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“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” SEA LEVEL
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red up More by coincidence than anything else a poster with a simple red and a green arrow, one pointing up and the other one down, became an indicator for an existence of humanity’s subconscious desire for growth. The image was presented as part of a larger collection of research fragments that investigates the possibility of shrinking the human species. The arrows were intended to illustrate the desire of the researchers to think small, both real and as a metaphor. The green arrow, a color that represents growth and prosperity, was pointing downwards while the red arrow, signalling danger and decline, pointed upwards. This simple change of desired
“the cancer cell is gaia’s messenger”
What are the hallmarks of malignant economic growth?
direction turned the poster into a playful area of contention. Over the course of several months it became increasingly clear that to some visitors the subtle message was interpreted as an error. They corrected the mistake by hanging the poster the other way around so that the green arrow pointed up and the red arrow pointed down. Although the researcher appreciated the interactions with the public they did not want to compromise their message and corrected the correction only to return the next time to see their correction had been corrected again. Was this dedication to the greenness of the upward arrow a coincidence or did it perhaps have something to do with the fact that the arrows were presented in the context of a financial institution?
Leendert Bikker: “Growth has never been my goal”
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” complexity
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
Internet pioneer Marleen Stikker
In the opening scene of the silent movie classic The High Sign (1921) we see Buster Keaton fall to the ground, flapping his impotent wings like a modern Icarus, o vercome by the humerous yet profound complexity that a rises from unfolding a newspaper again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again. Growth is repetitive.
No recent phenomenon has grown as much as the internet and its impact on our culture. And this fast growth comes with a set of challenges. Stikker: “People think that the internet removes their privacy but that’s the result of the way the technology is appropriated by business models, profit maximization and shareholder interest.”
A 2003 University of Florida and University of North Carolina study found that tall people are paid more than their equally experienced but shorter peers.: One centimetre in height could pay as much as an extra 275 Euro per year. In a similar study by former economics professor and member of the Australian parliament Andrew Leigh it was concluded that an additional 10 centimeter of height was equal to an extra 2 to 3% on your paycheck. According to Leigh: “The wage gain from 5 centimetres of height is approximately equal to wage gain from one more year of labour market experience.”
Simple growth obsession test
In pursuit of the acc “Although it is essential to speed up the practical process of creating a sustainable economy, it is also important that the conceptual, poetic and public research of some of the key ideas within the current system develops a greater depth, above all continuous growth. Surprisingly few can answer the question why we must constantly grow.” Speaking is artist Arne Hendriks about the artistic research into growth that led him among other places to a cancer research institute, botanical gardens, the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Rabobank, in search of finding alternative ways to give meaning to the notion of growth.
The Simple Growth Obsession Test contains two images. The first image depicts a X and Y axis with an arrow with an upward inclination. A typical set-up for the test is during a lecture or discussion. The participants are asked to look at the illustration and form an opinion, check for a personal general feeling towards the illustration. Before the second illustration is shown the participants are asked to record if seeing the second illustration alters their general feeling. The second illustration is then shown. It depicts the same X and Y axis but now with an arrow going down. In general most people will feel
a slight change in how they feel. The arrow going upward tends to give people a more positive feeling than the downward arrow. The test was designed to illustrate that people are generally inclined to connect a more positive sentiment to the idea of something growing and a negative sentiment to something decreasing, regardless of what it is that grows or declines. The result show that our default modus towards more or less is biased towards more. The sum of all human action, regardless of the actual focus of the growth or decline will therefor be towards growth. It has our attention.
colophon Growth? In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor was created in collaboration with the artist-in-residence program of the Rabobank.
Artistic research: Arne Hendriks Curator and head art affairs Rabobank: Verily Klaassen Editor interviews: Jens de Jongh Graphic design: Jasper van den Berg Team: Cecile Espinasse, Jeroen van Kempen Team: Felix Mollinga, Max Stalter, Ariane Toussaint Advice: Banafsheh Etemad, Nodir Primkulov, Godelieve Spaas Edition: 5.000 Print: RODI Diemen With special thanks to the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen and the Hubrecht Institute. www.arnehendriks.net
Growth means different things to different people. Much depends on context, perspective, topic, desire or necessity. Are we talking about the process or the product? Are we referring to biological increase or a metaphor for development? And even if we know what, where, and how a factor grows then still much depends on the observer. Yet growth, the word, the idea, the concept, or whatever we’d like to call it, also existed in a realm before language. In most languages the word for growth is directly related to nature. In Proto-Germanic languages growth comes from the word ghre which means ‘to become green’ and finds its roots in the word for grass. Thousands of years of using the word growth as a signal of the seasonal transformation from winter to spring may be why it initiates such direct positive response within us. But growth as a natural phenomenon is something quite different from the extracted model of growth we see in the economy. In order to get a better picture of our understanding of growth Hendriks started talking with growth specialists from different fields and collected stories and ideas across different disciplines. According to Hendriks a growth discussion needs to emerge from behind the closed doors of a select influential group and into the greater public discourse. A first accumulation of some of the outcomes of that search is now in front of you. More than answer it is an invitation to you, the reader, to give part of the answer to the question: what is growth?
Poster wallpapering in Rabobank Head Quarters
Continuation b between g
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
Geert Kops on CANCER
Growth is the default state
Follow the cabbage
The destructive way in which we have arranged our economies is often likened to cancer. And although that is perhaps at first not a pleasant message it does give us a very concrete compass to navigate with. If it is true, then perhaps we need to look at the economy and at cancer research in a different way. In 2017 a series of dialogues was organised between economists and cancer researchers based on the idea that they could learn from each other. Geert Kops was one of the participating cancer researchers.
cumulation of a factor
by default implied a rhythm growth and shrinking
Supersizing small Small is in danger of disappearing. If you order a small coffee in any of the international brand coffeeshops, you’ll get a cup of coffee which in any timeframe before the 1990’s would have been considered large. The 1993 introduction to supersizing meals and soft drinks by McDonald’s to boost sales has confused consumer’s understanding of small. As large got larger, small got larger too. At fast food restaurant chain Wendy’s, portions previously considered medium got labelled as small, and the original small was taken of the menu. After the succes of the critical documentary Super Size Me (2003) McDonald’s stopped supersizing its meals but the pressure on small hasn’t waned. Instead of openly supersizing large, companies continue to covertly supersize small and in the process, erase our notion of what a small portion used to be.
Outgrowing Eames Increased body height has led furniture manufacturers Hermann Miller Furniture Compagny and Vitra to increase the size of one of their best-sellers, the 1956 Eames Lounge chair and ottoman by legendary design couple Ray and Charles Eames. In recent decades sales of the chair had plummeted as customers complained about the chair, with an approximately 7.500 Euro pricetag, for not being comfortable. In response the producers decided to also offer a chair that is 10% bigger than the original. According to the laws of proportion the increase means it takes 33% more resources to make the same chair. The global furniture market is expected to grow considerably over the coming years, especially in Asia where the increase in average human height is the greatest. In the west people already gained an extra 10cm since the middle of the 19th century. Even with a moderate estimation of an average size of 170cm the increase in height represents an increased volume and weight of approximately 20%. The difference between an increase and a decrease in size per furniture item will have considerable impact in terms of manufacturer’s costs, ecological footprint and consumer prices.
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
Buster’s unfolding shrink exerciSE
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
It‘s the summer of 1921. A silent movie shaman by the name of Buster Keaton enters the stage. He appears to be preparing for some sort of ritual, planting his feet firmly in the ground.
After many months in the wild away from his community they are eager to learn what he has seen and what knowledge he may have brought back to share with them. The shaman is holding what can only be described as a folded up newspaper. An unlikely attribute. He centers himself as the community excitedly gathers around him. One more moment, an earnest look into the crowd, and the ritual starts. He opens the ‘newspaper’ and briefly looks at its content. Not yet satisfied, perhaps unable to read what is before him, he unfolds the newspaper again. Another brief look. No, again he unfolds. The newspaper first doubled and has now trippled in size. Yet again, Buster seems dissatisfied and opens up the newspaper even further. And again. The paper is now becoming quite large and difficult to hold as he stands with his arms wide open. Buster pauses and for a moment seems to read what is in front of him. A few people in the crowd are smiling. Most are still quietly looking on. What is it he sees? What are they looking at? No, the shaman is still not satisfied and again unfolds the paper. It is now almost as tall as he is himself. Again. As the newspaper again doubles in size a sudden gust of wind seems to catch it. Hokusai? No, somehow Keaton manages to hold on and unfolds the newspaper once more. It is now well beyond the control of a single man yet for a moment, supported by the breeze, it hovers around the shaman’s head and body, like a paper cloud. The crowd holds its breath. For a moment of suspended disbelief the shaman is a magician, a sorcerer, a whizzard. For a moment there’s the abstract promise of something truly incredible. However, the inevitable can not be avoided. As the wind recedes the cloud comes crashing down, wrapping the man in the middle in a crumbled mountain of pinkish paper. Where did he go? Did he disappear? But then there’s movement, a rustling of paper and the shaman sticks his head out of the pile, looking a little flustered. The community, only mildly disappointed with this predictable outcome, roars with laughter and with the shaman looking on they leave him behind with his failed attempt to defy gravity, to defy the second law of thermodynamics, to defy to undefiable. The shaman sighs. They are not aware that he did
not fail. In fact he’s quite pleased with his performance. He looks at his ritual attribute. It’s crumbled, and ripped in a few places but overal it is not too bad. His eyes catch a short text of genetisist J.B.S. Haldane titled 'On Being the Right Size'. It reads: A typical small animal, say a microscopic worm or rotifer, has a smooth skin through which all the oxygen it requires can soak in, a straight gut with sufficient surface to absorb its food, and a simple kidney. Increase its dimensions tenfold in every direction, and its weight is increased a thousand times, so that if it is to use its muscles as efficiently as its miniature counterpart, it will need a thousand times as much food and oxygen per day and will excrete a thousand times is much of waste products. Now if its shape is unaltered its surface will be increased only a hundred fold and ten times as much oxygen must enter per minute through each square millimetre of skin, ten times as much food through each square millimetre of intestine. When a limit is reached to their absorptive powers their surface has to be increased by some special device. For example, part of the skin may be down out into tufts to make gills or pushed in to make lungs, thus increasing the oxygen-absorbing surface in proportion to the animal’s bulk. A man, for example, has a hundred square yards of lung. Similarly, the gut, instead of being smooth and straight, becomes coiled and develops a velvety surface, and other organs increase in complication. The higher animals are not larger than the lower because they are more complicated. They are more complicated because they are larger. Just the same is true of plants. The simplest plants, such as the green algae growing in stagnant water or on the bark of trees, are mere round cells. The higher plants increase their surface by putting out leaves and roots. Comparative anatomy is largely the story of the struggle to increase surface in proportion to volume. The shaman folds the newspaper back to its original small size. He gently moves his hands over the surface of the newspaper, attempting to smooth out any remaining creases. Obviously it’s not possible to bring it back to its original pristine status but it’ll do. It’s not bad. He tugs it back under his arm. Tomorrow he will dance again. Perhaps then they’ll listen.
When we are massively attracted to a certain trait within the other, over time and generations, this specific trait may become over-emphasised. It’s what happens in evolutionary mechanism of a Fisherian runaway. Named after mathematical and evolutionary biologist Ronald Fisher, it describes how persistent female choice leads to an evolution of exaggerated male ornamentation. Perhaps the best known example of a Fisherian runaway is the elaborate plumage of the peacock. Since it takes considerable energy to create such tall feathers they can to some extent be considered an honest signal of male fitness. And so the peahen chooses her partner based on their size and thus greatly improves the chances of peacocks with particularly long tall tails to procreate and add to the genepool. Over time tailfeather-growth inspires greater tailfeather-growth since the peachicks will inherit the particular preferences of their parents. We speak of a Fisherian runaway because the feathers have become so tall that they no longer consitute an evolutionary advantage except for impressing a peahen. In ‘the Selfish Gene’ Richard Dawkins writes: In a society where males compete with each other to be chosen as he-men by females, one of the best things a mother can do for her genes is to make a son who will turn out to be an attractive he-man. If she can ensure that her son is one of the fortunate few males who wins most of the copulations in society when he grows up, she will have an enormous number of grandchildren. The result of this is that one of the most desirable qualities a male can have in the eyes of a female is, quite simply, sexual attractiveness itself. After the love is gone peacocks are left with a problem. Because of the great costs involved in the production of their tails the absolute fitness levels of all the members of the population (both male and female) is less than it would be if none of the peahens had a preference for a longer or more colorful tail. Energy can only be invested once and if it all ends up in a tail then it is not going towards other equally or more important qualities one might like to develop. Like the ability to fly. Long feathered peacocks are much more likely to be caught by predators. A clear majority of human females feels more attracted to tall men.
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
“If there is no growth, then there must be something that stops it” peter hein van mulligen
Rabobank Artist-in-residence, Arne Hendriks, considers the question “What is growth?” with opinion leaders from different fields of knowledge. This time, he speaks with Peter Hein van Mulligen, chief economist at the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).
peter hein van mulligen Peter Hein van Mulligen (born Borgertange, 1974) is chief economist at the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), where he gained fame as a spokesman for the economy and the labor market. Van Mulligen studied general economics at the University of Groningen. After his doctoral exams, he became an education assistant at the university, completing his PhD thesis in the field of price indices in 2003. He joined the CBS as a researcher in 2002, becoming a chief economist and spokesman in the field of economic publications in 2010. Every quarter, Van Mulligen reports on Dutch economic growth in a press conference. In January 2019, he won the Dutch television quiz, De Slimste Mens. Van Mulligen is a self-confessed ‘madman’ who is one of the founders of the website Spellengek.nl, which tries to stimulate the playing of games. He lives with his family in Delft.
Arne Hendriks: What can you tell us abut growth?
out of our problems through innovation, but the result is that other problems arise.
Peter Hein van Mulligen: We often think economic growth means more: more stuff, more materialism. For me though, growth means innovation. That means doing things smarter, to achieve more with equal or less effort. Not in the sense of more stuff, but more intelligently and, for example, by using less material. With regards to growth, it’s right to consider the negative aspects of climate change. Within this discussion, the focus is on less: less meat, fewer flights and reduced consumption. That’s a quite Calvinistic attitude: we’ve sinned, and now we must pay the price. But I think we can grow out of our environmental and energy issues through innovation. That, for me, is the essence of growth: using human inventiveness to create solutions. Ultimately, growth is a consequence of human intelligence.
PHM: Growth is often a means to achieve different goals. And innovation appears to come with side effects. That’s the big difference with the past 100 years and the period before that: the instrumental approach. Perhaps things changed during the Enlightenment, and a certain degree of goal-orientation came into growth. Somewhere in the history of humanity, the penny dropped and we thought: “wait a minute, this works.” And then we got the explosion in growth we’ve experienced over the last century.
AH: That sounds like a reward. Playing the role of devil’s advocate now, I see things being done in much smarter ways nowadays, but this cleverness often has the purpose of producing yet more stuff. Producing more in the wake of innovation will ultimately be at the expense of our planet. Innovation often seems to lag behind the facts. We try to grow
AH: The geneticist J.B.S. Haldane once said that we human beings are not so big because we’re complex, but we’re so complex because we’re big – a big difference when you’re talking about our human image. At the same time, we know that complex systems are vulnerable systems. Do you believe in the practicability of society? As you say yourself, we invent something and we actually can’t anticipate its side effects. We can’t scrutinize our own cleverness. PHM: When you think about the future, you can often see what’s going to disappear. Take robotics and the professions that will become
redundant as a result. It’s visible and you can at least make a reasonable guess about it. At the same time, you don’t know what will take its place. That causes anxiety. Look at agricultural machinery in the 19th century, which posed a threat to agricultural workers. We now know that this wasn’t the whole truth, that developments adjust themselves and we actually benefit from them. But at the time we couldn’t imagine that. That’s our limitation. Unfortunately we can’t predict the future. AH: Yet we do exactly that. When we talk about the future now, we’re saying that it will be smarter and better. But when we look back from an ecological perspective, we haven’t succeeded in being smarter as a species. We’ve been very smart to ourselves, but incredibly stupid when you look at how we’ve conducted ourselves regarding the bigger picture. PHM: At the same time, we’ve become smart enough to make scientific observations that show how things are running off the rails. And we’ll have to use our innovative power to put that right. The issue of climate change is an example. It’s extra complex, because it’s so gradual and therefore less urgent. And I think we mainly view the problem locally. We will have to solve that through global cooperation.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
AH: We’re unable to think as a species. Only as Dutch people. Do you see a task there for the CBS? You have all these important figures at your fingertips: on biodiversity, CO2 emissions, population growth, prosperity, economic development... PHM: Our most important task is to supply relevant data which will hopefully form the starting point for a broader social debate. Our position is neutral and independent. We have no vision or opinion about the things we do, or else we’d be accused of having our own agenda. Our independence is the most important thing we have. Whatever the discussion is about, ultimately neutral facts must be the starting point. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I don’t think it would be helpful if people were entitled to their own facts. AH: That’s an interesting discussion for this time… If you’re looking at something and it’s generating numbers, then you’re not looking somewhere else. How do you determine what you do and don’t look at? PHM: Many of the statistics we produce are embedded within a legal framework, which we have to use because other European countries produce statistics too. The reason is so that we have comparable statistics. I think there are few agencies in the Netherlands that know more than we do, and when they do, you’re talking about very specific areas, reaching academic levels. The CBS is more generalist, we have to know about everything. There are also things that we investigate because there’s a demand for it. We’re transparent about that. We regularly receive requests from ministries to find something out, and they pay us for that. But we publish it for everyone and state openly that it was carried out on behalf of whoever commissioned it. Everything we do must be made public. That’s why it’s often not that interesting for commercial parties to work with us. Because their competitors can read it too, and they’d want to keep the results for themselves. AH: So, trust. The word trust is also the basis of the word art. When you look at etymology in Hebrew, you come to the same root. And I find that interesting because in the banking world, trust is so incredibly important. Does your research always translate into numbers, or do you also do research into meanings? Do you have a philosophical side? Do you reflect on your position in society? PHM: No, we’re interested in cold, hard facts. AH: So when I ask you, “what is growth?” – is that ultimately reflected in cold, hard facts? PHM: Yes. And it may well be that we need to approach it carefully: growth is almost
a value judgment. So then you start talking about increasing or decreasing. And whether that is positive or negative is then a matter of counting: has it become more or less? AH: Interesting. So you’re reducing something qualitative to something quantitative? PHM: When we publish something in a news item, we tend to use less formal terms because it makes it easier to get the message across. I need to know a lot about the content: how are the statistics produced, how do they relate to each other, what’s happening elsewhere in the economy? You must be able to relate all these things to each other. One of my most important tasks is to tell the economic story behind all the figures. It isn’t enough to just publish the numbers. You also have to give them meaning by telling the bigger story, making it easier for everyone in the Netherlands to understand what the figures mean. AH: You’re in a position where a lot of information flows come together and you translate that into something that we’ll understand. Why are we so preoccupied with growth? Why is it so important that we continue to grow? PHM: You can look at it in different ways. Growth has a moral dimension. It turns out that societies with growth, in the sense of increasing prosperity, are generally happier and more optimistic than societies with stagnation. And in societies where that prosperity hasn’t quite arrived, but is developing, people think that at least their children can enjoy better lives. That’s a pleasant prospect. AH: I doubt that this applies to my own children... PHM: Yes, that’s something I’m hearing more often. I’m optimistic myself, because I see no reason why it shouldn’t be the case. AH: I think we should always find a form, which we can call growth, which makes us optimistic. I do think that this growth must have a different character than it has now. PHM: If there’s no growth, then there must be something that stops it. People are naturally inclined to think: this can be smarter and better. If you let people go their way, they’ll always find a solution. I can’t imagine that one day we’ll say to each other: “we’ve figured out everything that we can think of.” AH: I intuitively get the idea that everything we do ‘smarter’ and ‘better’ is very specific, or limited. And that there’s still a space around us that we’re simultaneously not developing. Where that same energy, where ‘innovative, smarter and better’ is also needed.
Abun’dance The Abun’dance is a short ceremonial dance, typically executed at the beginning of lectures or performances that revolve around topics of sustainability, degrowth, shrinking, and the importance of a different perspective on current environmental challenges. The dance consist of two simultaneous movements. Its primary movement is a rhythmic shift of weight from the left foot to the right foot and back again while gradually and increasingly bending the knees until finally the dancer sits
in a crouching position. The second movement is a gentle swaying of the arms from back to front until the dancer wraps his or her arms around their legs during the crouching position. The Abun’dance starts while standing up and culminates in the crouching position. The dancer is to keep eye contact with the audience at all times and upon completion of the dance remains in a crouched position while looking up at the audience for as long as necessary to catch your breath. In some cases the au-
PHM: That observation is also a form of growth. Innovative growth takes place in many different ways, forms and levels. Look, for a long time your intuitive line of thought was far from self-evident. But in one way or another, we’ve freed ourselves from it. And we’ve made room for personal growth and spiritual development, for example. AH: You just said something that intrigues me: “If there’s no growth, then there must be something that stops it.” PHM: Then there’s a block. And then growth doesn’t even have to be the goal. Just like a river doesn’t have to flow. But if it doesn’t flow, you think: “Hey, there’s something crazy going on, there must be something stopping the water.” Lack of growth can also have all sorts of institutional causes. From economic history, it appears that when a powerful elite maintains the status quo, it halts growth. And that’s been the case for many millennia. When that reduced, potential increased and ultimately we’ve all benefitted. AH: But as a species we can’t keep using that as an excuse to keep taking more and more land and resources. Under the guise of: “yes, but in the past we were hungry.” At a certain point, basic conditions have been met and the question is: what are we going to develop now? I think there are other types of development that are often neglected. You talked about spiritual development, but right now the economy is still the big story.
AH: It’s perhaps no longer so obvious that democracy will survive as a political system. Important aspects of democracy are under pressure. There are decades in which history creeps slowly on. There are also years in which everything changes very rapidly. Through populism, lobbyists and elements that are related to continuous growth can increase and get smarter. This means political newcomers storm the stage and voters simultaneously ask for policies that only recently seemed unthinkable. But if I listen to you… PHM: Whether people live in a democracy or not, in the end we’re all connected to each other. Globalization creates a trend in which societies become more progressive and more liberal. I have seen statistics in which social values have been classified on a spectrum from liberal to conservative. Then it appears that the Middle East is now about as liberal as the Netherlands was in the 1960s. That may be on a different level, but everywhere it’s really going the same way. I think you could say that the liberal genie is out of the bottle worldwide. AH: And the neo-liberal genie. What do you think is the biggest flaw in the system at the moment?
PHM: The gross domestic product (GDP) has long been the measure of things, especially for politicians: “the economy is growing, so we must be doing well.” That’s quite logical: GDP is an important indicator of the prosperity of a country. Prosperous countries with a low GDP don’t exist. But the days when GDP was the sole prosperity indicator are gone. From now on, every year the Lower Chamber of the Dutch Parliament will debate the ‘Monitor Brede Welvaart,’ an index that measures the actual prosperity of the Netherlands. And not just that of the moment, but also that of ‘later’ and ‘elsewhere in the world.’ What you do see is that the countries that are the richest, so have the most economic growth, apart from countries that are rich because they have oil, are generally the most pleasant countries to live in – from social, spiritual and cultural perspectives. It’s the personal freedom you have. In the Western European countries, North America, Australia and New Zealand, growth was also achieved because people had the freedom to do so. China is now growing fast, but if it remains a dictatorship, it will hit a wall hard. When you don’t have the freedom to be who you want to be, you end up hindered because you can’t do the things that make you richer as a society.
PHM: I think it’s far too easy for multinationals to withdraw from all kinds of tax legislation or exploit loopholes within it. And many countries are lending themselves to that. You notice that it causes resentment. I’m a strong proponent of globalization, not least because of the aspect of personal freedom. But the idea of, “we’re active there, but we have a company registered in the Netherlands,” I think this isn’t a good development. It creates an uneven playing field for major international players and smaller regional ones. Again, I see a role for international cooperation there. At the same time, this cooperation is under pressure because there is a tendency towards the sovereignty of countries. Look at Brexit and the developments under President Trump. Nevertheless, I have high hopes here too, because I feel that these latest developments are generationally driven. You can see that millennials generally think more positively about globalization. Only they’re not yet in a dominant position. The baby boomers are strongly represented there. But they’re slightly on the way out, struggling against a world they no longer recognize from their youth. It’s also the power of numbers. The baby boomer generation is incredibly big: it generates movements that are currently highly visible. But it could be that, fifteen years from now, issues that they are presently focusing on will have become ships that have already sailed.
dience can be invited to breath together with the performer. Ideally the dance is performed by a tall person to symbolise how a contemporary desire for growth could be replaced by the desire for shrinking. It is not uncommon for the performer to experience pain in knees and back during the dance, especially if untrained. While not pleasant for the performer, genuine pain can add expressive power to the narrative since it clearly visualises some of the physical disadvantages of being tall. The
first Abun’dance was executed in 2016 during a lecture in Eindhoven, in The Netherlands, at the office of design company HeyHeydeHaas. Later versions of the dance make use of a GIF animated neon sign reading abundance, where the first four letters a, b, u, and n flicker on and off to leave the word dance lit up by itself. The comma to create a pause in the written title of the dance was an idea of Jeroen van Kempen. Abun’dance is meant to be performed in a direct and simple manner.
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
More optimism about oil market among analysts
Palm oil giant wants to prevent deforestation
Financial Success for cancer medicine
Big investors want better loan conditions
The oil trade closed the year with low pricing for Brent oil. In contrast to analysts, oil traders expect the abundant supply of oil to continue next year. Even though the OPEC countries and Russia are scheduled to reduce barrel output, American shale farmers are likely to increase their production considerably and compensate for the decrease.
Wilmar, the biggest trader in palm oil in the world comes with measures to prevent deforestation. Suppliers who are caught cutting rainforest are immediately suspended. They are then no longer allowed to supply palm oil to the company, which accounts for 40% of global trade. Greenpeace speaks of a potential breakthrough. Large clients Mondelez and Unilever support the new policy.
New anti-cancer drug Keytruda also shows good results in the treatment of kidney cancer, according to a study by the American pharma group Merck & Co. The research result is a news success for Keytruda, a drug originally developed by Organon in The Netherlands. The drug has rapidly become one of the best-selling medicines worldwide.
Large investors in risky corporate loans have joined forces to enforce better conditions. They hope to regain ground after a long period of waning investor protection. In addition to the traditional credit rating agencies, specialized agencies expressed worry about the erosion of investor protection. And a series of international and national regulators also raised the alarm about the heated market for leverage loans, whereby covenants were an important point of concern. The consequences of the erosion of investor protection will only become clear when the companies that have borrowed the money will run into trouble.
Wadlow’s curve Robert Wadlow was the tallest person that ever lived. He suffered from a rare condition known as acromegaly where the anterior hypophysis produces excess growth hormone after the epiphyseal plates close. Being tall is hard work and big size carries unsuspected risks. At the time of his death at only 22 years of age this old genre giant measured 272 cm. Wadlow, like most people over 8 feet, needed braces to walk, and experienced some numbness in his legs and feet. He didn’t notice an infected blister on his foot and died from blood poisoning. The enormous size of his body meant it was unable to organise the energy to fight his infection. If anything, his death holds a warning for humanity. If we grow beyond the body’s natural limits we cannot expect it to respond in its natural way if something goes wrong. There’s a tragic connection between Wadlow’s condition and our current eco nomic system. Debora MacKenzie, BBC correspondent, writes: “It appears that once a society develops beyond a certain level of complexity it becomes increasingly fragile. Eventually, it reaches a point at which even a relatively minor disturbance can bring everything crashing down. To keep growing, societies must keep solving problems as they arise. Yet each problem solved means more complexity.” Complex systems are vulnerable systems. Bigger systems ask for greater complexity to keep going, yet are vulnerable to ever smaller threats. We call this phenomenon Wadlow’s Curve, although Wadlow’s Curse might be a better name.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
Connection between Growth and Language
Green is no guarantee for financial success
Number of oil platforms dismantled in the North Sea: one
Never skip the ‘about us’ page on a company website. It might just reveal something about the future of the company, says data scientists from the Jheronimus Adademy in Den Bosch, who released their language computer on the website of 8,000 Dutch companies. If the CEO of the company more often uses ‘I’ than ‘we’, there seems be a connection with the growth of the company. Egocentricity stimulates greater growth potential.
Energy suppliers are in a desperate competition to be able to supply electricity and gas to new customers. The sustainable card is often played, but the greenest energy suppliers are not always financially the most sustainable. Losses for suppliers are a result of cut-throat competition as the number of providers has grown explosively by about 600% over the last 10 years.
The dismantling of oil platforms on the Dutch part of the North Sea is slow. Only one platform has been dismantled so far. The removal of platforms has been discussed for years. Estimated cost can run up to around 5 billion Euro, a potential gold mine for offshore companies. If we drive that innovation, we have a new export model, says Jacqueline Vaessen of NextStep.
Deaf fish A 2017 study by the School of Biosciences at the University of Melbourne and the Institute of Marine Research in Norway shows that every second farmed salmon we eat is deaf. The deformity occurs in the otoliths, tiny crystals in a fish’s inner ear that detect sound much like the ear bones in humans. Even a small change in the development of these crystals can cause hearing problems. Normal otoliths are made of the mineral aragonite, but deformed otoliths are partly made of vaterite which has a lighter, larger and less stable structure. The team found that the prodcution of vaterite otoliths was seemingly caused by a combination of genetics, diet and exposure to extended daylight. Since fish only eat and grow during the day, often farms expose their stock to bright lights 24 hours a day. This exposure contributes to the one factor that seems to connect all deaf fish: fast growth rate. According to the study’s lead author, Ms. Tormey Reimer, the fastest-growing fish were three times more likely to be afflicted by the deformity than the slowest growing fish. “We also found that we could reduce the incidence of the deformity by reducing how fast a fish grew. Such a clear result was unprecedented”.
Something that is not growing should properly be called stable. Yet, the promotors of growth universally use the word stagnant to describe the condition of stability, because stagnant suggests something unpleasant. Albert A. Bartlett
‘I am looking for a new language about growth’
but language itself is a cell with tentacles grabs around, fastens itelf to everything that sticks out so we begin looking through the glasses of the word, of a covering that only slowly wears out full of double dexterities metaphor stacked on metaphor evermore woolly and the contours lost, the cutting edge. the being. language does not exist, as we forget from time to time. it’s produced sound, by the vocal cords,
the tongue, the palate - semantically a mistake: of the oh so soft mind that wallows in its hard peel like a cream filling in a chocolate egg. nobody knows language. language proliferates cosily in art and culture and news and in cries of the tortured human being, if he still has a voice that is growth itself gets named and as such caught in sugar water, by alcohol extracted, not made - genitus, non factus -
Pseudis paradoxa, the paradoxical frog, is a common frog living in the region between Colombia and Surinam. The tadpoles of the paradoxical frog are the largest in the world with an average size of about 25 cm tall. Upon reaching their maximum size, like other tadpoles, they shrink their tail into the body, grow limbs and transform into a frog. Surprisingly, after their transformation the adult frog is only 1/4th of its size as a tadpole. The idea of a juvenile turning into an adult that is smaller than its younger self contradicts with our general notion of physical development and thus, the species was named the Paradoxical frog, as if smaller and mature don’t mix. Objectively speaking it is only a paradox because it disrupt the usual ways of thinking about development. Perhaps the initial response says more about current inflexibility than about the possible development towards maturity. Maturity is not so much about size as it is about a ripening of the mind. Pseudis paradoxa raises the question if perhaps the human species and our current systems are still in an embryonic state; giant tadpoles waiting to transform into more efficient, smaller units.
in the name of in the as good as eternal name of our unforgettable aberration: to have to give meaning that isn’t there: holy be the Name Maria vaN daalen
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
Alice in Wonderland Syndrome
ILLUSTRATION Max Stalter
Alice in Wonderland syndrome is a relatively harmless neurological condition in which objects within an affected section of the visual field appear larger or smaller than normal, causing the subject to feel smaller (or larger) than they actually are. In Lewis Carroll’s famous 19th century novel Alice experiences numerous situations similar to what is described in the disorder. Carroll may have written the story using his own direct experience. Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is quite common in childhood, especially as a temporary feeling of having very large hands, feet, or teeth. In less common form one might perceive objects, for example a book (or a deck of playing cards), to be the same size as a person. Stemming from this symptom, someone may feel undersized in relation to his or her surrounding environment. Alice in wonderland syndrome can be self-induced as a form of speculative size orientation through the use of auxiliary optics, insomnia medication and the use of certain hallucinogens.
RECIPE Fanny Maquinghen Tourteau Fromagé 150 grams flour 75 grams butter 50 grams sugar 4 eggs 300 grams goat’s cheese 50 grams cornflour 1 tsp baking powder 1 vanilla extract
This is a recipe for a burned French cheesecake. For the pastry. Make the pastry by combing the flour and butter with a pinch of salt. Add a touch of water, if necessary. Rest for about 20 minutes. For the filling mix the cheese with sugar and egg yolks, corn flour, baking powder, vanilla extract, and then fold in the egg whites. Roll out the pastry, and line an earthenware dish (or similar pie dish), ensuring that the sides are covered. Pour in the filling, and place the cheese cake into a preheated oven at 180°C for about 45 minutes. The top should be browned and the filling set. Allow to cool (it will deflate a little), before serving.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
Predictive adaptive responses in the womb Adaptation is the dynamic evolutionary process that fits organisms to their environment, enhancing their evolutionary fitness. Organisms face a succession of environmental challenges as they grow, and show the ability to change as traits develop in response to the imposed conditions. This gives them resilience to varying environments. Structural adaptations are physical features of an organism, such as shape, armament, and internal organization. Behavioural adaptations are inherited systems of behaviour like instinct or the capacity to learn. Physiological adaptations permit the organism to perform special functions such as temperature regulation and other aspects of homeotasis as well as growth and development. Before being born, a baby gets ready. Will it enter an abundant environment or will there be scarcity? The fetus uses the health of its mother as a barometer to translate predictive signals from the environment through a series of predictive adaptive responses into a body that is ready for expected circumstances. When for some reason these circumstances do not match reality, the childs physiology is poorly prepared for life outside the womb. Jane Cleal of the University of Southampton has shown that lambs who expect scarcity but are born into a situation of abundance suffer from cardiovascular disease. They were prepared to not let any nutrients go to waste but now have more than expected. The same rules apply to man. In countries where a climate of scarcity has quickly reversed into a climate of relative abundance, obesity and cardiovascular disease are increasing rapidly. On the other hand, a baby born while expecting abundance may use nutrients very inefficiently. In the event of unexpected scarcity, that also means trouble.
The work of the evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant on Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos islands shows that natural selection can be a surprisingly speedy process. The average beak size of Medium and Small Ground Finches on the island of Daphne Major changes almost from year to year in relation to the available food sources. Bigger beaks win in times of drought while smaller beaks win during wetter times. Beak size sort of jojo’s up and down, showing evolution is not necessarily a lineair process. In fact it quite often moves back and forth between known phenotypes. It is one of life’s many ways to deal with changing circumstances. Whatever works best. The human species, it would seem, has moved towards the taller type long enough. Perhaps it is time to return to any of the other much smaller expressions still available on the long tail of the human genome.
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN The exhibition titled ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ on display at the headquarters of Rabobank in Utrecht provides an overview of close to ten years of research on the possibility to quickly evolve towards a smaller Homo sapiens. The Incredible Shrinking Man is a longterm speculative investigation on the possibility to shrink the human species to better fit the earth. A large overview exhibition at Rabobank HQ in Utrecht presents an anthology of more than three hundred scientific facts and figures, artistic statements and future speculations. All perspectives inhuman size have one underlying desire: to inspire a different understanding of growth. To some, the headquarters of a large bank seems an unlikely context to present artistic research aimed at the disrupting of our present preferences for growth, but for Verily Klaassen,
head of Rabobank’s art department, it was the ideal situation precisely because the project asks unusual and challenging questions. Talking about the exhibition, Arne Hendriks says: “My research question at Rabobank is: how do we go from being takers to being care-takers, with the same passion and conviction as we have manifested through current economic models but with perspective for a sustainable near future? It is by far the most challenging environment I have worked in, and with the most potential for
real change.” Leading the way in the exhibition space, the stories on the walls combine to argue the same point about the need to downsize. Packed with voices, information and theories, they serve both to illustrate real possibility, stimulate imagination and disrupt common paradigms. Indeed the questions raised by such diverse reports are intriguing. Will humans change their mindset before changing circumstances leave us with no choice? ‘It all starts with the suspension of disbelief’, says Hendriks. “If we dare to let go of what we think we know a lot is still possible.”
CASE STUDIES FOR FUTURE MEN
Case #01: Woman
The Dream of a Fisherman’s Wife (Pygmy Squid Bukkake) Self-restriction
Case #02: Tom Watkins
Theatrum Anatomicum Negative Feedback Loop (Predictive Adaptive Responses) Self-restriction
Case #03: Primordial Dwarf Alpha Male Hormones (Science) Zebrafish Laboratory (Epi)genetics
“I was continuing to shrink, to become… what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close, the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet, like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens, the universe, worlds beyond number. God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of Man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon Nature. That existence begins and ends is Man’s conception, not Nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something too.” Case #07: The Incredible Shrinking Man Or was I the man of the future? (Jack Arnold 1957) Imagination
Case 06: Supercentenarians
Methuselah Bonsai (Insuline-like Growth Factor-1) Genetics
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
“Growth has never been my goal”
leendert bikker Arne Hendriks considers the question “What is growth?” with Leendert Bikker. Before Bikker became bank’s Director of Communications, he ran his own companies for 30 years.
Arne Hendriks: A while ago, I gave a lecture and performance for employees of Rabobank’s communications department about my project, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man.’ Afterwards, Leendert Bikker whispered in my ear: “Don’t hold back, will you?” This great advice made me curious about his views on growth. As a communication director, you are actually storyteller-in-chief. So what’s your story?
Leendert bikker After completing his studies at the Academy for Journalism, Leendert Bikker (born 1963) started a communications consultancy. In 1999, his company BIKKER Communications Group was sold to New York-based Euro RSCG Worldwide, where he served as a member of the Board of Management until 2004. He then started BIKKER & Company in Rotterdam. He was chairman of Europe’s 500, the association of fast-growing companies in which he was twice a candidate himself. Since the beginning of 2017 he has been director of communication at Rabobank.
Leendert Bikker: I find it increasingly difficult to say. I ran my own companies for thirty years. Each year, we achieved more turnover, hired more people and occupied a larger building. That meant we were doing well. Incidentally, growth wasn’t something I consciously pursued – it just happened. And also, you have to see that development as part of the spirit of the age: the 1990s, a time of unbridled economic progress. At a given moment you’re in the rhythm of double-digit growth and you’re also judged accordingly. That’s the point when you believe that expansion is a normal and natural part of business.
Everything has to be done at the kitchen table.” But again, you end up buying a bigger kitchen table. Because you’re apparently doing something right. AH: Does growth have an irresistible dynamic that you can’t escape? Because when I listen to you, it seems like there’s something outside of you that’s forcefully pulling you along. LB: Growth has never been a goal for me. It just happens. However, I’ve learned that growth doesn’t necessarily mean ‘more.’ And that you’re better off swapping quantity for quality. The years bring experience, insight, enrichment, and less of a sense of obligation. I have now ended up in the largest building I’ve ever worked in, with the biggest number of people and the highest turnover. I don’t know if that’s better. Or whether growth is the best solution for the issues facing us in the bank. AH: So growth isn’t always the answer?
AH: Where does that idea come from? Is it entrepreneurial culture – growth as some kind of confirmation that you’re here? LB: And that you apparently have something that others don’t. Growth is addictive, too. It’s wonderful when a prestigious client calls you for an assignment. Compare it with running: you want to run that route faster every day. But there comes a point when that’s no longer healthy. And it’s exactly the same with entrepreneurship and growth. With growth I reached a moment when I was no longer occupied with creating, but only with managing. And eventually you become someone who gets in the way, just like everyone else. The greater the growth, the less tangible it is, and the less fun too. As with an addiction, you have to grow faster and faster to keep feeling the high. AH: This reminds me of an experience I’ve had with a project of mine in which I’m making a floating island out of fat: drop by drop, until it gets so big that we can stand on it. We started with a drop of fat in an aquarium. With the second drop, ‘the mountain’ was twice as big, which was satisfying. But you can only double in size at the beginning – after that it slows down. At one point it wasn’t drops any more, but big globs – and I moved the budding island to the IJ. Now it’s multiple buckets in one go. When I throw 500 kilos of fat on the island in a day, I can hardly see any difference. The laws of proportion make further growth increasingly complicated. I need so much fat to continue to experience growth. LB: That’s a nice metaphor for growth. When I started a second company after selling my first, I said: “We’re going to keep it small.
LB: No. The mindset of many managers is: “There’s an issue and I have to solve it.” Preferably with the help of a new solution. That dynamic ensures growth. But that’s not good in my opinion. Is there really a problem
“At sustainability symposia, testosterone is dripping from the walls” there? Perhaps the problem will solve itself, anyway. You assume that you always have to intervene, and that isn’t the case. That goes hand in hand with the fact that we want to make everything measurable. AH: How many people work in your department? LB: We started with 120 employees and are now we have half that number. AH: So it is a form of shrinkage? LB: In the literal sense of the word it is. But you can also see it as a form of growth. Because I think that development is better for everyone involved. Fewer mistakes, disappointments and expectations, and greater personal development and new opportunities. And it’s more fun too. AH: Something I’ve learned from my research is that you need space in order to grow. There’s a lot of space here, but what you’re saying is that you created that space.
LB: Mental space, in which you dare to say that ‘less’ can be a form of growth. Less marketing, less communication, fewer products and resources. But more focused, more essential and improved. That’s also what the growth in ‘Growing a better world together’ stands for. I’m now constantly challenging people: “Does what you’re doing contribute to the mission of the bank?” The group embracing the mission is growing. And you can involve the new people who come in. You even have people who spontaneously sign up and want to help to realize that message. These are also the people that we’re looking for in our next campaign. You only do this if you believe in it as an employer and as an employee. AH: Do you have a way to filter those good intentions? Because people need to know what exactly is meant by this notion of growth. And do people ever tell you something you don’t know during a job interview? LB: Yes, almost every time. And those talks are never about growth for growth’s sake, or making more, but about development, progress, improvement and greater fairness. And that’s very conscious. Look, of course we don’t have a clear answer. I don’t mind that either. The point is that we are having the conversation. We don’t even have to agree. I think it’s worth it just to accept the invitation to exchange ideas and explore together. Just like I’m doing with you now. AH: I’ve been to symposia about sustainability where green entrepreneurs are speaking, and the testosterone is still dripping from the walls. I can’t put my finger on it, but I often feel that something is not quite right. That there’s a flaw in our thinking. That it’s good that we’re talking about wind, not fossil, energy, but that the basic attitude has remained the same. Growth is, as it were, pulled out of one system and put into another. What I’m looking for is a richer language around the concept of growth, which deepens our attitude towards it. Have we come further in substance, in spiritual terms? LB: You have to be careful not to do the same trick in a different reality, but instead dare to make a radical intervention. I was at a farm on Terschelling last week. The owner is someone who has turned his back on the advertising world and started farming. I asked him, “Where do you want to go? What is your plan?” He said, “As soon as my harvest has to leave the island, that’s the limit; that’s already too much.” Someone else said, “I know ten places on the mainland where you can send it.” But he doesn’t want that. Because the stuff has to be transported, it’s stressful for the environment and he doesn’t feel like doing it. The island is his market and for him that’s enough.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
AH: These are radical choices for limited growth. How do you see this radicalism in Rabobank’s future? LB: Considering the rapid pace of technological developments, Rabobank will play a much smaller role in existing services such as payments, savings and mortgages. Or even none at all. The future for Rabobank lies in food and agriculture. In addition, we’re increasingly transforming from a bank into a consultancy. We’re already seen this way in Australia. We’re not just a Dutch bank anymore. Rabobank finances 50 of the world’s 100 biggest companies in the food and agriculture sector, and 17 of the top 20 dairy companies globally are customers of our bank. We’re a global bank with a Dutch heritage. AH: Then you’re back on a very big global scale, and we’re back with growth.
LB: Thinking big isn’t necessarily growth thinking. I look at developments in the world, and who our customers are, and I see the balance changing. I remember that we worked as a bureau for Philips. Out of every ten TVs, they sold nine in China and one elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile in the Netherlands we still thought of Philips as a Dutch company. Cor Boonstra wanted to move the head office to where he thought there was a future for the company: Silicon Valley. There was opposition from the organization and ultimately Amsterdam was chosen as a compromise. A bizarre compromise, in retrospect, seeing as how Eindhoven developed into a European technology center. LB: These considerations don’t have to do with growth, but with being where you think you belong. And it shows the courage to make clear decisions. I think that there are
more effective methods for achieving goals than growth. I also see that in the younger generation. Increasingly, they find having more time more important than having more
“I don’t know whether growth is the best solution for the issues facing us in the bank” money. They think, “If I work a four-day week and meet my living costs, that’s good too.” That never occurred to me at their age. AH: I always feel happy when I hear about developments like these. You can also be very
ambitious in that other way. It’s just that ambition is still largely associated with work, and less with how we are as individuals in the world. For example, spending time with people you love – that’s also an ambition. It could well be that we need to liberate the concept of ambition from the limited sphere in which it generates meaning for us. LB: I think that a place like Rabobank has the requirements for that. It offers space to do other things and be of use to society: Growing a better world together. And that world can be your street, or neighborhood, or village. There are people in my team who volunteer as ‘debt buddies.’ They devote an evening a week to helping people get their personal finances straight. Then you’re already working on our mission.
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
Exaggeration Postcards Exaggeration cards, also known as tall-tale cards, are postcards with images of enlarged agricultural products combined with exclamations of praise about the unlimited growth potential of specific rural communities in America. The photographic images depict a geographic location that engendered a certain myth about that town or region, usually equating the land with an Arcadian utopia. In the early twentieth century crafty photographers began to physically manipulate their photographs combing and rephotographing images and using collage as a technique. Nowhere did these modified images become more prevalent than in agricultural communities that hoped to forge an identity as places of imaged abundance to encourage
settlement and growth. The most common subjects were food resources specific to the region — vegetables, fruits, or fish. Successful tall-tale postcard artists were those not only skilled enough to seamlessly join together two images, but also those able to envision and create dynamic compositions, often involving farmers and other food professionals in mid-action. Though difficult to perfect, the resultant products were often compelling, evoking a fake documentary snapshot. In the golden years of the postcard, between 1905 and 1915 they became surrogates for travel, igniting the fantasy of millions. The first master of the genre was William H. Martin (1865-1940). His exaggerated images quickly became so popular that,
within one a year, Martin’s company was allegedly turning out over 10.000 postcards per day. The cards affirmed the fundamental American myth of agricultural abundance — a myth that often diametrically opposed reality. If the ideal promised by the American Frontier did not yet exist in the real landscape, it certainly did in an imagined and desired one. The aftermath of the first World War fractured the utopian myth upon which the success of these postcards was based. The production of affordable automobiles and telephones allowed people to travel further and exchange information quicker. The postcards quickly became obsolete yet the desire for abundance remained and ignited enormous economic growth.
seem to be more beautiful. ative feelings. Upward arrows downward arrow triggers negemotional responses while a modern man, inspiring positive embedded within the psyche of
*The upward arrow seems deeply
The Aesthetics of Upward Arrow
In graphs, the upward arrow is normally used to illustrate an accumulation of something. It could be that this reference explains our preference for up over down. We are inclined to experience accumulation as positive, and decline as negative. This default response also occurs when the context is unclear. Our aesthetic preference makes a subconscious positive pre-selection towards growth. Beauty renders us defenseless against less direct deeper messages, which explains why in our first assessement the context is irrelevant.
Perceptions of beauty are thought to be co-determined by processes of natural selection; that things, and aspects of people and landscapes that we perceive as beautiful, are likely to contribute to an enhanced chance of survival. The upward arrow may over time have become such a signifier. Perhaps it is recognized on some deeper level by the genetic biological programs that run our sense of beauty. Aesthetic preference could be the result of a symbolic promise of favorable circumstance. If so, the question is how much of this preference is cultural and how much is biological?
Indeed the arrow was among manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s earliest tools. It empowered him. Their importance is reflected in the early arrow drawings painted on the walls of cave dwellings. Arrows, and paintings of arrows and other early tools gave man a sense of control over a violent and unpredictable outside environment. They had magical significance. One only has to open a financial newspaper to recognize not much has changed since then.
â&#x20AC;&#x153;In pursuit of the accumulation of a factorâ&#x20AC;? Growth
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
“Our economy is like an adolescent growth spurt”
marleen stikker An artist and an internet pioneer talk ‘growth’ Arne Hendriks: In the early 1990s, Stikker was a pioneer discovering the possibilities of the internet. That’s when she became aware of the dangers of unrestrained technological growth and the ways this affects our lives.
So Marleen – what is growth?
marleen stikker Marleen Stikker (born in 1962) trained as a philosopher. In 1993, she founded The Digital City, the first free internet portal and virtual community. This initiative was the basis of Waag: a research institute for art, technology and society, of which Stikker is co-founder and director. There she develops technological prototypes, such as the sustainable Fairphone and FairBnB – an alternative to Airbnb. The former Mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, called her the ‘mother of the creative industries.’ Nowadays Stikker organizes PICNIC innovation festival. She is also a member of the European Horizon 2020 committee, High-level Expert Group for SRIA on Innovating Cities / DGResearch, and of AcTI Dutch Academy of Technology & Innovation. “If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It” (the Maker’s Bill of Rights) is Stikker’s credo. She is actively involved in the Open Design and Creative Commons movement, and believes that open technologies are needed to meet societal challenges.
Marleen Stikker: Growth is the theme of recent decades, which we need to transform into ‘de-growth.’ But we panic about reduced growth or shrinkage because our models, especially the economic ones, are focused on exponential expansion. At present, that can only be realized through incredible manoeuvres that are at the expense of the planet, human values or animal welfare. Our natural capital is already as good as exhausted, converted into financial capital. AH: In her book Doughnut Economics, economist Kate Raworth gives some interesting insights into the redefinition of growth. She talks about the current economy as a ‘Peter Pan economy,’ because it is never considered to be mature and always needs to grow. Raworth replaces the idea of infinite growth with that of maturation. So ‘becoming mature’ through developments such as reinforcement, deepening, balance and densification. The current economy is actually comparable to an adolescent with a growth spurt, who hasn’t yet reached a state of maturity. AH: When did we have that balance? And when did we lose control? MS: When I was growing up, there were no career perspectives in the existing system, so we started doing business ourselves. Not like the financially driven start-ups now, but more guided by the idea: how can I do something sustainable with my talent? At the end
it was so disruptive. The internet organizes power in a different way. It originally enabled people and organizations to communicate directly with each other without the intervention of third parties. Unfortunately, this has been negated by the ‘new economy’ at the end of the last century, and its interweaving with the capital market. AH: Did that begin in the digital domain? MS: The internet has become synonymous with exponential growth. So it’s a combination of what happened in the financial world and technological developments. Money creation, risk capital, projections about extreme future-value development, digitization, market operation, far-reaching centralization by platforms – all these developments and more have turbo-charged growth. And shoved thinking about maturation, reciprocity and the careful handling of resources into the background. AH: It’s the idea of the future that makes us greedy, the promise of a time that’s always ahead, free from any realistic restrictions… MS: If you remove the exponential nature of growth, many people will see it as ‘maturing.’ Growth changes its meaning when you see its future consequences – separate from yourself, time and place. Yanis Varoufakis, economist and short-lived Greek Minister of Finance, wrote a book in which he explains economics to his daughter, assuming that you only really understand something if you can make it clear. At the same time, he wanted to show her how much the economy affects our lives, and that the prevailing theories are part of the problem, rather than the solution. He describes, among other things, how by extending credit into the future, you bring value and growth to the present, but
Growing up is also growth, yet it gives new meaning to the concept.
of the 1980s, an independent media scene emerged in Amsterdam: independent television channels, publishers, events, etc. The first PCs came along, then the first desktop publishing programs, enabling independence. We were able to organize ourselves – this is what I especially recognized in the internet. I was fascinated by the internet’s distributed architecture and understood why
at the same time lose part of that future. By creating money from nothing you go through the membrane of the future, as it were, and draw that value to the present, so that you end up shrinking the future. AH: You make a connection between growth and promise: growth as a promise for the future. Perhaps it’s this kind of elusive mental
construction that I’m looking for through the question, “What is growth?” We are not talking about the ‘accumulation factor’ as in economics textbooks, but about a promise. We reward ourselves for things that still need to be realized; we’re counting our chickens before they hatch. MS: Yes, and a lot of chickens still need to hatch! Our generation has a limited lifetime, so I think it’s up to the generations that come after us to hatch those chickens. The baby boomers grew up in an era in which global economic growth reached an unprecedented speed. They reaped the benefits. This acceleration was accompanied by enormous ecological costs; that promise of ‘multiplication’ continues unabated for every participant. It’s a kind of pyramid scheme, and someone has to pick up the bill sooner or later. Take the housing boom and the unprecedented increase in real-estate values. It’s a wonderful feeling and it’s happened ‘just’ by living. But it represents the separation of capital from underlying value, free-riding and a cycle of speculating on the future. The people who are now coming in – if they can get on the ladder, that is – how are they going to make a profit? AH: When you were a guest on ‘Zomergasten’ [a Dutch TV series featuring in-depth interviews] last season, you referred to the movie ‘The Matrix’ and the metaphor of the red and blue pills. If you take the blue one, you live a comfortable, ignorant life, and if you take the red one, you see the hidden dark side of the world. You’d take the red one yourself, but you also advocate a third pill: seeing the dark side, but exploring the possibilities of another world. This idea comes from the thinking of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. MS: I thought, what options do we have now? You can find out how reality really works, and then end up in a battle with dark forces. The other scenario is to be completely ignorant of them, and manipulated to the max. I want to add another option to that: understanding how the world really works and taking the lead in order to change it in a positive way. This also has to do with the ‘creative perspective’ that I want to talk about later: thinking in possibilities. That, in my opinion, fits with the path you seek as an artist: you consider what’s possible, then you find the way there. And that’s the attitude many young people who are actively building a different world. AH: That appeals to me. I think reality is being created over and over again, almost literally with every glance. So there are constant opportunities and challenges for humans’ creative abilities. Like you, I’m making a
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
conscious choice for myself to take a third way. Not just ‘for’ or ‘against’ but ‘in motion’ or continuously creative. MS: Some people thrive on confrontation – look at President Trump. But when it comes to working on that other reality – that new story – context, imagination, narratives and a common language are crucial. Those too are a question of maturing. Growing up is also growth, yet it gives new meaning to the concept. Look, I think growth is completely legitimate and I get why it’s fun: wanting and being able to run faster than the others, the competition, the perseverance, and the sweet success.There is also the bias of right-wingers in relation to left-wingers. The first group is quick to think: “We shouldn’t do nice things anymore.” In the conservative Dutch political party, the VVD, you can at least laugh and take risks. But the alternative route is neither left nor right and doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself something.
Or take the algorithms embedded in all social processes, allowing companies and governments to manipulate our behavior. We as individuals, as well as a society, have to claim back sovereignty over the internet. It’s possible to make tech applications with respect for personal environments and identity. Fortunately, these developments are in full swing. AH: It’s interesting to be an artist-in-residence at a bank, because it’s an institute where real changes can and should be made. If you look at the banking sector, are there areas where you’d say, why don’t you do this? MS: In the conversations I have with banks, I get the idea that they can do a lot, as long as they show growth within the existing system. This makes it almost impossible to finance ‘commons,’ for example. A commons is an public initiative whereby people jointly develop activities and agree on new rules
Can we come up with new financial instruments to safeguard and help initiatives that are not focused on exponential growth? On the contrary, it’s about finding a dimension that’s very attractive, namely adult growth that’s not at the expense of the planet and other people. AH: When I started ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man,’ it was partly out of my frustration that no stories were told on that side of the spectrum, or none I could relate to. That led me into an adventure I could submerge myself in, wake myself up with. Not that I need a leader, but they weren’t there either. Another important motivation was the fact that it isn’t possible to give laughter and adventure a progressive character. There’s more beauty to be gained on that front than on the destructive ‘it really doesn’t matter’ side. MS: I always get annoyed when my values and ideas are put in a ‘leftist’ camp. Because it refers to the clichéd image of the swaggering, crocodile-smiling corporate jerk on the one side, and the acidic, idealistic activist who tries to counter the financialization of the whole world on the other. The categories of ‘left’ and ‘right’ don’t work anymore and belong strictly in the past. Or they should be, because meanwhile a new story is being written. AH: You’ve been involved in internet development from the start. You realized early on that there were risks involved. That’s why there’s now such an interest in your work, because you warned against the negative aspects associated with the growth of digital technology. MS: The story of the internet is multi-layered. People think that the internet removes their privacy, but that’s the result of the way the technology is appropriated by business models, profit maximization and shareholder interest. If you look at the internet now, you see the capital sector. Not Amazon or Uber, but the credit lines they have. These companies have access to billions and with that they buy growth. Behind their services is a much larger story about the capital market, which has exchanged an appetite for raw materials for a search for the new gold: data and algorithms. It’s no longer just about privacy; the whole idea of sovereignty is in question. Not only do you have no control over your elections, you don’t even know if you really want what you want, or if that’s just the result of your filter bubble.
among themselves. The platform can, for example, be a farm, but it can also be activities in the field of energy extraction, education, housing or care. Banks have scarcely any opportunities to finance these initiatives that escape economic market thinking. Even if they want to, they are not covered by the regulations overseen by DNB, the Netherlands’ central bank. So one of the issues is: can we come up with new financial instruments to safeguard and help initiatives that are not focused on exponential growth? The difficulty is that even the world of sustainability is often based on exponential growth. So all the activities inside might be circular, except for the value development of the organization itself, because that always has to increase. AH: Large systems are complex and vulnerable. At the same time, they demand a huge capacity for innovation. Take the example of the dinosaur that changed into a bird. The main evolution towards the strong, lighter bones needed to fly could probably have arisen when the dinosaur was huge. But when it started to shrink because of climate conditions, it took this knowledge into its DNA. Eventually this led to a magical new species that could fly. In other words, what can we learn from this time, and what is the bird in bank terms? MS: The example you give is about the concentration, refinement and sophistication that develop innovative power. A concentration of everything that’s good. The first thing a bank has to do is ensure that it understands its own processes, transparently and with accountability. It is crucial to review the dynamics of the quarterly figures, growth expectations and shareholder returns. Re-invent the bank as a commons. In general, we’re all in an unprecedented transition and we’re searching for the bird. I strongly believe in using technology on the basis of human values, and using art and science to guide this innovation. Again, I’d also like to make the case for the third pill. Only by changing the collective consciousness can we shape the way in which the world develops. We see the shadow of a solution, but we still have to create its form.
Growth? â&#x20AC;&#x153;In pursuit of the accumulation of a factorâ&#x20AC;?
Cornucopia The cornucopia, also called the horn of plenty, is a horn-shaped symbol of abundance and nourishment overflowing with festive fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts. Its mythological origins are connected to the birth and nurturance of the infant Zeus, who had to be hidden from his devouring father Kronus. In a cave on the island of Crete, baby Zeus was cared for and protected by a number of divine attendants, including the goat Amalthea, who fed him with her milk. Baby Zeus, being a god, had unusual strength and in playing with Amalthea accidentally broke off one
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
of her horns. The horn turned out to have the divine power to provide unending nourishment. The cornucopia inspired the nickname given to a group of futurists, called cornucopians, who believe the world will in fact provide a practically limitless abundance of natural resources because of advances in technology. According to cornucopians we already live in the horn of plenty, we just have to figure out how to use it. The question is if figuring that out is primarily a matter of technology, or a matter of behaviour.
Milk, Honey & Evangelical Carrots There’s seems to be a strong relationship between the fundamental human desire for growth and its canonisation within religious promises of abundance. In the Quran it is said that if a true believer drinks only once from the river Al-Kawthar, he or she will never again be hungry or thirsty. The Bible describes how Moses, who led the Jews out of Egypt into the Sinai desert, sends twelve men to Canaan to learn if the land they are looking to conquer is fertile and rich in produce. They return with a cluster of grapes so heavy that it must be carried by two man. ‘And they told him, and said: We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey and this is the fruit of it.’ Bolivia’s Alasitas festival mixes ancient traditions and beliefs with modern-day religion and consumerism. Thousands turn out to buy everything they want in the coming year, in miniature form, in the hope that the gods will convert their dreams into life-sized reality. According to the Pew Research Center, Guatemalans have the highest rate of believers in the idea that religious faith reaps success. In the small Guatemalan village of Almolonga, this promise of abundance goes hand in hand with the recruitment to become an evangelical christian, as well as with the cultivation of very large carrots. According to its mayor Siquiná Yac, Almolonga’s giant carrots are the manifestation and proof of the prosperity gospel that faith can bring material reward. God is in the carrot.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
“Cancer is urgent. The loss of Earth’s resources can feel less so” Rethinking Growth
geert kops Growth from an economic perspective means progress, but in cancer therapy, growth means death. Arne Hendriks talks to Geert Kops, Professor of Molecular Tumor Cell Biology at the University of Utrecht.
Geert Kops Professor dr. Geert Kops studied general biology at the University of Utrecht and obtained his doctorate doing research on molecular tumor cell biology. He did postgraduate research in California, before returning to Utrecht in 2005 as Professor of Molecular Tumor Cell Biology. Kops oversees his own research team at the Hubrecht Institute, which conducts research on the occurrence of cancer. The results of Kops’ molecular research form the basis of further applied research into cancer. Kops is also scientific director of the Oncode Institute, an independent institute committed to converting fundamental insights into cancer as efficiently as possible into better and more affordable care for the patient. The professor describes his personal life as preoccupied with living sustainably. “Just like many other people, I have begun to ask myself whether there is an end to how much we consume. That is why I am now a vegetarian, for example, and why I also try to economize on the amount of energy I use.” Kops is the second professor in the Netherlands – after Professor of Sustainability Gail Whiteman in Rotterdam – with a sustainable professor’s outfit: an eco toga made of recyclable material.
Arne Hendriks: The destructive way we have arranged our economies is often likened to cancer. This is not a pleasant message to hear, but it is something that I as an artist and artistic researcher can work with. Because if it is true, then perhaps we need to look at the economy and at cancer research in a different way. In 2017, I organized a series of dialogues between economists and cancer researchers based on the idea that they could learn from each other. Geert Kops was one of them. While the principle of continuous growth is prized in economics, in cancer research, growth is something that must be fought – in particular, growth that has gone off the tracks. At the same time, I believe that when cancer research looks at developments in the economy – such as all the practical ways of stimulating growth through innovations, financial injections, and reinterpretations of regulations – there are patterns and ways of doing things and thinking about things waiting to be discovered, all of which can lead to new insights, including at the level of the cell. Geert, what is growth? Geert Kops: Growth might well be defined in biology as the ‘default state’, the standard situation. Without growth, there is simply no evolutionary process possible. Pure evolution is based on growth, on propagation. You have to be able to take one organism that possesses a successful trait and make ten out of it. The fact that you and I are talking here is a direct result of growth. I cannot imagine anything within the evolutionary process in which growth is not essential. There used to be environments in which there was no growth, but now there are none. AH: Within the discipline of economics, growth means progress too. Growth is the holy grail. But we have also concluded that this preoccupation with growth has very damaging consequences. It can be compared with cancer, as the cliché goes, in the sense that it grows for its own purposes and no longer in relation to the whole. You and your team conduct research on cell division and how this relates to cancer. What have you discovered?
GK: A human body goes through approximately 1000 trillion cell divisions in his or her life. But sometimes things go wrong. Usually that doesn’t cause a problem because the cell can repair the damage itself. But every now and then the daughter cell ends up not being viable and is eliminated. The situation only becomes problematic when the damage cannot be repaired and the cell does not die. That’s when cancer can arise. I want to figure out how this works and whether, for example, it is the reason why cancer occurs or whether it is a symptom of the sickness. In around 70 percent of all types of cancer, something goes wrong in the splitting of the chromosome during the process of cell division. A chromosome is the part of a cell that contains genes; it consists of DNA and proteins. A healthy cell would be killed by the faulty splitting of a chromosome, but cancer cells simply ignore it and continue dividing. These mistakes made during cell division are advantageous for cancer cells. It enables them to quickly change the genome (the genetic makeup of the cell) and thus to easily acquire new traits. You could see cancer as evolution on a drastically shortened timescale. AH: You are a molecular cell biologist, and you say that you try to ‘understand cells from a molecular perspective.’ What exactly do you mean by this? GK: If you know how molecules in a cell work, you can understand how life works. I look primarily at the allocation of the genetic material that is divided into chromosomes. In this genetic material there is what you might call an instruction manual that a cell needs in order to function well. Before a cell divides into two, it copies this information so that both cells have equal information after the division. Cells consist of amalgamations of all sorts of molecules which in turn can perform a wide range of activities. Some molecules can ‘walk’ over structures in the cell, others can ‘cut’ and ‘copy,’ and still others can transform, as a result of which a new activity comes into existence. These cell activities are strictly regulated: they must cut here and not
there. And these activities are all ‘mindless’: there are mechanisms that ensure that A occurs at a certain place before B occurs. This is what we try to understand for one specific process: cell division. We want to find what makes it possible for all the components of a cell to duplicate. AH: What do you mean when you say “mindless cell activities”? GK: That’s physics, laws of nature. A cell does not ‘think.’ From our human perspective, we may think that a cell guides certain things or that it has a ‘free will.’ But ultimately they are just molecules and atoms that execute mindless actions. When you take this reasoning far enough backwards, you can say that you and I are the result of these ‘mindless processes.’ By that I mean not only the way our body grows as a result of hormones, but also the origin of our human characteristics. For example, human willpower or thought patterns are emergent characteristics of underlying molecules and their interactions. They don’t have any of their own elementary particles or structures. If you try explaining that outside the discipline of physics, then you enter the realm of religion. As a scientist, that is not my territory. That does not mean that ‘mindless’ cells are unable to make something beautiful. Just look at our ability to create: it is ultimately because of these cells that we have Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. AH: I can identify with that. There is always something ‘mindless’ about the way I inquire into something. I feel drawn to what the painter Karel Appel once said: that he just “messes around a bit.” Ultimately my hope is that the concept of growth can create ‘paintings’ as powerful as Appel’s personal investigations into paint and expression. The fact that you used this specific word, ‘mindless,’ has a liberating effect on me. I hope it will have the same effect on this collective inquiry into the significance of growth. Is the scientific method also ‘mindless’ in origin? GK: There are some great scientists who have indeed said exactly that. Niels Bohr, a Danish
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
photo: Multiply, Kops lab
AH: Yes, I understood that our bodies have mind-boggling control and balance mechanisms that ensure that a cell does not divide itself further once it reaches a stable, healthy situation. This state is also known as homeostasis. The economy also has control and balance systems but these are usually directed at fostering growth. The steady state – the economic counterpart of anatomical homeostasis – is not high on the economic agenda. In society we see more rather than less deregulation, while a cell is precisely a regulated system. GK: Healthy cell activities are indeed strictly regulated. In a multicellular organism, a cell that is next to the heart cell, for example, is not allowed to do anything ‘odd’ because then the whole system could fall apart. In our bodies, which are multicellular mechanisms, developments are continuously being held back: a mechanism is constantly putting on the brake. It is only cancer cells that don’t pay any attention to that mechanism. When you look at a tumor or the tissue from which a tumor can arise, you see continuous deregulation – that is, a single-celled organism that does what it wants. AH: When it comes to the economy, we constantly talk about growth, and I wonder if we are using the right word, a word that we’ve borrowed from nature. There is so little nuance when we discuss growth. This is because we have a pretty small vocabulary when it comes to what growth is exactly. You can say that it is ‘increase’ or ‘accumulation,’ but these words are so quantitative. I’m looking for something more enriching so that we have more instruments at our disposal when considering growth. Do you think growth is a good word for the field in which you work?
GK: When I talk about growth, what I am actually referring to is replication. In science, you need to be very specific about what you say. You shouldn’t use the word growth when you actually mean replication. This is a mistake that can happen. Colleagues will talk about cell growth but they actually mean cell replication. Pure cell growth is when a cell becomes two to ten times larger before splitting. And there is a limit to that growth. Replication is when one cell becomes two cells, then four, eight, and so on. In theory, this process does not have any limits. For biologists, replication means surviving, and it plays a key role in adaptability. If only one entity remains in a biotope and that entity does not replicate itself and if nothing changes in the environment, then adapting becomes tricky. Our children adapt much more easily to new situations than we do. The same holds for cells. Perhaps there is an interesting parallel with the economy here: that you need a certain kind of growth to create variety in the system, which enables you to cope with new challenges. AH: One of the strangest paradoxes in the relationship between cancer research and the economy is that the latter leaves more room for the influence of human desire. Economics is more like an ideology than an exact science, and this is perhaps why it draws upon our imagination. A cancer researcher always comes back to the cell when trying to solve the enigmas of growth, while the economist can only rely on perceptions of human desire. The paradox is that the same principles currently responsible for many destructive ideas within the economy can also be the solution when we begin to embrace other ideas. GK: That’s the difference between social sciences and exact sciences. Exact sciences are bound by laws of nature. The knowledge acquired in social sciences such as economics is more bound by context: the influence of values, emotions and politics. Perhaps this is what makes that knowledge somewhat relative. Exact scientists are never satisfied until they understand the next step. I don’t know if that is the case with economists, but I can imagine that they may be reluctant to
dig too deep. They might run into structures that they, or we as a society, prefer not to see or know about at that moment. Or other interests may be at stake. Exact sciences are completely the opposite: we have another aim, which is to understand something very precisely. AH: I always say that it’s great that you guys try to understand and unravel cancer, and that it’s also important to share that knowledge with other disciplines. Because you and other cancer researchers go into such depth and go right to the core of the matter, much more so than other disciplines. With economics, it feels to me as though we are just starting on this process. GK: You’re searching for a collaborative method across disciplines, but that is difficult because scientists are so exact in their methods. And every scientific discovery raises new questions. The more specialized, the different worlds become, the more difficult collaboration will be. And all parties must be prepared to lay bare everything about their disciplines. There is an inherent competition between scientists, for we have to compete with many others to raise funds for research. At the same time, science is honest. The best scientists know that when you share, you create synergies. Evolutionary and molecular biology, psychology and archaeology offer more and more insights into how humans have developed over millions of years. Those kinds of laws are familiar to economists as well. Ultimately there has to be a drive among economists to experiment and to ‘want to know.’ This drive should also exist in society. As soon as we talk about cancer, everyone immediately takes it seriously. But when there is deforestation in a country far away or when an island is at risk of becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels, these are problems that are too remote for us, even though we as humans are responsible for these problems and can influence change. Perhaps we can even ‘cure’ these problems. Cancer is something urgent, but for many people, the depletion of the earth’s resources is not as immediate.
physicist and chemist, said that an important aspect of scientific investigation is to conduct the strangest possible experiments then allow oneself to be surprised by the results. In essence, this is mindless – it’s hit or miss. When you hit the mark and something happens that you don’t understand, that’s when intelligence comes into play to take notice of that moment and investigate it.
The research question “What is growth?” explicitly links the behaviour of cancer to the notion of continuous economic growth. The slow and complicated process that leads to cancer defines the transient space between normal and abnormal growth. Normal growth expresses itself in a very clear defined homeostatic space, with clearly defined regulations whereas abnormal growth becomes unbound in a myriad of ways. Cancer research looks at the moments where the fundamental principles of life are challenged by itself. Every time cancer research learns something about where things go wrong in the same moment they learn something about how things are supposed to go. Professor Hans Clevers expressed his relationship with the cell beautifully when he said that whatever he thinks up on how a cell functions, or should function, at the end of the day he has to ask the cell if what it is true. It is humbling. Cells have been around for some four billion years. Four billion years of trial and error in developing systems that inspire and control growth. If you consider how many times a cell multiplies in your body during your lifetime, a million billion times, it is almost unbelievable how few mistakes are made in that incredibly complicated process. To some extent it is precisely this rarity that makes it so valuable for us to understand those mistakes. They show where even life itself has come to the end of it wits, while at the same time pointing towards the many possibilities for living systems to organise themselves succesfully. Therefor cancer researchers have the responsibility to share their knowledge of this process. Not just to learn how the cell works and how to cure cancer but so that we can translate the deep truths developed by life itself into truths that will help humanity shape a resilient and sustainable society.
26 Growth? HALLMARK 1 Self-sufficiency in growth signals
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
The first hallmark is that cancer cells are able to stimulate their own growth. Normally in multi-cellular beings such as humans, cells communicate with each other in response to environmental conditions. If conditions are optimal for growth then the extracellular space will provide the cell with stimulating protein signals. Within the cell there’s a sophisticated chain of command with lots of check points to make sure the signal only continues downstream when there is a genuine need for growth. For instance the cell may refuse to grow even if conditions seem optimal. The command chain, or signaling cascade, is basically made up of proteins connecting to each other like pieces of a puzzle before exchanging information. If the piece fits then the cascade continues all the way to the inside of the nucleus where DNA is activated and translated into proteins that will further stimulate processes of growth. The thing with a cancer cell is that it does not need an external growth signal. Because of a mutation within their DNA, cancer cells are able to synthesize their own growth factors and give the signal that growth is required even if conditions outside of the cell do not ask for it. In some cases growth signals are not even necessary because signaling proteins further down the pathway are mutated and as a result continue to send the signal for growth downward towards the nucleus despite the absence of a growth signal. A last ‘strategy’ of bypassing the regulatory systems of the cell is the creation, again because of mutated DNA, of hypersensitivity to growth signals by the production of a lot more, or more responsive receptors. These receptors sit on the outside of the cell and if there are too many the cell will start dividing even in an environment with very few growth stimulants.
HALLMARK 2 Insensitivity to antigrowth signals
Cancer cells are able to evade growth suppressors. Growth suppressors are proteins that inhibit growth by inducing a cell into a quiescent or post-mitotic state. The inhibiting signals exist within the surrounding microenvironment, the extracellular matrix, as well as on the surface of surrounding cells to which a cell is bound. Cancer must target this system to continue its uncontrolled replication. Cancers biggest regulatory adversary in this process is retinoblastoma, a growth suppressor that binds to and inactivates proteins involved in cell replication. Retinoblastoma can be thought of as a kind of gatekeeper that only opens the gate to cell multiplication if the microenvironment provides all the right keys to unlock the door. It is switched on or off in response to antigrowth signals in its microenvironment. However sometimes the gatekeeper is corrupted or tricked into opening the gate. Cancer is able to disrupt normal antigrowth signaling in several ways. Some cells stop responding to antigrowth signals altogether by producing less receptors on their cell surface. In other cases the receptor itself is mutated so that it cannot respond to the presence of antigrowth factors. Sometimes the antigrowth signaling cascade is interrupted because some pieces of the puzzle are missing in cancerous cell, therefore not conveying the message to transcript antigrowth proteins in the nucleus. In such cases the gatekeeper may not even be aware that the enemy is already within the cell limits. Sometimes the retinoblastoma protein itself can be lost or corrupted through mutation of its gene. And lastly there are some oncogenes, the mutated genes that stimulate the genesis of cancer, that are able to block the function of retinoblastoma.
HALLMARK 3 Evading apoptosis
The average healthy human adult replaces fifty to seventy billion damaged cells each day through a process called apoptosis, or cell suicide. Malignant cells can resist this programmed cell death. With so many cell divisions taking place each day it is no wonder that there are incidental mistakes in the copying of the DNA from one cell to the next. In a healthy cell one of the ways to avoid that cells with mutated DNA multiply and possibly grow cancerous is to either repair the damaged cell before it multiplies or, if this is impossible, to destroy it. Cells can only become truly cancerous if they’re able to evade this programmed cell death. The decision to repair or self-destruct is upon one of the most investigated proteins in cancer research: p53, also known as ‘the guardian of the genome’. With great power comes great responsibility, and great risk if things are not quite right. More than half of all types of cancer have a mutated or missing gene for p53, making it the most frequently mutated gene in human cancer. Again there are several different ways in which cancer is able to ignore p53. In some cases p53 itself doesn’t work properly because of mutations or because it is missing altogether. Sometimes p53 itself is fine but is compromised by other proteins that make it impossible for p53 to work properly. Cancer cells can obstruct the activity of P53 by increasing the inhibitors of P53, making it much less effective. Some oncoproteins can bind to and silence the activators of P53, or P53 itself. In some cases cancer cells can produce excessive amounts of anti-apoptotic proteins or produce less pro-apoptotic proteins. And finally cancer cells can short-circuit the extrinsic death receptor apoptotic pathway, although extrinsic signals for cell suicide seem to be less involved in cancer.
HALLMARK 4 Limitless replicative potential
The fourth hallmark of cancer is its limitless replicative potential. Cancer cells continue to multiply despite an in-built, autonomous program designed to limit most cells number of replication to somewhere between 40 and 60 times. This number is also known as ‘the hayflick limit’. A region of repetitive DNA called the telomeres at the end of the chromosomes keeps track of how many times a cell has multiplied by losing a little piece of DNA every time a cell divides. The shorter this area of repetitive DNA the more multiplications the cell went through. When these telomeres are completely gone, replication stops and the cell goes into senescence, meaning it stops multiplying altogether although it continues to live and perform its function. Unlike n ormal cells, cancer cells are able to maintain their telomeres by adding the missing piece of DNA to the ends of their chromosomes after each division. They disrupt the cell’s normal counting mechanism which makes them feel and behave as if they are immortal. Except they aren’t. Since cancer cells exist within a multicellular reality their immortality comes at a price; the accumulation of damaging mutations increases with time, leading to ever more complications in the execution of basic cellular tasks, and the cancer cells die together with the multicellular body they are part of.
HALLMARK 5 Sustained angiogenesis
Cancer cells are able to induce and direct the continuous growth of blood vessels to support their exuberant resource needs. The process of new formation of blood vessels, known as angiogenesis, is necessary in the formation of embryonic tissue and during juvenile growth but is switched off in adults. Occasionally it gets switched back on during processes such as wound healing, to restore the oxygen supply to tissues in hypoxic conditions, or during menstruation. In cancer cells however, angiogenesis is always switched on. Tumors are in a constant mode of replication and thus in a constant need of oxygen, nutrients and waste drainage. Cancer cells have the uncanny ability to recruit blood vessels in the nearby cell microenvironment to grow extensions and provide them with the resources they need. This process of recruitment depends largely on the role of a growth factor called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). VEGF causes endothelial cells to first break through existing blood vessels, build protrusions and then work their way towards where the signal is strongest. Proteins that inhibit this process are deactivated in the process. When a tumor grows very soon the cells in the center of the tumor start to suffer from a lack of oxygen. In response to these low oxygen levels the cells send out a stress signal that causes specific proteins to initiate angiogenesis. Angiogenesis in a cancer is a perversion of an innocent cellular process that exists to provide its body with the resources it needs, or repair damaged blood vessels. It means well yet without it, cancer would not exist.
The Hallmarks Of Malignant Growth research
Cancer as a disease provides a lens to look at the fundamental principles of life itself, in the genetic codes that constitute the recipes of our very being. As humanity investigates how to defeat this terrible disease, cancer holds up a mirror and asks us to take a good look at the truth about good and bad growth it shares with us. Although cancer is a complex phenomenon and science still has a lot of ground to cover, it is important to develop an awareness of some of its fundamental principles. The seminal paper ‘The hallmarks of cancer’ by Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan simplified its underlying process to ten common traits that every single cancer shares and that facilitate the transformation from normal growth to malignant growth.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
HALLMARK 6 Tissue invasion and metastasis
The sixth hallmark of cancer is its ability to spawn pioneer cells that move out of the original tumor to invade adjacent tissues and travel to distant sites where they form colonies, otherwise known as ‘metastasis’. Adult specialized cells are not meant to do either. They’re meant to stay where they are and perform the task they’re assigned to do. Cancer, by default, does not really have a specific assigned task. A tumor is basically failed tissue. The cancer cell then disrupts the normal tissue program even more by expressing proteins that undo their fixed position within a tissue while at the same time disrupting the expression of proteins that cement their position. Our tissues are primarily composed of epithelial and mesenchymal cells, and the extracellular matrix to which these cells are connected. Epithelial cells adhere to one another to form cell layers, which act as barriers to protect our bodies and organs from the environment. In contrast, mesenchymal cells are solitary, do not make mature cell to cell contacts, and are capable of migrating. During embryonic development, epithelial cells are able to undergo physical and genetic changes collectively referred to as ‘the epithelial to mesenchymal transformation’. The mesenchymal cells are then recruited to specific sites in the developing embryo where they revert back to form the necessary epithelial tissues. Unfortunately long after the body has reached adulthood and homeostasis cancer is still able to hijack this principle to create malignant colonies.
HALLMARK 7 Genome instability and mutation
The seventh hallmark of cancer is the instability of its genome and the ability to mutate and adapt to the complex environment that is our body. With an average one hundred million billion (100.000.000.000.000.000) cell divisions during a life time, even the very small chance of mutation still makes its probability quite high. That’s why the cell’s DNA repair mechanism is so important. Even in normal cell division the imperfect DNA replication process introduces temporary DNA errors but they are practically always repaired. When the repair genes themselves mutate and the genome surveillance system is compromised the rate of mutations increases and cellular anarchy starts to increase. Although the first mutation in a cell is produced by direct DNA damage as a result of bad luck, too much sunshine, or the exposure to a carcinogen, the follow up mutations are most likely the result of the increased chaos within the cell as a result of the first mutation. If a cancer cell acquires a mutation that enables it to grow faster, survive longer and multiply more than the surrounding cells, it has a selective advantage and will outgrow and dominate the other cells. It selects for mutations that can overcome the anticancer defense mechanisms and evade immune destruction and the apoptotic machinery which causes it to self-destruct, corrupt and co-opt ‘normal’ surrounding cells and migrate to distant parts of the body, becoming ever more unpredictable and difficult to fight.
HALLMARK 8 Tumor-promoting inflammation
Cancer can corrupt and recruit the immune system to help it survive, grow, migrate and start colonies. This process is enabled in a climate of constant inflammation. Under normal conditions inflammation is how tissue responds to injury, for instance during the healing of a wound. It acts locally and protective. The function of inflammation is to eliminate the initial cause of cell
injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process, and initiate tissue repair. However, if inflammation-causing agents persist for a prolonged period of time, the body’s response to it becomes a chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation increases the risk of cancer. There are striking similarities between a tumor and a wound. The inflammatory response involves the activation of a wide range of genes involved with providing exactly what cancer needs to survive, grow and migrate. The ‘healing’ processes are controlled by growth factors and signaling molecules. Just like immune cells gather near a site of injury to secrete growth factors to begin tissue repair, tumors also surround themselves with immune cells that secrete growth factors to promote their cancerous growth. Various types of immune cells are involved but the main culprits are tumor-associated macrophages (TAM). In some instances they comprise as much as half of the tumor mass. TAM’s assist cancer cells in bypassing some of the anti-cancer defense mechanisms as described in previous posts: they secrete and provide growth factors to the tumor. They promote angiogenesis by secreting growth factors into the oxygen deprived regions of the tumor. They suppress the adaptive immune system by secreting immunosuppressive molecules, or by attracting inactive immune cells. Tumor-associated macrophages are also involved in metastasis by degrading the extra cellular matrix.
HALLMARK 9 Reprogramming energy metabolism
Cancer is able to reprogram the cell’s energy metabolism to cater for its enormous resource needs. Everything a cell does needs energy obtained from breaking down nutrients through respiration. This energy is then stored as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the cell. Normal cells, under normal conditions, undergo aerobic respiration, a metabolic pathway that requires oxygen. Cells break down glucose to eventually form ATP, while releasing carbon dioxide as a waste product. When there isn’t enough oxygen, cells switch to anaerobic respiration, where cells also break down glucose construct ATP but produce lactic acid rather than carbon dioxide. Aerobic respiration produces far more ATP molecules than anaerobic respiration (32ATP to 2ATP). Still cancer prefers the latter because although they produce far less energy per molecule of glucose, they produce it almost a hundred times faster. Cancer cells actively attach more glucose transporters on their cell surface membranes, so more glucose is brought inside the cell. The benefits of speedy ATP production outweigh the costs associated with the inefficient glucose breakdown. In the process, cancer cells also produce the necessary intermediate biosynthetic precursors used as building blocks for the rapidly dividing cells. There is a strong evolutionary basis for rapid cell division and faster growth despite the inefficient use of glucose in the process. In healthy cells the ability to grow and divide rapidly is useful in the context of wound healing and immune responses. When an immune response is required, immune cells massively increase their glucose uptake, switch from metabolizing glucose through normal respiration to aerobic glycolysis, and ramp up the biosynthesis of proteins, lipids and DNA. To fuel their growth, cancer cells hijack this metabolic switch.
HALLMARK 10 Evading immune systems
Paradoxically, the immune system is actively involved in the process of cancer progression, both through tumor eradication and in tumor immune potentiation. The first escape mechanism for a tumor is simply the process of continued mutation and selection within a growing tumor that is under attack by the immune system. If the tumor contains cells that are able to survive the onslaught, then these cells will eventually dominate the tumor and make the immune system less effective. Cells show their health in the form of antigens. Antigens are pieces of protein that the cell presents on its surface and that display what is going on inside the cell. The immune system checks if the antigens are familiar and representative of a healthy cell. If not, it kills the cell. Recognition of cancerous cells can be difficult since cancer cells are in fact a modified self. To make it even more difficult, cancer is able to minimize the display of its faulty antigens. However, if the number of displayed antigen drops below a certain level, natural killer cells move in and attack the cancerous cell. The third evasive strategy is the tumor’s expression of growth factor TGF-Beta while at the same time down-regulating TGF-Beta receptors on its surface. TGF-Beta induces apoptosis in surrounding cells (they have the receptors that cancer does not) while encouraging the formation of new blood vessels. The tumor creates space for itself by killing competing cells, while making sure it gets more resources to grow. The fourth strategy is immune suppression through regulatory cells. The immune system needs to be regulated not to attack self cells. Cancer hijacks the principle by expressing regulatory proteins that suppress the immune system from acting upon the tumor. Finally, cancer cells make simple changes in the biochemical and nutritional environment that benefit tumorgenesis. They change their metabolism by up-regulating anaerobic glycolysis within the oxygen -starved micro-environment of the tumor. In doing so they take nutrients (glucose) away from the immune cells and lower surrounding pH levels. Lower pH levels stops maturation of T cells.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
HALLMARK 1 Self-sufficiency in growth signals
HALLMARK 2 Insensitivity to antigrowth signals
24HR ECONOMY no sleep
CAN WE START TO SKETCH A CELL-BASED UNDERSTANDING OF ECONOMIC GROWTH? DO WE LISTEN TO A IMAGINED SUBLIME BEING THAT PROMISES ABUNDANCE IN THE ETERNAL AFTERLIFE OR DO WE LISTEN TO THE CELL THAT WHISPERS IN OUR EAR HOW TO ACHIEVE ABUNDANCE IN THE ETERNAL NOW?
HALLMARK 3 Evading apoptosis Hayflick Limit
HALLMARK 5 Sustained angiogenesis
HALLMARK 4 Limitless replicative potential
TOO BIG TO FAIL
“At the end of the day I must always return to the cell to ask if what I’m thinking is correct.” -Hans Clevers If you take a helicopter flight you will see that there is room for a lot more asphalt Former Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment Melanie Schultz
Angiogenic Chair for Asphalt Schulz
The Hallmarks Economic Of Malignant Growth research
The cancer cell is Gaia’s messenger.
If growth is indeed, as cancer researcher Geert Kops says, ‘the default state of biology’, then its regulation is a with the exception of cancer, regulates its growth because regulation is as much part of the total practise of norm is its accumulative aspect. If anything, regulation comes before growth. Regulation is the egg before the chicken. 21st century is to redesign the econmic egg. In economic culture today the idea of accumulation has been extracted that growth in nature shows us to be, this link is unfortunately not self-evident and regulation is often perceived it is mostly uncultural” The result is an economy where the emphasis is not on homeostasis, as in the organism, but like in cancer. If we are to return to health and learn how to redesign our relationship with the planet we must tu microbiology. The 10 hallmarks of cancer turn the cancer cell into a cartographer cartographer that maps where the and bad, and where no man’s land starts. Every time a cancer researcher discovers something about how cancer works, about life itself. If we are growth and our economy is growth than perhaps we should transform our knowledge of the language can can help us design resilient and sustainable economic systems.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
HALLMARK 6 Tissue invasion and metastasis
HALLMARK 7 Genome instability and mutation
HALLMARK 8 Tumor-promoting inflammation
HALLMARK 9 Reprogramming energy metabolism
HALLMARK 10 Evading immune systems
CORRUPTION & UNSTABLE GOVERNMENT
OPEN-WOUND ECONOMY OPEN-WOUND behaviour
growing out of trouble
FOSSIL FUEL DEPENDENCY CO2 / lactic acid plastics Phosphor Sugar Fat (food industry)
TAX EVASION BAHAMAS Corruption (again)
twist, snail, slug, hedgehog (hedge-funds)
degradation / high entropy
free trade (off)
as well. Living tissue, mal or natural growth as The challenge for the from the total package d as “unnatural”, where t on continuous growth, urn to cancer research and borders are between good , they discover something e cancer cell into a
Shock doctrine Environmental stress
Kleiber’s Law What doesn’t kill you...
Under the current Gross National Product -GNP- system... all we do is add together expenditures, so the most “economically productive” citizen is a cancer patient who totals his car on his way to meet with his divorce lawyer” - Bill Mckibben - Deep Economy, 2007
30 Growth “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” 30 Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
Angiogenic chair for Asphalt Schultz On the workings of an artist-run public office for the investigation of the development from normal towards malignant growth, through staging dialogues between cancer researchers, economists and artists, and inviting elements of chaos into an already poorly regulated environment Photo: Aafke Holwerda
The standard white office unit is located on an unremarkable lawn between the University of Utrecht restaurant and the botanical gardens, and just a short walking distance away from the School of Economics and the Hubrecht Institute for developmental biology and stem cell research. It is at a crossroads so there’s a lot of traffic around, especially bicycles, motor scooters and pedestrians. The office unit is surrounded by what resembles a miniaturized asphalt clover junction to signal the importance of facilitating growth, with an infrastructure to provide access to the necessary resources and waste disposal. A dark blue 1999 Volvo V70 is parked across the junction. Since it’s not allowed to park outside of designated areas, they’ve added some props to the wheels of the car to make it look as if it is part of the art installation. That’s funny. Voodoo priestess/poet Maria van Daalen proceeds in opening the gateways to knowledge on growth, in a ritual that includes a short dance and prayer and the spitting in my face of Haitian rum. She also cautions us to comfort the nearby tree that although we’ve covered most of its environment with asphalt, we don’t mean harm. I pour some water on its roots. “That’s enough”, says Maria. On the long side of the office unit is a sign resembling an oversized spread from the Financial Times. Articles include an item about the work of the outrageous Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkeley, a lengthy quote from ’Illness as Metaphor’‚ by Susan Sontag, a recipe for Tourteau Fromager - a type of French cheesecake that takes its distinctive taste from burning the outside crust - and a caricature of Donald Trump. Right next to the entrance door to the office unit, a large rampant bamboo pops up through a crack in the asphalt road. A few small heaps of discarded asphalt are scattered around and against the unit. On the other side of the cabin is what looks like a garden but what is in fact a production space for furniture run by famous Dutch designer Lucas Maassen, well-known for employing his underaged sons to work in the family business and create some of his furniture designs for him. His garden is centered around the production of polyurethane foam stools, lamps and tables by directly injecting the material into roughly preshaped soil, and left to harden before being covered in hard resins. The small solar panel connected to a car battery that stands to the side seems a meek excuse in the face of such polluting extravaganzas.
In the grass next to the production garden, is an oversized ashtray made from concrete and shaped with the same direct-injection-into-the-soil-method Maassen and his team applied for the polyurethane furniture. Cecile Espinasse, a student in food design at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, made a small fire in the ashtray and is heating some left-over asphalt in an iron wheelbarrow. The rubber wheel catches fire. A foul stench fills the air. Cecile is trying to create a chair made from the asphalt. It is not easy, asphalt doesn’t like vertical, it likes horizontal, and the chair keeps falling apart, until eventually she finds a way. The chair is called ’Angiogenic Chair for Asphalt Schulz’ and refers to the former Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Environment who claimed in an interview that there was still plenty of room for more asphalt. The chair was eventually displayed in an exhibition in De Kazerne in Eindhoven were it stood and slowly fell apart until, neglected by its owner, it was thrown away. At the opening of the exhibition the young economist Nodir Primkulov, who participated in many discussions on the topic of economic theory and cancer at the office unit and traveled to Eindhoven, seats on the angiogenic chair and reads excerpts from ’The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ by Adam Smith. On the short side of the cabin a crudely made hatch opens to what turned out to be a protein shake bar, providing the numerous amateur athletes that work out on the apparatus provided by the municipality and the science park on the other side of the bike lane that passes in front of the office unit, with three types of shakes: a growth stimulating shake, a growth suppressing shake and a shake to repair muscles after strenuous work-outs. Residing over the Protein Bar is, again, Cecile. Upon entering the cabin, you have to pass through a very small hall where the tools used to create the asphalt angiogenic roundabout and chair are neatly stacked against the wall. They include tools for gardening and masonry, shovels and hoes and are all covered in a thick layer of asphalt. Inside the cabin is a small kitchen sink with an unconnected tap and the crude hatch of the protein bar that looks out onto the field on the other side of the path. There’s a little sign with the image of a roman statue that reads “Protein Bar”. On IKEA shelves artistically glued to the wall with polyurethane foam are the supplies for the Protein Bar as well as a supply of unused cans of polyurethane foam and some books on cancer and micro-economics. A few quotes have been handwritten on the wall. One of them reads: ’Under the current Gross National Product -GNP- system… all we do is add
together expenditures, so the most economically productive citizen is a cancer patient who totals his car on his way to meet with his divorce lawyer. - Bill Mckibben, Deep Economy 2007’. Hanging on a coatrack are several masks made from wood as well as polyurethane, created in the production garden by Sjef Henderickx and Ane Koczorowski. They look kind off monstrous as dirt, rocks and sticks have been glued in the polyurethane skin. At the back of the office unit are three rather clumsy looking chairs and an equally clumsy coffee table, courtesy of Lucas Maassen. On the table is a Fukurokuryuzinboku, also called ’titty cactus’ because its shape resembles a woman’s breast. On the wall, someone has written the words: interest, steadystate, tissue homeostasis, zigzag flow, protectionism, mutation, malthusian ceiling, invisible hand, affluenza, circular flow, physiocracy, and Keynesian multiplier. Outside a generator to power the beamer is humming. This is where the dialogues take place. Before today’s guest, cancer researcher Daniele Guardavaccaro, participates in one of the discussions, he tries to make a polyurethane proteasome in the garden. It looks like a big toffee. A group of people outside is asked to use polyurethane shapes that were created over the past weeks, to build an installation that resembles Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Formula 1 car. Daniele’s proteasome is used as the steering wheel. Inside, Daniele talks about ’ubiquitin’, the kiss of death in cell recycling. Time for lunch. Cecile, adopting yet another role, translates one of her food research projects into a performative abundant meal. While Daniele and Nodir are talking about the similarities and differences of growth in the economy and in cancer, she serves sushi after sushi, with a speed and quantity that doesn’t allow for the guests to eat it all. The sushi keeps coming until the entire table is filled. A healthy appetite turns to slight disgust at this confrontation with so much food soon to be wasted. Unresponsive to their protests, Cecile continues to serve more.
Angiogenic Chair for Asphalt Schulz was part of Zero Footprint Campus, a project curated by Cynthia Hathaway and Melle Smets linking artists to the scientific practice of the Utrecht Science Park, offering them the space for their study and experiments, and commissioning them with developing and presenting new work.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
“We must realize that growth is but an adolescent phase of life which stops when physical maturity is reached. If growth continues in the period of maturity it is called obesity or cancer. Prescribing growth as the cure for the energy crisis has all the logic of prescribing increasing quantities of food as a remedy for obesity.” Albert A. Bartlett
Cancer mask, Sjef Henderickx, 2017
Illness as Metaphor
Desperate individual seeking sanctuary Susan Sontag New York The cancer cell is a desperate individualist, ’in every possible sense a non-conformist’ as the surgeon-writer Sherwin Nuland wrote. The word metastasis, used to describe the migration of cancer from one site to another, is a curious mix of meta and stasis-“beyond stillness” in Latin- a unmoored, particularlly unstable state that cap-
tures the peculiar instability of modernity. If consumption once killed its victims by pathological evisceration (the tuberculosis bacillus gradually hollows out the lung), then cancer asphyxiates us by filling bodies with too many cells; it is consumption in its alternate meaning – the pathology of excess. Cancer is an expansionist disease; it invades
though tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking ‘sanctuary’ in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively – at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
“We need a new luke disney Rethinking Growth
Arne Hendriks in conversation with Luke Disney
luke disney Luke Disney grew up in a small fishing and coal town in Canada, surrounded by vast natural landscapes. After studying economics he worked at TNT Express. He was jointly responsible for the Moving the World initiative, a public-private partnership between the United Nations World Food Program and TNT, aimed at combatting hunger in the world. He later founded North Star Alliance, an award-winning social enterprise with the goal of keeping mobile populations (for instance truck drivers) and local communities healthy and safe. Before Disney started working at Rabobank as Head of Communications Banking for Food, he was director of the INSEAD Social Innovation Centre. Luke is an advisor to the World Healthcare Forum and the Faculty of Economics at the University of Amsterdam.
Arne Hendriks: Luke Disney is Head of Communications for Banking for Food. The first time I spoke to Luke, he asked me, almost immediately, if I was familiar with Fritz Schumacher’s essay collection, ‘Small is Beautiful.’ Schumacher was an economist who held rather alternative views concerning economies of scale in the business world. I certainly know his work, and even consider him a guide. I want to know more, so let’s begin. Luke, how important is growth to Rabobank? Luke Disney: In the Netherlands, Rabobank is the home bank for 86 percent of the agricultural sector. We want to continue to grow abroad what we have built up here. We see it as part of our mission to support farmers and the agricultural sector in general. That’s Banking for Food. How exactly are we going to do it? We’re currently discussing that. AH: Immediately we’re getting to the heart of the matter: growth. Why should Rabobank grow abroad? LD: The most obvious answer is because there’s room. Another reason is that the bank’s balance has to grow as a result of new standards and capital rules following the economic crisis. And ultimately, however you cut it, we are part of a system in which growth is demanded of us. Otherwise, you are pushed out of the market or taken over. Furthermore, the bank also has no choice, because it has a primary responsibility towards its customers. When their money comes to us, we have to make sure it is safe. Growth is also ‘tangible.’ The value we create here can be difficult to measure at the end of the day. However, what you can prove at the end of the year is that a higher percentage of turnover has been realized. Growth as the fruit of labor – it’s what the table is to the carpenter, and the painting to the artist.
haven’t read it for a while, but the Bible contains nothing along the lines of, “Thou shalt grow.” AH: I think that our religious texts do contain a promise of growth and abundance. In the hereafter, abundance is always anticipated. There are appetite-inducing miracles: Jesus making wine from water. “I am the good shepherd, follow me and I will lead you to green pastures.” Prophet Moses, leading his people to the Promised Land, the land of milk and honey. The story of Canaan’s grapes. I think in our religious roots there’s a desire for ‘more.’ Or at least the feeling that we’re entitled to it. Our desires grow and with them the willingness and the energy to make certain choices. LD: Growth is also very natural. But in nature, growth is part of a cycle. Trees grow, produce leaves and shed them, starting the cycle all over again in the spring. We have the same cycle, although we close our eyes
“Are economic models sufficient to explain the world?”
experience that the 10 percent can color the whole picture, so that you no longer see the other 90 percent. Or that public opinion no longer believes it. Part of that ‘disputable’ 20 percent is large-scale agriculture, for which we are often under attack. Opponents say: monoculture is not good for biodiversity. I understand that very well. At the same time, the world’s population is growing rapidly and we will have to feed all those mouths. AH: That’s very much a human-centred argument. Shouldn’t we learn to think in terms of a living system, and of humanity as a balanced part of it? Then you have to make a choice at a given moment, at least from a material point of view. You can put yourself on the side of humanity with large-scale agriculture, but is that what you should do? LD: We base our arguments from the point of view of our own species, that’s for sure. Although Thomas Malthus was already warning people, 200 years ago, about the destructive impact of population growth. He argued that the human capacity for population growth is vastly greater than the Earth’s ability to support human existence. Shouldn’t we seek a more focused way of ensuring that population growth slows down? I’m not hearing that discussion right now. AH: Do you see yourself as the person who should criticize the ‘system’ of the bank?
to it. After years of decline, we’re back now in a period of economic growth. Undoubtedly, a new period of decline will follow later. We are faced with a rapidly growing world population, and that cannot continue indefinitely. Is growth not simply part of a cycle? Or should it be? There is a moment when growth is good, and there’s a moment when growth is no longer good.
AH: So, do you measure the bank’s growth by looking at the bottom line?
AH: If you could assign percentages to activities within the bank that contribute to good growth and bad growth, how would that picture look?
LD: Yes, generally it’s a cost-benefit analysis, which should lead to net or bottom-line growth. And that’s the basis of our ‘faith.’ Because personally, I think we are trained to think like that. What is our definition of success? It’s growth. It’s a story that we tell each other. When did growth become such a central part of our faith? When did we as a society become so obsessed with growth? I
LD: It’s difficult. Let me start by saying that I believe that 100 percent of people come to work here with good intentions. But as I look at it now, 10 percent would be ‘bad,’ 20 percent ‘disputable,’ 10 percent ‘fantastic,’ and 60 percent ‘good.’ And the amount of actual growth that comes from that ‘bad’ 10 percent is limited. In my profession, communications, it’s my
LD: Yes, the critical questioning of development is certainly part of my role. And we put that into practice, too. Our team is currently collecting cases under the heading: “Deals that will give you a headache.” We’re asking people within the bank about the deals or investments that they’ve made which they have later regretted. AH: And? LD: You can easily discuss this with individuals. But if you want to do it structurally, by means of a survey, for example, it’s a lot more difficult. The culture of the bank makes it difficult to talk about such matters. Even though it’s important to do so. How else can we define ‘Growing a better world together’? It’s also difficult to determine a course as a bank. In our mission statement, growth is the foundation. However good those intentions may be, you immediately exclude certain opportunities. Developments in which per-
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
w story” haps it may be better for the bank to become smaller, with a focus on other things. AH: Shrinking a better world together. LD: In any case, I don’t believe in unlimited growth. As early as 1972, the Club of Rome presented the report, ‘The Limits to Growth: A Global Challenge’, in which the problem of resource depletion is central. What are the limits to growth? I miss that in the discussion about the current economy. We are behaving as though economics is an exact science, but it isn’t. Economics is a story, a belief, a way of dealing with each other. If our beliefs change, then our choices change. AH: Buddhist economics is based on a holistic view of the economy, making use of other, principally non-economic, areas of knowledge to shape economic policy. According to Buddhist economists, rational decisions can only be made if we understand how irrationality arises. According to them, for example, it’s necessary to understand what causes the kind of greed that all the riches in the world cannot satisfy. LD: I studied economics myself. Half of what I have learned has already been proven to be incorrect. As the crisis also made clear, there is a gap between the economic world as it is taught at schools and universities, and the real world in which we live.
self a pessimist in today’s society? Is that allowed? Are there examples of successful pessimists? Could you work within Rabobank as a self-declared pessimist? We were talking about faith and stories. We also believe that things are constantly improving. I don’t know if that is actually the case. AH: I don’t think that always believing things are getting better determines whether you’re an optimist or not. For me, the question is: how do I relate to the delusions that exist in the world? Such as continuous growth at the expense of our ecology. I think that optimism and maybe even activism is an attitude of wanting to do something about it. Pessimism often leads to cynicism and saying goodbye to what constitutes a source of energy, for example to maintain that 10 percent bad growth. There’s the functionalized pessimism of the risk analyst. But there’s also the trader who thinks: ‘I’ll get round to it later.’ LD: My grandfather used to say: “Be sure to leave the world a better place than you found it.” But I don’t have any illusions about making major changes alone. I’m more of a realist. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” But I haven’t lost hope that things will get better. I’m a hopeful realist, a hopeful activist. It also depends on your perspective. I’m not worried about the planet; it’s going to be fine.
AH: From my conversations with young economists, little seems to have changed in schools. ‘Modelling for continuous growth’ still seems to be the starting point. From the current economic perspective, growth means progress, but seen from a radically different perspective – the human body – continuous growth means cancer and death. I’ve had several conversations with geneticists and microbiologists, including Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute. Clevers’ science is exact in examining how cells divide and grow. He says, ’At the end of the day, I always have to return to the cell to ask if what I have come up with is true.’ Economics is a social science in which assumptions are made on a completely different basis. Economists have no cell to return to.
AH: You mean the planet without people? You can’t ignore our beauty as a species. I can’t say I don’t like what we are. Humanity is worth saving. That inspires me enormously, because I think it really is feasible.
LD: The question is whether the models, the existing instruments of economic scientists, are sufficient to understand and explain the world today. We need a new story.
to Banking for Food, that means that there is sufficient healthy food for everyone. But yes, we don’t know everything, especially within the bank. We see more and more that some aspects of growth are bad, but I don’t know anyone who has the definition of unhealthy growth or healthy shrinkage. What is moderation? That’s what we’re struggling with now as a bank, what is growth in moderation? I believe it’s true that today’s problems are yesterday’s solutions. So much of what we do today is based on the decisions we made yesterday. As times change, some solutions become problems. This is why entrepreneurs and creative thinkers can and must continue to innovate. Again: the art is to tell a different story – as a bank, and as a society. I think that to start with, we have to inspire our own employees. That’s why a collaboration with an artist like you is so important.
AH: Strangely enough, this lack of an exact reference point makes me optimistic. Because economics is a social science, we ultimately determine what economics is by the way in which we think of, and about, the economy. This means we could, for example, redefine an idea like ‘continuous growth’, or try to replace it with a completely different concept. LD: I find it interesting that you call yourself an optimist. Not least because you’ve already spent a considerable amount of time immersing yourself in the idea of shrinking. At the same time, can you even call your-
LD: That’s what I’m fighting for every day. As for us as a bank, I think we’re in a transition in which growth has a healthy connotation. Growth that benefits society. When it comes
“Religious texts contain promises of abundance growth”
Trade-off talk When something grows, something else doesn’t. Energy can only be invested once. A trade-off is a situation that involves the exchange of one desirable quality for another. Both physical and psychological growth are such features. In evolutionary terms (the energy invested in) growth can be exchanged for a number of other desirable investment opportunities such as the speed of reproduction, number of offspring, faster independence, stamina, longevity, flexibility, resilience, etc. Although there are certain advantages to investing in greater size, they always come at a price. Our pre-occupation with growth and bigger size as an almost obvious quality that needs no further explanation, positions the research regarding trade-offs in a dialectical framework, using such words as sacrifice, giving-up and loss vs. gaining, overcoming and winning. When evolution is explained within a teleological framework of deterministic action, every trade-off becomes a goal. And that is confusing since within evolution itself trade-offs just happen as a result of coincidence and the process of passive adaptation. Dialectical win or lose linguistics not only emerge from a cultural pre-occupation with size, they also reinforce it. Considering progressive knowledge on the speculative trade-offs involved in support of continuous economic growth, perhaps an effort should be made to reconsider the language that is used to discuss such extremely influential decision-making processes. Otherwise we’ll probably continue to passively trade off Earth for a Fisherian runaway economy.
Cumulative Default Response Dominance in the animal kingdom is defined as ‘an attribute of the pattern of repeated, agonistic interactions between two individuals, characterized by a consistent outcome in favor of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation’. Although the advantage of winning one confrontation may be small, the cumulative effect of many such advantages creates a default response that facilitates their further rise. Rather then seek confrontation, the smaller individual clears the space for the bigger individual to take center stage. To a large extent this makes the smaller individual responsible for the perception of tallness as a success-formula since they are the ones facilitating their ascend rather then the tall having to compete for it. Height-dependent perceptions only contribute to greater dominance of taller individuals if shorter individuals act on their perceptions, and treat those who are taller as more competent, authoritative, and dominant than they are. So they shouldn’t, because they aren’t. In fact, if we agree that a smaller human species is preferred, small people should seek dominance.
Hara Hachi Bu What if we take a sabbatical from the concept of eating until you are full. On the Japanese island of Okinawa before dinner they say “Hara Hachi Bu”, which means “eat until you’re only 80% full”. The advice is to eat until you’re no longer hungry rather than eat until you can eat no more. Hara Hachi Bu is the only known dinner advice within an affluent society to structurally eat less and a culturally embedded manifestation of calorie restriction.
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.” “A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” - Lewis Carroll, Through the looking glass
The Dehnel phenomenon
Animals and people rarely express their genes preferred size because environmental conditions don’t allow it. But animals in isolated situations are different. On islands it occurs relatively frequently that large species of animals over time grow smaller while species that are considered small grow larger. The greater interspecies competition or pressure of carnivores on the continent may actually force already large animals beyond the limits of their optimum size. They are large so they can better resist carnivores, or small so that they can hide better. The dwarfing or growing of an animal occurs when they become isolated on an island where their natural competitors are absent. Under these circumstances they are allowed to grow to their optimum size. Homo floresiensis was a little over 1,00m. If the theory holds true perhaps there is a little 100cm person trapped inside all of us, waiting to emerge when our competitors a gone.
While organisms grow, they face a succession of environmental challenges they ned to overcome in order to survive. The dynamic evolutionary process that fits organisms to their environment is called adaptation. Structural adaptations are physical features of an organism, such as shape, armament, and internal organization. Behavioural adaptations are inherited systems of behaviour like instinct or the capacity to learn. Physiological adaptations permit the organism to perform special functions such as temperature regulation and other aspects of homeotasis, as well as growth and development. The Dehnel phenomenon, named after its discoverer, Polish zoologist August Dehnel, is the ability of certain species of animals such as shrews, weasels and marine iguanas, to shrink skull, bones and major organs, to survive scarce food situations. Shrews live in seasonal environments with great differences in food availability in different seasons. Because they’re so small shrews eat near-constantly to meet their caloric needs even in the summer. In the winter they’re unable to hibernate or migrate to deal with food so instead they migrate within the body by becoming smaller. Remarkably they shrink in anticipation, even before the actual scarcity arrives. When it does the Common shrew shows an average decrease in skull size of 15 to 20% and when spring arrives they almost fully regrow their skull. ’If you shrink an organ like the brain which is disproportionally more ‘expensive’ than other kinds of tissue
you might save energy’ says Javier Lazano, one of the authors of the study. An average decrease in bodymass of 19% leads to a winter reduction of 18.2% in a shrew’s absolute resting metabolic rate. According to co-author Dina Dechmann: “Normally, animals in colder zones are larger and have a good volume-to-surface ratio to compensate for heat losses. The shrew, on the other hand, has a low volume-to-surface ratio and could possibly save vital energy through shrinking”. Although exceptional, the phenomenon might be more common than we think. The body length of Galapagos marine iguanas also shrinks in response to low food availability and energetic stress to reduce energy expenditure, while it increases their foraging efficiency. It can shrink its entire body, including its skeleton with 20 %. The process can take up to two years and allows the most flexible iguanas to survive the sometimes incredibly hard conditions on the islands. It is not uncommon for up to 90% of the Marine iguana population to perish when conditions are at their worst. The best shrinkers survive and therefor, over generations, this incredible ability to adapt to food availability becomes more expressed in the species. Although islands provide a safe haven from most large carnivores, when things turn ugly, the inhabitants of an island have few options. They either adept, or die.
Pygmy squid bukkake The mating rituals of the Japanese pygmy squid include neither pleasant courtship nor aggressive behavior. All interested males are invited to present a capsule containing sperm to the base of the female’s arms. Females will then stretch out their mouth and pharynx to investigate what has been offered. She then either accepts the capsule or spits it out. The pygmy squid female has a strong preference for the sperm of smaller males. The preselection for genetic material of smaller males is the regulating principle that keeps pygmy squid, pygmy-sized. How she’s is able to assess the difference between the different angiosperm presented to her is still unknown nor are the principles that control her embedded desire.
The best way to deal with the deficit is through economic growth. - Tim Caine
Island Dwarfism: The Hobbit of Flores (Homo floresiensis) Homo floresiensis, nicknamed “hobbit”, is an extinct human species discovered in 2003 on the island of Flores in Indonesia. Partial skeletons of nine individuals have been recovered, including one complete skull. This hominin is remarkable for its small body and brain and for its survival until as recently as 12,000 years ago. The first set of remains to have been found was nicknamed ’the Little Lady of Flores’ or ’Flo’. Flo’s height has been estimated at about 1.06 m (3 ft 6 in). This estimate is outside the range of normal modern human height and considerably shorter than the average adult height of even the smallest modern humans, such as the Pygmies (<150 cm – 4 ft 11) Twa, Semang (137 cm – 4 ft 6) of Africa, or the Andamanese (1.37 m – 4 ft 6). Flo’s body mass has been estimated at 25 kg. To explain the small stature of Homo floresiensis, Brown et al. have suggested that in the limited food environment on Flores Homo erectus underwent strong insular dwarfism, a form of speciation which has also been observed in other species on Flores, including a dwarf Stegodon elephant species.
The Red Queen hypothesis, is an evolutionary hypothesis which proposes that organisms must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate not merely to gain reproductive advantage, but also simply to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing organisms in a constantly changing environment. The phenomenon’s name is derived from a statement that the Red Queen made to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.
Barbie doll experiment Baby illusion
• • •
Since the middle of the 19th century our experienced Earth size decreased by 9% Size is a matter of subjective perspective 100cm means something different to different sized people
During a groundbreaking and equally disarmingly simple research, a group of neuroscientists of the Group Ehrsson at the Swedish Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm have scientifically proven that we use our bodies to size things up. Although language about measurements is interspersed with references to the human body, it was never established that the experienced dimensions of things depend on the relationship between those things and the size of the individual body.
The test method included virtual reality goggles, a barbie doll, several paper cubes and a measure tape. First, a test person was made aware via virtual reality that their body was smaller or larger than their actual body. Then they were asked to estimate the size of a cube that was presented to them within that experience. When the test person thought to have a smaller body, the cube was estimated to be ‘actual’. In the experience from a larger than actual body, the cube was estimated much smaller. By then measuring the estimated size of the cube against the actual size with a length measure, it was possible to make an estimate of the relationship between the size of the body and the actual size of the cube. The results of the research prove that the increased length and weigth of the human body have the consequence that the Earth has shrunk.
Dr. Jordy Kaufman, senior researcher at the The Swinburne Babylab, was curious why parents, after the birth of a second child, often report that their first child appeared to grow suddenly and substantially larger? Is it simply because of the contrast that stems from the comparison of the older child to the new sibling or is there a more complex bio-psychological reason for this phenomenon? Kaufman hypothesized that parents are subject to a kind of ‘baby illusion’ under which they routinely misperceive their youngest child as smaller than he/she really is. Then, when a new baby is born, this illusion ceases and the parent sees, for the first time, the erstwhile youngest at its true size. They routinely misperceive their youngest child as smaller than he or she truly is. To proof this, the researchers asked mothers to estimate the height of one of their children by marking a featureless wall. The outcome was that youngest-children’s heights were underestimated by no less than an average of 7.5 cm while estimates on older children were almost precise. (+ 0.4cm). “It’s possible that the “baby illusion” actually leads to better caregiving”, Kaufman said, “because a perception of baby-like features, such as cuteness or smaller size, helps parents prioritize care for the child who most needs it.”
Bergmann’s rule As the planet warms up, animals shrink. In biology, the general rule of thumb is that animals tend to become smaller in warmer climates: an idea known as Bergmann’s Rule. Bergmann’s rule is an eco-geographical rule that states that within a broadly distributed taxonomic clade, populations and species of larger size are found in colder environments, and species of smaller size are found in warmer regions. Although originally formulated in terms of species within a genus, it has often been recast in terms of populations within a species. It is also often cast in terms of latitude. It is possible that the rule also applies to some plants. While Bergmann’s rule appears
to hold true for many mammals and birds, there are exceptions. Larger-bodied animals tend to conform more closely to Bergmann’s rule than smaller-bodied animals, at least up to certain latitudes. This perhaps reflects a reduced ability to avoid stressful environments, such as by burrowing. In addition to being a general pattern across space, Bergmann’s rule has been reported in populations over historical and evolutionary time when exposed to varying thermal regimes. In particular, reversible dwarfing of mammals has been noted during two relatively brief upward excursions in temperature during the Paleogene, around 55 million years ago.
Human Height Pressure Observations made by the Human Height Impact Group an international collaboration between concerned scientists and artists initiated by The Incredible Shrinking Man have concluded that tall people need considerably more resources than short people. The group warns that the global increase in human height puts at least as much pressure on the ecosystem services as total absolute population growth. When a population adds 10% to its height this creates an additional human biomass of 33%, leading to increased needs of 10 to 33%. Yet concerning ecological footprint we have no measurement unit that takes the human increase in size into consideration. Creating such a unit is a complex process. Paul Ehrlich’s famous formula I = P x A x T. Human Impact (I) on the environment equals the product of population (P), affluence (A) and technology (T). To understand the impact of individual size human height should be included in the P.
illustration: Jeroen van Kempen
Growth? “In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
In times of abundance, morality is our only compass godelieve spaas An artist and a ‘knowledge curator’ debate growth Rethinking Growth
Arne Hendriks: Sometimes it seems that growth has an inevitable logic to it. Like a life process, or a natural law. Like gravity, growth seems to be such a strong directive that it’s impossible to ignore. What’s your point of view, Godelieve? Godelieve Spaas: Perhaps it’s motion, rather than growth, that drives us. Scientific research shows that everything – from the infinitely large to the infinitely small – is in constant motion. Therefore, according to the quantum physicist David Bohm, we should view motion as the natural and actual state of
matter, a condition that needs no explanation, because it stems from the nature of the universe itself. It’s the essence of existence. Growth is a manifestation of motion. In the economy, we see growth as good. This is not an unquestionable fact, but a subjective judgement. You can reevaluate a judgement. What we’re missing in the economy and in companies is the moral framework for making this kind of judgement. We see the economy as a neutral system, which it isn’t. We all have the responsibility to think about the meaning and impact of the growth that we’re striving for. What do we want to expand, or shrink, or stay as it is? That isn’t an innocent choice.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
AH: Do we have the tools for that? Distinguishing between different aspects of growth isn’t part of our education. Actually, we start out with a twisted idea of growth, because we relate it to our bodies – for example, being tall is an ideal of beauty. We’re already directly connected to the complexity of growth, and we project our desire for it. GS: Yes, it’s funny that motion quickly turns into competitive growth. I’m bigger, faster and can jump further than you. As children, we refer to growth on the basis of quantity: is my room bigger than my brother’s? How many marbles will I get if I win this game? It’s defined numerically, in a very physical way. Motion becomes growth and interaction becomes competition. For me, that’s also the sticking point of today’s economy. A company often strives to be as big as possible – look at Google and Ama-
“We see the economy as a neutral system, which it isn’t”
AH: Suppose we achieve an ideal social situation. Take the 1970s – I have the idea that there was a nice balance back then. We’ve been growing ever since. We haven’t wanted less; there was always something new to desire. It’s not so much the ‘choice’ that defines us, but the ‘want,’ the ‘desire’. A continuous awakening of desire. This inner dynamic reflects on us as a species much more than all the good choices that we could actually make. GS: After the Second World War, during the reconstruction, there wasn’t a lot of choice and you had to work hard to meet your basic needs. Scraping a living. Now, the status quo means that there’s more available to us than we can squeeze into a lifetime. Life is too short to listen to all the music out there, to read all the books, or visit all the places. We have to choose whether we want something or not. Life is finite and that brings the realization that we have to learn to choose. I think that when we really realize that life is finite, we make different choices. What drives that choice? Does it come only from our individual desires? Or do we include our environment and other people in it? Every choice is an ethical choice. That requires a clear moral compass. AH: Isn’t it the fear of mortality that drives us on? Isn’t growth a function of fear? How strong is morality in an uncertain situation? As an animal, you have two options: ‘shrink’ to hide or ‘grow’ to fight. Always in reaction to the environment and other species. As a human being, one of the larger animal species, we have chosen to fight. GS: You say, ’always in reaction to the environment and other species’ – now that’s important. There are trees which, during a drought, give water back to the ground so that the soil maintains its health. Or take the
AH: ‘Stronger and bigger’ again! Funny, isn’t it – it seems inevitable. Because we’re so obsessed with growth, I think we overlook or fail to recognize the many alternatives. It’s not unwillingness, just that there are simply too few paths heading in a different direction than the idea of growth. We always look for an excuse to do it – not to not do it. Those patterns seem to run very deep. GS: I work with investors and they only invest when they know there’s growth in a company. But would it be better to consider what a good size would be for that specific organization? What would be appropriate in that situation and context, and with those people? Also with a view to healthy returns. For example, for a company providing high-quality services, I can imagine that it’s not a good thing to get too big. Because it’s important that employees know each other really well, are aware of each other’s expertise and share knowledge so that they can offer the best added value. AH: What has made us human beings so strong as a species? GS: It’s because we’re intelligent, social beings who build on each other’s knowledge and ideas. However, once we started to see knowledge as property, we began sharing less and less. Despite the fact that knowledge is abundant (it increases rather than reduces when you share it), it’s seen as a scarce commodity in the economy. The modern economy has set up mechanisms that are about owning, not sharing, knowledge. That’s weird if you think about it: how can you own knowledge? AH: Is sharing knowledge less damaging? GS: Sharing knowledge means new knowledge is developed. Bringing together knowledge, ideas, stories, experiences and expressions – that creates new insights, experiments and knowledge. That leads to movement. Whether that’s in the right direction or not, depends on the significance we attribute to it, or on the consequences or impact of a thought or action. Then the issue of a moral compass raises its head again. Back to your question: shared knowledge and experience alone is no guarantee for directing a development towards the good. But if you make knowledge public, so it belongs to everyone, then more people will look critically at how it’s used. It gives more people the opportunity to discuss which applications are good, and which ones are not so good. AH: From an ecological perspective, the problem is that we share with each other, with our own species, but far less (or not at all) with other forms of life. The American biologist and philosopher Donna Haraway criticizes approaches that regard humanity as the center of existence. People and animals share a world and influence each other mutually.
GS: Yes, and she also shows that these types of exclusive divisions are historical constructs that have nothing to do with an ‘original’ state of nature. In the same way, there’s no natural or original human being: we can shift the boundaries that we have constructed for ourselves. Haraway is convinced that the only way to make and keep the earth liveable requires cooperation between all species: people, animals and plants. I think she’s right. This means that we need a moral compass in which ‘we’ has a larger place than ‘me.’ And that ‘we’ is more than people alone.
AH: How are we going to do that? I like the idea of sharing, because then we’re talking about a balance. But the economy, or at least a large part of it, backs away from that. Still, you focus your efforts on the economy. What kind of economy are you talking about? GS: I’m working towards a new narrative for the economy. I think we need to reconnect economics, society and nature in the ways we live, work and do business. Meeting growing demand is only possible if we replenish the earth at the same time. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about growing demand, but about achieving wellbeing for everyone. That means thinking in terms not of conquering markets, but of how you can best contribute to human happiness. From the fishermen of the Wadden Sea I learned about the difference between saltwater and freshwater cultures. Freshwater life takes place within the dikes, where life is organized, controlled and safe. Saltwater life is characterized by the sea that is unpredictable and requires constant alertness and movement. Life at sea is vulnerable and demands endless communication with the larger whole. Maybe we need a saltwater economy. An economy that constantly anticipates and cooperates with the larger whole: people and the earth. An economy that is part of nature and society, and that also shares and distrib-
co-creation is more important than competition utes its revenues so that it brings prosperity to everyone. That means, in my opinion, that co-creation is more important than competition and that sharing is more important than growth. That may not be easy and that is what Haraway calls ‘staying with the trouble.’ AH: I’m afraid that that your economy of sharing and connection will still be based on the same principle of growth. A while ago I spoke with Wouter van Eijkelenburg of Rabobank and the start-up Cool Cow Collective. He believes very much in connection, synergy, and not being in competition and benefiting mutually. But from the principle of growth. GS: Perhaps it depends on what we mean by growth. Do we mean growth in profit and market share? Or growth in our impact: more happy people and animals on a healthy planet? Once again, we have to make a robust choice: it’s about a movement to (re)share and connect. So it’s not about quantitative growth, especially for your own company. In other words, is growth about ‘I,’ or is it about ‘us’? The time of continuous expansion really is over. We will have to discuss the right size for a company to be, for turnover and for profit. These are moral and ethical choices. Choices that you can’t leave to ‘the system’, but that you make with the different collaborating people and organizations within that system. Only then can you shift to an economy that represents life.
godelieve spaas Godelieve Spaas obtained a PhD for new forms of entrepreneurship at the University of South Africa. She is a lecturer in Sustainable Strategy and Innovation at Avans University of Applied Science and is the founder and owner of 4C Coalitions CoCreating Change. Godelieve is co-initiator of and works as a knowledge curator with the Rabo Art Lab and is co-founder and expert advisor New Economy at the Wire-group: Venturing for Impact. In addition, she fulfills various board positions among others at Herenboeren Nederland and at the Pari Center in Tuscany, Italy.
zon. A small company can expand rapidly and stay big because of all sorts of ‘winner-takesall’ mechanisms. If you see growth as motion and interaction, then perhaps a playing field with lots of different-sized companies can be much more innovative. It can lead to a more equal distribution of revenues. An economy in which many different connections are possible can function as an ecosystem in which all components have both collective and individual advantages, while remaining mobile and resilient. Robustness is created by connections between different types of player. So, beyond the chain to cross-sector and cross-discipline, and beyond profit to a more hybrid business model, in which profit and non-profit reinforce each other and multiply value.
‘Wood Wide Web’ that scientists have identified: through underground networks of fungi, it appears that trees and plants are in contact with each other and share information and nutrients. So when life becomes hard, nature doesn’t hold on but shares and works together. It isn’t ‘I’ but ‘we’ that’s the most important driving force. If you look at how the neo-liberal free market is currently organized, it’s rarely about sharing or what’s best for the bigger picture, or even how to survive together. I don’t think that’s necessarily human. Homo economicus makes choices based on self-interest. But humans are social, not economic, animals. You can see that in the movement of the socialand sustainability-oriented entrepreneurs who choose to take care of the bigger picture. They bring the moral compass back into the entrepreneurial world. They work together in the same building to make each other and their environment stronger and bigger.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
A full course cabbage meal to discuss the problem of agricultural over-abundance Last night we were invited to celebrate the plenty at the third edition of the Neo-Futurist Dinner series at Mediamatic in Amsterdam. This time, the night was hosted by Dutch artist and curator Arne Hendriks, who teamed up with “shaman chef” Thorwald Voss to dish out a radical gastronomical experience that entailed serving 50 attendees the same thing, over and over again: cabbage. Think of eating not as an act of consumption, but as a productive activity. With each morsel of food we put in our mouths we shape the landscapes and food systems around us. Now who would have thought that such a humble crop could be so versatile? Turns out, cabbage can be served both in very theatrical and modest ways, especially when the meal is well-orchestrated across nine courses with dishes from eleven different countries. An elegant display of white candles and small-sized rectangle wooden boards set a curious tone. On view: single raw pieces of white cabbage sitting on top of every board. Dinner was served. The dinner guests were invited to inaugurate the feast by performing a rather symbolic, yet unexpected act. Each chunck of raw cabbage was meant to be chopped by attendees into fine strips, and added to the big sauerkraut pots distributed along the table. Almost as a rite of passage, we evolved from being ‘just consumers’ to producers of future sauerkraut, destined to be served at the same restaurant over the coming few days. In following, the parade of exuberant dishes commenced. Each one accompanied by a distinctive melodic tune to enhance our senses. From sauerkraut croquettes and white cabbage fattoush, to Hiroshima Yaki pancakes and roasted white cabbage nigiri. We even got to taste cabbage that had been cooked for no less than six hours under a heavy crust of salt. For dessert, white cabbage banana ice cream and a strikingly savory sweet bon bon made from - you guessed it - cabbage. Why so much cabbage? This winter, fields ended up with an extremely good supply of prime organic cabbage surplus, around 60.000 to be exact. Unfortunately, this agricultural over-abundance only meant bad news for farmers like Krispijn. Cabbage had completely lost its economical value, as the
market was no longer interested in accepting more of this product, neither purchasing it for a fair price. Arne refused to let all those perfectly edible vegetables go to waste or be sent straight to landfill. He decided to join forces with chef Thorwald, among others, to challenge the disturbing effects of food surplus and find an alternative way to re-instate the value of white cabbage. He elaborates on how Krispijn’s harvest was saved and taken in to be served at Mediamatic between the months of December and March. This is how cabbage became the protagonist of the organization’s unique Winter Programme, during which Mediamatic offers an ongoing batch of cabbage soup everyday at cost price. And there’s more. Apart from various coleslaw-related workshops, Mediamatic has set up a growing database of simple and high-end cabbage recipes for you to enjoy. Arne Hendriks often involves himself in speculative investigations. Like others, he dreams of an alternative economic system that can serve both planet and mankind. He believes there must be a way to embrace abundance and confronts its consequences in the current market economy. With this peculiar dinner, Arne envisions a more balanced relationship between supply and demand, abundance and scarcity, desire and satisfaction. How to redesign the current food system? What necessary changes do we need to make? Arne brings these and other urgent questions to the dinner table. In fact, simple things like getting together to share a meal can be a good starting point to revert ‘zero economic value’ and transform it into extra value. Thus, abundance dinners along with other initiatives emerge as positive forces capable of transforming our current food system. But it will only work if we do it together. The night unfolded like the dream Arne had envisioned. Having the dinner table function as a unifier; a place of community to reflect upon over-abundance, to restore and indulge the true value of the most humble of crops.
Belen Munoz nextnature.net
â&#x20AC;&#x153;In pursuit of the accumulation of a factorâ&#x20AC;? Growth
Photos: Anisa Xhomaqi
How does zero economic value taste? A bank, an art centre, a farmer, a chef and an artist got together and organised a nine course white cabbage dinner. In the process they saved 3.000 white cabbages from becoming wood waste. The Abundance Dinner, as it was called, responded to the simple law of supply and demand. Because of close to perfect growing conditions for white cabbage, farmers across the Benelux and Germany were expecting a very good harvest. The fields were full of beautiful, large, healthy cabbages. Not something to feel unhappy about one would think. But as it turns out, the economy and society are not designed to deal with abundant supply. From a monetary perspective, the laws of supply and demand dictated that the cabbages were worth less than nothing. Because of extremely low market prices, it was more expensive to harvest the cabbage than to leave it on the fields to rot. Harvesting meant turning loss. The demand that existed in society, by the individual consumers as well as by the sauerkraut manufacturers, was fully satisfied but the fields were still full. It is one of the paradoxes of contemporary economic structures that while our system stimulates a desire for abundance, it turns out that we as a society, as consumers and as an economy can not handle abundance at all. The result is an enormous waste of food products. Of course, a cabbage not only represents economic value but also
and perhaps primarily a nutritional value, a cultural value, and is linked to a dignified existence of the farmer. There is not a single farmer that likes to see a harvest be plowed back into the soil. With these notions in mind and a strong desire to do something about it, art center Mediamatic in collaboration with Rabobank, farmer Krispijn van den Dries, chef Thorwald Voss and artist Arne Hendriks organized a series of dinners with white cabbage as the center piece. In a last ditch effort 3.000 white cabbages marked to become food waste were harvested and transported to Mediamatic, in the center of Amsterdam. There chef Thorwald Voss got together with his team to find the best recipes to prepare white cabbage. Eventually a selection was made that led to a nine-course menu with surprising dishes from around the world. The message for guests, in word and deed, was that man is not subordinate to the laws of supply and demand but that the laws of supply and demand are subordinate to man. If the world gives us cabbage, we eat cabbage sushi, homemade sauerkraut, and white cabbage icecream. By enriching a simple vegetable with our imagination and culture - in this case recipes and cooking techniques - it is possible to turn waste into mouthwathering goodness, because of the transformative imagination and skill of the shaman chef, Thorwald Voss. Zero economic value never had more flavors.
Banking on Cabbage Each day executive chef Joop van der Haar and his team serve lunch to the more than 6.000 employees at Rabobankâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s headquarters in Utrecht. In response to the Abundance Dinners held at art centre Mediamatic in Amsterdam, they decided to also put a variety of white cabbage dishes on their daily menu. The menu included an Indian white cabbage curry with naan bread, red salmon with braised white cabbage, spicy white cabbage masala, and a white cabbage biscuit with Parmesan cheese. Also on the menu was a weekly live radioshow hosted by Godelieve Spaas and Arne Hendriks, discussing issues around food and food waste with a variety of guests. They included Dirk Kramer, sauerkraut maker, Koert van Mensvoort, founder and director of Next Nature, Jorrit Kiewik, director of the Youth Food Movement, Joep Weerts, owner and founder of Potverdorie, designer Martina Huyn, Hans van den Boom, investment manager in renewable energy, and Ezra de Korte, change agent and innovationspecialist, both at Rabobank .
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
Buddhist economics Buddhist economics, a term coined by Fritz Schumacher, is the systematic study of how to gain given ends with minimum means, or as we at The Incredible Shrinking Man like to ask: how can we shrink towards abundance? In the view of its proponents, buddhist economics aims to clear the confusion about what is harmful and what is beneficial in the range of human activities involving the production and consumption of goods and services, ultimately trying to make human beings ethically mature. It represents a commitment to building an economy that would serve a nation’s culture based on spiritual values ,instead of being gauged by only GDP. To the buddhist economist there is nothing elegant about complex ways to deal with demand. If it’s not simple it’s probably not worth considering. From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern— amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfactory results. In the buddhist economic model of Claire Brown valuation of economic performance is based on how well the economy delivers a high quality of life to everyone while it protects the environment. In addition to consumption, measuring economic performance includes equity, sustainability, and activities that create a meaningful life. A person’s well-being depends on cultivation of spiritual wealth even more than material wealth. Free market economics assumes that the markets produce optimal outcomes and that people have the resources to create satisfying lives. It focusses mainly on income and consumption to see if its presumptions are on track. Buddhist economics asks how we want our economy to work for us and how to maximise social welfare. It’s not about external growth, it’s not about material expansion, but about inner satisfaction and attention to practical basic human needs. Do you live a meaningful life with your relationships, in your community? Do you have health care, education? How well are you able to develop your potential? Buddhist economics is what economics should be about.
From an economist’s point of view, the marvel of the Buddhist way of life is the utter rationality of its pattern—amazingly small means leading to extraordinarily satisfactory results. For the modern economist this is very difficult to understand. He is used to measuring the ’standard of living’ by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is ’better off’ than a man who consumes less. A Buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational; since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption. Thus, if the purpose of clothing is a certain amount of temperature comfort and an attractive appearance, the task is to attain this purpose with the smallest possible effort, that is, with the smallest annual destruction of cloth and with the help of designs that involve the smallest possible input of toil. The less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. What has just been said about clothing applies equally to all other human requirements. The ownership and the consumption of goods is a means to an end, and Buddhist economics is the systematic study of how to attain given ends with the minimum means. From the point of view of Buddhist economics, therefore, production from local resources for local needs is the most rational way of economic life, while dependence on imports from afar and the consequent need to produce for export to unknown and distant peoples is highly uneconomic and justifiable only in exceptional cases and on a small scale. Just as the modern economist would admit that a high rate of consumption of transport services between a man’s home and his place of work signifies a misfortune and not a high standard of life, so the Buddhist would hold that to satisfy human wants from faraway sources rather than from sources nearby signifies failure rather than success. The former tends to take statistics showing an increase in the number of ton/
miles per head of the population carried by a country’s transport system as proof of economic progress, while to the latter—the Buddhist economist—the same statistics would indicate a highly undesirable deterioration in the pattern of consumption. Modern economics does not distinguish between renewable and non-renewable materials, as its very method is to equalise and quantify everything by means of a money price. Thus, taking various alternative fuels, like coal, oil, wood, or water-power: the only difference between them recognised by modern economics is relative cost per equivalent unit. The cheapest is automatically the one to be preferred, as to do otherwise would be irrational and ’uneconomic’. From a Buddhist point of view, of course, this will not do; the essential difference between non-renewable fuels like coal and oil on the one hand and renewable fuels like wood and water-power on the other cannot be simply overlooked. Non-renewable goods must be used only if they are indispensable, and then only with the greatest care and the most meticulous concern for conservation. To use them heedlessly or extravagantly is an act of violence, and while complete non-violence may not be attainable on this earth, there is nonetheless an ineluctable duty on man to aim at the ideal of non-violence in all he does. It is in the light of both immediate experience and long term prospects that the study of Buddhist economics could be recommended even to those who believe that economic growth is more important than any spiritual or religious values. For it is not a question of choosing between ’modern growth’ and ’traditional stagnation’. It is a question of finding the right path of development, the Middle Way between materialist heedlessness and traditionalist immobility; in short, of finding ’Right Livelihood’. Quotes from ‘Buddhist Economics’ - E.F. Schumacher
Exploration is the engine that drives innovation. Innovation drives economic growth. So let’s all go exploring. - Edith Widder
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
Bigger before better A common leadership philosophy in business is to get better before you get bigger. With evolution it doesn’t work that way; evolution doesn’t plan ahead. If it would, the human body would certainly not be getting taller in a world of dwindling resources. Evolution is purely a trial and error process, but it does allow to take knowledge from the past into the future. Quite possibly, beings learn something in times of physical growth that is beneficial for times of shrinkage. Sometimes things need to become bigger before they get better, which in our vision primarily means smaller but at least just as good. Present tall human size may in fact create the embodied knowledge for a future smaller sized human species. For dinosaurs to evolve into birds they first grew big, and then shrunk. Sometimes BIG initiates developments unimaginable if things had remained SMALL. An increase in size leads to a different set of challenges and solutions. But SMALL can still benefit. Birds might not have come into existence if it were not for the increased strength and greater lightness in bone structures of tall dinosaurs, eventually enabling birds to fly. Man is at its tallest size ever, and some believe we can’t, or at least shouldn’t, get taller than this. But before we shrink to a more practical size, what have we learned from being this tall? Stronger bone structure? A more efficient metabolism? Another embodied perspective on time and space? An understanding of the interconnectedness of all life?
Long legged Risk Long legs beautiful? Perhaps, but according to a study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research the long-legged have a 42 percent higher risk of developing bowel cancer. Lead author Guillaume Onyeaghala postulates two hypotheses that may explain the association. One idea is that because taller people have longer colons they have more chances to develop the condition. More cells, more risk at mutation. The other suggestion is that increased levels of growth hormones, which affect leg length in particular, are also a driving factor for colorectal cancer. The growth hormone IGF-1 is elevated during puberty, and at high levels has been shown to be a risk factor for colorectal cancers. Onyeaghala looked at data on participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, a long-running cohort of more than 14,500 men and women. Specifically, the study examined three aspects of the participants’ height: overall height, torso height and leg length. Researchers looked at how many participants developed colorectal cancer over the nearly 20-year study period. The only factor that linked to people’s colon cancer risk was leg length; the researchers did not find a significant link between people’s overall height or torso height and their cancer risk. The results support the hypothesis that growth factors that drive bone growth in the legs are a risk factor for the disease.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
What is the bird
Cumulative Default Response
Dominance in the animal kingdom is defined as ‘an attribute of the pattern of repeated, agonistic interactions between two individuals, characterized by a consistent outcome in favor of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation’. Although the advantage of winning one confrontation may be small, the cumulative effect of many such advantages creates a default response that facilitates their further rise. Rather then seek confrontation, the smaller individual clears the space for the bigger individual to take center stage. To a large extent this makes the smaller individual responsible for the perception of tallness as a success-formula since they are the ones facilitating their ascend rather then the tall having to compete for it. Height-dependent perceptions only contribute to greater dominance of taller individuals if shorter individuals act on their perceptions, and treat those who are taller as more competent, authoritative, and dominant than they are. So they shouldn’t, because they aren’t. In fact, if we agree that a smaller human species is preferred, small people should seek dominance.rational love for tallness is hefty. Not to speak of the costs for the environment. On the other hand, weight loss would achieve enormous environmental gains.
Dr. Andrew Danneberg investigated what the consequences are of the increase in average weight of US citizens. He concluded that with an increase of 10 pounds air travel in the USA alone will need 1.3 billion liters of extra kerosine. Dannenberg’s research shows that small increase in average weight already have considerable impact and that costs are high. The energy bill attached to our irrational love for tallness is hefty. Not to speak of the costs for the environment. On the other hand, weight loss would achieve enormous environmental gains.
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
inside of you? Dinosaur - bird transition Wonderful things can happen when a species shrinks. In the case of a particular lineage of theropod dinosaurs, that wonderful thing eventually turned out to be flight. Dinosaurs became birds. Before the bulky theropods that roamed the Earth 200+ million years ago turned into the elegant feathered creatures we know today, they had to shed most of their weight. ’Birds evolved through a unique phase of sustained miniaturisation in dinosaurs’ says Michael S. Lee of the Flinders University of South Australia and a leading researcher in the field of dinosaur-bird transition. As a result of getting smaller these bird ancestors also evolved new adaptations, such as feathers, wishbones and wings, four
times faster than other dinosaurs. ’Being smaller and lighter in the land of giants, with rapidly evolving anatomical adaptations, provided these bird ancestors with new ecological opportunities, such as the ability to climb trees, glide and fly. Ultimately, this evolutionary flexibility helped birds survive the deadly meteorite impact which killed off all their dinosaurian cousins.’ ’Birds out-shrank and out-evolved their dinosaurian ancestors, surviving where their larger, less evolvable relatives, could not.’ The question is what ecological and morphological innovation lies in the smaller future of the human species when we decide to shrink. What magical consequences can we anticipate?
LANGUAGE What does it mean when your spelling control keeps changing the word degrowth into the word regrowth? How obsessed with growth must a society be when decades after the word degrowth was introduced to inspire a paradigm shift towards the destructive idea of continuous economic growth, our vocabulary still does not except it, and not only presumes it to be a mistake but suggests us to embrace the correct ideology of regrowth? Are our ‘intelligent’ economy-bound algorithms not allowing us to think in terms other than more?
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor”
T O K O N O M A A tokonoma is the spiritual centre within a traditional Japanese house. It usually consists of an alcove holding two or three visual elements. The most popular traditional elements are flower arrangements, haiku poetry, painted scrolls, small sculptures, bonsai and viewing stones. The various possible connections between the elements create a dynamic riddle that initiates reflection on man’s relationship with nature, somewhat similar to the tradition of the vanitas in Western culture, but more profane. Each season, certain festivals and special days, have their own particular tokonomic elements, yet their meaning remains eternally elusive, since it depends on the specific relationships being made by the viewer, the weather and time of day, the relationship between living and inert matter, and things that happened during the day. It is a riddle that helps us slow down, meditate and navigate through thoughts and feelings, and is able to gently make us conscious of what matters to us. By its emphasis on the importance of nature, the tokonoma is a constant friendly reminder to the inhabitants of the home that he or she is related to the bigger totality of life.
Pruning (on the possibility of continuous growth) Plants grow towards the light and because getting to the light first is important for plants, their endocrinological system, especially just after germination, is all about favouring the top branch to grow fast, at the expense of other branches. The cells in the top part of the plant, known as ’the terminal bud’, produce a growth inhibiting hormone called ’auxin’, a class of plant growth substances with morphogen-like characteristics. Auxin trickles down in the shoot and inhibits the development of the other branches, thus creating space for itself to grow even faster. The tall grows taller, at the expense of the small: trickle down economics. Pruning inspires continuous vigorous growth within clearly defined limits and with some clear principles of action. It’s not an endocrinological strategy to ‘favour’ the few but rather the material expression of the possibility of abundance for the many. A gardner understands the need to follow simple pruning principles to create healthy plants that provide an abundance of flowers and fruits. For all to prosper the terminal buds need clipping.
Immortal Bonsai A tree in nature grows until it reaches the predetermined height and width for its species within the given environmental circumstances. In prolonged perfect conditions a tree will eventually fulfill its full maximum potential. Its branches reach all the way up to the point where it no longer forms young foliage nor is able to fight off disease. Its power and energy are completely invested in up-keeping its complex system. Because the foliage has grown too far away from the active roots any slight disruption of the equilibrium allows disruptive elements like spores and fungi in and eventually the tree dies, as a result of a condition that started far away from its core. Conversely, a bonsai tree which is prevented from ever reaching its maximum dimensions through regular pruning of the roots and branches, as well as being contained in limiting circumstances, could theoretically live forever. The main phytohormones negotiating the suppression of growth in bonsai are jasmonates. Jasmonates are critical for plant defense against herbivory and against poor environmental conditions, and other biotic and abiotic challenges. Although jasmonate regulates many different processes in the plant, its role in wound response is best understood. Following mechanical wounding or herbivory, jasmonates biosynthesis is rapidly activated. Jasmonates have also been implicated in cell death and leaf senescence. While this and other strict regulatory systems minimize growth, the bonsai allows for purposes of contemplation and pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity for the grower. It is a slow but dedicated relationship of mutual benefit. Careful and calculated care management keeps the bonsai in a constant state of growth, because just like its full-sized cousin, the bonsai is genetically programmed to achieve maturity. The essential difference is that by preventing the bonsai from ever reaching it, it is also prevented from reaching old age and falling victim to the troubles that inevitably go along with the aging process. In Japanese philosophy there’s a notion that to cultivate a bonsai tree is in fact to cultivate yourself. The bonsai represents man, and how we allow the tree to grow, represents how we take care of our environment. Perhaps to some extent it is better to remain in a permanent state of physical immaturity, never quite reaching full potential, while at the same time, paradoxically, allowing ourselves to continue to grow forever within certain limitations.
Rhymeprose What I liked to do for fun when I was a child was to gather up sacks of stones and pile them on a table near the window high and free. When I reached middle age, I felt ashamed of doing this and so I stopped, becoming like any other ordinary person, obtuse like a brick. Finally, I have reached decrepit old age, and I particularly dislike the sound of children’s games in the summer. So I had the children gather up stones in the corner of the wall. I brushed them off and washed them, preparing a green celadon tray with white sand on the bottom. The result was poetry that would lighten your heart. The landscape lent a coolness to the air and dispelled the heart. A visitor saw it and exclaimed, “Okay, okay, but it seems a little bald, doesn’t it?” I responded, “You see a pile of stones and fail to see the mountains. The marvelous thing about miniature landscape gardens is that they are imitations of mountains and streams. The base is made to look flowing waves and the cliffs are made to seem covered with vegetation. Sometimes you can see miniature gnarled pine or knobby plum. You might see unusual blossoms or
“In pursuit of the accumulation of a factor” Growth
If we seek immortality, then so, too, in a rather perverse sense, does the cancer cell. - Siddhartha Mukherjee
on a miniature landscape strange new shoots from their trimmed branches. Of course you will discover the utter vexation of your creations withering and wilting due to carelessness of slow watering and tending. If you fail to exert yourself, then you will simply fail to fashion a magnificent mountain and a smaller world among the smaller mounds and hills. “Years ago I climbed to the top of Mt. Fuji. The climb took three days. For two days I passed through areas of great trees and forests, but on the third morning there wasn’t a blade of grass to be seen! At that point there were only great boulder-like cliffs and purplish-red stones. It was like this for a number of miles until I reached the peak itself. Of course Mt. Fuji is not unique in this respect as all peaks are without vegetation. People who climb mountains do not dislike the so-called baldness; rather, the love the sense of height. “These stones then, just a number of inches tall, and this tray roughly a foot across, they are nothing short of a mountainous island rising from the sea! Jade-green peaks penetrate the clouds and are encircled by them. A blue-
green barrier, immersed in water, is standing straight up. There are caves as if carved in the cliff sides to hide saints and immortals. Jetties and spits flat enough and long enough for fishermen. The paths and roads are narrow and confined, yet woodcutters can pass along them. There are lagoons deep and dark enough to hide dragons. “So is it not fitting that I guard against weeds, carefully watching and laboring over the thing, taking delight in its total subtlety? Do you dislike the baldness of the small mounds and hills? Am I oblivious to the bareness of just the peak? I sometimes pick a flowering branch and place it in a peak or in a ravine. The alternations of plant life, their blooming in the morning and fading in the evening, are the splendor of the four seasons with their countless transformations and myriad changes! So therefore I say that it doesn’t have to be bare, and it does not have to be lush. “Another thing, do you think this miniature landscape is big? Do you think it is small? I will blow on the water and raise up billows from the four seas. I will water the peak
and send down a torrent from the ninth heaven! The person who waters the stones sets the cosmos in order. The one who changes the water turns the whole sea upside down. Those are the changes in nature which attain a oneness in my mind. Anyway, the relative size of things is an uncertain business. Why, there is a vast plain on a fly’s eyelash and whole nations in a snail’s horn, a Chinese philosopher has told us. Well what do you think?” My visitor got up from his seat and made his excuses. He saw that these stones purified my senses and purified my intellect. He realized that events are really not what they seemed and yet they enriched me. I told him that he only understood what he perceived with his own eyes and did not understand my point of view at all. I asked if he wouldn’t like to sit for a while longer and study the matter afresh. He said he would, but there were no waves for him. He said nothing more and I was silent. After a while my visitor left without another word.
— Saihokushu, Kokan Shiren (1278-1347)
I was continuing to shrink, to become… what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close, the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet, like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens, the universe, worlds beyond number. Gaia’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of Man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon Nature. That existence begins and ends is Man’s conception, not Nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something too. To Gaia, there is no zero. I STILL EXIST.