May 2011 Archives

Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 5)

|

insoluble

Almost half way through the list of 10 properties of wicked problems. The next is 5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly. This gets bit tricky as it is not as obvious as many of the other nine. Rittel and Webber say:

In the sciences and in fields like mathematics, chess, puzzle-solving or mechanical engineering design, the problem-solver can try various runs without penalty. . . A lost chess game is seldom consequential for other chess games or for non-chess-players. . . With wicked planning problems, however, every implemented solution is consequential. It leaves "traces" that cannot be undone. One cannot build a freeway to see how it works, and then easily correct it after unsatisfactory performance. Large public-works are effectively irreversible, and the consequences they generate have long half-lives. Many people's lives will have been irreversibly influenced, and large amounts of money will have been spent--another irreversible act. . . Whenever actions are effectively irreversible and whenever the half-lives of the consequences are long, every trial counts. And every attempt to reverse a decision or to correct for the undesired consequences poses another set of wicked problems, which are in turn subject to the same dilemmas.

I do not entirely agree with this point, or at least with the tone of their statement. Almost everything we do in life, other than the most routine acts, as individuals or as agents acting on behalf of others is some form of a one-shot deal. When a single agent is acting, he or she can observe the immediate, proximate consequences of the act, both intended and unintended, and act to correct what has just happened, learning in the process. R & W are pointing to solutions that require significant investment in time and resources. Once the system is in place and ‘turned on,” there is no going back to square one. That part of their description is OK, but the inability to learn seems too harsh a criticism. Learning almost always occurs, but may be of little use because the required resources, real and political, will have been expended. R & W were addressing the planning profession and the failure of many large-scale public programs of that era, which do fit the argument here.

Exceptions do occur. Today the Swiss government announced that all five of their nuclear power plants would be shut down at the end of their current licenses, and no further construction would be allowed. The experience in Japan has provided a learning moment for the Swiss. If the consequences of being wrong are so high that the risk is not worth taking, the option to stop, admit the error of the present plan, and look for another solution to the original problem, which was electricity supply for the country is a form of learning.

The unsustainable course our global society is on is a problem of greater importance that any other. We cannot let concerns with being wrong that might arise from this feature of wicked problems delay action. Knowing that the solution, whether a new set of policies or new technology or any other change in the societal cultural structure, will almost certainly not do exactly what was projected and might even make matter worse could cause risk averse actors to delay action for fear of being held accountable for the inevitable gap between reality and plan. Action is critical now. This property (#5) suggests that relying on large dramatic programs, like geo-engineering, to solve the climate change problem are imprudent. R & W’s warning fits this case. This solution may look good on computer simulations, but these are more like the chess games that are non-consequential.

The alternative is to attempt to get underneath the proximate problem to its roots deep in the culture and try small steps to change behavior to align more with flourishing. Here little steps can be taken with less troublesome consequences. Learning is possible. We know that this is how individuals and organizations learn. Normal routines emerge from small experiments that are successful in solving the problems that are always showing up. Examples of this process in a larger societal sense already are appearing. Experiments in building small-scale local provisioning system, including the use of local currencies, are growing in number and size. These kinds of approaches seem to be able to avoid the severe limitations posed by this property of wicked problems. The transition town concept, preparing for the end of cheap fossil fuel and other irreversible resource patterns, is growing.

With the current popularity of and reliance on big solutions, always the responsibility of someone else, it has been difficult to sell the importance of these smaller culture-changing projects. Technology is still being touted as a way to keep doing what we have been doing in the face of threatening changes in the world. Technology is often a one-shot solution in the sense of this property. We invest heavily in it and then are unwilling to give it up when it no longer satisfies (or never did), and wait for the next innovation that will bring relief. The same can be said of much public policy based on technocratic foundations. The “chess games” economists and other policy planners play on their computers lull them into believing that they have found the answers. They suffer no consequences, except perhaps to reputation, if those answers turn out, as they usually do, to provide less that what was promised. Until we accept that the problems that need attention at the societal or global scale are always wicked problems, we will continue to treat them as tame and continue to make the same mistakes. The properties I have been enumerating in this series of blogs provide, at least to me, compelling evidence that the governance structures now in place have ceased to fit the world of today and cannot deal with the kind of problems that stand between the present unsustainable world and a future full of the promise of sustainability.

Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 4)

|

insoluble

The next property in the list of ten is: 4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem. This property follows from the general characteristics of complexity. These systems include many interlinked feedback loops and delays. Any designed perturbation must work its way through the system, a process which may take a significant time to show up. Rittel and Webber say,

With wicked problems . . . after being implemented, will generate waves of consequences over an extended--virtually an unbounded--period of time. Moreover, the next day's consequences of the solution may yield utterly undesirable repercussions which outweigh the intended advantages or the advantages accomplished hitherto. In such cases, one would have been better off if the plan had never been carried out.

The implications of this feature to the agents acting to produce some desired change are obvious. The system being governed (not managed) demands continuous monitoring by those agents or others who have been made responsible for observing the system behavior. They must watch carefully for signs of success as well as signs of unintended consequences. These latter results should never be called side-effects, a term that suggests that they are minor contrasted to the intentions. They are just as much a result of the actions taken as those outcomes that were intended.

The efforts of individual actors intended to produce “sustainability” must therefore be viewed with suspicion. This suspicion has nothing fundamental to do with the intentions of these actors, but with the nature of the problems they purport to address. As I often write, what most business, government, and individual actors act to change is the unsustainable predicted course of the Earth system. Unsustainability is a constellation of problems, the scope of which are to be addressed depends on the actors' choice of arena for action. When these problems, like too much greenhouse gas emissions, are separated from the constellation of problems, they look like ‘tame” problems (albeit complicated ones), amenable to distinctive solutions. Tame solutions are like more efficient energy technology will solve this one, or geo-engineering to increase the Earth’s albedo will allow us to keep doing what we have been doing.

Green or sustainable business practices assume that the results on the system are proportional to their contributions to any reduction in emissions or use of nonrenewable resources. If the problems were truly tame, this might be approximately true, but the problems they are addressing are wicked. Every green solution introduces changes to the system that are either not known to the actors or deemed to be independent of their actions. Buying green products and engaging in green practices, like recycling, can blind the consumer to other unsustainable practices that must be altered. They tend to follow their buying and consuming habits without paying attention to changes in the affected areas they assume they are alleviating. Even if they did, they would not be able to connect all the dots since the effect of their actions is delayed in time and may exacerbate other problem areas.

This property (and others) of wicked problems argues strongly for some sort of coordinated approach where the responsible institution(s) is (are) not only charged with developing the governance strategy but also with monitoring the results. Even though they will not be able to discern the immediate impact, they will have a much better chance for understanding the nature of the problems and how the system responds to deliberate changes. Counting on the intrinsically uncoordinated “free” market coupled with technological innovation to shift from the unsustainable trajectory we are now on to one with possibility for flourishing (sustainability) is folly or worse. Not only does that approach, which is now the framework of choice in the US and much of the rest of the world, completely ignore the wickedness of these problems, it delays any real effort to construct a meaningful attack. Unless there is a swift awakening to the nature and magnitude of the wicked problems of sustainability, there will be no possibility of winning the future, using President Obama’s clumsy metaphor.

Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Property 3)

|

insoluble

Continuing the discussion of Rittel and Webber’s article about wicked problems, the third property is 3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good-or-bad. This follows directly from property 1 which argues that there is no definite way of formulating a wicked problem. If we cannot reduce a wicked problem to a set of analytic relationships, then there is no way of testing the truth of the solution. R & W say:

For wicked planning problems, there are no true or false answers. Normally, many parties are equally equipped, interested, and/or entitled to judge the solutions, although none has the power to set formal decision rules to determine correctness. Their judgments are likely to differ widely to accord with their group or personal interests, their special value-sets, and their ideological predilections. Their assessments of proposed solutions are expressed as "good" or "bad" or, more likely, as "better or worse" or "satisfying" or "good enough."

This reads to me as a plug for pragmatic approaches. Try something sensible based on whatever understanding exists at present and see how the system behaves. Does it appear to be changing in the right direction? The way most economists work is quite the opposite. They act as if economics is a science in the same sense as physics. The Nobel prize for economics only reinforces the idea of analytic purity. Their equations can only predict the way money appears and flows through the economic system. We can measure that outcome of their solutions and decide whether the models on which the solutions are based are true or false, but that’s is as far as we can go. Economic systems provide more than money; they also result is the distribution of wealth and a sense of security, confidence and trust in the system. These latter outcomes are emergent, not analytically driven.

Here, as this property indicates, assessments o the solutions taken can only be qualitative; is the world better (good) or have things declined or stayed the same (bad). This is the essence of pragmatism. Truth as pragmatically defines is tied to the success of deliberate actions taken to produce a desired future state relative to an unsatisfactory present. Further, since the context of real complex systems tends to change continually truths are ephemeral and the system operators or planners must similarly continue to test their solutions via the same criterion of goodness, not analytic correctness.

Sustainability as flourishing is an emergent quality of the Earth system and demands a pragmatic framework to address is absence. That doesn’t happen in our current technocratic mode of operating. We turn to the scientists and engineers (economists and political scientists included) for the solutions to the problems behind unsustainability. The basis of these disciplines is analytic purity or controlled hypothesis testing. No single discipline contains adequate knowledge to fully characterize the system and the root of the problems that exist. Coordination among disciplines is always problematic because the models and jargon are unique to each one.

I believe that many people in high places understand this fundamental limitation of disciplinary knowledge when seeking to “solve” wicked problems, but cannot voice their beliefs in the present political economic climate. Everything we do to muck around in the political economy has to be the one right way to go. Simplicity trumps complexity. This framing won’t take us far in solving the perplexing (that is complex) problems of most importance. What is desperately needed is the application of phronesis (prudence), the form of knowledge the Greek claimed was needed for governing the polis. Prudence is another way of speaking about pragmatism, using understanding acquired through experience and observation to intervene in the affairs of the city. I am not at all sanguine about the possibility that wisdom (another name for the understanding gleaned from experience) can find a place in major institutions. Without more wisdom and less “truths,” sustainability and its primary manifestation, flourishing, is unlikely to appear even on the horizon.

Back to Basics: Wicked Problems (Properties 1 & 2)

| | Comments (1)

insoluble

This is my first post as an octogenarian; my birthday was yesterday. It doesn’t seem much different today. The world out there is in just as bad shape. My last post was an introduction to the idea of wicked problems. Here’s the next installment. Rittel and Webber list 10 properties of this class of problems. I’ll take a few at a time. It’s important to make a connection between their discussion and complexity. With just a small adjustment, their characterization fits any attempt to govern or guide a complex system. The “problem” to be addressed is usually a difference in the present state of the system and that desired. In the cases I write about the problem is the difference between the present world and one where flourishing is present. A rather large “problem,” not to be solved in one step, but nonetheless one that fits the idea of wicked.

R & W start off with property 1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. This seems pretty straightforward. The mere recognition of a difference between what exists at this moment and what we wish for the future is insufficient to characterize the problem. The present context is always, except for trivial cases, going to be full of possible clues to the missing elements and many avenues to follow. Which is the exactly correct one will never be certain, Here is what R & W say:

This is not possible with wicked-problems. The information needed to understand the problem depends upon one's idea for solving it. That is to say: in order to describe a wicked-problem in sufficient detail, one has to develop an exhaustive inventory of all conceivable solutions ahead of time. The reason is that every question asking for additional information depends upon the understanding of the problem--and its resolution--at that time. Problem understanding and problem resolution are concomitant to each other. Therefore, in order to anticipate all questions (in order to anticipate all information required for resolution ahead of time), knowledge of all conceivable solutions is required. . . .The formulation of a wicked problem is the problem!

To address sustainability, one has to ask what are the root causes, not a simple questions. Is hyper-consumption the culprit. Is it the huge inequalities in income and wealth that drive unsustainability. Is it too many people? And on and on. And what if it is all the above and more. Where does one begin? These are the questions that are huge obstacles contrasted with the formulation of “tame” problems—problems that can be reduced to a few analytic expressions where the initial and boundary conditions are clearly defined.

Wicked problems like sustainability are virtually always attacked by a large body of “problem-solvers“ including the many stakeholders interested in the outcome. And because these stakeholders see different aspects of the problem, they will define the issues according to their own framing. And if those managing the project, whether it is the development of a plan to wean energy use away a reliance on fossil fuels or a project to create a local currency, do not involve the stakeholders in the formulation of the program from the get-go, the outcome of the efforts will rarely satisfy those brought into the process later.

This characteristic of wicked problems is at the heart of my much repeated litany that reducing unsustainability (greening) is not the same as creating sustainability. Greening always involves only tame problems. Get the toxics out of the detergent. Make the product more recyclable. Reduce the carbon footprint. Solutions to these problems may not be easy but they are tame in the sense that they can be reduced to a bounded set of characterizations of what is wrong and then what has to be done. Companies can take on the problems in their laboratories and product development ateliers without any consultation with outside stakeholders, claiming that the problem is purely technical. The answers may not be nice to live with as, for example, when the technical solutions do not line up with their economic consequences.

Greening solutions always address only a minute part of the sustainability challenge. Flourishing is a property of the entire global system or a major portion thereof. One firm’s actions or even a coordinated effort by a group of actors cannot reflect the complexity of the issue of sustainability. Progress toward sustainability can be made only after all those involved in aiming toward it accept the wickedness they are dealing with. All the stakeholders must be brought in. Since some of these are non-human and others not yet born, the problem holders (those with a commitment to take action) will always have a huge barrier to even get started. The need to involve many stakeholders suggested (to me) that governments or large NGOs must play the convening role. Business has too narrow a focus and little competence in this role. Until the major players of this moment in time accept the wicked nature of sustainability problems, little progress can be made. The inability of the appropriate existing institutions to step out of the conventional reductionist, disciplinary frameworks further confounds progress. Time is passing and the problems are likely to become more and more wicked.

The next property in the list is 2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule. The nature of the context out of which wicked problems materialize is one of constant change. The world in which we seek sustainability is always in a state of flux. The solution path we began to follow earlier may no longer be constructive and the underlying roots of the problem may have changed. R & W say:

The planner terminates work on a wicked problem, not for reasons inherent in the "logic" of the problem. He stops for considerations that are external to the problem: he runs out of time, or money, or patience. He finally says, "That's good enough," or "This is the best I can do within the limitations of the project," or "I like this solution," etc.

The planner in R & W’s context corresponds to some institutional body that undertakes a program to solve the wicked problems of sustainability. So far no organization has taken up that challenge, so the implications of item 2 are moot. It may be that potential organizations already recognize this feature of wicked problems and know that they do not have the institutional patience or time to make a commitment. The attention span and programmatic horizons of the US political system are much too short to enable a realistic embrace of the whole problem of sustainability.

The way we have dealt with the financial crisis of 2008-9 exemplifies these two characteristics of wicked problems. Those seeking to recover the health of the system erred in looking for the singular culpable party or causal factor. The political system charged with keeping this system healthy just cannot deal with wicked problems. Congressional hearings need to produce quick and simple answers that the politicians and the media can compress into sound bites. Then the actual response has to be sure and work quickly, ignoring the second feature that argues that any solution must be seen as temporary in the sense that the system has to be watched very carefully and continually adjusted as those in change acquire more understanding about what is happening. Now, stop and think about the context for sustainability. Don’t linger too long as the result may be a severe case of depression arising from the awareness of the immensity of the task and the inadequacy of the response.

These features of wicked problems—culture change by design is always a set of wicked problems—is what convinced me that the best chance for success is a small-scale, subversive program. Every activity would take on a small set of cultural factors and attempt to replace them with new structures that would move cultural behaviors toward those aligned with sustainability. Greening is not the same as it leaves the root causes in place. The subversive framework looks quite messy compared to the nice neat solutions offered up to deal with the tame ones, but maybe their very messiness is better designed to the world of wicked problems.

Back to Basics 7: Complexity and Wicked Problems

|

scaredguy

The new trimester at Marlboro College Graduate Center started this week. I am doing my course on (sustainable?) consumption for the second time and giving another for the first time. This one is designed to tie together the four earlier courses in he Exploring Sustainability sequence and carries the subtitle: Ideas into Action. Preparing and teaching a course always refreshes old ideas and brings new ones to expand what I already have gotten familiar with. I always reread the assignments I give the students and this blog post and others to come arise from this practice.

The introductory reading is a great paper with a not so zingy title, Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, by H. W. J. Rittel and M. M. Webber, published in 1973, but first delivered in 1969. (Click this link to download the paper.) The social context for the paper directed primarily to [urban] policy planning professionals has changed in the forty years that have elapsed, but the basic message is just as fresh and important now as it was then. The authors introduced, or at least popularized, the concept of “wicked” problems, in opposition of what they called “tame” problems. The essence of their argument is that the promise of so-called rational or synoptic planning had not been realized and, according to them, would not be realized with any significant policy problem.

The reason they gave (many others have observed the same limitations, but few have been as articulate as these two) was that the nature of policy problems created by the failure to achieve aspirational ends was misunderstood by the current generation of professionals. Their context was in areas like urban renewal, welfare, building the great interstate highway system, and more. Some of these issues remain high on the public’s agenda, but others have been replaced by sustainability, budget deficits, the stability of the financial system, engagement in military conflicts, and many more. The level of discord may have risen in these forty years, but the intractability of the problems continues to plug along still under the radar screen. The politicians and associated pundits argue for simple, but often contradictory, solutions to these policy messes. We seem to have less patience now to probe deeply into the nature of these problems and into the kinds of approaches that might work.

While not using the term anywhere in their article Rittel and Webber were talking about complex systems and the nature of complexity. Complexity as an idea is quite old, but it is only in the last several decades that it has begun to built an institutional presence, for example, The Santa Fe Institute, founded in 1984, or the Resilience Alliance, started later in 1999. Large socio-economic-technological systems are always complex, and are intractable by the conventional reductionist methodologies that constitute almost all professions, planners and MBAs alike. When businesses were smaller and government was the dominant institution, business strategists might have gotten away with treating their businesses by closed models and analysis. Their individual fortunes would be aggregated by the miracle of the invisible hand. Public policy issues could (and should) be left to the professional planners and economic strategists.

The world of today is not so simple.The dominance of business in scale and scope has begun to dwarf government and business professionals cannot turn away from taking a more central role in planning for and achieving the same broad social ends we have been pursuing for a long time. Those who continue to argue for an “entirely” free market are ignoring the realities of the now deeply interconnected world, and ostrich-like put their heads into the sand. More and more businesses are adding sustainability to their strategy for survival in the market. I read articles everyday claiming that no business can expect to prosper without a “sustainability” strategy, but very few of these businesses have yet to understand the complex nature of sustainability. Of course, I offer my book as a source for beginning to learn about sustainability and complexity, but I also recommend this paper as a primer.

I’ll finish this blog post with some general introductory excerpts from the paper and follow with a few more blogs that get into the specifics of the consequences for strategists of all sorts. I am thinking of strategists as those who are called on to cope with persistent problems that stymie the achievement of their institutions’ aspirations.

The abstract of the paper outlines their story:

The search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail, because of the nature of these problems. They are "wicked" problems, whereas science has developed to deal with "tame" problems. Policy problems cannot be definitively described. Moreover, in a pluralistic society there is nothing like the undisputable public good; there is no objective definition of equity; policies that respond to social problems cannot be meaningfully correct or false; and it makes no sense to talk about "optimal solutions" to social problems unless severe qualifications are imposed first. Even worse, there are no "solutions" in the sense of definitive and objective answers.

After a prologue setting the context for their arguments, which as I noted is somewhat dated in specifics but not in broad significance, they define wicked problems. The definition, itself, is rather unremarkable when read under the light of what we now know about complexity.

The kinds of problems that planners deal with--societal problems--are inherently different from the problems that scientists and perhaps some classes of engineers deal with. Planning problems are inherently wicked.

As distinguished from problems in the natural sciences, which are definable and separable and may have solutions that are findable, the problems of governmental planning--and especially those of social or policy planning--are ill-defined; and they rely upon elusive political judgment for resolution. (Not "solution." Social problems are never solved. At best they are only re-solved--over and over again.) Permit us to draw a cartoon that will help clarify the distinction we intend.

The problems that scientists and engineers have usually focused upon are mostly "tame" or "benign" ones. As an example, consider a problem of mathematics, such as solving an equation; or the task of an organic chemist in analyzing the structure of some unknown compound; or that of the chessplayer attempting to accomplish checkmate in five moves. For each the mission is clear. It is clear, in turn, whether or not the problems have been solved.

Wicked problems, in contrast, have neither of these clarifying traits; and they include nearly all public policy issues--whether the question concerns the location of a freeway, the adjustment of a tax rate, the modification of school curricula, or the confrontation of crime.

What is most remarkable about the article is a list of ten properties of wicked problems that read like a checklist for anyone preparing to attack one. I am saving these for subsequent blogs, but if you can’t wait, download their paper and read on.

Sorry for the Absence

|

absent









I've been out of touch for a few days and will be back in a day or two.

Growthism

|

overstuffed_sally I have just finished teaching a course to my peers at the Harvard Institute of Learning in Retirement. My teaching brackets two widely separated age groups: my 70-80 year-old peers at HILR and the 25-year olds that typify my students at the Marlboro MBA program I often mention. The HILR course, Berry Picking, covered the writing of Aldo Leopold and Wendell Berry with a few extras tossed in. I also finished a class at Marlboro covering much of the same kind of writing.

The Marlboro class centered on the spiritual ground for sustainability; the HILR was more contained, focusing on our (the US) relationship to the land. There is, not surprisingly, much convergence and parallelism between these two. Age did not make much difference. The responses to my questions and the discussion were much the same for both groups. My peers were able to recall more opportunities for appreciation simply out of our longer time on Earth. The student responses made me realize that, in not quite two generations, much has changed in our culture. Most of us could remember times spent much closer to the nature of Aldo Leopold, while the students have lived with more distance between them and that “natural” world. I use quotes because it is very difficult to define nature. All this is preface to the subject I want to discuss.

The last reading at HILR was an essay, “With New Eyes: Seeing the Environment as a Spiritual Issue,” by Paul Brockelman, taken from a collection of essays titled The Greening of Faith, edited by Brockelman and two others. It is an excellent selection of essays, all looking at environment and its predicament through a spiritual lens. His essay, like many in the collection, reminded the reader of the role of religious faith to “provide an overarching interpretive understanding of life as a meaningful whole, including our own role and destiny within it.” This is just one of many images of something whole of which we humans are just a part, but interconnected to everything there. Another essay by a native American spoke of the web of life as a metaphor for that whole. Having established the critical importance of understanding our place within and as a part of the whole, many mourned the loss of that sense in our modern, consumerist political economy, and explained its departure to the reductionist frame of modern thinking.

A key example is in the separation of ecology and economy, both having the same root, oikos, meaning house. Ecology means the study of that house, the whole Earth system that is our ultimate dwelling place, and smaller patches of it. Economy adds a suffix meaning the management of . . . It is easy to guess which is the more important today. Attention to ecology inside and outside of our academies is minuscule compared to economy. That is just the opposite of what it needs to be. Wendell Berry writes of Two Economies: The Great Economy and the little economy. The first is, in my reading, a metaphor for the ecology of the Earth--a description of all the processes of life that are always in motion. The other, the little or industrial economy, is a bit of a pejorative reference to the economy as economists describe the interactions of everything that can be monetized. The failure of the latter to recognize its place inside and tightly connected to the former is to some degree a result of the reductionist way we go about revealing how the world works and of the consequent dividing up the knowledge-creating universe into separate and distinct disciplines.

The failure to put things in the right order has, arguably, been the primary proximate cause of environmental unsustainability. I say only proximate because there are even deeper roots of the problems. Among these roots is the rise of ideologies--broad sets of beliefs about the world. Modern ideologies reflect the deeper worldview of reductionism and hone in one a part of the whole, inevitably causing unintended consequences arising from the omission of a part of the world system that has been either overlooked, ignored, or wished away. The failure to understand the Great Economy has led to a reliance on growth that cannot be sustained. This notion has become so engrained in conventional economics that it has attained, as Brockelman and others in the volume I referred to write, the ideological status of growthism. I hadn't thought about growth as an ideology before in this sense, but of course that is exactly what it has become in every industrial and industrializing economy.

Brockelman continues to explain why a discussion of growthism should appear in a set of essays, entitled, The Greening of Faith. He writes,

If, as Paul Tillich used to insist, religion means simply a group’s “ultimate concern,” then growthism would seem to be our religion and the gross national product our god. But all of that exacerbates the destructive and violent intrusion of human culture into nature [The Great Economy, my addition]. . . At any rate, it is this materialist vision of prosperity, progress, and the good life that seems so rampant in our culture and so destructive to the environment. It is surely unworthy of free men and women. But that religiously oriented and practicing free men and women have shown little interest in questioning such a collapsed spiritual point of view from the perspective of their faith traditions—at least until recently—seems absolutely astounding!

I find it astounding that Brockelman, now Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus, should find it so. These days, hedonic messages straight from the pulpit extol the virtues of wealth and spending it lavishly signal a deep incursion of growthism into the theology of those places of worship. Until the Great Economy replaces its much diminished version out of which growthism comes, I fear there will be no concerted effort to find ways to live within our only true means.