So what are we trying to do when we say ‘grow’?
I’ve argued that the compulsion to grow commercially or economically is just that - a compulsion, driven by social, cultural and perhaps psychological pressures that we have become so used to that to question them seems heretical. It’s part of the general belief that modern life consists of being active, reaching for some kind of advancement, defeating competition, striving to be ‘upwardly mobile’, and so on. Unless one is engaged in a constant battle to grow and to accumulate wealth, so this thinking goes, one will slip behind, lose one’s place in society, end up in ruination and be cast off the social ladder into some kind of homeless abyss. And those who fail to live up to this model, in this day and age, are indeed made homeless and cast out, politically, socially and psychologically.
Was it always thus?
No. Humanity has had different models for Life, each with its own advantages and flaws. The advantages of the current model include a degree of material affluence never before achieved, with the health and lifestyle benefits that go with that; its disadvantages include a disassociation between the elements of living, a growing malaise of meaninglessness, and a focus on the material to the exclusion of all else.
An earlier model was based on an idea that the world was already functioning in an ideal way, overseen by an embodied Creator who was in all ways perfect. The whole of existence, so this model asserted, was a Great Chain of Being which encapsulated perfection as closely as it could, and in which everything had its perfect, designed and fixed place. The advantages of that model included a degree of spiritual enlightenment and contentment, a sense of the interaction between the elements of living, an intertwined meaningfulness; this came with tremendous physical and material hardships.
One could argue that the later modern model was dynamic, whereas the earlier one was static. In the earlier vision, a human individual was already where he or she should be in the heavenly scheme of things -the social order was inescapable but part of a divine plan; in the later vision, there is no scheme and it’s everyone for themselves - there is no fixed social order, and Heaven must be carved out on Earth day by day. Today, people strive for the sense of contentment and belonging which was 'built into' life in earlier times - nothing can ever be satisfactory, everything must continually be bettered, grown, made stronger.
We live today in a society in which our economic survival seems to be dependent on growth, on generating an ever-larger income. And we do that without regard, mainly, for the non-commercial aspects of living. Things must be seen as commodities; their other dimensions must either be turned into commodities and sold (as social media and other online giants are doing today with intangibles such as our identities and preferences) or devalued and dismissed. The holistic view - that a book, or a piece of furniture, or any kind of artefact, or even a person, has other parts to it which are not and cannot equate to commodities and which should be embraced as part of a deeper, richer whole - has apparently been outdone and become outmoded.
Most of us yearn for that holistic view, that sense of participation in and with the universe, to return in some form. We seek it in our individual lives, our families, our careers; we look for it in social groups, in regional and national life; we hope to see it blossom in the world. But all too often, in the face of the ‘progress-or-else’ model, our hopes wither. Commerce triumphs; we buy and buy and find no satisfaction in owning, or in possessing ‘more’. Bigger, it turns out, in a very real sense, does not equal better.
So how should a group grow? What does all this mean for us as individuals and for the Inner Circle Writers’ Group?
Of course, Clarendon House Publications was set up with a commercial element involved. I wanted to be able to ‘make a living’ as they say, by doing something I loved: writing books and helping others to write theirs. The Inner Circle Writers’ Group was the name I gave for the arm of that enterprise which would reach out and create a community for like-minded people, from which publishable writers would emerge, be cultivated, and provide, I hoped, some income from the sales of their books to keep the whole thing going on a material level. But it didn’t take long for me to recognise that the community which gathered under the group’s banner had a life of its own, far beyond any commercial ambitions or parameters. Writers, and other artists, perhaps more than any other group, are more often in touch with and keen to forward that sense of holistic participation in Life than any other group. And the Inner Circle, for whatever reason, seemed to attract the brightest and best of the lights that were out there very quickly indeed.
The group is living evidence that there is abundant life and meaning beyond the commercial.
So where should we go from here? Try to attract more and more people? Throw open the doors to the multitudes? Push for ten, twenty, fifty thousand members before the end of the year?