The worldview underlying the capitalist system requires a way-of-being-in-the-world that has us believing that we each are independent competing entities each destined to pursue as much material gain as one can in our individual lifetime—the measure of life is the material gains accumulated. Accordingly we are led to think of our self and each other as separate independent entities, each seeking his/her own gain—there is no ‘We’ just a bunch of ‘Me’s’ consumed by getting and spending. Accordingly we seek dominance and control over everything out there in order to exploit them in service to the satisfaction of our immediate wants. It is all in the name and game of material self-interest gain and wealth accumulation. According to this worldview the only significant value is material value. Consequently, when value means material value, it is no wonder the reality we’ve created is one of strife, chaos and suffering.
This system of orientation—this worldview, this philosophy of life—requires us to be-in-the-world in a way that is dishonoring to and destructive to life itself. It requires a way-of-being that inevitably leads us to no-longer-be-in-the-world. Inherently, it is a destructive and suicidal system of thought.
But even the egocentric materialistic promoting capitalist system depends upon cooperation for it to function and continue in its destructive ways. It requires each of us to follow its rules no different than what is required in the board games we play.
Consider for example Monopolyä, a game of property ownership where chance plays a major role making it a fair game. It has rules each player must follow affording cooperative participation. That is, at minimum each player in turn must role the dice to move around the board to randomly encounter the various game positive and negative situations.
For purposes of illustration consider that a player in Monopolyä has conspired for special treatment from the banker with the intent of minimizing the roll of chance to his benefit. In this rigged game each time everyone else rolls the dice and passes GO they collect less than $200 as the banker and co-conspirator siphon off a portion of all other players’ income per cycle around the board. Remember Monopolyä is a game of property ownership very much like capitalism itself. So over time as the game continues, this re-distribution of income makes it more difficult for the other players to accumulate sufficient funds toward becoming property owners that would yield them gains from rent. Consequently, the likelihood of the other players becoming bankrupt increases with each cycle around the board, as more and more properties require a rent payment from those who land on it. Clearly the greatest benefit to the game riggers are realized when other players take their turn in rolling the dice moving to properties they own—the game is not only competitive it is also quite predatory.
But the others complaining about the lack of fairness upon realizing the game is rigged against them will have no effect as long as they continue taking their turn to roll the dice. Voicing complaints won’t matter—nothing changes, the game continues. For the game’s beneficiaries, cooperation of the others is paramount so their response would be: yeah, yeah, yeah complain all you want but just roll the dice!
Similarly capitalism requires us to conform to its rules, even if those rules are rigged against us, otherwise the systems can’t continue.
We Aren’t Independent
No living creature can survive, let alone thrive, as an independent entity. This axiom leads to the corollary that no group, no organization, no nation and no species can survive independently. Yet the capitalist system of belief has us acting and relating to each other and Nature as if we are each independent and all there is is me-and-my material gain. It has structuring our life as if it is a competitive game where life is all about winning and losing and so we are either winners or losers (or makers and takers). Hence we relate to and treat everything before us as mere objects for exploitation in service to our material interests.
Because this system of orientation has been (unknowingly or unconsciously) internalized, the vast majority of people never pause to turn their attention reflectively inward and critically think and question the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of it all. Instead all we often hear is what about ‘me’ getting mine! So our tacitly learned ignorance serves the continued functioning of an egoistic economic system such as ours. As a result, we fail to learn and understand that our very survival requires us to be stewards of our world, not exploiters and predators.
The world is a deeply interconnected and interdependent network of (living) systems. Analogous to the notion that light is both wave and particle, systems are not just wholes, nor are they just parts, rather each is a whole-part, or as Arthur Koestler (The Ghost in The Machine) coined a holon. “Everything is part of something else and thus interdependent relationships abound; nothing exists independent of the system” (The Intent of Business, p 126). In short, we depend upon cooperation—within and between holons—for our continued existence. Just consider the fact that we’d starve without honeybees since they perform the essential function of pollinating plants and food crops! Honeybees are part of the system within which we live and their very survival is inextricably connected to ours.
More to the point, a system is a set of elements in mutual relation toward an aim; that is to say a set of interdependent whole-parts that work together in support of the overall intent of the larger whole. For example, “each person is an individual—a unique whole person—and each is at the same time a part of a larger whole (humankind) that is inextricably connected to even a larger energy providing system, the environment ”(The Intent of Business, p 127). Being a whole and yet a part of a larger system means that we each have responsibility for both the survival and development of our self as a person and for the survival and development of each other as a collective (i.e. as a society, as a species). These responsibilities are integrative and highly interdependent responsibilities and therefore shunning either would be detrimental.
Any economic system, which is fundamentally a social system in service to society, must function within and align with the rules of the larger systems of humankind and the environment or Nature. Unfortunately, the precepts of capitalism arrogate economic activity above life, above humankind and Nature, making it destructive thus prefiguring its inevitable demise. Simply, this mechanistic materialistic economic system can no longer continue if we wish life to continue. In this sense, by cooperating with capitalism we lose especially when we win.
Cooperation is Foundational to Every System
The idea that cooperation is foundational is true for the system of government of a nation as well. For example even for an oligarchy operating behind the façade of a democracy, for the system to continue the citizens must cooperatively participate. At minimum, with the election of government officials being the hallmark of a democratic system, this means keeping the system going by voting, by taking their turn and rolling the dice. But when the electoral system is rigged, when the choices provided are only individuals who those in authority are willing to put in office—equally unfavorable alternatives for the citizenry—then voting is not about making a choice but about facing a dilemma. When it is just a façade of democracy what do you do? Do you roll the dice or seek to change the game? The recent protests by the pro-democracy citizens of Hong Kong illustrate this.
A business organization, any organization for that matter, is a system and as such requires cooperation from its members, that is if it is to continue its existence. Even though the management of many business organizations espouse the benefits of competition and individualism, their overarching practices such as cascading goals and performance appraisals speak to bringing the actions of it’s members in line with the objectives of the whole. Clearly each member must at least comply, if not cooperate with the rules and aim of the system.
Yet although those in management recognize the importance of cooperation within the organization, they seem to turn a blind eye to the critical need for the organization, and business/economic activity in general, to align and cooperate with the rules and needs of the larger systems of humankind and Nature. They don’t realize that the organization’s continued existence, as well as their very own existence, rests upon the organization’s cooperation with and stewardship of these larger systems. Free enterprise does not mean free from one’s responsibility as a human being, as a citizen of society, as a social system within the larger system of humankind.
Contrary to what the materialist capitalist system advances realizing profit is not the measure of human progress. “Progress is concerned with the future, with making the prospects for the future better through the decisions and actions taken in the present (The Intent of Business, p 117). Rather than subverting human progress through the unfettered pursuit of unlimited profit (irrespective of human cost), business/economic activity must further our development both as persons and as a collective. Thus with the aim of supporting and furthering human progress business actions would not exploit people and Nature and disregard the associated externalities of their decisions.
Clearly what is needed is a fundamental change to the intent of business. Business with a different intent—a change in intent from material growth to human progress—can and will change the way we relate to each other and Nature. Such a change would in effect be a change of the system of economics and correspondingly a change in the reality we create for future generations.
So, why don’t those in authority within business organizations understand this? Most likely it’s because they’ve internalized the materialist values and mechanistic orientation of capitalism’s worldview making a different reality imperceptible—believing there is no alternative (TINA), when in fact there are many. Or they could be addicted to material gain and unable to let go of their attachment. Either way, in essence they are cooperating with a system (i.e. capitalism) that is at base detrimental to life, as it casts everything as an object to exploit and plunder in service to their material self-interest.
Because cooperation is so foundational to the realization of a system’s objectives it is essential to understand the intent, interdependencies and effects of that with which you are cooperating! While you may not be the cause of destruction you most assuredly can be its supporter.
Do you roll the dice or cause a change of the game?