Economy of Consciousness
Economy of Consciousness
It’s a strange experience to be in a wilderness in the afternoon, where the bear scat is nearly as big as coke cans, and then be back in the land of McDonalds and McPeople by dark. But there’s nothing more illuminating of the society one lives in than to leave it completely, if only for a few hours.
We hiked a few miles into a small mountain lake at about 2200 meters (over 7000 feet) in Lassen Volcanic National Park (the least visited National Park in America). After 15 minutes of silence at that place, one realizes that there, there is only life and death.
Without a relationship with nature, one has no relationship to anyone or anything. But we humans are social animals, who do not live in nature but build our worlds around us. And whether the worlds we construct grow fittingly or unfittingly alongside nature, they are almost always subconsciously felt to be the only reality.
‘The economy’ is shorthand for the society people have built, and the transactions that people engage in to obtain what they need and what they want. In America, and in a growing number of other countries, that society is inhuman, ugly, unsustainable, and spiritually destructive.
Nevertheless, the American economic system has become the infrastructure over which the many cultures of the world are interwoven, amazingly even China now. But this latest version of the market is sinking under its own dead weight. So what underlying structure can take its place?
The worlds that man makes are as subject to decay and death as systems in nature. Though the economic, political, and intellectual powers that be are desperate to sustain the status quo, things can’t go on like this. ‘Too big to fail’ has to be read as ‘the bigger they are the harder they fall.’
The collapse of the world’s financial sector, emanating from America, is understandably still an abstraction to the vast majority of Americans. The cable networks, led by CNN and MSNBC, following their basic programming strategy of pandering to the personal, are propagandizing people with fear mongering that goes beyond their complicity in the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq.
It is frighteningly obtuse, in an economy founded on waste and fueled by debt at every level, to talk about “restoring confidence.” At some point, which we’ve long passed, the economy is psychology, and once the psychology has gone bad (that is, once trust is gone), only returning to basics can restore it.
However we’ve been so bamboozled by fabricated complexity in the markets, designed to inflate worth and wealth, that we’ve lost sight of what the basics even are. The hope is that effective crisis management will buy America and the world time for fundamental reforms in the global financial infrastructure. But if history teaches anything, it is that for good or ill, societies only change with crisis. And when a crisis is averted, the status quo returns, with temporary sighs of relief.
Most people in so-called developing (that is, poor) countries understand the difference between needs and wants. That’s why corruption stands out in much sharper relief in Africa and other places. But in America, and to a lesser degree in Europe (and increasingly in China), the line between real necessity and personal desire has become utterly blurred. Indeed, our economy depends on the blurring.
Previous generations of Americans knew the difference between food/clothing/shelter, and luxuries, because luxuries were anything beyond these things. Though many Americans struggle to pay the bills, the amount of unnecessary stuff (from huge houses and vehicles, to a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry and dog sector), the unreality of the economy is woven into the very fiber of our society. That’s true no matter how much the Administration and the media talk about real and present dangers to obtaining credit for houses, cars, and student loans.
The confluence of economic, political, ecological, and even spiritual factors makes the ending of the world order we know qualitatively different than any in human history. Most people see human history as progressive; some see it as cyclical; I see it as an increasingly insistent question regarding the relationship between human consciousness and nature, culminating either in transmutation or extinction.
To my mind, what we face as human beings is not merely another economic and political crisis, but an intensifying existential challenge to human consciousness itself.
Life is demanding radical change. Half-measures, much less ‘crisis management,’ will prove woefully inadequate. Physically, the basics are the same; psychologically, everything is up in the air.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.