Love can radicalise our economy

Resurgence Trust
Vivien Dinh speaks to Satish Kumar about his new book, 'Radical Love: From Separation to Connection with the Earth, Each Other, and Ourselves'.

The economy should be the means and maintaining the integrity of Nature should be the goal of our society. 

Vivien Dinh (VD): You define love in such broad and wonderful ways and ultimately link it to love of planet Earth as an extension of ourselves. How do you want to inspire others to practise this ‘radical love’?

The SMALL IS THE FUTURE event is taking place on Saturday, 17 June 2023 at the Paintworks, Bristol. Speakers include Satish Kumar, Dr Ann Pettifor, Charlie Hertzog Young, Professor Herbert Girardet and Gareth Dale. Buy tickets here.

Satish Kumar (SK): When one practises hatred one feels uncomfortable, unhappy and worried. So I ask people, “Do you want to be happy or miserable?” No one wants to be miserable. So I say, “Choose love!” That is how I inspire people to practise radical love. 

VD: When did you come to realise how focusing on deepening our relationship with Nature could lead to more loving, compassionate and healthier lives?

SK: When I was on my long walk from India to America I saw that humanity is treating Nature simply as a resource for the economy, for making profit and as a means to an end. The end was and still is ‘economic growth’. We put plastic in oceans, cut down rainforests to make money, destroy biodiversity and emit greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, all for economic growth. It was and still is like a war on Nature. That is when I realised that we have to make peace with our precious planet Earth. We have to live in harmony with Nature, because Nature is not just a resource for the economy, Nature is the source of life itself. The economy should be the means and maintaining the integrity of Nature should be the goal of our society. 

VD: In your chapter ‘Love Economy’, you write about the need to shift from economic growth to growth in wellbeing. Can you give us some ideas on how to do this in everyday life?

SK: Present economic growth is linear. We take things from Nature, use them and throw them away on the rubbish heaps. Our economy is an economy of waste and pollution. We need to shift our focus from economic growth to growth in wellbeing, wellbeing of people and wellbeing of planet. To that end our economy needs to be a circular economy. Whatever we take from Nature must go back to Nature. Moreover, our economy should take care of all people rather than keeping a large percentage of people in poverty. Our economy needs to be free of exploiting people and polluting planet. I call it ‘Love Economy’. 

VD: You also mention in this chapter that a new class of poor will inevitably be created along with economic growth. Can you go into more depth about how a new class of poverty occurs?

SK: When our production of goods is centralised, mechanised and industrialised machines become the masters and people become servants. Then they are a cost, rather than assets. People are replaced by machines. People are no longer needed to make, build or create anything. Robots are built to act like humans, and humans are forced to act like robots. Artificial intelligence makes humans even more superfluous and unnecessary. Smart technologies make humans useless. These useless people are and increasingly will be the new class of poor. Human dignity is gradually being replaced by the obsession with technology. Wealth is and will be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, particularly in the hands of techno giants. 

The economy should be the means and maintaining the integrity of Nature should be the goal of our society. 

VD: In the chapter ‘Localism’, you give percentages of how goods should be distributed: 60 percent locally, 25 percent nationally, and 15 percent globally. How did you determine these percentages? What impact would adhering to these percentages make?

SK: The percentage I am talking about is simply a guideline. It is not a fixed figure. What I mean by localism is that what can be produced locally should be consumed locally. We need to reduce the number of miles goods travel. In the past we have always had trade in tea or spices or silk. But goods and foods of everyday use were provided locally. We did not need to use so much fossil fuel to transport things for everyday use. If this principle is kept in mind and we design our trade policies accordingly the percentages will more or less work out by themselves. Localism is not about narrow-mindedness. We should think globally but shop locally. We should learn about the literature, culture, philosophy and arts of other countries. But our economic footprint on planet Earth should be lighter. Then we will not face big problems like climate catastrophe. 

VD: Can you go into more detail about what Oikonomia (meaning ‘household management’ in Latin, and the root word for economy) is and how it can be a force for good and lead to a Love Economy?

SK: In my understanding Oikonomia is the basis for regenerative economics. The whole of this beautiful planet is our home. Birds in the sky and deer in the forest are members of our planetary home. All members of our Earth home should be respected. Humans are important but so are forests, rivers and animals. As we uphold human rights, we should also respect the rights of Nature. That is what I call Oikonomia. 

VD: You say that two million people is the maximum for how large a city should be. Why is that?

SK: Cities are for people. They should be convivial places to live. At the moment our cities are full of cars, roads and railways. We have lost a sense of neighbourhoods and communities. My dream city is one in which I can walk to shops, schools, surgeries, libraries and restaurants. I want to live in a city where I have friends so that there is no social isolation - a city where there is a sense of belonging. Urban design needs to be based on the idea of ‘small is beautiful’. Therefore a city of two million is my ideal city. But of course, this figure is approximate. I don’t have any dogmatic views. My point is, how can we plan our cities where commerce is compatible with compassion and human dignity? A city should be a community rather than an urban jungle. 

VD: You describe work as 'poetry'. How can one find an occupation that is poetry?

SK: The word ‘poetry’ comes from Greek etymology. It simply means to make;: make with imagination, skills, creativity and love, rather than just copying someone else’s recipes or formulas. Any occupation can be poetic if it is done with these ingredients. A beautiful garden is poetic, any work of original design or craft is poetic, imaginative food preparation is poetic, building a beautiful home is poetic, and so on and so forth. Poetry is not just imaginative words on a page, poetry is much more than that. Words on a page are poetic when they come from imagination and love. Love and poetry are twins. 

VD: Your description of walking is so joyful! Can you talk about your experience walking many miles for the first time without protective footwear?

SK: I started walking bare foot when I was four years old. My mother and I would walk from our home to our farm, which was three miles away.  When we walked we experienced Nature. We watched birds, observed animals and felt the warmth of the soil beneath our feet. Then I walked bare foot as a Jain monk for nine years. So, I didn’t wear shoes until I was 18 years old. I walked 8,000 miles from India to Moscow, Paris to London. Then from New York to Washington and then from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Often bare-foot. When I walk without shoes, I feel connected with Earth. I feel grounded. My feet are stronger and the skin of my feet is more resilient. I can recommend walking without shoes. 

VD: Can you define what elegant simplicity means to you? How can someone balance life between elegance and simplicity? 

SK: Simplicity should not be associated with ugliness or deprivation. Beauty, aesthetics, comfort and elegance are food for the soul. We talked about poetry. Elegance brings poetry to life. Our industrial civilisation based on mass production has turned out to be an ugly civilisation. Waste is ugly. Pollution is ugly. Extravagance is ugly. Having many material possessions is ugly. I prefer culture over civilisation. Culture is to cultivate beauty, elegance and modesty. That is elegant simplicity. Simplicity by itself doesn’t communicate my ideal of life. When simplicity is also elegant, there is wholeness in our lives and in our world. 

This Author

Vivien Dinh started her career in traditional non-profits and has recently transitioned into publishing as a marketing and publicity professional currently working at Parallax Press, a non-profit started by Thich Nhat Hanh. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, taking care of her many plants, and her dog Lucy. 

Satish Kumar is the founder of the Resurgence Trust, the publisher of The Ecologist online, and editor emeritus of the Resurgence & Ecologist magazine. 

The SMALL IS THE FUTURE event is taking place on Saturday, 17 June 2023 at the Paintworks, Bristol. Speakers include Satish Kumar, Dr Ann Pettifor, Charlie Hertzog Young, Professor Herbert Girardet and Gareth Dale. Buy tickets here.