THERE are days when it seems that nothing is going very well.
Life on Earth’s become a succession of crises and catastrophes; climate change is ramping up in the shape of floods, storms and extinctions, crime is everywhere, half the world’s at war, new diseases are afoot, everyone’s ungrateful, our hopes are unravelling and we’re working our butts off to support a system that sucks. And, whilst we’re bound in servitude to “The Economy”, humanity, the world and even our front lawns all seem to be sliding into voids beyond our reach and not of our making.
Well, there are plenty of alternatives to the way we’re living if we want something different. And there are ways to change the society we’re living in; we are not powerless.
Some 6,000 different cultures have managed to survive on the planet: proven, historically-tested options, ideas and choices.
The big problem for us, many agree, is “The Economy”. But even “The Economy”, thankfully, is vulnerable. And, around the world innumerable small, medium and large-sized activist organisations are steadfastly promoting values and actions that challenge the social and political droit de seigneur the “The Economy” enjoys.
Besides, there are not in fact all that many beneficiaries of “The Economy”: though the super-rich wield tremendous power, they’re vastly outnumbered by their victims and underlings and — as every drug baron knows — life at the top of the cartel is hardly one of settled contentment.
Mahatma Gandhi’s advice was to “be the change” you want to see. It works. It is one of the few ways that does. And that is what many of those activists are doing.
Politicians can’t do much for us. We’re quick to blame them but it’s our volatility, impatience and self-interest that leave most politicians in positions of impotence: as apologists, punch-bags or scapegoats for the latest machinations of “The Economy”.
What is “The Economy”?
It’s a vortex of all the capricious impulses and narrow self-interests that run through a community at large, within which every dollar counts as one vote and every vote is quickly cancelled out by half a dozen others. And the dollars, of course, have no stable value or absolute worth… every one of them is a notional entity. “The Economy”, as we have come to know and loathe it, is a drunken, stumbling, capricious, out-of-control caricature of the credulity and greed of its participants… a burlesque of human failings. And we, the butt of all its parodies, cling to it all the more desperately when it offers us the most transparent views of our inanity.
“The Economy” feeds and clothes us? Well, some of us more than others. Others get very little, hardly any at all, and a rare few get mansions and big cars that leave them in almost as much need of anti-depressants as the ones who get hardly anything. It’s an arrangement that cultivates envy, cupidity and resentment.
“The Economy” ridicules our artless jealousies by parading before us our envy-laden tolerance for vast “bonuses” being uplifted by people who have just pulled spectacular failures out of the hat: failures that dumped other people out of homes, jobs and opportunities. Yet neither the bonus recipients nor the disemployed can explain it… it all just kind of happened.
“The Economy” is a faith system, a religious movement whose high priests bow in fear to the “invisible hand” and speak in tongues of greed, stupidity and computer modelling.
Prostrated before their wisdom, we allow currency and commodity speculators — gamblers – to profit-take from trading relationships and generate cost fluctuations that can result in starvation, destabilisation and even war. We endure accounting standards that hide the full environmental and social costs of resource exploitation. We have come to see usury, exploitative employment practices, manipulative marketing and extortionate pricing as inseparable from “economic freedom”. We have come to see that there are two distinct types of human being: those in whom massive rewards must be “invested” as “incentives” to ensure their productivity; and those who must receive minimal rewards so that they do not get lazy, and to ensure that costs are controlled.
Then, as if any of this makes sense, we join in choruses to oppose taxation (which delivers returns in things like education, social security, justice and infrastructure) but, the next instant, will throw money into voids of no return at lottery ticket outlets and casinos.
It gets far more extreme than that. Canada is not alone in having been persuaded to go to war out of “economic considerations”. Think about that for a moment. It makes scarcely any sense at all, yet it gets believed. The “traumatic stress” to young people who are placed “in harm’s way” (as they say) is less of a concern than compromising the economic “goodwill” of an “ally” who has a habit of making its economic incapacities ever more spectacularly visible. We’re talking about killing and maiming young human beings, sons and daughters, as sacrifices to a god that can’t and won’t deliver.
Face it: “The Economy” is failing. “Economic considerations” are piloting us all towards catastrophe… if it’s your dream to be filthy rich and you’re not already filthy rich, forget it: the odds are you’re not going to make it. You owe “The Economy” nothing. Every day it ploughs under more and more of the world that’s your grandchildren’s birthright. They will experience a wasteland. And we simply do not have the resources of the multiple planet Earths that it will take to sustain levels of consumption as they are right now.
So how do we start corralling “The Economy”?
We start by getting sensible. We start by getting to know ourselves better than we do and interacting more constructively with the people around us.
We need to bolster our faith in our political system, making democracy a higher priority, as we start wresting it from the control of “The Economy”. The launch pad for this is a committed re-appraisal of some of our own personal values.
As we incorporate into our own lives values we say others should hold dear we will see, through our happier eyes, a gradual re-orientation of society… close at hand to start with, then radiating outwards. It doesn’t happen overnight but neither does it take forever.
And it sure as hell does not take “The Economy” to sustain us… that is an illusion.
Of course, we need food and shelter and all sorts of products we can’t stitch together in our back-to-earth cottage co-operatives from recycled disposable diapers… but it’s networks of human relationship that provide for our needs, not “The Economy”.
“The Economy” has gone altogether too far in subverting and taking over these networks, turning them into cold-blooded struggles for control, disengaged from sustaining reciprocities. “Fair trade” initiatives seek to introduce some sense of mutual interest and greater moral responsibility into the relationship between a supplier and a consumer. It is good sense to see a transaction as a reciprocal investment by each party in the other party’s survival, future and vitality; simple supply and demand thinking doesn’t run to that. Some corporate organisations have made gestures in the “fair trade” direction too, and they are to be greatly encouraged (if less than wholly believed). “Green” has become a cynical con in many contexts, but it’s not entirely without value.
Hypocrisy, it’s worth bearing in mind, has an “up”-side. When a hypocrite speaks, he or she can thereafter be challenged to make good his or her pretensions of virtue… or at least reminded of them.
It’s far from woolly-headed idealism to say that moderating our consumption at a personal level has a critical effect. It’s a first step of trust in ourselves, and, as such, it steals ground from the “greed, stupidity and computer modelling” guys. And that’s a step towards getting “The Economy” into a cage of reason rather than superstition, and transforming it into something new that serves us instead of controlling us.
Each step beyond that first one takes us towards a greater trust in each other and further loosens the hold “The Economy” has on our lives. As communities strengthen their bases of reciprocity, the more able and ready they are to enter into wider-ranging reciprocities. It’s about the way we interact with each other… like drug barons or like friends.
Friends are easier to get along with.
And they’re less likely to place your children “in harm’s way”.
Economic history in a teacup
The Stupid Economy
The Stupid Economy -- part 2
Economic history in a teacup
The Stupid Economy
The Stupid Economy -- part 2