These dirty words are good

It is strange, and quite disturbing, that a number of notions, and the words that signify them, have become dirty. In other words they are disdained, even reviled, amongst a certain, large section of society. Whilst these notions are frowned upon by those who irrationally feel entitled to not be limited in any way, the reality is that these notions are rational, humane and for the well-being of the majority.

There are many words that many people think are dirty but I have taken five as examples: austerity, welfare, self-sufficiency, green and sustainability. Warning: Serious sarcasm may cause laughter.


The notion of a welfare state is anathema in some quarters. Certain people don’t want their hard earned taxes being used to support people who can’t help themselves. Even though these people are usually victims of a system that creates the conditions for their very existence. Unemployment, including retirement, is built into our economic system. So is illness and so is solo parenting for that matter.

Welfare used to be provided at the local level. People who, for whatever reason, couldn’t provide for themselves were looked after by families, friends and the local community, often administered by the local parish. Modern welfare, in the form of benefits, pensions, social services and the like, does a similar thing. It is one of the most humane elements of an intelligent and caring system of government.


Self-sufficiency is frowned upon as being quaint and eccentric at best, and being anti-social and anti-modern at worst. Of course throughout history people have lived lives of self-sufficiency within small interdependent communities. Most families offered services for the good of the community and received goods and services in return. This kind of hell worked quite well for millennia. Now we have modern economies though.

In modern economies being self-sufficient is viewed as anti-economic. Whilst being self-sufficient is work and provides food and other valuable goods and services for families it does not contribute to measures of productivity such as GDP because no money changes hands. This is terrible. Shame on self-sufficiency.


When austerity measures were announced in Greece at the beginning of 2010 the combined population of the western world heaved in revulsion. My God, austerity, that sounds worse than getting your hand or, even worse, your internet connection, cut off.

Of course the majority of people in the world live austerely and most of them get on with life quite nicely thanks. But in the western world the idea of limiting the amount of stuff people want, but don’t need, puts people into paroxysms of mental anguish and gnashing of teeth.

Austerity does not mean deprivation though. It just means reducing material lives to levels that are sufficient for well-being and also within the limits of what the environment can sustainably supply. Ghandi for example took enormous strength from his extreme form of austerity because he said it made him less encumbered and free.


Green is a very dirty word. Greenies are the new pinkos – instead of reds under the beds, there are now greens behind the screens. Greens are vilified in many quarters as deluded maniacs who haven’t got a clue how the world actually works.  Many people think that Green politics could quite simply never work in the real world of exploitation and degradation. Being green is so bad that being called a Greenie is a term of abuse.

The fact is that being Green is, whilst meaning different thing to different people, really an approach to life that minimises environmental damage whilst simultaneously increasing the well-being of society as a whole. How dreadful!


Apparently many people are sick of hearing the word ’sustainability’. Sustainability is for dippy hippies, dangerous do-gooders and greenie cranks. It is a word that conjures up horrible ideas like well-being and simple living. It seems that for many it’s just too hard to be sustainable, it’s much easier to be profligate and wasteful. And besides people can’t afford to be sustainable; you have to pay extra just to get ugly organic produce and solar panels.

Sarcasm aside, the reality is it is just as easy to be sustainable as it is to not be sustainable. There are benefits for being sustainable for everybody. People who are conservative should love sustainability because it’s all about making things last. Individualists should love sustainability because it relies on self-sufficiency and diversity. Sustainability is about freedom from the likes of multinational corportions. Business people should love sustainability because it is about efficiency. Entrepreneurs should love sustainability because there are innumerable opportunities to create businesses from being sustainable. Governments should love sustainability because it eases the burden on resources and infrastructure. Ordinary people should love sustainability because it makes their lives healthier, safer and more rewarding.