Different writings give different possible solutions to achieve sustainable development. Rogers, Jalal & Boyd (2008: 23 & 24) quoted a nine ways to achieve sustainability: (1) leave everything in the pristine state, or return it to its pristine state, (2) develop so as to not overwhelm the carrying capacity of the system, (3) adopting Kuznets hypothesis, sustainability will take care of itself as economics growth proceeds (4) polluter and victim can arrive at an efficient solution by themselves as in Coase Theorem, (5) let the market take care of it, (6) internalized the externalities, (7) let the national economic accounting systems reflects defensive expenditures, (8) reinvest rents for nonrenewable resources, and (9) leave future generations the options or the capacity to be as well off as we are.
In another perspective, Anwar Ibrahim (1996: 81) believed that growth is necessary, thus the issue is what kind of growth. He highlighted five types of growth with negative consequences to be avoided as identified in the Human Development Report 1996. They are “jobless growth” where economics growth does not come with expansion of employment opportunities, “ruthless growth” in which the fruits of economics growth mostly benefit the rich, “voiceless growth”, which does not empowered people but silences alternative voices, “rootless growth” that causes the people’s cultural identity to wither and “futureless growth”, where the present generation squanders the resources needed by future generations. The last type of growth may directly more related to the issue of sustainability, however jobless, ruthless and voiceless growth widen inequality, which in turn increase the dominance of rich/capitalist group and threaten sustainability development as well. In Dietz & Neumayer’s (2009) term, those types of growth threaten equity within human generation. Inequality of income causes segregation of community into rich group that dominate resources but lavishly wasting resources to fulfill their own luxury lifestyles and poor group that deprived of necessity in their daily living. Therefore, Anwar (1996: 81) urged that aim of economic pursuit should be the development of Confucianism’s Perfect Man (chun tzu) who is loyal to his moral nature and treats others as himself (shu) or its parallel version of Islamic tradition of insan salih, the Virtuous Man, and not the Promethean man of secular humanism. Thus, can ethic/moral ensure sustainable development?
Moral society for sustainable development
Moral can be simply referred to “good conduct or behavior” so that ethics is the philosophy addressing morality. Despite different debate on morality (known as moral relativism), there are needs for certain guiding moral principles to enable sustainable development. Possible inputs for those principles ranged from various ethics philosophies to religion teachings of both the East and West. Christianity warns its believers to be on guard against all kinds of greed as a person’s life does not consist of an abundance of possessions. In the Public Forum on Eradicating Poverty for Sustainable Development, Rev. Pax Tan (2010), Senior Director of Malaysian Christian Association for Relief quoted Matt. 19:21 (New International Version), saying that Jesus advised, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”. In addition, Luke (14: 12-14; Good News Bible) wrote that Jesus also urged his believer to be compassionate by giving food to the poor, the crippled and the blind. This is because those poor and unfortunate people are not able to repay back, thus God will repay the givers on the day the good people rise from death. According to Rogers, Jalal & Boyd (2008: 68), Buddhism teaches that by the thirst for the riches, the foolish man destroys himself as if he was his own enemy while Hinduism believes that when one has the golden gift of commitment, he/she has everything. Furthermore, Islam believes that it is difficult for a person laden with riches to climb the steep path that lead to bliss while Taoism teaches that one who know he/she has enough is rich. These religions teachings could act as guiding principles to create a moral society for sustainable development.
“Sustainable” implies continuity from generation to generation, hence requires the spirit of altruism. On the spirit of altruism, Kong Qiu (more famously known as Confucius) proposed the concept of ren (Man), which actually refers as “benevolent love” by Dubs (1951: 48) or “human-heartedness”, “humanity” and “virtue” in other writings. Confucian’s ren (written as 仁) is different from the normal meaning for “human” (also pronounce ren, but written as 人). Ren is epitomized in the concept of shu (恕), which can be loosely translated as ‘reciprocity’. Therefore, a human practicing benevolent love, shu and other Confucius moral elements is known as Perfect Man. Shu teaches the golden rule of “do not do to other what you do not like other to do to you”. Holding these principles as ethics codes, human will not try to harm others as they do not wish for other to harm them. More specifically to overcome greed for sustainable development, the capitalists may continue to maximize profit through ethical means without exploiting labors, damaging the environments or depriving any sustainable ability of their future generations as if they will be in their children’s, grandchildren’s or great-grand children’s position. This mirrors Max Weber’s spirit of capitalism where ethical pursuit of economic gain and worldly activities as in Protestant ethics been given positive spiritual and moral meaning. However, with the element of filial piety (xiao, written as 孝) in Confucianism, benevolent love is greater towards immediate family and decreasing towards lesser known person. As a result, it has bred nepotism, which in turn bred corruption and antagonism between different alliances as happened during feudal dynasty era in China but still exist in contemporary era. Corruption and nepotism have been identified in this paper as critical factors endangering sustainable development. Thus, how can the concept of ren or benevolent love enable sustainable development? The answer is neo-Confucianism concept of ren that popularized by Han Yu (768-824) and Li Ao (deceased 844) at the end of T’ang dynasty. They, especially the former have consolidated the main critics of Confucianism, namely Mohist (universal love) and Taoism school (tao). Dubs (1951: 52) claimed Han Yu famously wrote “a universal love (bo-ai) constitutes benevolent love (ren); to practice this virtue constitutes righteousness (yi) and to follow this virtue constitutes the Confucian Way (dao, which its similarity or different with Taosim’s tao remain a philosophy debate until now)”. Differentiated treatment between family and non-family has been part and parcel of oriental communities’ cultures regardless of ethnic or religion beliefs. Hence, Han Yu’s idea therefore implies universal altruism without abandoning filial piety duty, could be a more practical way towards a moral society for sustainable development.
Western philosophy like Kantian ethics also offers principles for creation of a moral society. In his Categorical Imperative, deception and coercion are prohibited as those acts treat human only as mean while Kant’s maxims require everyone to treat any person not only as mean but always at the same time as an end. In addition, one should choose the end that is ‘right’ and not the end that is ‘good’ as the later could be good for particular person (e.g. capitalist, political lobbyist) or own self while the former is universally applicable. His ethics philosophy requires human to act on non-contradictory maxims that could be a universal law. Thus, applying Kantian ethics could theoretically eliminate situations like capitalist taking advantage of labor’s desperation for job, banks taking advantage of desperate borrowers by charging high interests and bribing or deceiving authorities for unfair benefit (O’Neill, 2007: 557).
However, both neo-Confucianism and Kantian ethnics may only survive in hypothetical world. To create a ‘utopian’ moral society in a country, an ethical political regime is crucially needed. Yet, what forms of political system can enable that? Is it democracy? How about socialism? Can dictatorship regime enable moral society? In his The Republic, Plato once suggested philosopher kings ruling system that mirror totalitarian system but in practical, not every ruler is a philosopher king. The wisdom and kindness of socialism governments have never stop being criticized by democracy supporters. Like others, democracy system (e.g. representation through election and majority system) and therefore its government (or even civil society) has its own critical fundamental defect too. Nobody can guarantee all voters (the society) are wise and ethical. Moreover, the statistical theory of normal distribution claims that average person type has the most numbers as compare to the above and below-average type. Hence, can a majority of average-type voters guarantee an ethical political regime? There is only one – a society where each member is a philosopher king! Under such situation, there is even no need of government or law but such thing is no more than utopian dream. Nonetheless, if perfection can’t be achieved, at least sowing ethics value, particularly to young generations through education can minimize the negative effects of greed like exploitation and corruption. Besides, luxury lifestyles must also be reduced by eliminating egoism and promoting moderation. There are no short of philosophies and religion teachings that promote moderation. The prominent ones are Aristotle’s Doctrine of Golden Mean, Islam Hadari (moderate Islam) and Buddhism “middle path”. Despite ‘promoting’ greed is good, Adam Smith’s idea of free market originated from his Theory of Moral Sentiments that uphold moral value in society and economics. Thus, the world could at least try to turn to religion and moral philosophy to neutralize the evil side of greed and create a moral society for sustainable development. Indeed, Occidentalism also pin-point that lack of religious belief enables greed to manifest itself in money capitalism, which is blamed as the root to all evil.
Sustainable population and agriculture state
Neither ethics nor any moral society could enable sustainable development if population grows uncontrollably at exponential rate. On the other way, ethics and moral may have at lest limited population growth to a more healthy level. The reasoning is as simple as an old fable on limiting the number of goat to each villager to rear so that the goats will not diminish the grass (food) for the benefit of all. Unethical villager will try to cheat by rearing extra goat to his own benefit at the expanse of others. The lesson of this fable is that if the population of goats continuously increasing, the grass will not grow fast enough, hence unsustainable. As a result, the goat population will suffer or dwindle due to subsistence factor as in Malthus’s theory. However, ethics may have prevent cheating or enable a utilitarian solution that promote sustainability.
Reduction in population should be enhanced by increase in food production. Over passion on industrialization has to be curbed and agriculture states should be restored. In economic sense, continuous increases in agriculture price may add incentive for countries to revert completely or partially to modern agriculture based economy. Industrialization need not to be stopped but should be highly selective to embark on only necessary industrialization projects. In Islamic perspective, Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat (2009), a religious leader and Chief Minister of Kelantan state explained that agriculture is one of the ways to earn merit as long as it is embarked ethically or in a halal way. Besides returning profit to the planters, they will also get merit if the agriculture outputs (from gardening to commercial planting) benefit other people and animals. However, agriculture activities should be cultivated on rightful soil, ethical in buying inputs (example fertilized) and paying workers. Thus, what else hinder the world to revive the glory of agriculture states?
Come 21st December 2012, the world may end as predicted by the Mayan. If this Mayan prophecy did not materialized, how long can the world’s limited resources sustain unlimited wants of mankind? Greed and population as in the concept of Yin-Yang, have both black and white side. Thus, excessive greed should be contained by various ethics codes in a moral society. Population growth should be controlled to a sustainable level while supplies of foods are best enhanced by revival of modern agriculture states.
[This posting is extract from Chapter 1 of Sustainable development weltanschauung: Beyond theories into reality. [ISBN: 978-983-053-600-2]
The author would like to express his appreciation to those who help to enable this chapter and book to be published.