There’s change underway. Don’t you feel it? The old certainties are crumbling. The global systems are stumbling from crisis to crisis. From “Arab Spring” to “Occupy” there’s spreading unrest. From country to country austerity measures are being imposed by governments without popular democratic support.
Underlying these economic and political stories there are bigger changes flowing. Ian McGilchrist’s excellent “The Master and His Emissary” describes a struggle between two world views – one emerging from a left brain approach to the world, and one from the right. He makes the case that the left brain approach has dominated for the last four hundred years or so creating our industrialised, command and control based societies.
Seth Godin’s superb “We are all Weird” shows how mass consumption, mass production and mass control, the dominant ways of 20th century world, are being replaced by an emphasis on difference, diversity and uniqueness.
Next year is 2012. There are many predictions that this will be a crucial year for humanity.
Let’s embrace it. Let’s embrace change by shifting our focus and our energy on bringing about the changes we want.
Let’s embrace the following “C change” –
- Consumption to Creativity
- Credit to Cash
- Control to Coherence
- Competition to Co-operation
- Coldness to Compassion
Consumption to Creativity
When politicians and economists talk about growth, which they claim is an essential characteristic of a healthy society, they mean consumption (or production of goods and services to be consumed). Their emphasis is on figures like GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, the turnover and profit of large companies, which is how much they’ve sold, and how much money they’ve had to spend to produce those sales. But is this growth? Production for consumption? What’s the point of that? Ever greater consumption, at best, is not a sustainable path. At worst, a tipping point will be reached (has been reached?) where the pursuit of greater consumption becomes harmful, divisive and destructive. So, consumption is not a a good target, nor is it an adequate surrogate for growth.
In human beings, greater consumption tends to produce bigger, fatter people. There’s a limit to the amount a person can consume. As the limits are reached waste (and waist size) increases.
Consuming for the sake of consuming doesn’t happen in Nature. Animals consume what they need to be fit and healthy. In the wild, they never become obese. Plants consume in order to grow and develop. Here’s the lesson to be learned from Nature.
If growth is about healthy development, then greater growth should constitute a genuine improvement in life. If it is just about consumption, it becomes a source of degeneration and decline.
So what if we could learn the lessons of the plant world, for example? What if we rated development more highly than consumption? Development, in human terms, is about improving physical fitness, mental resilience, wellbeing, skills, talents and capacities.
There is a common theme underlying these qualities, and that theme is creativity. Creativity produces growth and development. It expands both our abilities and our expressivity – our talents and our self-expression.
What if we prioritised development, improvements in skills, knowledge, performance, as well as expressivity?
This would require a shift away from consumption to creativity.
Credit to Cash.
This current crisis of the global economy, is a crisis of a system based on ever increasing consumption and credit. Once lending slows up, the financial system grinds to a halt. What was the key characteristic of the 2008 crisis? The drying up of credit, or lending, as trust and security fell amongst the banks and financial institutions. Yet, increasingly, finance is based on illusion. Banknotes bear words promising to pay the bearer were originally backed up by gold reserves. If you wanted you could turn these pieces of paper into real gold. But now with derivatives, and computerised, digitised money, the amounts of “money” in the world are no longer related to reality. Country after country is reported as being in debt. Debt they can’t pay off if asked to do so. Who is everyone in debt to? Who is asking to be paid off? And with what? Imaginary money is used to buy ever greater amounts of imaginary money, spiralling up into ever more unstable, unsustainable levels of debt and credit. The total amount of national and personal debt in the world is higher now than ever before in history.
One way to gain greater financial health at a personal or family level, is to move away from imaginary money to real money. In other words, to reduce the amount of credit needed in daily life by moving towards a cash, or bartered economy.
If I do this for you, then you’ll do that for me. Real goods, real materials, real cash. If countries did that too, then the need for credit would diminish.
The less the need for credit the less power and privilege will be held by those who gain from imaginary financial instruments. Those who hold power over whole countries through lending would be disempowered.
What if all the countries which have debt, agreed one day to declare they had no debt? What if they set the counter back to zero? Recalibration Day. Where power shifted back to people and away from the rich minority who hold all the “credit”.
Control to coherence
Industrialisation comes with an emphasis on control. The scientific method of the industrial age has become a way of predicting future states and developing technologies to achieve those states. The wave of industrial development known as Fordism, has produced a whole management ethic around command and control structures. The development of mass production, mass marketing and mass consumption, reduces individuals to units to be controlled and life to outcomes determined and managed by those who hold the power.
Yet, the universe is a vast, complex, unpredictable and uncontrollable place. An individual life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. The crises in the global financial systems, the revolutions and power struggles of the political systems and the ecological stresses manifested in both climate change and the constant appearance of apparently random catastrophic events, from tsunamis to earthquakes, to hurricanes and volcanic eruptions, surely make it crystal clear to us that control is, ultimately, impossible.
What to do? Nobody feels comfortable out of control. Nobody feels safe and secure in rapidly changing, completely unpredictable situations.
We can’t achieve control. But we can achieve coherence. We can actively seek to be more in harmony….with each other, and with the Earth. The greater our actions produce coherence in our interconnected domains of Life, the more we will experience a sustainable, nourishing way of living.
Competition to Co-operation
One aspect of Darwin’s work has been picked up and overblown to an enormous degree – competition. It’s highlighted as the key characteristic for success and survival. Nature is presented as “red in tooth and claw”, one endless struggle pitching every individual organism not only against other species but against all the other members of the same species. Only the best, the fastest, the “fittest” survive.
Of course, there’s something in that view, but that is not all Darwin said, and it’s certainly not all there is to evolution. The other important characteristic is in fact co-operation. It can be argued that it is actually the ability of human beings to interact socially which gives them their dominant place in the evolution of Life on planet Earth. Our social skills include our development of language, and our faculty of imagination which underpins empathy and compassion. It may be that these are the most important human features.
All creatures engage in competition and co-operation but human beings really excel at forming bonds, creating networks, sharing information and resources.
The creation of a economic and financial system based on competition has led us down the path to war and totalitarianism throughout history. Maybe it’s time to up the emphasis on our co-operative powers instead and see what systems we could create from that perspective.
Some may argue that there’s a link between male dominance/competition and female nurturing/co-operation. Could it be that a healthier future lies in shifting the centuries old gender bias of cultures, religions and economic-political systems? Increase the influence of women in all aspects of society.
Coldness to Compassion
One of the greatest problems with reductionism is that if you reduce a human, you no longer have a human. The reduction of human beings to units within a mass dehumanises.
In health care it should be impossible to discover stories of neglect or cruelty. Sadly, that’s far from the case. How can a patient be left unattended, treated as a “case of…..”, uncared for within a health service? Why is poverty tolerated? Why is there famine, rape, torture, human trafficking, terrorism?
A lack of compassion.
With sufficient compassion none of these horrors would be possible.
So there’s my final “C” change – from Coldness to Compassion. A shift of emphasis towards the heart.
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