Acceptance speech – Erik Dammann / The Future in Our Hands

...we today think that the slave trade and colonial exploitation were inhuman...coming generations will think that our form of world trade and distribution of the world's benefits were just as inconceivable and i...

What makes the thousands of Swedes, Danes, Finns and Norwegians in our movement accept a reduction in their economic standards of living?
The reasons are many:
We know that continued economic growth in our rich countries will be at the expense of those fellow human beings who really need an increase in material well-being: the under-privileged in the Third World.
We think it is senseless that 80 per cent of what is consumed in the world is consumed by the 20 per cent of humanity who live in the rich countries. We refuse to participate in continuing this unfairness between us and our brothers and sisters in the Third World.
So, first of all, our work is based on our human desire for justice. For many of us this desire is also based on a feeling of moral and historical responsibility for the development which has led to today’s lack of balance.
One of the areas in the world most well-endowed by nature is Bengal, Bangladesh. Over two hundred years ago a development began which has made Bangladesh today one of the poorest nations in the world. From historical sources we know that, previously, this area was very rich with a flowering trade. There was an upper class living in great luxury – but in those days the majority also lived well!
The British entered Bengal in 1757 and began an almost unrestricted exploitation, based on military power. New tax systems and property rights were introduced. Production of silk and muslin was interfered with in various ways as England wanted to build up her own textile industry at home. The city of Decca had 450,000 inhabitants in 1765 but 35 years later the number had fallen to 20,000! Can we imagine what changes in society must take place for a city to be reduced in 35 years to 1/20th of its size?
Today Bangladesh has been independent for a decade but is totally dependent on the world market. The production of jute was inherited from colonial times. In 1974 jute represented 80 per cent of the total export earnings. When the wheat harvest failed the USA refused to sell wheat to Bangladesh until they stopped selling jute to Cuba, causing the death of several hundred thousand Bangladeshis.

In Sri Lanka the land used to provide plentiful food for the population. But then it was decided that the island should be the Western world’s tea plantation, and it still is. In colonial times many such dependencies and trade structures were created. They still exist today, for s long as we in the rich countries want 80 per cent of what is produced on earth, we will not be prepared to let go of our political, economic and military domination of the Third World.

Much of today’s development aid cements the impotence of the Third World. The World Bank decides agricultural policies and pushes the Green Revolution which leads to a dependency on costly technology, pesticides and artificial fertilizers which benefits only the rich and leaves more people without land. In Tanzania the World Bank demanded an end to free schooling and free health services and to food and transport subsidies as a pre-condition for a loan. We must get away from these unworthy dependency situations!

When we in the Future in Our Hands reduce our material living standard and create a ‘new life-style”, we see this as an act of solidarity, a way to level out the differences between the rich and the poor on earth. Of course a juster world does not follow automatically because someone chooses a new life-style. Even the Norwegian and Swedish authorities talk about “moderation” today, but their motives are very different: they want us to compete better in the world market, to create the base for more economic growth.

So, if we want our “new life‑style” to have a real effect we must make sure that the surplus created is used to change society as a whole in the direction of more solidarity. But is it possible that a majority will agree to reduce their material standards? We think it is because more and more people are finding that there is no connection between increased material living standards and happiness, contentment. As a wise man said 2000 years ago: “What benefit is it to gain the whole world if the soul is damaged?”

During the last 30 years of increased living standards in Norway, suicides doubled, alcohol consumption doubled and drug use, including narcotics also increased sharply. Violent crimes more than doubled and murders tripled. So it seems that the soul of our society has indeed been damaged, that we live in a less pleasant, less happy society today than 20 or 30 years ago.
In a 1975 opinion poll in Norway, two alternatives were presented: “a pleasant and simple life with only necessities, with a limited income and limited career possibilities” or “high income, many material goods and career possibilities but with possible stress at work and off work”. 75 per cent of those questioned chose the first alternative.
When asked if they believed that an increased income would mean a richer life or more problems, 3 out of 4 replied that to them this would mean more problems or no improvement.

We want to participate in creating a just sharing of the world’s resources ‑ for those who live today and for future generations. This means to us that we must reduce our consumption of resources and see that the surplus is transferred to the poor in the Third World in a way which benefits their own development and does not create a new dependence. The surplus should also be used to change our society so that it as a whole becomes more solidaric. We believe that our aim of getting away from considering the material profitability of everything we do will benefit our own countries also. It will open possibilities for human contacts and co‑operation which today are sacrificed in the race for ‘effectiveness’.

We believe that active human solidarity should be the criteria for valuing our acts, thoughts and deeds. We believe that everyone has the right to social and material conditions which enable them to develop their potential as far as possible without preventing others from exercising this right now or in the future. We believe that we must preserve our biological life environment if our quality of life is to be preserved. All who act according to these values may use the name Future in Our Hands. We ask all to think for themselves and to find their own solutions based on these values. As a result, many individuals, groups and organisations used our name or count themselves as part of our movement.

We have no fixed organisation which makes decisions and has clear answers to the problems of our time. But a number of proposed solutions and practical projects have been developed and are being introduced both in the rich countries and in the Third World. Our main task is to inspire individuals, organisations, parties, trade unions, churches, businesses etc to join us in taking responsibility for a just development on earth.

Our work in Norway is coordinated by our information centre in Oslo which employs about 20 people. We have a monthly high‑quality magazine in order to spread our ideas to as many people as possible. Our priority at present is the “Alternative Futures” project ‑ the most thorough study of society ever conducted in Scandinavia, looking at how the Nordic countries in co‑operation with a group of Third World countries could get away from the international trade competition.

Our movement has two funds, supported by regular contributions from our members. One supports mainly local projects in Third World countries, the other alternative development projects in Norway. We have a study organisation to spread our ideas through adult education. We also have an Institute for Meaningful Production. Many of us are forced to make products which we do not need or which are harmful (war materials, various chemical products etc.) More and more workers are asking what we produce, how and it is produced and who benefits. They demand not just a job, but socially meaningful work. They want to know how the production is organised, what technologies and energy sources could be used and who makes the decisions. They want to put people and nature first.

Another of our countrywide organisations works with school teachers, to discuss an education based on our values. Local groups have set up recycling projects, including communal waste‑recycling, and shops where second‑hand goods can be exchanged in order to get away from the throw‑away society.

Many local groups are twinning with Third World villages, groups, schools, etc to build up a longer term practical co‑operation with a similar group in the Third World. We have about 100 such projects.

We participate in the Nordic Alternatives Campaign with peace, ecological and women’s organisations. One of our joint projects is the Day of Sharing, held at the spring equinox to remind us, on the day when the light is shared evenly over the earth, how far we are from a fair sharing of resources. We will have an ideas competition about alternative futures in 1983. We set up exhibitions and conduct studies. (The Nordic Alternative Futures Project has just received 1.2 million Crowns from the Norwegian Parliament to finance part of its study.) Our problems need entirely new political solutions. As we do not expect these to be found on a global level in the near future, we need to begin by looking at the changes necessary in a specific area. The Nordic countries with their common culture and traditions, and their many‑sided resource base are a good starting point.

To have a realistic debate about alternatives to the ravages caused by the present world order we will look at how the Nordic countries can gradually regain independence from the demands of the competitive world trading system by achieving increasing self‑sufficiency. In order that this model can illustrate solutions to the North‑South conflict, our alternative must include a close, mutual and equal co‑operation with one or more Third World countries, i.e. be a model for a New International Economic Order.

The goal is not isolationism. But we believe that a gradual global change of course must begin in a realistic, regional model which can later be broadened if more countries want to join on the same premises. Also, increased Nordic economic self‑sufficiency does not limit our political, social and cultural co‑operation with the rest of the world.

We want to study the chances and consequences of using other means than economic growth to achieve social and economic justice, long‑term ecological responsibility, increased cooperation, and more individual influence over working conditions technology and the development of our society. The grant for this study from the Norwegian Parliament came as a result of the widespread popular support mobilised by our movement. 31 trade union leaders, whose unions represent two‑thirds of all organised Norwegian workers, signed our call for such a study. So did prominent members of the churches and medical professions, etc.

We are often asked why we do not become a political party. But it is doubtful if we could be as effective then, as many who now support us would see us as competitors for votes. Could we retain our role as messengers of new basic ideas and goals in society, if we drowned in day‑to‑day politics? It is possible to do meaningful political work without presenting ready solutions along a left‑right scale.

We think it is important for each one of us to decide if we want to be part of the world’s problems or part of the solution: at the moment we begin to evaluate our actions and make our choices from the point of view of all of us in the world, instead of from individual or national viewpoints, a basic and great change takes place. We believe that we as humans and fellow humans together take the future in our hands.

Future in Our Hands
Fredensborgveien 24 G
N-0177 Oslo