There is little doubt that the Newtonian-Cartesian based worldview which informed the Industrial Revolution has provided a system of thought for ordering our world and correspondingly for solving problems and realizing tremendous benefit. These benefits have come through the application of positivist science that brought wonderful advances in the field of medicine and technological innovation. Unfortunately this worldview is an egoistic materialist mechanistic worldview that has guided us in making our world an inhumane world; one where man’s inhumanity to man is quite prevalent.
As Albert Einstein exclaimed “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them!” In spite of this warning, there is no evidence that those in authority (yes those we call leaders) ever challenge beliefs and assumptions underlying the current worldview. Failing to think critically and to apply different ways of thinking as they place all attention on material results those in authority don’t understand the interrelatedness of problems and thus waste time in seeking to control each problem as if separate from all others. Clearly it is foolish to believe that the people—who profit from the current worldview and its associated way of thinking—will do anything significant to bring about a new worldview, a new world order and thus the elimination of recurring problems.
However quite consistent with the materialist worldview, there is no shortage of people—and organizations are people my friend—with financial resources seeking to profit from the adverse effects of the worldview. According to this worldview it makes all sorts of sense to view the problems created as a result of this worldview as an opportunity for more material gain—in this way this system of belief causes people to exploit each other in a vicious (suicidal) cycle thus ensuring the (self) destruction of all that is alive, even its adherents.
So we have organizations (if not complete industries) seizing profit-making opportunity emanating from problems caused by their very actions such as: the reduction of arctic ice; the decline of public education; the inherent healthcare needs of people; and a growing concern for sustainability. Where’s the outrage?
It is understandable, in light of the predominate worldview, why many simply see these profit seeking schemes as making economic sense and just good plain old entrepreneurialism at work. In other words, when material gain is everything, people will not only excuse self-interested behavior of business enterprises they will rationalize it as a way of justifying their very own subliminally acquired material self-interested way of life.
In a materialist worldview everything is an object to be exploited (having only instrumental value) and thus everything secondary to one’s material gain. So what’s the difference between the above money making schemes and the corner drug dealer’s pursuit of profit from people’s addiction to drugs? Well some might say dealing drugs is illegal but drilling for oil, providing sightseeing cruises and extracting public funds in support of privatized education are not.
Narrow View of Things
According to Milton Freidman, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” And since the law and ethics are not synonymous, there is no (legal) requirement for ethical responsibility. Consequently following this line of thought corporations haven’t any responsibility to “do good”, only to stay within the law—to do no harm. In short, if it isn’t illegal it’s not in violation of responsibility—it is however irresponsible business. Granted these profit-seeking opportunists are not breaking the law—perhaps it should be considered illegal—but what they are doing is quite harmful to the continued viability of life and that’s morally wrong and inhumane.
Milton Friedman and his many free market fundamentalist adherents—following an egoistic materialist worldview, an atomistic view and understanding of things—advance a business intent that is ultimately destructive. That is to say, from the perspective of life this view is the wrong view. Because our world is a deeply interconnected holarchy of living systems where everything is deeply and reciprocally interdependently related—that is dynamically complex—acting upon a narrow material self-interest maximizing intent is, if nothing else, unavoidably adverse to life itself; it is tantamount to committing suicide.
With this worldview as their guide, it is not surprising that many nations, particularly the so-called industrially developed nations, are incapable collaborating on issues that involve (their) economic activity. With what’s-in-it-for-me being the guiding principle for deciding what action to take, it should clear why there is no ‘we’ coming together to solve our common problems. When it’s all about ‘me’ there can be no ‘we’!
There Is An Alternative Worldview
Human beings (as well as all that is alive) need a life-supporting environment; but earth does not need a human population to continue. Because we are dependent upon Nature and each other (yes we depend on ‘we’) we mustn’t strive to exploit Nature and each other. Rather we must seek to ensure our viability by acting in harmony with Nature and all people, thereby sustaining life-supporting qualities of our world. We cannot continue our adherence to a worldview that is so narrowly focused on the materiality of reality wherein everything is but an object to exploit.
Because the conduct of business and its underlying economic theory touches much of life in society, continuing to conduct business guided by its materialistic worldview—following the maxims of egoistic materialistic capitalism—in all probability will destroy the life supporting capabilities of Nature as well as our selves. The fact is that change won’t be probable, and nothing will fundamentally change for the better for everyone in society, unless and until the intent of business is guided by the living systems worldview.
A living systems worldview would help us understand how deeply interconnected we are to each other and to Nature. Thus harmony with not mastery over Nature would be the guiding principle of how to relate to Nature and each other. The goal in life would not be to acquire as much material wealth prefiguring a material addictive society but to actualize one’s human potential, prefiguring a self-initiating and self-actualizing society. Thus following the principle of harmony people will interact in a cooperative if not collaborative way toward helping each other to unfold and develop as human beings—not as things with possessions. In this way the individual and the collective would not be opposing divisive concepts but intimately connected and integrating conceptualizations of a human life.
But all of this requires a change in worldview. More succinctly, nothing can or will change until we change our worldview! Attending to the leaves and branches, while maintaining the material worldview, in an effort to deliver symptomatic relief will not be sufficient. Only the transmutation of the system at its root—a change in the underlying worldview—will dissolve the problems.
Sadly, because we’ve internalized the underlying beliefs and values of the materialist worldview and because we are not consciously aware of this worldview and how it is directing our actions, the needed change will only come about when the pain of continuing exceeds the pain of casting it aside. Unfortunately, as is the case with many addictions, the felt need may be too late coming.