We blame corporations for contributing to climate change and governments for not taking action against the threats to sustainability and our very (continued) existence. But it is not our corporations or governments that exploit both people and Nature in pursuit of ever increasing profit and growth. Rather it is the people in authority within corporations and government whose decisions are often at odds with sustainability. These people are guided by a system of belief—a worldview, a philosophy of life—and its associated economic system that is instrumental in leading them to a materially addictive way of being—in constant pursuit of their next fix—and to creating a destructive societal order.
According to this worldview and its associated economic system the purpose in life is to maximize and accumulate material wealth. The method for doing so is through the unceasing pursuit of one’s material self-interest, which (it is assumed) inevitably benefits society because it is believed that societal wealth is the linear sum of each individual’s wealth. But the benefit to society is really not a concern of those pursuing the maximization of their very own material interests. Thus every entity (i.e. individual, group, corporation, industry, nation) is to compete against every other entity for resources with the primary (if not sole) purpose of maximizing material self-interest in the present moment, irrespective of the external costs that each entity doesn’t bear.
And why is the present moment and not the future a concern? Instant gratification is what matters: No self respecting card caring hedonist actually cares about anything beyond the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain in the moment! Addicts are like that. And what about care or concern for what the future will bring? I’ll be gone—you’ll be gone (aka IBG-YBG) answers this it quite concisely.
How is it that this worldview and its overarching intent have become acceptable to the masses? Short answer: we each want to ‘fit in’. For the most part people throughout the industrialized world live in a material oriented culture. When material self-interest is everything in society, people acculturate and subconsciously learn to believe it is the way they and others ‘naturally are’ and so there is no questioning of the premises and no consideration given to an alternative way of being. In recent time even one of this world’s leaders told us “there is no alternative” (aka TINA)!
The system, for its very survival, needs cooperative if not compliant participants to be part of the rat race. So in regards to a materially addicted way of being, the same could be said about the vast majority of people in society as well. If we as society’s consumers were not assimilated into and thus not guided by the very same worldview then the problems we face today would very likely not have emerged—the system could not have continued. When people cease cooperating with a system then the system cannot function or continue. So it is essential for those in authority to continually communicate a shared need for self-interest based economic growth, even though but a few share in the growth.
A Few Foundational Precepts
As explained in The Intent of Business the primary foundational assumption is that people are at base selfish; that is all human behavior is naturally self-interest seeking behavior—each and every one of us naturally acts in his/her very own material self-interest. This is a very limited view of what it means to be human and consequently the aligned societal context is quite limiting to human progress in life as well. But this is okay because human progress is not the intent, material growth is.
The second principle concerns the concept of property in relation to a person that comes from John Locke (the 17th Century empiricist philosopher) and which was synthesized into a theory of economics by Adam Smith. The notion is that each individual possess him/her self as property and each possess anything with which he/she mixes with his/her labor. Seemingly Locke’s concept flows from the belief that we each are God’s property because God created us. Therefore, the reasoning goes that each individual is essentially the ‘owner’ of his/her self—which is akin to property—plus whatever he/she creates through his/her actions, which becomes appended to his/her self as property. In essence all there is is property to be acquired—material gain.
Moreover, a third assumption in this worldview and its associated economic system is that since Nature held more than what humankind can ever acquire, the threat of there not being enough to make every individual happy was non-existent, which leads to the notion of unlimited material growth as the intent of economic activity.
Let me repeat: it is not our corporations (or government) that seek ever increasing profit and growth it is the people in authority within our corporations and government who are guided by a system of belief—a worldview, a philosophy of life—that leads them to a materially addictive way of life. The corporation and government are merely the instruments for realizing their next fix.
With such a worldview and its aligned economic system our future prospects couldn’t include any less order and any more chaos and destruction! And as Locke might assert, we created it so we own it!
Not surprisingly we’ve placed all attention on the pursuit of things of material or external value while disregarding life and its inner values and meaning. Thus we have come to believe that life is of little or no value without ever-increasing profit and the pleasure from material things it affords” (The Intent of Business, p 62). Therefore we structure life around the notion that the goal in life is to realize and acquire as much material wealth as possible—this defines $ucce$$ in life. And so the notion that people with wealth are deemed worthy and those without wealth are unworthy is an inevitable conclusion. Consequently our focus in life is on building a career rather than developing as a person, as a human being. Who among us desires to be cast as unworthy!
Unfortunately, this limited understanding of ourselves is limiting our potential as people and inhibiting us from realizing human progress by us, individually and collectively, developing our very human potential. More to the point, there are other deleterious effects upon people from this system of thought and economics other than climate change, growing income inequality and impoverishment. The fact that few, if any, are speaking out about the total disregard for human development is evidence that an overwhelming majority of people is unaware that their very development as a person is diminished if not neglected. Diminished by their choices and neglected through their management’s exploitative and manipulative practices. We really aren’t free when those in authority use negative energy by appealing to our insecurities, fears and pride as the way of getting us to fall in line in support of their largely self-serving purposes.
Sanctity of Life
Since it logically follows that the how and why of economic production is inseparable from the how and why of living life, the economic system is too important to be left unchallenged” (The Intent of Business, p 63). An economic system that rests upon assumptions/precepts about Nature and humankind that are incongruent with human development and sustainability can’t possibly—no matter the amount of tweaking—ensure our viability. If you believe that there is nothing more important and sacred than life itself, then it should be very clear that any system that diminishes and exploits life is an irrational if not inhumane system.
The intent of an economic system and correspondingly the purpose of any business can no longer be ever-increasing profit and unlimited material growth. For humanity’s sake we must pursue progress not growth:
“The notion of growth as the end to all ends must be replaced…growth is about the present relative to the past and is materially related…Progress [on the other hand] is concerned with the future, with making the prospects for the future better through the decisions and actions taken in the present…[it] is about forward movement toward a higher state of human existence and thus requires enabling each person to realize or express their potential, as well as to enact their responsibility for the sustainability of the collective through their way of being-in-the-world” (The Intent of Business, p 117).
We mustn’t continue to adhere to a worldview that has us seeking to control and gain mastery over Nature and each other. We must wake up to the fact that the assumptions about Nature and our selves that we’ve been enacting are false and quite destructive to life itself. An irrational system, such as we have, cannot possibly contribute to the progression of humankind.
Even though a few do gain materially in this egoistic materialist system we all are enslaved by it—addiction impacts everyone it touches. So it’s important to explore and critically think to fully understand the ramifications of the view that people are destined to a life of getting and spending.
This is not to say that we will extricate ourselves from its disastrous effects by each simply purchasing more energy efficient products. That is, we won’t ensure our viability by simply making changes within the current system that amount to buffering the effects of our pursuits. There is no amount of tweaking of the current system of orientation that will bring about compatibility and harmony with life itself and ensure our viability as a species. We all must let go of our illusory freedom and cease our addiction to material gain. We need to discard this materialist mechanistic worldview as our system of orientation for ordering and structuring (our) life. We must change that which we pursue.
Paraphrasing Einstein, we will never solve our recurring problems using the same system of orientation—the same system of thought, the same philosophy of life—that guided us in creating them! Clearly what is required is quite revolutionary! What is required is a change of the system itself—a transmutation—a change in our very way-of-being in this world. A fundamental change in our relationship with one’s self, each other and Nature.
It’s Our Choice
Until our intent becomes centered upon human progress—through the development of people, the development to humanly productive relationship and the creation of quality products/services of human value (not merely material value)—we will not dissolve the problems created by the current worldview and its’ corresponding economic system. But if we have the courage to challenge the falsehoods that for so long we’ve (tacitly) believed were true, then we have a chance to revolutionize our way of being-in-the-world—saving ourselves from ourselves. In so doing we have a chance to transcend our individual existence through our influence upon future generations thus contributing to human progress and the viability of life on earth. This is a human innovation we can all live with!
“We have the potential to be very self-serving and competitive and we also have the potential to be very caring, compassionate and collaborative” (The Intent of Business, p 9). It is after all our choice! It is our choice of how to be in this world through the worldview we follow—we aren’t destined to be intelligent hedonistic self-serving beings. We can be so much more! It depends on our view.
So the question is not whether to have a worldview but rather what worldview will we have? What worldview will enable our personhood to fully develop and our humanness to flourish, generation after generation? It would be a worldview that guides us toward an understanding of our deep interconnectedness and the need for cooperative and collaborative action. It would be a worldview that integrates the individual and the collective, not one that positions one against the other. It would be a system of orientation that honors people and life, and not material gain through the manipulation and exploitation of people and Nature.
Will our choice be a worldview that keeps us pursuing our next fix (contributing to destruction in the process) or one that has us contributing to human progress?