Within one and one half arms reach from me is my cup of tea. I can, by leaning forward, make up the 1/2 (plus a little for balance) and bring the cup to my ready lips for a sip of the warm, healthy and comforting beverage. Or I could trade someone something to move the cup of tea closer when required and then back to the coaster on the (misnamed in my house) coffee table. I could also draw-up plans and construct a machine that, with only the smallest motion for activation on my part, would move and raise the cup to the proper position for the consummation of my pleasure. This would potentially involve many more people and processes. Here is the essence of human economics – the middle”man.”
There is always a middleman. No organism is self-contained (and those self-made “men” conservatives who did it all “on their own” are self-servingly ignorant of reality). The native ecology of environmental services is the classic middleman. And the middleman in human economics is modeled on the ecology, but is not at all a perfect analogy. The ecology is a complete system of integrated relationships, functional from the least action to the greatest action, unknown and unknowable except in the broadest strokes. The human economy is a system of integrated relationships containing great gaps of function; complex, changeable and often random motivations; rules of function that change at the whim of the most powerful effective units of the moment: it is an ad hoc collection of middlemen vying for position to control some elements of the flow of influence. The driving behavior is to find in the fabric of the moment a place that can be rent and one’s own cloth of connection sown in.
This process, of our several historical years, has produced what we accept as the natural way of action on the world, and the economic design that will run its course with its own destruction in essentially the same way a mold consumes the nutrients on a plate of agar and dies when the nutrients are gone.
The process of “middlemanship” has been going on for a very long time and for most of that time was benign: for longer than the present species, hominids have shared and traded food, materials and services. No human (or hominid) has ‘done it’ on their own for more than a delimited episode or disparate action. The effective ecological unit was the group and it was the group that responded to the environment with habits, mores, and sanctions that integrated the group’s behavior into the natural economics of the ecology.
The sharing of responsibilities within a group, i.e., no one member did “everything” for itself, has expanded into a world in which we all directly depend on literally millions of others. As I glance around this room there are hundreds of things: cameras from Japan, China, Germany; bikes from LA and Portland, books from everywhere; plants native to India, South America and who-knows-where; ink; knives; video tapes and DVDs; computers; microphones; briefcases, cases, bags; filing cabinets and desks, chairs, couches. This could go on for a very long time and would only be the “stuff.” The ideas in my head came from others. The pipes and wires that heat my teapot, fill my bath, spin the fan, charge the batteries. And all of this made by people, transported by people, thought up by people, designed by people, dug from the ground by people, cut down by people, grown by people, stolen by people, people killed by people, millions and millions of people each one doing a little isolated thing all coming together in this room of things and energies and beliefs. Without them I would be a different man and live a different life.
Everyone of these people must be compensated with food, water, space, associations (from safety to satisfaction to sex) and spiritual connection. And since not 1 in 10 worldwide (or 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000) can meet their primary physical needs with their own actions, since there are almost no group structures remaining that are devoted to meeting all the needs of members, our dependence on the middleman structure of our world is, in our present understanding, absolute.
Yet, this is an artificial dependence. For 99% of our existence as a species, groups of people in intimate collaboration have met their needs. Our new adaptation has led us to this moment; and if, as it appears, we are coming to the end of this experiment in how to do a Consciousness System of Order organism, then new paradigms will be required. The next essay is titled: “Sophie’s Choice.”