A Politics of Expression not Possession
At the weekend a group of top economists wrote a letter to the Queen explaining to her the cause of the financial crisis. “In summary, Your Majesty, the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and…
At the weekend a group of top economists wrote a letter to the Queen explaining to her the cause of the financial crisis.
“In summary, Your Majesty, the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people.”
A day later, Sir Jonathan Porritt announced on the BBC (on leaving the government) that three powerful departments (transport, business and the treasury) “were dogmatically following an outdated Thatcherite model of economic growth regardless of the social and environmental consequences”.
Finally, insiders at the heart of The System, are questioning its founding principles and assumptions. In the current model, economic growth is more important than pretty much anything else – a belief Brown, Obama and Cameron all share. Let us penetrate to the hidden order of things to find out what lies at stake…
In this worldview, we are all here to produce cars, widgets, whizzy financial products… and consume the results. This creates a rise in GDP (politicians compare how big theirs is) and tax dollars for them to spend in the process. If we stop possessing things, the whole system breaks down and nobody knows what to do. Which is why all our politicians encourage us to spend more and more even as the very debt we (and they) are getting into is bankrupting us both financially and morally. But where did this pernicious and dangerous idea – that we are here to produce and possess – originate, and why has it become such an enduring myth?
The roots of economic theory, capitalism and science all stem from the same convenient but false understanding – or ‘noble lie’ as Plato would call it – in which human being are seen as rational units out to make more money, motivated purely by self interest. We are seen to be predictable, productive cogs – disenchanted from Spirit – who can be controlled, dominated and directed just as numbers can be on a spreadsheet.
The fetish for measurement and control seems to have its roots in the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century. Philosophers – forerunners of modern day scientists – threw off the shackles of religious oppression to explore nature as they saw fit. They embraced a new view of the universe – based on its similarity to a mechanism, a machine, a clock – and they thrived on the promise of unlimited power that scientific knowledge brought. As Pierre-Simon Leplace said;
“An intellect which at any given moment knew all of the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that compose it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit the data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom; for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.”
Pretty seductive stuff to the average man.
Today, little has changed.
Our economists, financiers and politicians have all aspired to achieve this perfect knowledge – and with it control our lives. But their folly has led to untrammelled industrial growth, an insane and total focus on productivity and all the post-industrial malaise these cause. Depression, recession, cancer, obesity, poverty are all essentially problems of the mind.
So extreme is this dominant paradigm that we don’t even question it anymore. Today I was in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – which now has direct control of our Universities too. On the wall was their new mission statement. Their entire focus is on ‘aligning all government policies to support UK competitiveness, productivity and excellence.’
Since when did we pay and empower our government to ensure that our entire reason for being alive on this Earth was to make money, more widgets and economic growth? Whatever happened to happiness, wellbeing and human thriving?
We need a radical rethink of what our political and financial systems are premised on and how – because whilst we sign-up to these myths at the heart of modernity (by focusing on the next promotion, holiday home or new gadget) we are all culpable in the current mess we are in. Psychological revolution – rather than regulatory reform and trillion dollar cash injections – is the only solution if we want to stop spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need, destroying the planet in the process.
We need to shift our orientation from producer (making the government and ourselves rich) to expresser of the human and humane virtues – creativity, compassion, collaboration, contribution, co-operation.
This is a Politics of Expression, where our human raison d’etre is to create, not to consume. Nature, within which all man-made dreams and fallacies sit within, is continuously focused on co-creation: diversity, new mutations and new species. As well are an intrinsic part of Nature, what hubris and arrogance do we display when we think our human role should be to do something different? As Nature’s most most complex creation to date, should our greatest role be to co-create too? As Goethe puts it:
“Only by the contemplation of an ever-creating Nature shall we become worthy of spiritual participation in her productions.”
“When the sound, healthy nature of man works as a whole, when he feels himself at one with the world as a great, beautiful, worthy whole, when this harmonious feeling of well-being gives him a pure free delight, then might the Universe, could it consciously feel, deeming itself at the goal, cry out for very joy, and be lost in admiration of the climax of its own development and organization.”