AN ECONOMY OF THE SPIRIT
June 4, 2011 § 4 Comments
I was driving home the other night listening to NPR, a news outlet which no one, outside of radical right wing demagogues, could accuse of being outside the mainstream of public opinion. They were discussing GM’s successful foray into China, how positive it was that GM now makes over 2 million cars a year there and, in the view of the interviewer, it bolsters hopes that “China could save us.”
It was in that moment that I realized the scope of the problem we’re facing, precisely because it isn’t even being discussed.
How can it be that, in an age of seemingly unlimited media proliferation, we do not hear a conversation being had about the fact that, if we continue to “do business” as we’ve been doing it in the modern industrial age, we will inevitably use up all of the resources that we need to sustain us?
Our national discourse, and that of most other countries around the globe, focuses on “fixing the economy”, all the while ignoring the fact that it’s the very system itself that is pushing us toward disaster.
Are we really just creatures of consumption, of gain, of competition and profit? Businesspeople, political leaders, media magnates and their cronies and even many academics would have us believe it. Even if they are not explicitly stating that belief (although plenty do), it is implicit, assumed, taken for granted; once again, one only has to focus on what is left out of the discussion to know this.
And what is omitted?
The simple fact that we, as a society, are insane. That the pathology of a ceaseless quest for material gain is something that is acquired through conditioning. That there must be another way for so many to live together and, most importantly, that there can be a different form of exchange in which we can participate.
What if all exchanges between people were made on the premise of enlivening the spiritual wellbeing of all concerned, instead of the financial?
This is not to envision a falsely utopian world predicated on “feeling good”, as is promised us every day through the lies of mass advertising.
Rather, it would mean that we make our highest priority a rich spiritual life, as was practiced by smaller, indigenous peoples for thousands of years, communities which for the most part lived in harmony with their surroundings and kept alive vital and meaningful histories, mythologies and rituals, passed down through untold numbers of generations.
Of course our version of this kind of community would look different, including our advances in medicine, housing, certain technologies etc. But much would radically and irreversibly change if we began to look at creating what might be called an Economy of the Spirit.
How do we, in the modern world, find positive pursuits for our people that contribute to the society as a whole? The problem of unemployment in our current system is enormous, but surely full employment for the many billions of us, providing incomes with which to consume ever greater quantities of our natural resources and further destroying our ecosystem, would only hasten us toward self-destruction. Consider the damage that has been done by a relatively small number of industrialized countries, practicing hyper-capitalism across the globe; do we really think that a world with double or triple the amount of the kind of environmental footprint being left by the average middle class American, European or Australian is sustainable?
But that question isn’t considered relevant in our discourse – more than being simply irrelevant, it’s to be avoided.
Modern societies have become expert at producing millions of spiritually-starved human beings who are taught in so many overt and subliminal ways that their primary value lies in what they’re able to consume and collect. This is the insanity we are conditioned to develop. The inevitable end result of that insanity is on display across the planet today. Change around the edges will not save us.
We must begin to formulate new ideas and concepts of what a sustainable, equitable and therefore peaceful society, which produces human beings with rich inner lives and meaningful daily tasks which contribute to that society, would look like. Assessing the scope of the problem is not enough; ideas and starting points leading to potential solutions must be explored and implemented, even on a small scale to begin with.
The second part of this column will be published on Monday June 6.