Monday, 23 April 2012

Fraudulent Capitalism - From the Point of View of Posterity

In 50, 100 or more years, 2012 may not be remembered for anything in particular except that the chance of learning from the catastrophe of the turbocapitalism of previous years was sadly missed. Even the introduction, people will say, of an E.U.-wide financial transaction tax  failed due to the egotism of nations that made the excuse of the cunningness of capital to fly to wherever it can reproduce most quickly
With regret, people will look back on a time of narrow-mindedness, of greed and recklessness in the individual as well as on the national level. How long had it taken for humanity and reason to prevail and for a global government with a global ministry of finance to be created? Confronted with its regulatory authority, capital had no chance, no opportunities to fly. There were no more protected centres of finance in London or New York, no more tax-free island states, no more pirate havens for vagabonding capital.      
Madness was checked, and frenzied greed was calmed, where before it had caused whole stratums of society to impoverish while the originators of mass exploitation were free to enrich themselves without bounds. In those days, as it was dawning on the people what they had got and how they were contributing to a system that exploited them, the concept and term fraudulent capitalism came up. This resulted in social stigmatisation of all risky financial transactions that burdened society with the risk while filling the pockets of the few. So many people had become aware that they had systematically been deceived, lied to, and fleeced.             
In the end, however, the recognition that people had subjugated themselves to a system of finance that primarily harmed them had been a material encouragement for a gradual development of all the states in the world towards general regulations. Finally the USA, too, on the verge of their own economic collapse, disappeared in the USW (United States of the World).

And soon it showed how on the basis of a globally networked sense of responsibility, the system of finance could be cleansed from individual and national lust for power and increasingly contributed to the levelling of the world’s wealth.    

(Translation Michael Ehrmann)

Peace in Peaceless Times

Where in this world can we find peace? 

If we look into a newspaper or turn on the television or the radio, we are presented with mega-conflicts that have been hot for years and decades, if not for whole centuries. We are aware that only a limited set of conflicts is thus being presented to us: that apart from the “official”, CNN-compatible global issues there are in fact many more, which do not make the headlines for lack of lobbying.

That is the large world of conflict; then there is a smaller world made up of all the different areas of human life, in which fights, envy, hate, etc., are nothing out of the ordinary. At times, when one field of human interrelations seems in perfect harmony, a fight may suddenly break out at another place; and if at one moment all seems placid and peaceful, the next may bring an explosion scattering things in all directions.

Inner life is hardly different. One time we feel good and in tune with ourselves, at another a fight will break out within and we will tense up or suffer physically or emotionally. We will quarrel with a sore part of the body, a painful thought, unimplemented plans, or unsatisfied needs.

What such experiences can show us is that all these conflicts are connected and that one may intensify the other. Inner indispositions tend to take their toll on relationships; tensed up relationships may be disturbing to larger networks of relations; and these will in turn influence mentalities and cultural patterns. Thus, there are connections between a lot of things if not everything.

How can we find peace when there is so much trouble in the world? Does that even make any sense at all? Shouldn’t we instead rage against all this cruelty and injustice? Wouldn’t it simply be hypocritical and ostrich-like to seek inner peace while the world is sinking into chaos? Is that what you call peace, sitting in your ivory tower, your castle in the sky, on your illusionary island of the blessed? How can you still write poems after Auschwitz, Theodor W. Adorno would ask.

Only when we have established peace everywhere will there be peace in individual cases, as the sceptic will have it. To quote once more Adorno: “Wrong life cannot be lived rightly”. However, if nothing is right before all that is wrong has been gotten rid of, we can hardly hope for the right life to come anytime soon. If we insist that peace is possible only after all strife has ended, we will become obsessed with an idée fixe. We will wait for absolute peace, for a perfect world to come. We will act as if it were possible, if only at a much later date, and as if nothing were possible before that time arrived.

Yet absolute peace is the offspring of human thought, and it would be wrong to perceive it as some kind of entity for us to behold one day. Instead, it should be sufficient to think of it as the “regulative idea” of Immanuel Kant: something to aim at, something that will not let us rest before we haven’t realized it.   

We must not abandon or water down the idea of eternal or absolute peace, but we should not misuse it either, by despairing of progress. We might experience it as a kind of tension that does not paralyse but strengthen us, encouraging us to move on: like a power that manifests itself in the urge of the evolution of consciousness onwards. 

We should try everything to again and again connect with this power; it is the power of life itself that wants to lead us onwards. It is down to us to create contact and cause exchange between this flow of life and a particular point within the vast network, a place that we take a very unique and personal approach to, as it is our own self. It is there we can allow peace to spring forth and grow, so that it may expand and spread, becoming tempting and infectious.      
In the midst of trouble, as can be seen on the photo, showing a cellist performing in Sarajewo’s city library, which has been wrecked by bombing. He represents what no war can destroy: the vibration and spirit of humanity in sweet harmony with eternity and the beauty of the Great Beyond. This kind of peace is gentle and soft, easily drowned out by clamour and fearful confusion yet consistent and indestructible, being seated deep down below all that which can be troubled.     

(Translation Michael Ehrmann)

A Greed-Free Economy?

The quantitative dynamics of growth in capitalism are perpetuated by the subjects of the economy. As producers and consumers, they provide an inner mechanism that goads them into working and consuming to the verge of overexertion: greed, the driving force behind wanting more, achieving more, consuming more.

How would then an economy work in which greed does not have the role of an individual driving force? For a moment. let us assume that greed is not one of the anthropological constants – i.e. not an innate or permanently influential quality – but an acquired, pathological pattern, which can be checked, mastered, and transformed. We could then make the assumption that all mankind can be almost completely free from greed if they want to be, and that if this were to occur on a grand scale it would cause a paradigm shift in economy.        

Greedless people consume only what they “really need”. What do we mean by this? Critics of the world of products and advertisements have pointed out that needs do not just exist but can also be created, or even implanted into people. No one “needed” a mobile phone before it was invented and made attractive to the masses. No one needs the thirty-fifth brand of yoghurt thrown onto the market: neither do any of us need the twelfth flavour enhancer in our mineral water or the latest fashion label conquering the boutiques. Nevertheless, we consume and fancy rioting in the land of shopping opportunity. The desires that motivate the consumption of luxury goods are not independent but culturally ingrained. The culture in question is of course that of materialism; and materialism is in turn steered, geared, and fed by capitalism. People’s needs, then, not only perpetuate capitalism but let it grow even fatter.

What are independent needs then?

I do not want to answer this question by referring to a popular model like Maslow’s or Herzberg’s. One would first have to investigate into the respective backgrounds of such models, in order to dispose of the remnants of ideologies that some materialist ideas have stolen into. Instead, we could ask ourselves the question what it is that we really need to live a good life.

Here we could do a little experiment, where we contemplate whether we could be happy and content if the flat we lived in were smaller, if we didn’t have a car and didn’t take flights to exotic places for vacations, had no rare delicacies, no Christmas trees, etc.
In other words, we imagine that things we take for granted disappear, one by one, until we hit a certain boundary where we lose our contentment. This is the point where our truly independent needs begin. Of course, it is not a fixed boundary:
Then we will probably realize that we do not actually need many of the things we possess (except if we already live in the border area of the country of independent needs). Amongst these things will be such that we appreciate for their beauty and their symbolic or memo value; such that were once important to us but have lost their attractiveness; and such that never brought us satisfaction after we purchased them.
Next thing we could do is consider true quality in our lives: what do we have that we like, that motivates and excites us, that nourishes and fosters our inner growth: interpersonal relations, encounters with nature and art, and experiences still exceeding all that. We could ask ourselves whether we have enough or too much of these, or if we need still more. We will realize that the material requirements for true quality are relatively low.

A greedless society need not be a poor society. On the contrary: it is one that will not put up with qualitative poverty. Not only will it call for the end of the social evils of undernourishment and homelessness, but it will also insist on true contentment for its members. Greed is perpetuated by a subconscious need for security, subject to the delusion that we will be safe from imaginary dangers if we only accumulate worldly goods. Not realizing that it is really seeking to be free from fear, it is fixated on the objects of its desire, which promise security and satisfaction. If the irrational need disappears because the fears behind it have been conquered, the urge for amassing goods, whether they be items, money or relationships, disappears as well.                        

Then the worldly and quantitative values (including the immaterial patterns of capitalism) will have only a subordinate role. They serve to maintain the status quo of survival but do not contribute to the improvement of life. Through food and drink the body survives and, ideally, stays in good shape. Other worldly necessities, such as clothes, accommodation and cleanliness, belong to the same category. What will become more important and interesting to a greedless society are social and creative values: communication, beauty, art, leisure, sports, etc.: and none of these necessarily require a lot of resources.

Thus, we can cut back the circulation of worldly goods to a level of relative modesty and simplicity, which would mean treating nature and its resources with more care. The consumption of worldly goods will now always be put in a social and ecological context, where the environmental compatibility of one’s consumer habits is brought in connection with the welfare of the entire system. We will then, for example, buy groceries that have not been brought here at a stupendous cost of energy and resources from the remotest places in the world. Also, we will no longer buy clothes made by children under appalling working conditions for a pittance.
As it is no longer our own neediness that motivates us, which it used to be in the days of greed, it is now possible to see the broader picture with every single move we make as consumer. What is the effect this act will take in the world? we will ask ourselves, What ideals does it support or betray? If it benefits the whole system, it will be easy for us to refrain from satisfying a desire.

Hence, it will in fact be more conducive to one’s personal well-being to forego the purchase of a luxurious product leaving a catastrophic ecological footprint, or to opt for a means of transport that is more inconvenient but less harmful to the environment.

Relinquishment will lose the bitter aftertaste it picked up in our childhood. As children we were quite defenceless against our own wishes and desires, interpreting every act of denial from the grown-ups as insulting and disrespectful. Now, in adulthood, the more moments of successful relinquishment we accumulate, the more pleasing such moments will become for us. There is an important criterion for determining whether putting aside a certain wish is the right idea and does not result from subjugation to a feeling of guilt: do we feel more free and open if we relinquish than if we satisfy the need in question? This is part of the ancient tradition of fasting – overcoming a transient craving in order to experience greater freedom. 

(Translation: Michael Ehrmann)