Alternatives to consumer culture focus of new Baha'i document

May 5, 2010
Cover of the Baha'i statement issued for the 2010 session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development.

NEW YORK, United States — A new statement challenging the common assumption that human beings are slaves to self-interest and consumerism has been issued by the Baha'i International Community.

A more profound look at human nature would reveal the ability to respond to a higher calling, suggests the document – issued this week for the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development as it began its annual two-week session.

"The culture of consumerism ... has tended to reduce human beings to competitive, insatiable consumers of goods and to objects of manipulation by the market," it says.

In fact, "the human experience is essentially spiritual in nature: it is rooted in the inner reality – or what some call the 'soul' – that we all share in common," it states.

The document, titled "Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism," challenges the view that there is an intractable conflict between what people want – which supposedly is to consume more – and what humanity needs.

"Much of economic and psychological theory depicts human beings as slaves to self-interest," it says. "The faculties needed to construct a more just and sustainable social order – moderation, justice, love, reason, sacrifice and service to the common good – have too often been dismissed as naive ideals. Yet, it is these and related qualities that must be harnessed. ..."

Peter Adriance, a member of the Baha'i International Community's delegation to the Commission, said the statement is a contribution to a dialogue on the development of a 10-year framework to encourage new programs that advance sustainable consumption and production.

"The document deals with the issue of consumerism by reflecting on the question of what is human nature," he said. "We must look at who we are and what our purpose in life is.

"The transition to sustainable consumption and production is one of the great challenges of our times, and to achieve it will require a transformation in both thought and action. The cultural forces at play are powerful and demand re-examination if we are to move forward," he said.

The statement can be read at

Panel discussion

As a further contribution to the work this year of the Commission on Sustainable Development, the Baha'i International Community will cosponsor a panel discussion on 10 May on the same topic as the statement.

Panelists will include Tim Jackson of the United Kingdom's Sustainable Development Commission; Victoria Thoresen of the Norwegian Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living; Jeff Barber of the U.S.-based International Coalition on Sustainable Production and Consumption; and Luis Flores Mimica of Consumers International, based in Chile.

The discussion will be moderated by Duncan Hanks of the Canadian Baha'i International Development Agency. It is cosponsored by UNESCO and the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations.