Capitalism can be envisioned as more than an economic system, for it is also a state of consciousness. By this, I mean it is enmeshed into the fabric of who we are and how we go about living our lives. Like a fish in water, we are swimming in the “capital sea.” To see through it, therefore, can be quite challenging.
First, to be clear, “Capitalism” is not “evil,” nor is it a panacea for an impoverished humanity. Rather, it is a clear reflection of where we are as a culture. It mirrors our evolution from feudal societies toward the ideal of a more democratized wealth generating arrangement. And like all stages of evolution, this one is meant to be eventually surpassed. Many of us sense that this time is upon us.
Since capital consciousness also reflects our penchants for isolated individuality, for the objectification (and brutal exploitation) of the natural world, and for the elevation of production and consumption to a religious status, it also shows us where we remain stuck in rut-like forms that continue to generate great suffering.
While consumerist capitalism has been a necessary stage of social and economic development, it nevertheless remains a consciousness based on scarcity. Hence, there is a need for constant increase. “Progress” becomes something measurable, seen only in economic or technological terms. Thus, aggression rules as opposed to wholeness, interdependence, or inclusion.
It is pointless to speculate on what will be “the next step” in the evolution of human consciousness if one is not committed to transforming one’s own consciousness. Indeed, if we are serious about “moving on” from a culture of consumption that is leaving toxic waste all over our planet, there are some things we can recognize and even do.
The production and development of wealth and comfort are not negative per se. They can be wonderful works that elevate the human spirit, but they can only take one so far. Things cannot substitute for Being. After all, are humans on this earth to simply make and sell things? Does “The World,” then (along with its air, water, light, and earth), become a thing that can be commodified?
Socialist and Communist models have failed and are bound to fail again. Socialism is a step backward, with governments dictating life arrangements and organization. Moreover, contemporary socialism holds the same basic tenets as capitalism, but is even worse when it breeds authoritarianism that suffocates individual initiative. Communism, in its form of true communal sharing, is far beyond the current purview of human awareness and can only be “enacted” through dictatorships. It is an ideal akin to Christianity, about which the British writer and lay theologian C.S. Lewis once remarked,”The only problem with Christianity is that no one has done it yet.” Humankind presently is not capable of abolishing private property, and living for the unit as opposed to the individual, not that this is necessarily laudable.
Although the next step may be unknown, we are being called to step forward, called by the destruction of countless life forms on this planet, called by the ruining of the Divine Gifts of air, earth, and water, and called by the toxic debris of meaningless lives. One emergent potential seems to be new types of community that are growing up between the fissures of blind, frenetic movement and the useless piling up of information. Their charge is to modeI how we can share the gifts generously given to us by life, and not to continue to extract things without a sense of shared reciprocity.
The greatest gift may be your SELF, which is unique, and manifests on many dimensions, which is already coexisting in beauty and sharing with countless other selves, which is not commodifiable, does not need gadgets to feel the thrill if being alive, and cannot be relegated to the past or future.
More often than not, what has been labeled as “enterprise” entails forgetting self, that is sacrificing awareness, in order to produce this or that. Is it really worth it? Is “progress” merely about doing things more quickly and efficiently without regard for the cost? Need progress be the prisoner of future speak?
Nothing I am saying here is new or ground breaking. There are millions who are aware of the soul-killing price of capitalist consciousness. And there are more than millions who would gladly live a more deliberate, artistic, and soulful life. Capitalism counters this by throwing wave after wave of hoops to jump through before you can actually live soulfully: health insurance, home insurance, life insurance, taxes, licensing fees, pension plans, deadlines, fake food, infotainment, the list goes on.
What is sorely needed are arenas to put our creative energies into that are not just feedback loops for insecurity. This may require building new models of work, exchange, art, and social interaction right in the midst of the current dominant culture.
One of those arenas may be the re-creation of sacred spaces where people can gather for ceremony and community, not just for making more useless items. There is a glut of merchandise in dollar stores, in local markets etc., that no one knows what to do with. To re-learn the arts of walking and pilgrimage is to de-commodify space and return to a community of the Spirit.
Another arena may be daring to become seriously responsible for one’s consumption: food, clothing, shelter, fuel. Don’t put money in any place not expressing your values: Invest in what you believe in and are willing to work for.
Create new modes of exchange that allow people to do things for each other without being beholden to mainstream economies. Grow your own food, develop your own medicines, and share them.
Reconfiguring our relationship with Earth entails being small scale in a way that works – managing food, resources, and energy with integrity and reciprocity. That means to create a flow of receiving and giving, of not taking without giving back.
Take control of your own body. There may be nothing more important than this in coming times, Farming out your body to multinational pharmaceutical companies and the “health professionals” who do their bidding insures a lifetime of wage slavery and accepting feeling nine-to-five lousy as one’s normal state of energy.
Re-establish our relationship with other species of life. Acknowledging our co-species on this planet with respect, listening to them and learning from them.
This may come down to a lot less doing and a lot more forms of being. Arts are soulful activities not distractions or spectator sports that showcase the skills of a few. They manifest the celebration of all that is, showcase the beauty of diversity, and bless our lives with depth.
Again, many people will say this is all well and good, but how do I step off of this treadmill?
(This is why I am offering the workshop “Inner Economy” at the Rowe Conference Center in Lennox, MA on March 29-31. It is not another magic formula. It is about finding ways to support one another to move toward some semblance of sanity. We can learn to deflect the propaganda of mainstream media and form much more authentic information networks. We can commit to re-establishing our relationship with the Living World. This entails the cultivation of consciousness as a necessary and viable activity, indeed as a most valuable activity. Such cultivation opens greater clarity and spaciousness allowing you to see how it is possible to manage your own energy, and hence your own economy as a subset of a greater ecological reality. Such a focus aligns with a greater power and purpose. It can move you from “not having enough” to being in the dance.)
What emerges after capitalism is on you, on your willingness to consciously spend your time and energy. Define where and how you feel called to make a contribution. Commit to sanity, health, and wholeness. Such commitment will make financing it much more viable. If you wait for the future, that is all you will ever do.