I’m trying to be zen about yet more reveals of what is a deeply corrupt world dominated by large corporates. Those who can pay to place their lackeys into political power, all the better to erode our democracy. All the better to ensure they can exploit and dispossess more, and more.
It’s hard. It seems so incredibly immoral. It seems so incredibly short-sighted and unwise. It is as if they have no idea of the consequences of extractive thinking and the degradation of our society and planet on the long-term. Are they that disconnected from community and place. We see people whose actions surely threaten their very souls, or perhaps they have none.
There are very good reasons why there is a perennial philosophy through all spiritual thought – forget the fundamentalists. Selfishness, greed, and believing you are above the gods – or believe you live sacrosanct from reaping any “banquet of consequences” – are always bad. Always vices. I do not care how you can cleverly rationalise them within a spreadsheet with dollars as measures. You rationalise insanity and immorality. You rationalise the incredibly unwise.
But there is consolation. More people are aware. And the whole of history gives us evidence that it will not last (history which these incredibly unwise and vicious people know nothing about apparently). There is a growing realisation of the fact that the system has been tilted to an extreme in favour of the worst of people who are concentrating power, encouraging corruption, and degrading our (and their own) life support systems.
What sort of shift we get is what worries me. It could end up as the Terror – a radical swing to another form of fundamentalism – a hating, othering, violent dystopia with lawyers and CEOs swinging from the poplar trees. We know this could happen.
And we know how fear and outrage can be manipulated. We know how effective scapegoating tactics are. The malevolent may thump podiums and turn the anger away from themselves, to the innocent. The Brixton rioters went after the ethnic small store owners rather than the City bankers et al. We could end up with an Animal Farm scenario – a replace of arrogant selfish greed by arrogant selfish greed.
Or we could see a complete environmental collapse – a worldwide evolutionary dead end where the line that is humanity is expunged by the incredible stupidity of the best dressed people with the poorest minds and morals.
Or – hopefully – we could see a fundamental economic and constitutional change – an acknowledgement of a few facts and the need to address them. A social change that brings back into centre stage those perennial philosophies – belonging and the so-called ‘feminine’ virtues of love and care – seeing hubris as the vice of tyrants. Make the powerful quake when immorality trumps responsibility and the reality of their own connection.
We could see that age old battle between the best in humanity and the worst, between those who see us all as connected, bound to others *and* ourselves through every act of kindness – and those who use power to treat their own world as mere grist in their own petty mill.
When we inevitably shift, I hope that kindness wins.
A few practical steps to a new enlightenment ….
1. Large Commercial political power must be made ‘illegal’ – they have the worst of minds and morals. They will destroy our life-support systems.
2. We need an economic framework that see the economy as dependent upon both our society and our functioning environment. You extract from life and turn it into cash and concentrated power, and you eat the heart and soul of yourself.
3. We need an economy that is a servant to the people, rather than people as a servant to the economy.
4. We need to rebuild our individual moral responsibility. It is a vice to treat people and the planet as a means to your own selfish end – whether ‘you’ are a corporation or a person. Working for an organisation can never absolve an individual from their personal responsibility to be moral. I fear that Hannah Arendt’s functionaries are again on the rise – those who unwittingly or willingly partake in the Banality of Evil where the culpable hide behind their orders from the hierarchy above. “Just obeying orders.” “Not my fault.”
5. We need to extend democracy to local levels. Make it real, and about knowledge systems where there is not the arrogance of hierarchical Herr Professor-types who think they hold everything relevant within their increasingly specialist and technocratic narrow minds. We see it in the CEO cults, in the Prime Minister and President worship. Leaders who are not humble are not wise. Despotic authoritarianism and wisdom are mutually exclusive.
We need these rights of people, rights of nature, control of power, personal responsibility to be good, devolved democracy.
But I think there is another necessity – redistribution of what the powerful have stolen – yes legally stolen, and sometimes not even that if you bother to read about William le Batard (William the Thief and the Invader, not the Conqueror). A reform of ‘ownership’. Create new ‘commons’ where a sense of ownership is replaced by a sense of local belonging ad care. There is a revolution of ownership concepts around the world, a rethinking of relationship. Gar Alperovitz has written extensively on it, and all the work on the management of commons is brilliant.
All this is effectively a rejection of the Neoliberal consensus, which pits the market as in direct conflict with democracy, as it pits the short-term and expedient against long-term social and ecological function. You can have one or the other, but you cannot have both. Neoliberalism will degrade democracy as well as other fundamental functions of society and the planet.
Changing that way of governing our world represents a key shift in the relationship we have with both the earth and our society. The Modern Western thought disease is the metaphysics of mechanical determinism with all the assumptions of reductionism, disconnected dichotomies of self-community-land-other, predictability, mechanical constructs of life without meaning. We need to re-embrace what all indigenous people understood – whether Polynesian, Asian, Germanic, Native American or Celt. Re-embrace the idea that we do not ‘own’ the land, or staff, as ‘resources’. Re-embrace the truth that we are integral to these functioning systems, whose integrity is our integrity. Stop feeling other than, apart from, dis-integrated.
The mechanical construct is so wrong-headed – you cannot sustainably view a functioning life-support system as just a set of material quantitative things, nouns. Such systems are fundamentally verbs, shifting and integrated relationships – a murmuration of starlings. We live within, as part of, a functioning system. It follows that if we harm it, we harm ourselves.
Any new economics has to appreciate this, as well as any science, and policy, and engineering, and all the other increasingly dangerously narrow technocratic disciplines. What that represents is a shift from our Modern view that “Science & Technology” is the leading paradigm of management and policy – to Aristotle’s far more important human abilities to ask what is a connected and good life for us all, and what is the practical wisdom (Phronesis) we need in order to choose the necessary policies to achieve that good.
Humanities and spirituality are very necessary to that end. They provide the rudder and the perspective. Science and technology does not have the wisdom to be either that rudder or provide wider perspective, though it provides necessary information and knowledge – so let it be on tap, not on top.
I don’t know if we will achieve a new Enlightened Age after the inevitable social, economic or environmental collapse. I fear that the most stupid people are in front of the camera. But we have to live as if it is a possibility.
Very little else matters – your mortgage, your job, your retirement savings. Because if we don’t get the change right, all that mere process and toil may have been all for nothing.