Like all other animals we are equipped with the capacity for sight smell taste touch and hearing as ways of sensing the immediate environment. So as long as danger and opportunity are within arms’ reach, earshot, in line of sight or so close we could taste them we can react to them quite well.
For example, if the ill effects of smoking manifested immediately after taking up the habit, would people continue the habit? If those using wrong-headed management practices (e.g. competition-based incentive pay, pay-for-performance schemes, accountability schemes) immediately saw diminished cooperation, intrinsic motivation and increased meaninglessness in the work among the people (in the organization) would they continue their practice? Immediately sensing the harmful effects, a sense-able person would cease doing what they are doing. In instinctual like fashion a stimulus-response mechanism would provide a call for action.
It is a world comprised of immediate needs/wants/concerns; correspondingly requiring either/or decision-making, as everything is reduced to the choice between profit/pleasure and loss/pain. Moreover, the immediate becomes urgent and thus supplants all other concerns, especially the complex longer-term issues. Further (self) reflective thinking and critical thinking are minimized, so little to no consideration is given to what should or could be—no complexity just proximate cause and consequence. Perhaps this is why many seek the one silver bullet solution to a problem, which conveniently corresponds to their identified single cause. Illustrative of this is the popular notion that the blame and thus the solution to poor quality rest squarely on the worker.
So, in such a simplified world the realization of immediate gain becomes the defining purpose of life and material things no longer serve as the means to existence they become the aim of existence. It should not be surprising that this aligns quite nicely with an economic system requiring a materialistic way of life. The commonly accepted (not only erroneous but irrational) notion that the business of business is profit and a quarter-to-quarter focus will forever yield material gains are likely manifestations of this way-of-being-in-the-world. We also often see means supplant ends.
According to Carl Jung “as long as we are still submerged in nature we are unconscious and we live in the security of instinct which knows no problems.” The animal nature world is a complete, coherent, uncomplicated and quite a predictable world. No wonder ignorance is bliss and many find comfort being-in-the-world according to it!
A person so oriented is driven by both acquisitive and fear impulses; moved by the desire for acquiring things or by the fear of losing what has been acquired. It is in this sense that people living in egoistic economic society live as hedonistic beings, where the choice of response is directed by the pursuit of gain or the avoidance of pain in the moment. Such a dichotomy of choice is absent of any consideration to a future progressively different than the past—investment (which is about the future) is a difficult commitment. Moreover, while our five-senses afford us the capability of perceiving immediate opportunity or danger, they are of little value for foreseeing developing possibilities over time.
Evidence of this is seen in people’s inability to acknowledge or recognize emerging problems such as climate change or the destruction of our food and water supply or for sustaining the viability of an organization. However because we are more than just intelligent animals, because we are human beings, we are capable of sensing and knowing beyond our what serves our short-term self-interests.
A Human Way of Rolling
We need not rely on crises for motivation to act; stimulus-response is not the only way for action. The world of the immediate and urgent is not the only reality people can live within. There is another world, one that requires people to use the unique capabilities they have as human beings. Specifically this speaks to the use of powers emanating from the unique human capacity for conscious awareness.
Human beings not only have the capability of perceiving and thinking with different perspectives, but also of perceiving and thinking with the arrow of time pointed in different directions—to the past, present and future. In other words, we each have the capability of transcending the in the moment circumstance perception and to learn proactively toward creating a more human world. Of course this requires that we let go of our attachment to self-serving immediate concerns in order to appropriately have concern for universal care for all. It is through this higher way-of-being that we will be able to create knowledge and correspondingly develop a more human world.
We can create a more viable world, especially for those who will live in the future, by prefiguring it today. But if we each deny the need for our development as a human being we will diminish the probability of our world becoming a very human world. Thus each of us has a responsibility for developing our humanity for the benefit of all humanity—which serves a greater sense of self.
Our inherent desire to learn, which is far greater in us than in all other animals, is not just a peculiarity of nature. Of course animals learn, but their learning is a reactive learning. Humans are unique in that we can learn proactively. Thus we not only have the capacity but we have the responsibility to learn toward creating a world that not only sustains our physical existence, but that facilitates our individual and collective evolvement as human beings. That is to say, we cannot simply exist and be human; the potential of our humanness must be realized through the acts of life.
So all of the issues before us—efficacy of education, corporate greed, poverty, universal medical care, and dysfunctional government—must be approached using our uniquely human capabilities. Doing otherwise is tantamount to committing (collective) suicide.
Since society is selective of individuals possessing certain traits, what develops is a culturally caused genotype in people—people dynamically adapt by learning/developing socially acceptable desires. In essence, we structure our way of being-in-the-world in a way that affords us the best opportunity to meet our needs and fit in within our society.
Eventually (and quite erroneously) many people come to believe that these tacitly learned desires and acquired traits are inherently part of human nature. The values-in-practice within our societal systems—economic, education, and government—circumscribe how we will to be-in-the-world. In other words the values and beliefs advanced by society become the norms and facts people use to inform behavior. Thus the belief in the universality of the cause not only justifies the action it makes it the norm.
For example, in a society where self-interest maximization and short-term results are deemed important, you would most likely find that people in this society will tend to be self-serving, competitive, materially driven with a short-term focus and that they believe having these traits is just human nature. So they feel justified in placing their own gain first; everyone should take what he/she can for him/herself because looking out for number one is (just) the way we roll.
Time to Consider a Different Way of Rolling
Because the precepts—of self-interest maximization and unlimited wealth accumulation—of our economic system have permeated society’s other systems (of government and education), rendering them ineffective, we must fundamentally change our economic system if we expect our reality to change.
Consider the U.S. government’s approach to the prospect of another financial crisis and the corresponding way the budget deficit is debated. It is a classic illustration of our reactive way-of-being. According to Simon Johnson “The right way to think about future budget deficits is in a probability-based fashion: What is the chance something bad will happen, and how bad will that be for debt levels? The odds of another major financial calamity next year are small, but the risk over a 10- to 20-year period is high. That’s the right time horizon to use in the coming budget debate.” This brings to light the common but erroneous belief that the future is nothing but a series of short-terms, just a series of “next years.” Seemingly this is all those in authority are interested in and capable of thinking about—they are mindful of nothing else.
It is hopeless, and frankly a bit foolish, to think that we can change our life experiences and the direction of the history of our very existence without changing our (individual and collective) minds about what it means to be human. If things are to be better tomorrow we must begin to change our reality today. Life is all about change! So until we choose a proactive way-of-being and learning we will unfortunately forever be consumed in reacting to our self-created crises. Is this any way for a consciously aware responsible human being to roll?