Today’s BBC coverage economic news is much on Portugal’s finances. Yet another nation “bites the dust”.
Much description and analysis of Portugal’s experience is rooted in paradigms fully accepting of “financial structures as they are”. I’m hugely disappointed that “interest on debt” continues to drive country after country into “crisis”. Living circumstances of the most ordinary of citizens is where real consequence of “correction” is felt.
The whole of ‘financial rescue and repair’ arrangements ‘smell to high heaven’ in the claim “this is necessary so we can resume prosperity”. There seem at least three “seats of power” in the ‘wonderful’ economy we are told is our need. One is systems of loans – within nations, and from international agencies; the second is interest collected by those with funds to loan; and the third is assorted market manipulations by big for-profit investors or their financial managers.
‘Western’ industrialized countries have, until very recently, largely escaped the clutches of international lending coercions. Now is our turn at the wheel, our time to pay attention. We were too comfortable to do so before.
What gets me is we are not paying attention! We don’t question overall-misery and limitation experienced by many, and delivered by well-entrenched institutionalized systems. Instead, we shove one another off cliffs! We “agree” with pundits who advise “lower” (street and village) level” services must be curtailed, chopped, trimmed. Those not so near the cliff’s edge are relieved by the odds that they, themselves, aren’t likely to be shoved!! They conclude their comfort relative to others, their distance from cliff edge, is due to personal intelligence, or ‘right attitude’, or hard work, or ‘god’s grace’.
I say what I say, yet have nothing “financially sophisticated” to offer. I know of no guidance except that finally – finally!, we humans must begin to reject any practice and policy that does not, by “law of golden rule”, uplift life experience of each and every person born. This is every person- regardless of chronological age, and regardless of where on this earth each person happens to be. We must also include all non-human life in a “golden rule” focus; dynamics of the web of life are inclusive, (see Fuller quotes, below).
The sooner we begin, the sooner we’ll achieve something remarkable – life’s promise. It means undoing much in-place ‘old paradigm’ structure as quickly, but sanely, as possible. It means building new systems. The new systems eventually will seem “what we always meant to do“. (We will look back in wonder at our centuries of foolishness toward one another, toward life!)
The transformation will take decades, if not longer, so denial, excuse-making, and delay are not particularly good responses!! (Bear in mind the word ‘responsibility’ – take some time, stretch the word out: Response-ability = ability to respond = ability = capacity = capacity to respond = capacity to be responsible to humanity and all life.) We’ve got the capacity, the ability – but will we use it!
“Repair but no fundamental change” in economic structure, perpetuates “collateral suffering” in the name of ‘healthy economies’. Nothing short of radical shift of humanity’s goals to “golden rule” focus can genuinely serve “generations to follow”. If our only “fixes” are based in existing, dominant, “successful” economic models, then nothing changes. If nothing changes, then the work that needs doing, deep difference, remains unaccomplished, avoidable misery continues.
If we persist in belief that collateral misery is ‘accidental’ to healthy economies, we prove ourselves lacking in both imagination and heart. If we continue with governance and policy that accepts ‘accidental’ misery, we further “lock-in” suffering-creating systems. We push true reform on, to future generations. (This is the true ‘crime’ we risk passing on to our descendants!)
“Practicing compassion, caring for others and sharing their problems, lays the foundation for a meaningful life, not only at the level of the individual, family or community, but also for humanity as a whole”. (Dali Lama Face Book page, April 8, 2011).
Practicing compassion as described today on the Dali Lama Face Book page is surely foundational to human endeavor. I offered the following comment, with added elaboration for purpose of this blog post:
It seems to me we often “conceptualize” compassion as an encounter that is “small and localized” and of the specific moment. We offer someone a ride or volunteer at a local food bank. Each is as powerful as any large scale practice! These smaller situations let us ‘see’ the spontaneous compassion each of us carries. Smaller compassionate exchanges remind us to hold faith in this innate spirit. We enjoy the good will; it encourages and uplifts ourselves and the other.
In larger projects, we also ‘localize’ (compartmentalize). Issues are ‘separated out’, given unique descriptions, and we set to work with specific focus on “issue A” or “issue B”. Compartmentalized approach ‘makes sense’ because narrow focus allows efficiency and effectiveness. Being so specific in our focus also protects us from being overwhelmed by how much change is needed to uplift humanity. The work of Bill and Melinda Gates to eradicate polio globally is an example of this at huge scale.
But specific focus also contributes to our ignorance. It prevents us from using “golden rule” guidance in a more universally generalized way. An example of this is Rotary Club mission to support the Gates polio initiative. Rotary Club commitment to the Gates initiative is undeniably sincere; their contributions are immensely significant in helping bring an end to polio. But – in my experience – many members of Rotary Clubs are also extremely reluctant to question fundamental economic systems, systems that contribute to misery for huge swaths of humanity. Some of that humanity struggles within the very communities in which the Rotarians live and work! Local suffering is certainly not likely due to polio; but it certainly may be due no decent housing, or no health care except by bankruptcy. People in our country do live in shacks, desperate housing, and under bridges!
(I recently heard Bill Gates describe suffering due to polio as higher priority than suffering in ‘modern industrialized nations’. In true “business pundit thinking” he said “a dollar fighting polio goes farther” than it would in an established ‘western’ economy. His paradigm is ‘scarcity-driven’, and lacks recognizing compassion as a universal call. We have comparable suffering here – it happens not to be polio related, and may be smaller in head-count. But to the suffering individuals, to their families, and to their communities, the intensity of distress, and loss of human promise, is absolutely equivalent.)
Compartmentalizing and narrowed focus also prevents us from making ‘golden rule’ our ‘buck stops here’ guide in every aspect of structured governance. Let me also be clear, I do NOT recommend shifting focus from polio to close-at-hand suffering. I recommend enlarging the scope of response to suffering! Look around, listen to us! Ways we do not use the golden rule as principle guide in governance continually show in ‘economic’ arguments against giving voice to workers, against universal health care, against keeping people in homes and assuring more access to homes, etc..
Most Rotarians, and certainly the Gates, can be described as “relatively or very comfortable”. These are used as example only, not with intent to focus ‘blame’. The common ‘mind-set’ of the “comfortable” does not look for misery-cause by economic structure. Despite persistent critical analysis that raises serious questions, ‘comfortable mindset’ does not ask: “With all our creative potential, and our stated intent to make the world better, could we become more cooperative, more “whole life family” oriented? Do our entrenched institutions, such as financial systems, best serve best intent? Have we subjected the systems to deeply honest scrutiny?”
Mind-sets commonly held by those of great wealth (Gates), and those of some level of ‘player-capacity’, not only ‘can’t see’ need to look for deep, fundamental, flaws in current economic structures – they frequently feel threatened when thorough analysis points to ‘built-in’ problems. (Marx’s analysis is a classic, as well as comprehensive and detailed: capitalism can not assure ‘best outcome for all’, no matter how philanthropic the hearts of individual capitalists, because that’s not its fundamental goal. The capitalist philanthropist, (Bill Gates, for example,) is “bent” in service to ‘the system‘! Because he’s materially comfortable, and able to exercise powerful and influential choices, he does not ask for fundamental change – not even if fundamental change would clear up North American misery along with misery elsewhere.)
It seems to me we can choose to mindfully work toward bringing the spirit of compassion into social/economic, politically-based structures and institutions in ALL communities and nations. (“Our power is in our ability to decide.” —Buckminster Fuller.) (When Buckminster Fuller says ‘our’ he means all human-kind.)
Of course – I suggest “impossible” transformations – but I don’t think there’s evidence we’ve ever really tried.
Recently I’ve been ‘hanging out’ among Buckminster Fuller quotes. I continually discover “exactly right” observations made by Fuller that are perfect for current times. ‘Re’ leads are mine.:
Re “the Gates-Rotarian phenomenon”: “Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking.”
Re our not asking deep analytical questions, (such as of economic systems): “Lack of knowledge concerning all the factors and the failure to include them in our integral imposes false conclusions.”
Re not asking deep analytical questions: “It is essential to release humanity from the false fixations of yesterday, which seem now to bind it to a rationale of action leading only to extinction.”
Re Who we humans are, and our capacity to bring stewardship to all Life: “One of humanity’s prime drives is to understand and be understood. All other living creatures are designed for highly specialized tasks. Man seems unique as the comprehensive comprehender and co-ordinator of local universe affairs.”
Re imagining the human family (I like this one – imagine such a dance!): “There is room enough indoors in New York City for the whole 1963 world’s population to enter, with room enough inside for all hands to dance the twist in average nightclub proximity.”
Re abandoning none: “We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.”