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“Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered” by E. F. Schumacher :: A Lengthy Excerpt


Nowhere is this dichotomy more noticeable than in connection with the use of the land. The farmer is considered simply as a producer who must cut his costs and raise his efficiency by every possible device, even if he thereby destroys — for man-as-consumer — the health of the soil and the beauty of the landscape, and even if the end effect is the depopulation of the land and the overcrowding of cities. There are large-scale farmers, horticulturists, food manufacturers and fruit growers today who would never think of consuming any of their own products. “Luckily,” they say, “we have enough money to be able to afford to buy products which have been organically grown, without the use of poisons.” When they are asked why they themselves do not adhere to organic methods and avoid the use of poisonous substances, they reply that they could not afford to do so. What man-as-producer can afford is one thing; what man-as-consumer can afford is quite another thing. But since the two are the same man, the question of what man — or society — can really afford gives rise to endless confusion.

There is no escape from this confusion as long as the land and the creatures upon it are looked upon as nothing but “factors of production.” They are, of course, factors of production, that is to say, means-to-ends, but this is their secondary, not their primary, nature. Before everything else, they are ends-in-themselves; they are meta-economic, and it is therefore rationally justifiable to say, as a statement of fact, that they are in a certain sense sacred. Man has not made them, and it is irrational for him to treat things that he has not made and cannot make and cannot recreate once he has spoilt them, in the same manner and spirit as he is entitled to treat things of his own making.

The higher animals have an economic value because of their utility; but they have a meta-economic value in themselves. If I have a car, a man-made thing, I might quite legitimately argue that the best way to use it is never to bother about maintenance and simply run it to ruin. I may indeed have calculated that this is the most economical method of use. If the calculation is correct, nobody can criticize me for acting accordingly, for there is nothing sacred about a man-made thing like a car. But if I have an animal — be it only a calf or a hen — a living, sensitive creature, am I allowed to treat it as nothing but a utility? Am I allowed to run it to ruin?

It is no use trying to answer such questions scientifically. They are metaphysical, not scientific, questions. It is a metaphysical error, likely to product the gravest practical consequences, to equate “car” and “animal” on account of their utility, while failing to recognise the most fundamental difference between them, that of “level of being.” An irreligious age looks with amused contempt upon the hallowed statements by which religion helped our forbears to appreciate metaphysical truths. “And the Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden” — not to be idle, but “to dress it and keep it.” “And he also gave man dominion over the fish in the sea and the fowl in the air, and over every living being that moves upon the earth.” When he had made “the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind,” he saw that it was “good.” But when he saw everything he had made, the entire biosphere, as we say today, “behold, it was very good.” Man, the highest of his creatures, was given “dominion,” not the right to tyrannise, to ruin and exterminate. It is no use talking about the dignity of man without accepting that noblesse oblige. For man to put himself into a wrongful relationship with animals, and particularly those long domesticated by him, has always, in all traditions, been considered a horrible and infinitely dangerous thing to do. There have been no sages or holy men in our or in anybody else’s history who were cruel to animals or who looked upon them as nothing but utilities, and innumerable are the legends and stories which link sanctity as well as happiness with a loving kindness towards lower creation.

It is interesting to note that modern man is being told, in the name of science, that he is really nothing but a naked ape or even an accidental collocation of atoms. “Now we can define man,” says Professor Joshua Lederberg. “Genotypically at least, he is six feet of a particular molecular sequence of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus atoms.” As modern man thinks so” humbly” of himself, he thinks even more “humbly” of the animals which serve his needs: and treats them as if they were machines. Other, less sophisticated — or is it less depraved? — people take a different attitude. As H. Fielding Hall reported from Burma:

To him [the Burmese] men are men, and animal are animals, and men are far the higher. But he does not deduce from this that man’s superiority gives him permission to ill-treat or kill animals. It is just the reverse. It is because man is so much higher than the animal that he can and must observe towards animals the very greatest care, feel for them the very greatest compassion, be good to them in every way he can. The Burmese’s motto should be noblesse oblige. He knows the meaning, if he knows not the words.

In Proverbs we read that the just man takes care of his beast, but the heart of the wicked is merciless, and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “It is evident that if a man practices a compassionate affection for animals, he is all the more disposed to feel compassion for his fellowmen.” No one ever raised the question of whether they could afford to live in accordance with these convictions. At the level of values, of ends-in-themselves, there is no question of “affording.”

Excerpt from Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher

July 28, 2022 8:51 am

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