According to the mission of our materialist egoistic system of economics (aka capitalism) we are to accumulate, without limit, as much material wealth as we can and (individually) we are to do this by maximizing the satisfaction of our individual material self-interest. In other words one leads a successful life to the extent that one has realized material gain and amassed wealth—the greater the material gain, the more worthy and the more successful one is. Accordingly this is to be one’s goal in life, it is all there is to life itself! Necessarily, it follows that the pinnacle of self-interest behavior, of getting as much as possible for one’s self, having it all for one’s self, is greed—there is little doubt in this philosophy of life greed is good!
Unavoidable the context of each person’s life is (implicitly or explicitly) a competition. That is, if we each follow this very simple life script then we are nothing more than a whole lot of individuals in competition with each other striving to be a success in life. Thus we must not cooperate in living for we are competitors after all—we cannot both win! It follows that such a society of individuals is comprised of winners and losers. Winning is all that there is, it is everything! Who among us would want to be a loser?
This holds true not only for individuals but also for companies and nations. Each must strive to be successful, to be the winner and get it all for one’s self. Let the games begin!
We Are Intelligent
We are the most intelligent beings on earth affording us the capability to create knowledge and then to apply this knowledge (that is, technology) to serve our (self-created) material interest. We can do this! So we use our intelligence in leveraging each other’s fears and in deceiving each other into believing that we care about them in order for us to take advantage of the trust they in turn might bestow upon us.
We forge ahead manipulating, exploiting and extracting what we can from all that lies before us, even though we are inextricably connected to each other and live on a planet bounded by Nature with finite (material) resources: The system we created and serve compels us to disregard and deny these facts. Facts that could lead us to understand that what we do to others and Nature we eventually and unavoidably do to our self. Facts that inform us that we must cooperate not compete.
Again why do we continue to do this? Because we believe it is all that there is to life: We’ve internalized the falsehood that getting and spending, that winning is all there is; that the greater our material gain the more worthy and successful we will be—as a person, as a business enterprise, as a nation. When there is only winning and losing then of course winning becomes everything.
We’ve created a reality wherein war, the ultimate competition, is ever present. After all, when maximizing material gain—economic supremacy—is all that there is then it becomes a matter of life and death. This logic represented by the thought I will just die if I can’t have it all seems to guide action.
But because we don’t bother to question whether it is all that there is, we continue in this way of being; a way of being that is inevitably self-destructive, suicidal. So why don’t we bother to question it?
We are addicted to getting and spending, and as with all addictions we are kept numb to the reality we’ve created. We fool ourselves into believing that we are in control and that just a bit more will be enough to keep us in control. But it can never be enough it—our obsession—is controlling us.
And at the end of life many look back upon the time they’ve spent getting and spending only to ask, is that all there is? I doubt most would exclaim with their last breadth if only I had more.
The lyrics to the song, Is that all there is? (by Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber and sung by Peggy Lee) says it quite well
Is that all there is?
Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is
It would be all that there is—there could be no alternative—if we were just the most intelligent animals on earth. All that there would be to do is to have a ball reveling in our gains. Of course this would be for winners. Not however for the many who the economic system, with its culture of competition, destines to be losers—for most life is no ball.
We Are More Than Just Intelligent
It is not all there is! Fortunately we are more, much more than intelligent animals. Therefore life, our life, can and must mean more than the sum of what can be accumulated and consumed.
We are not intelligent machines; we are biological beings and as such require healthful food and water as well as shelter and a safe environment in order to survive. This then requires that we maintain and sustain Nature, the source of these—in destroying the environment we destroy our selves.
Furthermore, we are both individuals and a collective; that is we are social beings and as such we have a need to relate to each other in humanly (not solely materially) productive ways. So if as people we are “inhibited or prevented from relating to other human beings, then development is diminished as feelings of desolation and despair are increased” (The Intent of Business, p 67). In other words our need for interpersonal relatedness, belonging and acceptance by and from others if unmet can increase the likelihood of us committing acts of aggression and destruction against others—we see this happening all to often today. According to Amitai Etzioni, the I’s need WE to Be.
Moreover, we are conscious self-aware beings. More accurately, we have the capacity for self-awareness if we are honest and truthful with our self, if not rendered unaware and controlled by our attachments/addictions. We as “human beings not only have the capability of perceiving and thinking with different perspectives, but also of perceiving and thinking in the past, present and future” (The Intent of Business, p 78). We therefore are able to free ourselves from the patterns of the past: To learn and then alter the conduct of life in the present toward ensuring a better future. To quote Eric Fromm, “if we were consciously aware of what we really know about ourselves and others, we could not go on living as we do, accepting so many lies.”
We are driven to not only orient ourselves in the universe but to satisfy the need for meaning in (our) life. That is, because we are intelligent and consciously self-aware, we are able to recognize the order in the universe and critically think about our place in it. This inquiry reflects the spiritual nature of our humanness and the “mystery that human beings have sought to address throughout history–the meaning of our universe, the meaning of life, the meaning of my life” (The Intent of Business, p 80-81).
Although we are all different in regards to the way we interpret experience, there is a remarkable sameness in regards to the unconscious realm to which each is inextricably connected. There is something deep within each of us that is common to all of us, call it the human spirit or the spirituality of our humanness. No matter the name you give it there is little denying our oneness.
Unfortunately, being consumed with getting and spending, far too many people never quite get to asking the existential question and to realizing the fullness of their humanness, and they never quite get in touch with our shared humanness. We are far too consumed with competing against each other, with striving to be a winner—and avoiding becoming a loser—yet we never quite get around to developing our humanness. The question is that all there is never gets our focused attention.
It Can and Should Be More Than It Is
The conduct of business—economic activity—is a material process as well as a very deeply human process and as such it not only involves the production, distribution and selling of goods and services, it necessarily circumscribes the values and rules guiding human behavior—it is not just business it is quite personal.
“How a person relates to him/herself and to his world is dependent upon his/her worldview–for the most part, it is a reflection of the largely unconsciously held values, attitudes and beliefs” (The Intent of Business, p 64). Consequently adhering to capitalism, which is an egocentric materialist mechanistic system, has developed in us a worldview and value system that has us acting as if everything before us is ours’ to do as we wish. For example this materialist mechanistic orientation has those in management in many organizations behaving as if everything and everyone under their command is an object to be measured and modeled in mechanical cause-and-effect relationships. Hence the focus “on metrics, analytics and material results to the exclusion of meaning, value and joy.” Unfortunately what those in management know is not necessarily so!
It should be clear that the mission to accumulate without limit as much material wealth as we can is too limited and narrow of a focus to serve the depths of our humanness. That is, it is essential that the economic system we follow rests upon a worldview and corresponding value orientation consistent with our very nature and thus furthers our development as human beings—a worldview that encompasses the larger scheme of things. This requires an ecological/evolutionary economic system with a more vitalizing intent, one that has a business enterprise producing both inner and outer value—these are not mutually exclusive.
Each person has unique capabilities to develop and express in living their life, which can be actualized through their work. The work we do must be deeply meaningful work, providing the joy of inner value. As Carl Jung contends it would be pure hell for a consciously aware person to accept or resign him/her self to the idea that there is nothing to his/her life beyond his/her daily work; that between birth and death there is no (transcendent) meaning to life apart from one’s work-a-day existence. Accordingly our work must afford more than a paycheck; it must be a joy and not merely a job.
Life as a human being involves being and becoming. Of course we are born human beings but unlike other animals it takes joyful living to develop that which we are in potential. It is not by simply the passing of time or being materially productive that leads to us to becoming fully developed human beings. We aren’t instinctually regulated toward development, it requires learning.
Learning to learn so that we can continually learn anew is fundamental to our development and viability as a species and thus is as essential to a human life as is breathing is to life itself. If the work we do doesn’t provide the joy of meaningful learning then it is of little value to the development of our humanness. The learning we must engage in is for us as an individual and as a collective—our responsibility is to both, these are not mutually exclusive.
Having a high level of intelligence and not exercising our capacity for conscious self-awareness inhibits us from developing an understanding and heartfelt sense of oneness with other beings and Nature. It would not only be irresponsible in light of our deep interconnectedness, it would be the cause of a total ecological disaster—a recipe for the destruction of the self and a healthful Nature.
We can no longer continue enacting the false belief that Nature and (other) people—especially those not like us—are mere objects or resources to be exploited in service to our material self-interest. If we (as a species, as humankind) have any hope of remaining viable on this earth we will have to learn anew, to follow a different worldview—its all about our worldview. And that’s all there is!
I know you are trying to provoke thought but I feel you are some where off the mark with parts of this post, yes I can think of some individuals and corporations who think and behave in an extremely selfish and mean manner but honestly I do not think the majority of individuals or corporations do.
They know they cannot afford to act selfishly or arrogantly even if they wanted to.You could argue I suppose that their “self interest” prevents them. I would also say that the greater portion of successful people in business that I have met do subscribe to ethical or moral codes and are ultimately very humble people.
We can note from natural history, that though some Apex predators act alone, many more act in collaborative groups. You could also note that in the natural world the greatest protection from predators is obtained by being in a group.
Generally most people are social animals, I believe after basic survival most people crave social acceptance. I am lucky enough have lived in large cities, small towns and in rural areas across several countries. and the one thing I have observed is that most people attempt either consciously or sub consciously to obtain social credits. These are credits of good will, approval and favour from neighbours, friends, colleagues and the community at large, These credits are not easily translated into cash or possessions.
I also agree that businesses compete but it is a little more complex than than a simple ongoing competition. Put simply in business you can still win a competition or race and still ultimately loose. Put simply the nature of the race or competition can change over night. I suppose the old fashioned term is “Game Changer”. I suppose metaphorically in American sports terms its a bit like going into a sports arena with a base ball team, but as the match proceeds the game metamorphoses into a game of American football. and then before any body has realised it has morphed again into a game of English cricket. The common denominator may be that the all three are ball games, but the rules and the manner of play required to win are very different.
Taking another sports analogy sports , fans all over the world support clubs and athletes that have no chance of immediate or medium term success Ask the question why ? Would you turn up to watch a 1 horse race ?
History teaches us that most corporations and individuals and even countries which act selfishly ultimately fail, How long it takes for them to fail is a function of many factors but ultimately any business no matter how strong its monopoly is dependent on co-operation and good will..
In the case of individuals it is their colleagues and family that ultimately undo them and in the case of businesses its their customers, workers and suppliers who will look for alternative outlets, jobs and suppliers or even alternative products or services. .
In the UK a typical example is the top 3 or 4 supermarket chain. Through their own arrogance their customers have found them out and in their millions customers have found alternative places to shop and their supply chain have found alternative means of getting their product to general public. Imagine a massive supermarket chain thinking it had a monopoly in every city and town and demanding of its suppliers to give them 90 days free credit and rock bottom prices while charging top price to the consumer. The 3 or 4 large supermarkets thought they were competing amongst them selves yet over night thousands of small outlets have emerged again that taken their business away Put simply a business cannot just chase or even lead the competition because some one new will enter the market and the nature of race will change.
Please forgive if I am off message but your post provoked the above thoughts
I appreciate you offering your thoughtful comments. I will offer a few thoughts about your thoughts–hopefully this will encourage others to offer theirs.
When I speak about companies/business organizations I am primarily addressing the larger publicly traded organizations (e.g. GM, GE, etc) who report earnings to Wall Street where increasing shareholder value is the measure of success.
On your point “Imagine a massive supermarket chain thinking it had a monopoly in every city and town and demanding of its suppliers to give them 90 days free credit and rock bottom prices while charging top price to the consumer”, we have such a massive supermarket (Wal-mart) that makes demands of its suppliers, pays its employees next to nothing, offers few of them healthcare. It doesn’t charge high prices since its customers are the very people it employs–it really doesn’t help anybody but itself.
The point about competition is not that once you win you can stop because you are now a winner once and for all; it is that winning is required quarter to quarter, year to year. The need for ever increasing gains in each time period is unceasing, & in a finite world this challenges the limits of one’s sense of what’s right. As Deming is remembered saying there are 3 ways to get better results: improve the system, rig the system, rig the numbers–very few take the long view and improve the system. And when workers haven’t the authority to improve the system they are left with the other two choices or a fourth choice, quit the job.
Yes nothing lasts forever and so those on top now will in all likelihood not be around over the long term, but my point is the long view is not the view often considered because of the need for quarter to quarter gains.
Consider if I am good to another because of my self-serving concern for how others will view me, then I really don’t have much care and concern for the other do I, just for my self. When no one is looking or no one will ever find out I am likely to do whatever it takes for me to satisfy my interest.
I look forward to others’ thoughts and again thanks John for taking the time to share yours.