vs Buddhist Economics___
by John Dwyer
his essay "Can Technology Be Humane", Paul Goodman
makes an interesting claim about the nature of modern science
and technology. Basically, he argues that there is nothing intrinsically
wrong with a technological civilization but rather that
the problem lies in the way that it has been dominated by government
bureaucrats, self-interested corporations, and a bloated educational
system. The fundamental failure of modern civilization is that
it has become over-technologized.
believes that the twin western emphasis on rationalism and the
scientific way of life is a good thing. These concepts
reflect not only our culture but also encompass our moral
core. They have been prostituted to the extent that mechanical
systems of production and the bureaucratic emphases on centralization
and specialization are destroying personal relationships and
community values. The term destruction is highly appropriate
because modern science and technology:
longer can claim to be improving the quality of life
of the inhabitants of the advanced countries.
Are wasteful, not only in the production of entirely unnecessary
goods and gadgets but also in the duplication of efforts.
Treat human beings as things rather than serve their
Create incredibly complex systems that can no longer solve local
or community problems effectively.
Result in ecological breakdown.
Reward triviality, corruption, and phoniness.
of these problems is inherent in science and technology itself,
argues Goodman. They are the effect of moral corruption. Science
and technology have fallen willingly under the dominion of money
attempt to solve this problem is partial and traditional.
For example, he claims that a moral reformation must
occur that puts technology and science back into its rightful
place. In other words, he advocates a return to the moral
values of the Western (i.e. largely Protestant) past without
being able to say exactly what shape that reformation will take.
But he does provide some guidelines by suggesting that the new
reformation will involve considerable decentralization and
localization of the funding for scientific and technological
research. Moreover, there will need to be a new emphasis on
the more prudent development of technology to serve human
needs. Finally, future technological development will need to
be more ecologically sound, meaning that researchers
will need to focus onthe appropriateness of technology
to the physical and human environments where it will be applied.
agenda means a return to a more pure and ethically sound form
of the scientific way of life. Despite the fact that
Goodman believes that communal decisions are too important to
leave to scientists and technicians; and despite his interest
in the development of scientifically knowledgeable citizens;
Goodman has a special role for those engaged in the scientific
and technological professions. He wants to revive scientific
and technological attitudes that existed in the past:
three hundred years, science and scientific technology had an
unblemished and justified reputation as a wonderful adventure,
pouring out practical benefits, and liberating the spirit from
the errors of superstition and traditional fail. During this
century they have finally been the only generally credited system
of explanation and problem solving.
key to reformation is to develop scientific and technological
professionals with character and moral fibre. They should
be trained not only in their specialization, but also in the
"social sciences, law, the fine arts, and medicine, as
well as relevant natural sciences."
new kind of scientific and technological professional - the
technologist - will be an individual who accepts responsibility
for his/her actions; stands up to "the front office and
urban politicians"; and belongs to a professional organization
that supports this new ethic of responsibility. Thus, Goodman
is able to get around the major problem facing those who believe
in the power of technology when wisely used - the fact that
it gives those engaged in science and technology considerable
power in wider society.
there are lots of problems in Goodman's reformation scenario.
While he suggests that modern technology society is a highly
complex and interlocked system, he appears to believe
that we can still return to the more simple values of the past.
While he decries the modern educational system - with its specializations
endless "catechism of tests" - he still believes that
the education of scientists and technicians can somehow be reformed
and made more ethically meaningful. Goodman puts his faith in
a spiritual revival that he sees developing all around
him as people begin to question the loss of meaning in modern
life in affluent societies.
emphasis is on a spiritual revival. He thinks that the "present
difficulty is religious and historical". Simply to try
to eliminate corruption or change institutions would not be
sufficient for Goodman. What is really necessary is "to
alter the entire relationship of science, technology, and social
needs both in men's minds and in fact." He thinks that
it is because the spiritual, or moral focus if you will,
has been lost, that we have got ourselves into a serious problem.
He thinks that problem is evidenced in modern culture. As he
says: "Without moral philosophy, people have nothing but
sentiments." We can see those inchoate sentiments displayed
on talk shows like Oprah every day, when people without any
clear philosophy of life clap whenever they hear a sentiment
with which they can agree.
emphasis on spiritual revival is intrinsically western, i.e.
Protestant. Goodman doesn't really define this Protestant mind
set very well, but clearly it involves a certain set of values
A commitment to western rationalism and, in particular, scientific
Faith in the freedom and power of the individual.
A desire to investigate God's nature and discover (not manufacture)
A firm belief in the power of science and technology to improve
the human condition.
you tease out some of these western values, however,
you might want to ask yourself whether they are not part of
the problem rather than the solution. The emphasis on logic
and reason tends to lead towards excessive rationalism and the
loss of a spiritual core. The hegemony of the individual leads,
if not towards selfishness, at least towards self-centeredness.
The attempt to discover nature's secrets implies scientific
complexity and the kind of specialization that givens science
and technology a hegemonic position. The belief in the power
of science and technology elevates those activities even further
until they become a substitute for spirituality.
criticisms are especially valid if one stops to look at the
structure of Goodman's argument. The article hinges on spirituality,
but there is nothing especially spiritual about Goodman's argument.
If this is a "Protestant" analysis, then why is there
no discussion of heaven or the relationship between heaven and
earth. Goodman appears to want to define his spirituality
in terms of moral philosophy, but that only begs the question.
How can a moral philosophy be spiritual without a deeper religious
core? If moral philosophy replaces religion doesn't that pave
the way for making any kind of spiritual argument irrelevant.
What Goodman mentions but doesn't show us is the way that Western
rationalism (particularly Protestantism) evolved into a special
combination of materialism with bureaucratic rationalism that
made science and technology less humane.
the fact that Western rationalism has led to greater materialism
and less spirituality, it is not surprising that many of those
who seek to reassert an element of spirituality into our modern
technology have looked to other spiritual systems. One of the
most influential religious systems that are transforming our
way of looking at science and technology is Buddhism. In "Buddhist
Economics", for example, E.F. Schumacher tries to show
us that Buddhism offers an alternative spiritual approach that
could help not only the advanced nations but also those nations
that are confronting scientific and technological development
in an effort to improve the conditions of life in poor regions.
was a German born, British practicing, economist. His understanding
of Buddhism is limited largely to a few basic principles such
as: right livelihood, the middle way, non-violence and
the eight-fold path. He applies these principles rather crudely
in his own philosophy of appropriate or intermediate
technology. Before discussing his argument, therefore, we
might want to say a few things about Buddhism and its spiritual
is sometimes describes as religion without a God. There is no
God in Buddhism because spirituality revolves around a personal
awakening. That awakening, usually achieved through meditation,
allows the individual to realize that there is no such thing
as the self and that all life is interconnected. The
spiritual core of Buddhism is self-annihilation or nothing.
Once the interconnectedness of life is understood there is no
thing that anyone can cling to. Liberation is achieved through
letting go of all attachments. The full process of liberation
can take a long time, since Buddhists believe in reincarnation.
life is interconnected and even inert materials like rocks are
at some level animate for the Buddhist. The unnecessary destruction
of any living thing is a consequence of believing that all things
are on a spiritual path towards awakening. To perform unnecessary
violence on any living thing, especially the higher forms of
mammals, is morally wrong for Buddhists, who practice the principle
of non-violence. Some monks will even try to stay as still as
humanly possible so as not to disturb even the microscopic forms
of life around them.
some stricter forms of Buddhism, the practical consequences
of this position can be quite extreme. The individual focuses
totally on the awakening process and gives up everything that
is not necessary to support life. The Buddhist monk carries
a begging bowl and receives food from others, who benefit spiritual
by supporting those who are on a more direct path to
enlightenment. The monk gives up all craving for material objects,
living as simply as possible so as not to be deflected from
his/her goal. In strict monastic societies, almost all forms
of technology are considered useless since they do not
further one's spiritual journey.
is usually the less strict forms of Buddhism that interest Western
critics of science and technology. These forms of Buddhism,
including Zen, are not monkish, at least not in the traditional
sense. Practitioners believe that spirituality is not only for
austere monks but that the average person can achieve an awakening.
The average individual, of course, has to live and work in the
material world. In order to make a living, individuals will
need to utilize the different forms of technology that are available.
Living and working in the material world is often referred to
as the "Middle Way" to spiritual development. It means
being able to live and work in the world but without clinging
to worldly things.
is a difficult concept to translate. But basically it involves
appreciating the things of this life - love, sex, food, clothing,
shelter, and cultural trappings - for what they are and nothing
more. One can enjoy the things of this life even more as a Buddhist
because one isn't so attached to them as to crave them. Craving
things means objectifying and deifying objects. It implies
greed and possessiveness. It involves violence
in trying to control things and competitiveness with
others to get one's share of them.
Middle Way involves moderation. A Buddhist can take what
they need from the material world, but they lose their spiritual
center whenever the things of this world take over their minds.
Also, since everything is connected, any abuse of the things
of this world, through over consumption or waste, means committing
violence on nature. Nature, of course, means both human
nature and the physical world since there is not the same distinction
that exists in Christianity. Whereas in Christianity, man is
given dominance over nature, in Buddhist mankind and nature
are one. Any harm done to nature is the same as doing harm to
in the material world is doable for the moderate Buddhist but
only on his/her own terms. In any society, there will exist
a range of occupations or ways of making a living. Many of these
are harmful or wasteful occupations that any self-respecting
Buddhist would naturally shun. As for those occupations that
are not intrinsically wrong, a moderate Buddhist would tend
to choose ones that "nourished and enlivened the higher
man and urged him to produce the best he is capable of."
In other words, one's occupation should be more than simply
a way of making a living, it should encourage the development
of one's spiritual personality."
is an important term in moderate Buddhism. It is important not
to get it confused with the Christian, specifically Protestant,
concept of work. In Protestant theology, work is a way of disciplining
ourselves and keeping our bodies and ourselves obedient. We
discover fulfillment through the pursuit of our vocation,
which we are supposed to do to the best of our ability. But,
as fulfilling as work is, it still remains a punishment for
our sins. In the moderate forms of Buddhism, whatever one does,
particularly one's work, is part of one's spiritual path. Labour,
particularly labour that is of benefit to others, is fundamentally
Protestantism, it doesn't matter what one does for a living,
provided it is not evil. The point is individual discipline
and self-control. The emphasis is on the self-development of
the worker. In Buddhism, the relationship is much more complex,
the kind of work that one does really matters and the entire
point of labour is the maximization of selflessness. Whatever
one does, one does it to the best degree possible, not out of
a desire for individual creativity or achievement, but out of
a selfless desire to contribute to the well being of others.
key work in the moderate Buddhist paradigm, and one that is
strangely missing from Schumacher's essay is compassion.
Material life is a painful journey for every living being. The
natural response is to feel compassion. By feeling compassion
for others, one feels less for oneself. That's why it is important
to pick an occupation - a right livelihood - where one is doing
good for others. That's also why it is important, however insignificant
one's task, that one do it as selflessly as possible.
tends to mix up Protestant and Buddhist principles when he talks
about the "nourishing and enlivening factor of disciplined
work". His view of the importance of labour and full-employment
is inherently Western. To put it bluntly, a Buddhist doesn't
need a job, occupation or craft to achieve personal dignity
or "to display his scale of values and develop his personality."
A Buddhist can practice right-livelihood as a monk, as a wife,
or in any kind of labour that contributes to the human weal.
Moreover, it is misleading to talk about terms like personal
dignity and the development of a personality through work. Spirituality
comes from within; spirituality is what forms personality; and
spirituality needs no scale on which to display itself.
focus on these differences? Well, they are important. A good
Protestant needs work to define and nourish himself or herself.
A good Buddhist doesn't define himself or herself by their work.
A good Protestant needs a job and a respectable position in
society much more than a good Buddhist does. A good Buddhist
is much more discriminating about what they will and will not
do to secure a right livelihood. This makes the Buddhist
much freer to choose in a modern economy than someone with a
Christian background. The Buddhist?s dignity is not tied to
occupational respectability. A Buddhist would prefer to do a
job that is trivial and demeaning than one that is personally
nourishing and enlivening, if the latter is in any way harmful.
that we?ve got a handle on the principle behind "Right-Livelihood",
let's unpack its economic implications. A great many occupations
in affluent and technologically advanced societies involve one
or more of the following:
An excessive use of natural resources.
Direct or indirect harm to other living beings or the natural
The exploitation of people for selfish ends.
The manufacture and manipulation of artificial needs (i.e. cravings)
The wasteful consumption of resources.
a nutshell, Buddhism is anti-materialistic and directly opposed
to the ethic of consumerism. While not directly anti-scientific
or anti-technological, moderate Buddhism opposes the use of
science and technology whenever these promote materialism or
consumerism. To the extent that technology has distracted human
beings from their spiritual mission, and increased their materialist
cravings, Buddhists are very effective critics on religious
moderate Buddhism is doubly effective as a critique of technological
society but it incorporates a healthy dose of common sense.
Buddhists were among the first to offer an analysis of the globe
as an interconnected ecosystem that could be irreparably damaged
through wasteful consumption. They were among the first to advocate
the moderate use of resources and to point out the dangers of
a selfish, egotistical and possessive approach to the products
of nature. Because of their emphasis on fairness and compassion
to all living creatures, they were also among the first to defend
the weak against the aggression of the rich and powerful elements
is important to remember that Buddhist common sense comes from
a particular approach to living in the material world. The teachings
of Buddha are obviously common sensical in their emphasis on
a "reverent and nonviolent attitude" not only to sentient
beings, but all living things. This attitude is fundamentally
different from the more rationalist ethic described by Paul
Goodman that arguably led to the nonsensical destruction
of the planet through the aid of science and technology. In
Schumacher's terms, Buddhist common sense leads its followers
to making important distinctions about what constitutes "the
most rational way of economic life."
making some of these distinctions, Schumacher often reads his
own biases into Buddhism. In particular, he transforms Buddhists
into the defenders of alternative or appropriate technologies
that emphasize "simplicity, individual self-worth and self-reliance,
labour intensiveness rather than capital intensiveness, minimum
energy use, consistency with environmental quality, and decentralization
rather than centralization." While Schumacher's emphasis
on the self is completely alien to Buddhist philosophy,
he is quite right about some of these things. For example, all
Buddhists regard it as important to conserve as much energy
as possible. All Buddhists would agree that it is important
to live a simple life, and to provide for basic human needs
on the small and modest scale rather than to produce large quantities
of disposable goods. Buddhism remains one of the most effective
critiques of a consumer society, driven by constant cravings
rather than genuine needs, in our age. As for the environment,
suffice it to say that the North American environmental movement
adopted Buddhist concepts from its infancy. In fact, the author
of the America's first recognizably environmental work, David
Thoreau in Walden, was obviously influenced by eastern
problem with Schumacher is that he makes Buddhists sound like
technological reactionaries and even rural primitives. Nothing
could be further from the truth Buddhists were among the first
to embrace the computer and information revolution, and for
spiritual reasons. The Internet conforms to the Buddhist notion
of an interlinked global network that transcends physical space.
It also provides opportunities for greater understanding and
communication between cultures. Greater understanding leads
to greater identification, and greater identification leads
moderate Buddhist emphasis on justice and compassion means that
modern communications technologies must be used to promote
a more global community. Just because these global technologies
also advance a corporate and consumerist agenda, that doesn't
mean that they shouldn't be used for other purposes. Moderate
Buddhists are more than willing to embrace new technologies
whenever and wherever they can serve a human and an ecological
economics, as Schumacher invented it, is not one that would
necessarily prefer a local or small-scale perspective to a global
one. In some situations, the local viewpoint is common-sensical
and most conservative of scarce resources. But in some cases,
problems and solutions must be dealt with on a global basis.
Buddhists are among the most active advocates of a global political
community. A global political community in some ways implies
a global economy. Moreover, only a globally based economy based
on technology can improve the conditions of life of the poorest
regions of the globe. The Buddhist imperative of compassion
means that we need to use technology to improve the global community.
course, using technology as a tool doesn't mean becoming obsessed
by it or craving the useless products that can be manufactured
by modern technological systems. Centralization in some respects
does not deny decentralization, and the preservation of local
cultures, in others. The point is that Buddhism, at least in
its moderate forms, is not anti-technological. It does, however,
appear to have the spiritual capacity for subsuming and
restraining technological and economic progress within certain
bounds. There is no given appropriate technology for
Buddhists; what Buddhism appears to have is a clear idea of
the appropriate path that economics and technology should
take. What is particularly interesting about Buddhism, as opposed
to Western religious systems, is the confidence, vitality and
flexibility of Buddhism in the face of technological progress.
appears equally revealing, Goodman's plea for a new Protestant
reformation notwithstanding is the powerlessness of unreformed
Christianity to direct, or stem the tide, of technological progress
that no longer contributes to the quality of life. Perhaps Western
religion is paralyzed because it sowed many of the seeds of
rationalism and materialism that now confront us. It is fascinating
that the most clear examples of a Christian reformation expressly
designed to meet modern challenges is borrowing heavily from
non-Western religious traditions such as North American native
society and Buddhism that described a very different kind of
relationship between nature, man and the divine.