By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association
John Foster Dulles, former Secretary of State, once commented that he was not worried about inconsistencies in the Warren Commission report since, in his view, Americans did not read. For those who do read, what they read can have a tremendous impact on their thinking, which, in turn, can influence our cultural and political policies. Reading is essential to staying informed about forces affecting our lives and livelihoods.
During the Jimmy Carter administration, a book of choice among aspiring political leaders and thinkers was Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E.F. Schumaker. In it, the author criticized orthodox economics and big projects and argued for a more holistic approach to how we live and govern ourselves. He advocated that our economic and technological choices should reflect the long-term interests of our communities. While not opposed to technology, he called for appropriate technologies that would be simpler, cheaper and widely available.
A May article in opendemocracy.com calls attention to Schumaker’s thinking and the need to make the right choices, which are in the long-term interests of communities and will benefit the many rather than profit the few. With continued scientific and technological development, our power to manipulate nature intensifies, but has yet to yield a sustainable society. Doubt remains that an unfettered market system will ever provide it.
The article calls for a new social contract that could reassert some measure of social control over corporate-driven scientific and technological development.
In marked contrast to the concerns raised in Small Is Beautiful is Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged. It has become the book of choice for leading conservative thinkers.
According to Jeff Spross, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), author of the Republicans’ new budget plan, indicated Rand’s writing is the reason he entered politics and recommends his interns read the book.
Rand’s work of fiction explored the consequences when people “of the mind” go on strike and refuse to allow the outcomes of their creativity and effort to be taken from them by government. The strike leads the nation and government to the point of collapse, and the novel’s hero, Galt, emerges to reconstruct society based on individual achievement and enlightened self-interest.
Rand’s novel divides humanity into productive achievers and those who demand the earnings of others. Government intervention in society is seen as fatally flawed. Science and technology are seen as leading to improved quality only if their practitioners are left free to conduct business as they see fit.
The novel endorses laissez faire capitalism and rational selfishness, and ignores the adverse consequences of concentrated economic wealth and economic power for a democratic society.
Reading these books will provide a perspective on the two different views of the role of government and help clarify the likely political struggles ahead in environmental and energy policies.
Being informed about the origins of conflicting views is essential in a democratic society, but it is important to not become immobilized by them. Conservation, efficiency and renewable energy sources give individuals and their communities a measure of energy independence and contribute to rebuilding the local economy. Attending the Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 13-14 at Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill., will provide additional ideas, stimulation and interactions with knowledgeable individuals.
Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail email@example.com.
From the June 15-21, 2011 issue