Can We All Agree that Consensus Is Wrong?

Consider this analogy as illustration. Imagine that something you consider morally objectionable, such as cannibalism, is being openly advocated by some people. At first you think they will be ignored. Later however, some politicians say they also support cannibalism. Government and the private sector begin to open experimental facilities for processing human flesh. Nobody objects: all the media are enthusiastic about the projects. They publish advice on cooking human meat. The Government declares cannibalism a policy goal, and the United Nations declares cannibalism is necessary for humanity. You, of course, are horrified by this, yet all your friends think that your objections are strange. Your colleagues at work think so too. They stop talking to you, and you lose your job because you irritate them.

Appeals to empathy are a bad basis for judgement, but at least the analogy demonstrates one problem with sustainability: moral objections are not recognised. It is easy to imagine objections to cannibalism, and to see that the individual in the story is being unfairly treated. Yet many people, and governments, will recognise no "objection of conscience" to sustainability.

Sustainability absolutely requires consensus.  There can’t be an objection of conscience because without it, sustainability crumbles.


This reliance on consensus is why so many unassailable items are conflated with sustainabiity.   When you look at the list of items on the Dryden Sustainability Planning Framework, we see a bunch of great things, that we certainly want:  Economic growth, safety, biodiversity and ecological health.  Packaged with these is a radical approach to property rights, growth of government regulation and wealth redistribution couched in pretty words like “social justice.” 


Since we like the former, we’re put in the position of swallowing our deep skepticism of the latter out of fear that we might be losing something we value. 


It isn’t true.  Economic growth, and -- yes -- safety, education, environmental quality and conservation are in the best interest of individuals working in the free market.  These will be there with or without a “sustainability” regime.  Yes, people sometimes make planning mistakes, but no worse than those made by government, and usually individual mistakes are more easily and quickly corrected.  We will have the things we want even without governmental sustainabilty overlords.


The free market built our freedoms.  People with principles do not have consensus as a goal  Rather, it is people who are trying to overcome someone else’s principles who use consensus as a wedge.