The Limits of Capitalism, and the Emergence of Organic Systems Awareness

Here’s what hit me between the eyes this morning:

For centuries now, humanity has been using the free market system as our primary means for exchanging goods and services. We’ve been taught that the “wisdom” of the market is sufficient for setting the prices for all such interpersonal exchanges. By inviting buyer and seller to reach agreement around what the cost of a product should be, we assume these transactions will inform the larger market what should be produced, why, and who gets it. We’ve long accepted that this process is the most efficient and logical way to ensure the adequate distribution, and establish the fairest pricing, for all human goods and services.

This system misses out on one crucial point; one that makes the free market system entirely unworkable over the long haul. That point?

We are not exchanging inorganic, separate, end-product objects and units with one another. Rather, We’re exchanging our energy and creative expressions, which themselves rely on the energies and creative expressions of every dynamic inorganic system, plant and animal that supports us and supplies us with the materials and energies we’re using to produce what we make. All of these “things” upon which we rely are not really objects at all; they’re interconnected and interdependent systems. They link together to build, populate and sustain the larger planetary ecosystem we’re in.

Separation (objectivist) thinking—the belief we can decide that “this” object has “that much” value—undergirds modern capitalism. Our aim thus becomes to sell a given object for more than it costs to produce it. Should no one be willing to pay our asking price, our system assumes we can simply stop making our product. If my company makes TVs, for instance, and the TV supply increases to a point where nobody else needs one badly enough to pay the price I must charge to earn a profit, I either need to cease making TVs until the overhang decreases and the price rebounds, or I have to figure out how to make them cheaper, so I can sell them at a lower price and still profit. That seems logical enough on the surface, in that it pressures me to be responsive to a marketplace of products. I won’t keep making objects nobody needs if I can’t sell them, and whatever I do make will be sold to consumers at the lowest possible price to maintain equilibrium in the system. It’s all about maximizing efficiency, which we prize when we’re constructing mechanical systems.

But let us peer more closely beneath the skirts of that seemingly simple economic philosophy.

Consider this: When the product being sold on the open market is human labor, and the market for human labor goes into a sudden, steep decline, how does a person then manufacture fewer “man-hours” for sale? How can a man stop his life from producing additional man-hours, at least until the price rebounds and he can sell them at a cost from which he can profit?

In our human experience, to profit from the sale of our precious life hours means we earn enough from the exchange that our life seems better than it was before the sale. But if our work is difficult, poorly paid and/or unsatisfying—while getting to and from our jobs, caring for our own homes and successfully meeting our family’s needs becomes much harder to accomplish and less enjoyable than before—we do not profit. Even so, our life continues to relentlessly produce new man-hours, regardless of our ability to sell them for a profit.

A human being does not possess adequate freedom to enter into good-faith negotiations in our so-called “free” marketplace. We cannot place ourselves in a state of suspended animation, or box up our kids and instruct them not to have any more needs for the time being. Nor can we reduce the number of man-hours our very existence produces, and makes available to the marketplace by default. Although a business can cease making products that people no longer want, or make different products or make them less expensively, a human being does not possess that flexibility. We have no choice but to sell our man-hours to the highest bidder in order to earn the right to keep on surviving. This forces us to compete endlessly with one another, and often to act against our own best interests. We must watch our children struggle to raise themselves without us nearby, because we’re forced to choose between feeding them or materially participating in their development. We feel the twin pulls of anxiety and depression, because the work we do is unsatisfying, yet we see no end to the need to keep doing it. We sacrifice joy in exchange for being able to pay our bills. We surrender the beauty and power of life in order to meet our biological needs.

Businesses, which are not people (contrary to some recent judicial rulings) make financial decisions, while people make survival and quality-of-life decisions. How is that in any way an “equal” platform upon which to conduct a free and fair exchange of energy, in terms of the relative power each side holds? If the business merely stands to give up some of its profits in exchange for the time and labor it buys from us, but we’re sacrificing what makes life worth living in exchange for the right to survive, where’s the equitability in that trade?

Here’s yet another flaw in our current system: When products are in high demand, we tend to ignore the viciousness and barbarity with which we’re extracting energy from the countless creatures and dynamic systems that contribute their creative output to the goods we sell. We disrespect, manipulate, exploit, coerce and abuse those other systems without remorse, because we’ve objectified them to the point that we can no longer see their beauty and natural vitality as an integral aspect of their beingness. We see only the way we can use what they do for our own financial advantage. In this way we gift ourselves permission to use force against every other aspect of our interrelated world, to make them produce energy or create other outputs we can use, at rates higher than their systems can either handle or safely sustain. It’s no surprise then, that we’re triggering rapid systems changes as well as stored energy depletion with our behavior. We’re also experiencing large-scale species extinctions, as multitudes of over-stressed yet interdependent systems collapse like tumbling dominoes all around us. Even though we’re conscious of the damage we’ve been doing, we continue to apply increasingly high-pressure tactics (like fracking, atom-splitting and factory farming) to squeeze ever more productivity from our planet’s straining systems, much faster than it can easily or gracefully regenerate itself. That’s a clearly unsustainable practice when it comes to complex, large-timescale systems like oceans, soils, minerals and forests. And it’s downright cruel when we’re dealing with living, feeling, sentient creatures like animals…and ourselves.

Sadly, our object-oriented marketplace doesn’t take into consideration the fact that plants, animals and ecosystems—down to the very rocks and rivers and mountains—have order, needs and structures of their own. It doesn’t honor their unique reproductive rhythms, dynamic processes, higher purposes, feelings, relationships, or survival and evolutionary needs—all of which deserve our respect and reverence. Out of blind ignorance about how all these dynamic systems relate with, and to, one another, and how they weave together to form an energetically unified single life system, we’ve been plundering and exploiting the power within them. This seems a natural consequence of our having incorrectly objectified the unified field that is life. We’ve priced all these seeming objects based on whatever value we’ve assigned to them, and then put the whole of existence up for sale to the highest bidder in order to “profit.” In that, we’ve rendered invisible (because historically it’s been invisible to most of us) the fullness, depth and aliveness of these countless complex relationships that comprise the entire world in which we live. By separating ourselves from that relational process, we’ve been missing out on the best of what we are.

Our current economic system, which was founded on outmoded separatist thinking, encourages us to treat anything that we perceive we have little current use for—be it a river, forest, animal or person—as an irritation or an inconvenience. That’s the reason we see people today screaming furiously at busloads of terrified immigrant children, or callously slicing the top from a mountain to get at what lies underneath. We’re encouraged to wish that these drags on our system would just go away until such time as we can find a better, more profitable use for them. We’ve grown accustomed to abusing life to gain short-term personal advantage, instead of allowing its long-term benefits to wash over us and through us, and in so doing improve the life conditions for the whole of existence. Undermining life so as to gain short term advantage over it is, contrary to what we’ve imagined, neither intelligent nor logical on our part.

The time has come for our species to accept responsibility for being smarter, more compassionate, and more connected with the fully integrated processes of life than our current free market system allows us to be. We cannot evolve while clinging stubbornly to the old systems we birthed in our ignorance of the living, interconnected, and dynamic nature of the life experience. We can’t advance while maintaining a limited objective perspective that reduces the complexity of living systems in blind, illogical and immoral ways.

Consciously determining how and why we do what we do, instead of mindlessly doing more of what we’ve been doing out of inertia, appears to be the evolutionary edge upon which humanity stands. As self-aware beings, we possess the ability to pay attention to life, expand the prior limits of our former understanding, and then consciously change—or reverse—direction by choice. With the freedom of that conscious agency comes a commensurate responsibility to use our agency wisely. Unlike a falling rock, we’re not bound by the laws of physics to remain in motion until we hit the unrelenting ground of opposing force. Our ground, which looms large in front of us already (and toward which we seem to be accelerating) reflects the absolute end of our planet’s ability to continue to sustain our species. We’re beginning, however dimly, to foresee that disaster awaits us all if we continue this current free fall into the terminal velocity that is our self-extinction. We have the power of self-determination already; but it only becomes activated if we cease imagining ourselves to be separate objects, and instead begin to appreciate the need to coordinate our efforts as the living system that is our entire species.

So far not enough of us have shifted to this more holistic worldview to bring about global change. We don’t yet see that our longstanding practice of separating, objectifying and judging—then pricing, buying and selling life based on those judgments—is, at heart, inherently life-negating. So it appears we’re going to generate still more suffering—as well as do greater environmental and ecological damage—over the short run. Yet no matter how much money we manage to hoard or spend in the meantime, how many wars we may win or lose, or how clever we may become at exploiting other systems, none of those efforts can buffer us for long from the consequences of mistreating the living field that contains us. We can perhaps avoid that truth for a little while longer; but in the end we cannot escape it. Therein lies the wisdom that holds the power to save us all.

At some point then (hopefully soon!) enough of us will be willing to release our shared delusion that we live in a world filled with objects that can be treated however we like, with few consequences. Once we reach that tipping point in the evolution of human understanding, we’ll have no choice but to come together and seek new ways of forging more harmonious relationships with life. First though, we’ll need to forgive ourselves for our former lack of appreciation for the systems-oriented nature of our own world, because the damage our ignorance will have done will by then have become impossible to ignore. Still, we won’t have time to wallow in sorrow and anger over that; instead it will become our catalyst, by encouraging us to direct all our collective time, energy and attention toward freeing ourselves—and thus all other life forms—from the bondage and pain that such thinking has generated.

From there we will begin anew. The world we build out of the ashes of the old world will, by virtue of our greater shared understanding, be grounded in appreciation of the living field that we’re embedded within. We can choose, willingly and joyfully, to renew and strengthen all our bonds with the countless cooperative systems that are interbeing with us here on planet Earth. Our systems of self-organization will naturally reflect reverence for the singular, awesome system of life that contains and sustains all that is. It’s a quantum leap we’re preparing to take as a species; a rebirth of sorts into something entirely new. This platform of higher understanding provides ample power and wisdom to transport us beyond the limitations inherent in our present systems. Thus it becomes the staging ground for the next iteration of our human species. We will have great adventures and new experiences to anticipate, once we enter a conscious relationship with the vast unknown of the living system that is our larger cosmos.

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