectivity, empathy, and our capacity for interpretation. Because what one doesn’t know, one can take ownership of. And this certainly applies to our future.
The World Tree Model generates cultural simulations of a society that it is itself part of. The observer always has an effect what is perceived. The outcomes of the World Tree Model should therefore contribute to our society, and we very much hope that this is the case.
The World3 Model is a model for ‘system dynamics’: it generates computer simulations of the interactions between the food system, the industrial system, the system of population growth, the system of non-renewable resources, and the system of pollution. The Club of Rome, a global think tank, used the World3 Model for the Limits to Growth study in 1972.
The World Model diagram as published in Limits to Growth (1972)
Professor Jay W. Forrester invented ‘System dynamics’ in the 1950s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is an attempt to understand the non-linear behaviour of complex systems. The World3 Model added new features to Jay W. Forrester’s World2 Model. The main creators of the World3 Model were Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jørgen Randers.
The purpose of the Limits to Growth study was not to make specific predictions, but to describe how the interactions developed between the various subsystems. However, the tentative conclusions drawn from the World3 Model computer simulations had a deep impact. People increasingly realised the modern dream of infinite growth was unfeasible. Since 1972, there have been many studies that conclude, ‘the alarming warnings that we received in 1972, have increasingly been closely followed by reality.’ (2011, Ugo Bardi).
The Growth Society
‘Growth’ is the Modern Period’s most important cultural characteristic – population growth, economic growth, increasing urbanisation, the growth of useful and verifiable knowledge, and a philosophical emphasis on personal growth. The Modern Period (1800 – Present) followed the Early Modern Era (1450-1800), which followed the Middle Ages (450-1450). Modern society is a concept containing ‘postmodernity’. After all, we still live in growth-based society.
Philippe de Champaigne, Still life with skull, circa 1671
Frans Hals, Marriage portret of Isaac Massa and Beatrix van der Laen, 1622Memento Mori and Carpe Diem — Memento mori is Latin for ‘remember you must die’. In the Middle Ages, memento mori represented a reflection on the transience of earthly life. It was a warning against vanity and seeking pleasure. Carpe Diem is Latin for ‘seize the day’, a phrase that gained popularity in the Early Modern Era.
In the Early Modern Period, growth was an unconscious development. Nobody formulated policy or was aware of it. Europe’s population began to grow slowly. Inflation emerged, cities grew, people began to recognise patents, and the average wage decreased. Through the increased availability of precious metal (money), prices were no longer directly linked to a crop’s yield, as in the Middle Ages. This denotes the development of capitalism as an important factor in the genesis of a burgeoning world economy. Religious thought was slowly replaced by the scientific gaze. The enlightenment demystified the world. Romanticism sought new ways to create meaning.
The need for growth is the Modern Period’s dominant conceptual framework, through which all other social developments are interpreted. The experience of modern life is determined by continuous technological and philosophical changes. Population growth, economic growth, increasing urbanisation, the growth of useful and verifiable knowledge, and an emphasis on personal growth provide the framework to shape and experience our environment and our life.
The Industrial Revolution changed how we produce and consume. Technological innovation increases productivity per worker, product prices drop, and what people can afford continually increases. Wealth becomes the explicit aim of both the individual and society. Ownership determines social status. The economy becomes the science of scarcity, modernity becomes the culture of progress, and the Homo Economicus becomes the dominant human model. Stagnation becomes decline. Growth rates determine our government policies, our business strategies, and our family choices. For many, growth creates a long and comfortable life. The new prosperity increases population. More people in larger cities, who use, make, and own more stuff.
However, during the post-war period, it becomes increasingly clear that there are limits to growth. Decreasing biodiversity, climate change, and depleting natural resources indicate that we have outgrown our environment. The growing gap between the highly skilled and low skilled, an ageing population, the growing income gap, and increasing technological unemployment indicate that we have outgrown ourselves.
Fragmentation and Connectivity
The growth society has brought us a longer and more comfortable life. Modernity’s achievements are visible everywhere. Our fascination with growth began with the simple and unoriginal observation that society cannot grow forever. 10 billion people can’t drive 10 billion SUVs, eat meat 10 times weekly, and fly 10 times a year to a second home. We thought the planet could never cope. We still do.
But there lies a deeper discomfort than realising the limits to growth. We think the key for a possible post-growth society lies within this discomfort: in societies that are as curious and innovative as they are sustainable and inclusive.
Bonus Bureau, Computing Division, 24 november, 1924. Washington, D.C. — Befor the electronic computer of today, ‘computer’was a job title: somebody who computes.
Walter Crane, Arts and Craft Society Invitation, 1903 — The ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement was an international movement in architecture, crafts, and art, which began in 1880 and continued until the rise of Modernism in the 1930s. A key influence was the English art critic John Ruskin, who believes the main role of the artist and the craftsman is to be true to himself and nature.
The better we can understand and shape our environment, the more we feel alienated from it. Explosive growth causes a fragmented world perception: the physical and social environment are experienced as abstract and fragmented. One lacks involvement, which is not surprising given the existing environment increasingly consist of products made up of ever more components and assembled by unknown people in unknown places. People have become a link in a complex production chain. Detached from production, consumption has become impersonal.
The growth society is actually in constant flux. Parents can’t teach their children much anymore. Every generation grows up in a new technological and social environment with new and unique challenges. The perception of the individual is becoming increasingly isolated. The sense of community is smaller; the sense of the nation state more abstract. Society is not only divided into the young and old, but also into the high and low educated, and the rich and poor. Increasingly, we live in separate worlds. Function and property increasingly inform how the urban and natural landscape is divided. The challenges of the day – there are so many daily changes – blocks the coherent formulation of a clear vision of the future.
Growth causes fragmentation, especially on our understanding of reality. The greater our common knowledge of our surroundings, the more we as individuals realise how little we know. Where once there were only dozens of definitions for our bodies, there are now tens of thousands of terms for body parts and disorders. Nobody has a holistic view of what we know about the world. People who know a lot tend to know a lot about very little. The world is simultaneously becoming more and less familiar. We especially know how much we don’t know, which often creates a sense of disillusionment. We rely more on the system than on ourselves.
It is difficult to find meaning in this ever-changing reality. The emptiness experienced is largely filled with consumerism. At the same time, there is a latent romantic yearning for meaning and deeper bonds, to healing a broken world, to something beyond the material reality, to a new magic. We think that within this dormant romantic longing for signification and bonding is the key to possible forms of post-growth society.
Enlightenment and Romanticsm
The Enlightenment and Romanticism are interpretations of the past. Timeframes that are usually interpreted as historical periods, as entangled currents that are difficult to untangle; two sides of the same coin. Nevertheless, as a thought experiment, it makes sense to disentangle and stretch them. The Enlightenment as an expression of our desire to control our natural and social environment and to rationally understand this. Romanticism as an expression of our desire to understand our natural and social environment. Both of these requirements are related to work, because through work we engage with our natural and social environment. When we talk about the Enlightenment and Romanticism, we talk about these underlying meanings that are so characteristic of modernity and that resonate in the present. Our definitions of the Enlightenment and Romanticism transcend accepted descriptions, which provides a fresh look at them. They reveal our ambivalent relationship to work and announce a new future.
What is Work?
DEFINITIONS & ASSUMPTIONS
‘What is Work?’ HD video diptych Denis Guzzo (production and concept development, watch here in HD) & Monnik (concept)
The Definition of Work
Work is the application of desirable changes in the social and natural environment through human activity. Work can be both physical and intellectual. We only tend to speak about labour in connection to the economic.
By working, we affect our environment. The kind of work we do determines our social environment and our social status. Why we work determines how we give meaning to our personal life. How we work, determines the sustainability and viability of the natural environment. This key to an inclusive and sustainable world lies in the future of work.
New Romanticism, Times of Abundance
Romanticism and Enlightenment, a Reinterpretation
What if we understand growth, and what it does to us, by looking at the modern ambivalence towards ‘work’? We want ‘work’ to be more efficiently organised and to be meaningful and fulfilling. The Enlightenment and Romanticism, the two major cultural currents within modernity, best describe this ambiguity. The Enlightenment rationalised and objectified our relationship to ‘work’. Romanticism emphasised our perception of ‘work’.
The need for productivity, efficiency, and innovation strengthened science, and vice versa. The economy became the science of scarcity and quantified growth in manageable numbers. The image of humanity as Homo Economicus gave the growth society an aura of the naturally self-evident. Social status and personal identity shift from ‘lineage’ to ‘I have’. Due to population growth, urban growth, the exploitation of natural resources, and the growth of scientific knowledge, modern humanity is embedded in and surrounded by its own ideas and self-made environment. If our cultural assets grow, the natural environment shrinks.
The congregation of pilgrims at the announcement of the new pope in 2005 and 2013
The better we were able of shaping our environment, the more we felt alienated from this environment. The Modern Period is perceived as a world of fragmented experience. The manmade environment increasingly consists of more products made of ever more components and assembled by unknown people in unknown places. The perception of the physical and social environment has become abstract and fragmented. Every generation grows up in a new technological and social environment, which provides a continuous generation gap. The individual lifespan is increasingly perceived as something isolated. Continuous change means a perpetually unsettled society.
Romanticism tries to heal the broken human experience. By emphasising the relationship of work to the individual, one seeks new commitments with themselves, the community, and nature. The Enlightenment asks ‘how we work’ and Romanticism asks ‘why we work’. Within this quest, ‘I am’ is more important than ‘I have’. The Enlightenment emphasises economic growth, whereas Romanticism emphasises personal growth.
Hand-Knitted Sweaters and Self-Driving Cars
Consequence 1: The Present
If we understand growth by observing our ambivalence towards ‘work’, whereby ‘work’ is more efficient, as well as meaningful and fulfilling, we are currently looking at two developments.
In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the founders of the Intel Corporation, described a phenomenon that became known ‘Moore’s Law’. He claimed that the power of computer processors doubles approximately every two years. This exponential growth forecast is still true. Computers are currently powerful enough to perform self-learning algorithms and the management of advanced robotics. Computers can take on increasingly complex tasks. The self-driving car will be commonplace in about 15 years. Middle-class jobs are rapidly being automated. The gap between rich and poor is growing. Structural technological unemployment is a real scenario. Automating manpower was called the First Machine Age. The automation of thinking power is called the Second Machine Age.
At the same time, a global creative class is arising. This class is urban oriented. The dominant ideologies – sustainability, authorship, authenticity, and artistry – translate into work practices that prioritise concepts such as DIY, sustainability, the local, bottom-up, open-source, peer-to-peer and creative commons. Work is important for the relationship one has with oneself and with the social and natural environment. The perceived need for inclusiveness, diversity, and sustainability overlaps with the digital possibilities of the Second Machine Age. We call this new global culture the New Romantic Field. This is a time of self-driving cars and hand-knitted sweaters. It interweaves the ideas of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. ‘I have’ has lost momentum in comparison to ‘I am’, and the questions ‘how we work’ and ‘why we work’ have become important.
Choosing between Abundance and Artificial Scarcity
Consequence 2: The Future
We are outgrowing our natural environment and ourselves. The aging population, the growing gap between high and low education, the growing gap between rich and poor, and growing technological unemployment indicate that the growth paradigm has outgrown the human dimension. The depletion of natural resources, climate change, and vanishing biodiversity indicate that the growth paradigm has also outgrown the planet.
Through work, we affect our environment, determine our social environment and social status, and give meaning to our lives. Our natural environment’s decline is a consequence of the growth paradigm. How and why we work is the growth paradigm. The key to both an inclusive and sustainable world and an exploitative and destructive world is in the future of work. And this is determined by the modern ambivalence toward work concealed in the Second Machine Age and the New Romantic Field.
When automation becomes so efficient that people are no longer involved in producing, the labour market will no longer be the efficient distribution system for what is produced. If you are unemployed, you buy less or nothing. And if less or nothing is purchased, then producing no longer makes sense in a capitalist system. The Second Machine Age is forcing us to rethink the current production and distribution system. We see two options. Option one: do nothing, believing that ‘if robots and algorithms take over work, most people will simply become very poor.’ This scenario is called Artificial Scarcity. Option two: the technological redistribution of wealth. Here, we believe that ‘if robots and algorithms take over our work, we are exempt from it.’ This scenario is called Abundance.
The growing gap between rich and poor indicates the Artificial Scarcity scenario is unfolding. However, the rise of the New Romantic Field indicates the Abundance scenario is a growing possibility. The shift in defining social status from ‘I have’ to ‘I am’ simply indicates a personal interpretation and direction in a situation of economic security. The shift in social status to ‘I am’ implies an automatic de-consuming because the individual gains no status by displaying material prosperity.