In 1960 Kingsley Amis coined the phrase ‘more means worse’. He was referring specifically to the then proposed massive increase in tertiary education, and his expression was a reference to what he imagined would be poor quality increased higher education. The saying has since been applied widely. It isn’t universally true. Expanded education has allowed the middle class to grow in countries where previously there were multitudes of very poor and a minute ruling, often despotic, group of leaders. A healthy Middle Class is key to helping the poorest move above the poverty line, even though it coincidentally creates a super-rich class.
For people to enjoy life they need the basics of food, clothing, shelter, health and work. For people to enjoy a better life, add mobility, connectivity and fun that costs a lot more money. Raising large numbers of people to this stage in a relatively short time has only been possible by providing more of everything. Unfortunately, the planet cannot provide the volumes that such higher standards of living demand. More that was good also produced more that was polluting and planet-threatening. More may mean good in a limited context but much more certainly means disaster.
There are still plenty of people at the bottom end of enjoyable lives. Good souls – perhaps you included – devote time, effort and money to helping them. It is a noble effort, rightly praised. But as people benefit from a higher standard of living they acquire a taste for even further improvement. In business terms that means growth. But volume growth is not universally, eternally sustainable. Instead of growth being volume throughput it has also become technological advance, clever processing and bright innovations.
The planet is now seriously threatened and the steps we can take to redress the damage we have done, and continue to do, to it are long-term – beyond the life of any parliament, beyond even the extended life medicine and education have allowed each of us to enjoy. Why does the sense of legacy, of conservation, of interest in future generations, seem to be diminishing? It is a paradox that the further ahead we are able to see, the more limited our vision becomes.
The issues are so big that the individual imagines s/he can contribute only insignificantly by taking the small steps available, especially when everyone else seems to ignore them. The message today has to be that every small step in the right direction is providing an example to others to follow. Example is still our greatest teacher- of both good and bad. We must put it to work.
The most important contribution to making the world more habitable and life more generous is, paradoxically, for us to consume less. That doesn’t mean we have to wear hair shirts and suffer massive deprivation of comfort or fun. It means we have to relearn the meaning of moderation. The benefits of one less drink, one less meal a week, are instant. Health improves and life seems brighter. The benefits of conserving our beautiful planet are longer-term. Those who succeed us will perceive what we did. We will have been their example.
Perhaps one day, many years from now, someone will ask ‘who were the clever people who first realised that moderation made for a better life?’
How wonderful if they are your descendents and they realise it was you.
What an accolade if future generations credit us with the inspiration ‘Less Means Better’.