What to say about a society in which value of human being is measured by:
1. capacity to accumulate material wealth and not use it to participate in the society (but rather to show off)
2. psychological identification with the wealth, seeing it as permanent personal property, not a temporary asset to be shared for common good
3. emotional detachment and social denial about the consequences of concentration of wealth, keeping it (really) unused
If you can hold a lot of money (and everything you bought with it) for yourself and care as little as possible about the rest of the people (or other life forms), that is a sure sign that you “made it” in this world. The less you participate, the better! This has become all-pervading: even the poorest of us have a couple of technical gadgets; we use a tiny fraction of their potential and that for ourselves only. We are miniature copies of rich arrogant resource abusers. We must have each our own gadgets and they became too intimate to share–they have to be ours only!
Amassed wealth is actually nothing but unused potential. It is like a charged battery–it has no use in and of itself.
What we use the accumulated potential for can be summed up in one word: consumption. There is no “giving” or “sharing” in consumption, there is only “taking”. It is an intimate relationship between an isolated I and the object of consumption. In consumption there is no “us”, no community, no networking, no real relationship, no humanization; there is merely: me, myself and I … and my precious!
The concept of consumerism is based on the value of uselessness. I have, therefore I am! No other requirement.
Imagine 50 fancy cars in a big garage. Does this image bring a smile to your face? Do you say to yourself: “Ah, I wish they were all mine!”
Sure, it’s fun to be able to use any of the great cars whenever you feel like it. And to impress others! Everybody would look up to you if you had 50 expensive cars, wouldn’t they?
Immense concentration of (really) unused material property creates tension, which is released through periodic energetic discharges–social unrest, protests, wars.
If you accumulate more and more electric charge in an electrode, you will be simultaneously creating propensity of sudden discharges, social and environmental “lightnings”.
But we don’t care! We go on accumulating, consuming and wasting, pushing the Earth to her limits, holding our fingers crossed the balloon won’t burst too soon. Nobody is prepared for the consequences of the imminent explosion.
Is there anyone in powerful positions willing to talk about real change–resetting worldview, value system, mode of operation and identification.
In Dragon Dreaming there is a concept of seeing yourself as either “permanent possessor of things”, or as “temporary node in the flow of things”.
In the first case your relation to any material object or asset is politically (artificially) determined through a set of legally binding rules and regulations. Once you sign a paper that “proves” you acquired something in an approved manner, it becomes your property and you can do with it (more or less) whatever you want. You can as well destroy it or use it for destruction. Or neglect it, forget about it of even not know about it, and yet legally be its owner. Changes in the political system may stir things up somewhat, but if you have a paper that proves you or your ancestors owned some piece of property, you may claim it to you name in any consequent political system that is based on the concept of “permanent possession”.
In the second case your relation to material object or asset is pragmatic, realistic, direct and mutual. You meet with the object (or person) and create a “node” with it for a period of time. Then you separate and move on to the next node without claiming it. You don’t build a large conglomerate of nodes around yourself. Everything, including you, flows. There is no concept of permanent ownership, no grip, no holding onto things forever, no stiffness. Your value is determined by your skill of flowing, knitting responsible relationships, using things fairly, with truthfulness, integrity.
Soft, flowing mode of identification has built long lasting communities over centuries. Ossified possessiveness had build imperialistic civilizations, however they never lasted longer than a couple of centuries. They divorced ownership from responsibility and thus gradually undermined the very foundations of their existence.
Durable, resilient, healthy society sets limits to itself and defines existential responsibilities of its representatives. Such society is never wasteful. It respects every thing, every asset, every person, and relates to them with care and responsibly. In such communities hoarding more than you need is considered insane.
Nowadays huge stretches of land and innumerable buildings remain unused because there is no correlation between property and responsibility. In our civilization the concept of permanent ownership is intrinsic to human being–that’s the dogma of our economy. There are certain restrictions to using the property, but there are rarely responsibilities attached to property, that’s why it is generally abused.
“It is none of your business, what I do with my own property! You take care of your own stuff, leave mine alone!” is a common defense of possession by its owner.
What would happen if we transcended the concept of permanent possession is easiest to illustrate on parent-child relationship. Parents don’t possess their daughter, although she is “theirs”; they are responsible for her well-being and growth. If they abuse or neglect her, the society will react and interfere, it won’t passively observe the abuse and neglect. In extreme cases it may decide to forcefully end the parent-child relationship, usually to protect the child from the abusive parent–for being irresponsible “owner”. The relationship is not automatic, as in the case of practically everything else–except humans and, to a certain extent, animals, too.
Social sanity will be supported greatly, when we begin to interfere with irresponsible people in every kind of owner-possession relationship; introducing treatment of every thing as if it were your child, not your slave.
That will be the end of speculative money creation and hoarding, non-transparent economy, useless, dehumanizing jobs, wasteful systems of resource and land management. It will mean moving from wasteful consumerism to ethical pragmatism.
In such a society value of human being will be measured by:
1. capacity to enhance material objects, plants, animals, land, ecosystems and utilise them for enriching society, life
2. psychological identification with the flow of things and wise participation in that flow for common good
3. emotional aliveness due to abundance of exchanges and connections in celebration of plain usefulness of everything
There is an immense shift in consciousness here: to be rich is not to possess more objects which essentially remain separate from you; to be rich is to be the intrinsic part of overall richness, of one overall abundance. Can you be said to be rich living in your own opulent oasis in the middle of the desert–and (usually not even) looking from your castle’s walls how people around you suffer and die?
There is enough for all of us. All of us! Animals and plants included. As Gandhi so well put it: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
Let me finish this with a quote by Kurt Vonnegut, it gives me hope we might some day get to our senses and bring common sense to the foundation of our society:
I didn’t learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have learned that in the first grade. A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn’t a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It’s also a source of hope. It means we don’t have to continue this way if we don’t like it.