Not Willing To Dance to a Different Tune

With more frequent and more devastating events (e.g. increasingly hotter climate, more variable seasonal weather, stronger and deadlier storms, longer droughts, zoonotic disease, etc.) affecting an increasing proportion of people world-wide, (quite logically) it is appropriate to ask, why are these things happening and when will they stop?

In a recently released UN report Secretary Antonio Guterres said, “it’s time to reevaluate and reset our relationship with nature…humanity is waging war with nature” and the need for “making peace with nature, securing its health and building on the critical and undervalued benefits that it provides are key to a prosperous and sustainable future for all.” 

The report brings to light that this war against Nature is causing the climate crisis, wildlife and habitat destruction and deadly pollution. To date, “Society is not on course to fulfil the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to further limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. At the current rate, warming will reach 1.5°C by around 2040 and possibly earlier” and thus there is a need for “a fundamental change in the technological, economic and social organization of society, including world views, norms, values and governance.” 

Freedom (and Responsibility) Mis-Understood

Now wait! This can’t be!  As free individuals, we are each individually striving to become what we want to be. Hey, I am  just living my life as I desire to live it, exercising my freedom as an independent individual!  So it can’t be me, it must be them (those not like me) over there!  They need to be stopped, because those others are impinging upon my freedom!

Freedom!  What freedom?  At least in the countries considered developed or economically industrialized (a.k.a. advanced), freedom for the vast majority—particularly among the American business-minded—is freedom from constraints in pursuit of material gain to maximally accumulate wealth (as measured corporately by profit and nationally by GDP). 

That is to say, we each are guided by the precepts of capitalism to structure our life—as we see fit—in pursuit of things of outer value. 

In this system, we seek education to develop a career, to become more saleable in the labor market, not to develop our personhood/humanness. Focused largely on our career, we spend our time striving for a position worthy of the respect of others; one that would afford us accumulating as much wealth as possible and acquiring more things. In capitalist society, we are employees/consumers in service to another’s profit: It is a life consumed by getting and spending.  

Of course we all need to earn a living to meet the basic (living) needs for food, shelter, security and esteem—Maslow categorized these as deficiency needs—but these do not fulfill us and address our growth/development as persons. Moreover, we need to be freed from fear that these basic needs won’t be satisfied. Sadly however, in order to get us to do what they want us to do, those in management leverage this fear by establishing policies and procedures so that the satisfaction of these needs is made conditional and thus always in question.  

These fear-based procedures keep us focused on basic/deficiency needs satisfaction.  As a result, we haven’t the freedom to realize our uniquely human potential.  That is to say, fear is leveraged to guide (if not control) behavior.  Paradoxically, simultaneously people are led to believe they are acting as free independent individuals even as they are all doing and seeking the very same thing, as required by capitalism.  Talk about being flimflammed out of our (real) freedom!

The capitalistic system wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a self-serving objectifying, exploitive and extractive system. Having people believe that material self-interest is a primary defining human characteristic of humankind is absolutely necessary. Moreover, believing that we each (especially Americans) are rugged self-reliant individuals in pursuit of material self-interest serves the system of capitalism as well—think Hunger Games. We are led to believe it is all about ‘me’ and to hell with ‘we’—in fact there is no ‘we’. This being the destructive original big lie that is feeding inadequate action today!

Though we are born as human beings we aren’t born (fully) developed in our personhood/humanness. This development toward self-actualization should be the focus and attention in life, not material self-interest. Being consumed by the latter actually inhibits focused attention to the former. Quite nonsensically, we’ve been led to believe that freedom means freedom from the constraint of living in a deeply interconnected world. It is not a great stretch from this to seeing responsible climate change action as an affront to freedom.

Recalling Similar Inaction by Those in Authority

The UN report, while comprehensive and very informative, does not go deep enough into the system of causes.  I’ll explain by relating my experience with corporate managers when consulting on W. Edwards Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge for quality.  

First a little background.  Deming called for (first) adopting a new philosophy, which meant having an entirely different business intent.  Deming spoke of this required change as a drastic change, not a tweaking or revision of current business practice. It required putting aside one’s system of orientation in order to understand (unfiltered) the new system.

The management of the companies I consulted with were not interested in adopting a new philosophy, just in symptomatic relief of problems arising due to their lack of quality throughout the organization. Their interest was in merely creating the appearance of caring about quality—they knew the steps and wanted to continue dancing to the same tune. Thus, corporate managers chose to remain (willfully) ignorant of what was needed.  Hence instead of committing to learning and understanding Deming’s philosophy at a very personal level, they co-opted pieces or methods to fit what they were currently doing.  For example, instead of understanding the theory of variation in relation to the organization and its management, they only wanted to use tactics (more accurately mis-use tactics) associated with the theory so that they could better surveil and control workers by ranking and yanking (a.k.a. firing) those workers in the lower 10% of the performance distribution.  

Had corporate executives committed to learning and understanding—stopped playing the tune in their mind to which they were dancing in order to listen—this different way-of-business some 40-plus years ago, it is very likely income inequality would have been reduced, the financialization of the economy would not have emerged, the externalities of business would have been dealt with and mitigated and correspondingly the events we’re experiencing today would be significantly less disastrous. Industry and government leaders would have been all-in for understanding the system of causes and thus taking appropriate action.

Humankind, Nature & Capitalism

Additionally In the report, Guterres states, “By transforming how we view nature, we can recognize its true value. By reflecting this value in policies, plans and economic systems, we can channel investments into activities that restore nature and are rewarded for it. By recognizing nature as an indispensable ally, we can unleash human ingenuity in the service of sustainability and secure our own health and well-being alongside that of the planet.” Nature surely is indispensable not because it can be used by humankind for economic purposes, but because we are in Nature and Nature is in us.  The relationship is a deeply nested holarchical interconnectedness.  Further, stating that Nature is an ally, implies it is just (something) out there separate from humankind—like another business entity—with which we cooperate.  Yes being in cooperation with Nature and not in competition (war being the ultimate competition) is needed but this doesn’t quite capture our holarchic interconnectedness.

Missing is the acknowledged need for the transformation of our very way-of being-in-the-world. Yes, we have to change how we view Nature, but it must also be explicitly acknowledged that we have to change the way we view ourselves and our relationships in and with the world.  That is, we each need to better understand our very nature, understand our shared humanity and our deep interconnectedness with Nature.  In so doing, we will understand that what we do to each other we do to ourselves and, similarly, what we do to Nature we do to ourselves—this is inescapable. We must understand, continuing as we are, we are committing suicide; that capitalism has put us on a path of self-destruction; that capitalism is incompatible with life itself.

The UN report is extremely informative for what it reveals and for what is not explicitly stated. It is worth noting, capitalism is not at all mentioned. Though Inger Anderson (UNEP) identified “decades of relentless and unsustainable consumption and production” as driving the crisis, capitalism was not specifically named.  How can this be when the system of capitalism requires humankind’s domination/mastery over Nature in pursuit of unlimited material growth? The war humanity is waging against Nature is a capitalist necessity—Capitalism vs Nature.  Given our deep connectedness with Nature, in effect, this war is a war against ourselves.  If only we’d learn anew and gain the understanding to realize this!

This understanding will lay at our feet and make crystal clear the fact that capitalism—with its intent of unlimited material growth and objectification/commodification of everything—is incompatible with each developing their personhood/humanness, with understanding the deep interconnectedness with Nature and correspondingly with our viability of as a species. Inserting notes/lyrics from a different tune into the current tune— such as, “include natural capital in decision-making”—will lead to something people won’t/can’t dance to. Mere economic policy change won’t cut it!  What is needed is a change of the system not changes in the system!

Thus, the structuring our life and correspondingly our behavior commensurate with capitalism is at the root of the more frequent and more devastating events we are experiencing.  The longer we continue to adhere to capitalism as our economic/societal system of orientation informing decisions/behavior—continuing to dance to the capitalist tune—our viability will be increasingly (and likely forever) diminished.  

Ending this suicidal behavior—changing our worldview, our system of orientation—is where very few, especially those in authority, are willing to go. Why?  They’ve either internalized capitalism’s intent—believing that is just our nature to pursue material gain, so it’s against our nature to stop doing so—or they’ve become addicted to capitalism’s material gain dictate, so they can’t stop.  

In either case, what is keeping us from understanding is not a deficiency in intellect but rather willful ignorance—an unwillingness to think critically, systemically and deeply to address the root cause. Simply, seemingly those in authority are not willing to learn to dance to a different tune and to lead us in a different dance in life. 

We can’t dissolve the climate crisis—or any of the other devastating and related events—using the same level of thinking and system of orientation that created it!

Can’t Fix What Ain’t Broke

Our economic system (a.k.a. capitalism) is broken!  The number of times I’ve read and heard this is countless, and thus quite telling.  It tells me that far too many believe that our economic system is basically fine, but that it just needs some fixing.  A little tweak here and there will do it. 

Continuing to strive to fix an economic system that never was intended to serve everyone’s very human needs, such as; basic life needs (i.e. food, water shelter, health, safety) and ensuring a sustainable environment in support of the viability of life—is a fool’s errand.  You can’t make something fit our needs that was never designed or intended to do so—a badly designed suit can never really fit well.  

Capitalism, as argued in so many postings here (which I invite you to explore), is a system that disregards life itself for the sake of the wealth accumulation of a select few—the winners.  It is a system of competition where I win and everyone else loses. Now some might say I like competition, I enjoy competing. Well competing by participating in a game might be fun, and even enjoyable, but playing the game doesn’t determine or impact how you live and you can stop playing the game and take on other activities.  But to make living your life a win-lose phenomenon would be a brutal way of existence—life’s experience should not be that of The Hunger Games

Furthermore, the very nature of competition lends itself to autocorrelation, where winning (next time) favors those who’ve previously won: those without substantial holdings can’t possibly be competitive and are thus destined to experience loss, and lots of it. Why do you think professional sport leagues engage in player drafts whereby the worst performing teams the previous season get first picks?

Profit Contextualizes Everything

Why is profit maximization and material value the guide in all decisions and not quality and human value?  Why are collectives of workers (i.e. labor unions) discouraged if not outlawed and yet collectives of corporations (i.e. industry associations) very much allowed if not heeded?  Why do so few own and control so much?  Why does the saying those having gained so much have done so at the expense of so many seem to ring true?

Everyone and everything out there is an object to be manipulated and exploited for the benefit of someone’s—but clearly not everyone’s—material self-interest.  In this system, your life my life—even the life of the exploiter–has no inherent (human) value since what counts is the sought-after material gain.  All that matters is whether the exploitee, the other, can serve some measure of outer value for the exploiter.  

Unavoidably, in this system of self-interest maximization we serve the system’s interest, it doesn’t serve us. Accordingly, through our participation we (tacitly) cast ourselves as objects in the game’s overarching process of exploitation.  In effect, the characteristics and size of the exploited population has changed and increased over time to meet the ever-increasing profit desires of the capitalist class.  With the goal is unlimited wealth accumulation then exploitation has no bounds!

If you doubt this, just take a few moments to look around at what’s happening, and has been happening for far too long.  The practice of capitalism is doing what it is intended to do, exploit and destroy life itself.  This destruction manifests as unhealthy water, air and food products, unlivable environment (ever-increasing heat, prolonged drought, significant melting of polar ice, rising sea levels, massive and longer-lasting wildfires, frequent and stronger hurricanes/typhons), and rising income inequality with below or barely subsistence wages for an increasing proportion of the population and exorbitant gains realized by the (already) wealthy.  All of this is the effect from the motivation for unlimited material growth by any means possible.

Capitalism is the ultimate competition system, enacting war on the universal needs of life for the material benefit of a few.  It is a system for and of losers, a parasitic system that destroys its host such that eventually there will be no ultimate winner.  Eventually, we all lose!

How can such a system be embraced by so many?  Why is it that the vast majority of people are complicit in the destruction of their own life, that of their family and more profoundly in  diminishing the viability of life on earth?

A Couple of Answers Why

Two interrelated answers come to mind: internalization and addiction.  Internalization of the notion that extrinsic motivation is the seed of all human behavior and thus it is our very nature to strive to maximize our material self-interest. Consequently, an individual’s life’s aim is in alignment with the system’s aim, so there is no questioning and no alternative. This is further supported by a tacit societal commitment to a materialistic and mechanistic worldview, the system of orientation of capitalism. This all fits quite nicely into the capitalist’s need for compliant individuals, while simultaneously each holds in their mind the illusory notion of (their) individualism and autonomy. All substitutable cogs in the wealth accumulation machine.  So it follows, individually we feel we must strive to be successful, which is defined and measured by the size of one’s bank account and the number of toys it affords. 

Life in society is a competition, where each individual strives to make him/herself more saleable—a marketable commodity—in pursuit of a materially rewarding career. The educational system, which should be about human development, has increasingly become about job skill training.  All of this contextualizes life as a competitive game, and of course we not only feel the need to stay in the game, we are led to feel the need to become more marketable. The need to develop a career far exceeds that of developing our humanness, developing as a human being, which would benefit the welfare of everyone.

Consider, the context of  capitalist society as one large monopoly board wherein we all move around the board in pursuit of material gain. Forever seeking that ephemeral feeling of pleasure from winning in this game, has us addicted to the game itself. Addicted to hoping that this time we (just might) win, so we stay in the game by repeatedly throwing the dice.  But with each throw the rentiers are the ones amassing increasing material gain. Yet there is a very large number of players who never get a chance to even Pass Go, never earn the minimum subsistence.  Needless to say, the rentier class needs us to stay in the game; if we refuse to throw the dice the game ends.  So we’re exhorted to dream and hope that our day will soon come; all we need to do is continue to work hard (in service to their interest of course) and play by the rules of the game.  

We all lose the more capitalism is practiced! The need to re-think the intent of the economic system (and correspondingly the intent of each and every business) is paramount.  Each business enterprise must cease participating in the system against life; the system that is increasingly diminishing our development as human beings and the viability of humankind.

Dissolve the Climate Crisis

Carbon offset programs are failing as climate solutions.  Of course they are!  Paraphrasing Einstein, problems can’t be solved with the same system of thinking that created them.  In other words, one can’t solve a systemic problem by applying the same system of orientation that was followed in creating the system and thus the problem.
Carbon offsets or carbon allowances, are market-driven solutions to the climate crisis that cannot possibly work, since they are devised by the very same system of thought whose consequence is the climate crisis; it’s a capitalist resolution to a capitalism caused problem! Continue reading

It’s Happening, Continually

Have you ever called customer support only to hear the sound of a recorded message, “ you are (or your call is) very important to us…” So, you wait and wait for an actual person who you hope might be of some help.  As you wait you are feed sales pitch upon sales pitch to purchase more of what the company sells. Yes, your call is an opportunity for the business you are calling to get more from you—of course your call is important to them! Continue reading

Who’s for Business?

It seems opposition to proposals intended to help the greater mass of people, such as providing a livable wage or ensuring healthcare for all or having regulations that ensure a healthy and safe environment, quite often is that they would not be good for business. It does seem that business is opposed to being helpful to people in society, which is consistent with Milton Friedman’s (neoliberal) contention that a business enterprise has no responsibility apart from maximizing profit and shareholder value (over the next quarter).

 

So, who’s for business? Continue reading

Sustainability, But of What

Sustainability is something we often read and hear about, especially lately.  More to the point, many are concerned about, if not interested in acting to reduce and/or remove the factors that diminish the sustainability of a healthful environment.  If you aren’t among the concerned many, then likely you are among the willfully blind or willfully ignorant. Continue reading

Results Obsessed

We appear to be obsessed with results (further explained here)—the outcome of our activities—while we generally give little attention to the activity itself. Why? Continue reading

Capitalism Opposes Life

As previously argued, the system of capitalism has captured (or is it co-opted) the democratic system of governance. If capitalism was inherently aligned with democratic principles then this may not be such a bad thing. However capitalism is not only antithetical to democratic governance, the former rests on ‘it being all for me’ and the latter ‘We the people’ but it is destructive to life it self as evidenced by global warming its most far-reaching effect.  Unavoidably there will be hell to pay but not by everyone, at least in the short term.

 

However, Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, said in The Wealth of Nations, “in order to bring up a family the labour of the husband and wife together must even in the lowest species of common labour, be able to earn something more than what is precisely necessary for their own maintenance” and correspondingly spoke against the rentier class whose income he cast as unearned. According to Michael Hudson (author of Killing the Host) the original meaning of ‘free market’ was that of being free from exploitation (particularly by the rentier class), and not as the term is applied today by corporatist to mean free of regulation to do as one desires. So is it the system or the person? Continue reading

Avoid Change in the Extreme

The only thing constant in life is change—Heraclitus. With change being constant in life, change is not avoidable through life.

 

With this in mind, denying (the need for) change, is denying life. Refusing to deal with it in the present is refusing to be life affirming in the present. This way of being doesn’t stop change from arising—given its constancy—it only ensures having to deal with it in its extreme later. Continue reading