A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Friday, March 6, 2009

What If

What if there were to be an end to lending?  What if there were to be an end to buying?  What if people could not devote themselves exclusively to activities like deciding where money will go or to driving a truck or creating advertising intended to motivate consumption of objects or services that are not needed – needed only to generate activities that generated more activities like money lending, truck driving and advertising? 

What if people had to go to the source? What if people had to grow their own food; raise, pick or kill and prepare some significant part of their daily sustenance?  What if it were considered madness and the greatest immorality to expect others to supply all of one’s primary biological needs? 

It is considered proper today, considered a personal responsibility, to accumulate as much of the abstract token of consumption as possible.  Such accumulation is widely considered to be evidence of personal quality and social worth. It is a further tenet that the closer an activity is to the manipulation of the tokens of consumption the more worthy and valuable is the action, and the person doing the action.  I can imagine few beliefs that are more mad, and yet these are some of the most powerful designs for our social, economic and political world. 

Adequate healthy food, clean water, reasonable protection from the extremes of weather and the needs of other living things, supportive social relations and trusted confidants and a deep experience of connection with the immediate biophysical world: these are the long recognized standards of successful and fulfilling human existence.  Yet, we are addressing the terrible troubles of our time with arguments about how to return to a ruinous rate of economic growth, how to lower the consumer-token compensation for the wage-classes as a means to invigorate the most acquisitive to be even more acquisitive; broadly, how to get the excess consumption going again at exponential rates. 

A devotion that makes the living state secondary to an economic or political order is incredible.  It is as though one were to value the parachute more than the person using it – “you may wear it, but if the plane begins to fall you must take it off and throw it out to keep it safe.”  This is not to say that we have not made the consumer-token a powerful force; we certainly have.  We have made the acquisition of such tokens the only means to even partially attain the list of human needs.  

And so, rather than spending all of our efforts and accumulated treasure to fortify a destructive and alienating system, now is the time to begin to recognize the faults in the economic and social order that brought us to this moment.  There is, of course, a huge “activation energy” to overcome to begin a serious change in how we do business in the world, but now is the time since there is already a lot of heat focused on the issues. 

I am, even in my deep cynicism, surprised that there is not a whisper of these thoughts in the generally disseminated and available discourse on these matters.  Will Durst did a tongue-in-check piece about being asked to consume when one has nothing to consume with – and the heroism of complying – but that is about as close as I have seen. 

Perhaps it is just too frightening, that each person might have some responsibility to grow and raise the food that he or she consumes, that such a social paradigm might be one of the only ways out of the species wide cul-de-sac that we are trying to turn into a freeway, if only in our minds. 

Perhaps it is just too dangerous to say the obvious: that the excessive accumulation of consumption-tokens is destructive of the biophysical world, destructive of human minds and communities and contrary to the natural energy economy of the living world into which human economies must ultimately be integrated; for those preferring a simple bumper-sticker explanation: ‘wealth is evil and immoral,’ the incredible technological house of cards in which we live must be reevaluated for efficacy and humans must begin to be human animals again at some effective level. 

Van Jones, president of Green for All, an organization committed to reducing especially inner-city poverty by educating and employing the great unemployed in green jobs, said in a recent C-span appearance, in what was for most listeners a throw away line: “We all began as tribal peoples and we will have to become tribal people again.”  But to say such a thing betrays the understanding I am trying to spread: the present way of organizing our economic and social world is past, already past.  The new way, if there is to be a new way and not just a deep failure of our species, will be a reconnection of humanity with our biology, guided explicitly by our consciousness order adaptation.  

These ideas must begin to spread to the ready world.  There are powerful forces that want only the designs of the present argument to have currency, but it is time to break from the truly mad framings of “economic man.”  No, it is not right that business should only seek a profit; that is actually insanity. No, wealth is not a goal in life; it is a crime against life in many ways.  No, human life is not about becoming skilled for a life long job; human life is about becoming skilled at the ‘job’ of life.  No, progress is not the key to social well-being; it has been a substitute for social well-being.  No, the goal of life is not to live long, but to live well in the fullness of specieshood. 


Michael Dawson said...

Isn't it also true that there's a good kind of progress -- progress of understanding, of knowing and accepting and working within reality? I want to retain that ideal, if only so that we don't give license to regression into fascism.

James said...

I have this discussion with my sons. Increasing understanding of reality is a major quality of the species. The unconsidered use of tunnel-visioned 'understanding' to create our own and environmental destruction is the "progress" that I intend to reject. Might this mean a slowing of some of our discoveries? Might it even limit us from some discoveries altogether? And might this change our directions? Yes to all. In so doing we might also find how to live fully as members of our species.