Recently, Ursula LeGuin asked speculative fiction writers to write about possible systems beyond capitalism for the world to move to. I am currently reading a book titled “Zen and the Art of Making a Living” by Laurence G. Boldt.
Boldt writes in the first chapter:
“About the time the Industrial Revolution was really getting into gear, political revolutions were everywhere replacing kings with parliaments, presidents, and promises. The key promise was that the common man would soon be king. He would possess for his own the kingly prerogatives of power, leisure, and security—power over his station in life, the liberty of leisure, and the security of property.”
Boldt goes on to discuss that capitalism was intended to provide us all, via the free market, with labor saving devices that would ensure our leisure. Capitalism was how through the exchange of goods we would all benefit and become kings of our own castles—whether they were mansions or a trailer. The dream was to obtain power, leisure and security.
What other virtues did we lose track of?
While we were focusing on power, leisure and security, what other virtues and conditions did we lose track of? If we explode the myth of our modern existence, what has the work of most people resulted in? Do we have lives of leisure?
I remember seeing videos of what the future would look like, as predicted by people in the 1950s. The work week was supposed to be shorter. Household chores were to be done with “push button” ease. Everyone was to live in cleanliness, safety and comfort. Leisure.
While the vision of life in the future from the 1950s was a specific kind of rosy view, our reality is not comfortable for most. Recently, a United Nations official investigating poverty in the US in Alabama was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world. Read More.
Further, while things recently have grown more extreme as income inequality has grown, in the US the free market has not been benefiting everyone. More and more families are in poverty. A few years ago a report was issued in the US that stated 1 in 3 American adults were in collection for non-payment of debt. Read More.
Capitalism is Not Serving Us
Capitalism is not serving the majority of us. For instance, most Americans are working longer hours with fewer days off. Further, we have little power in a world where the very rich can influence elections that make them richer. Worldwide, this coveted western existence with our twin obsessions of owning things and consuming, has lead to the degradation of the environment and a pan-global culture lacking in meaning.
With things as they are, what if we step off the treadmill? What if the goal is no longer “more”? Ever more and more “Gross National Product”. Or more clothes, money, electronics, etc.
Further, what have we forgotten about? The environment. Or perhaps our inner lives. Our humanity. Creativity. The ability to have the freedom to direct our lives. The ability to see our own identity beyond what we do for a living. Duty. Wisdom. Peace. Connection to our communities, to our families, and to other people.
What if in a future economic system value was placed on not pulling resources from the earth, but rather recycling? What if there was value in not making money but rather being wise? Or clever enough to find creative ways to do with less? What if there was value in work that nurtured the soul?
Before you scoff at these suggestions, remember that you live inside of our societal myths and we are firmly embedded in the “rightness” of our current economic system. Perhaps, in 200 years if humanity survives climate change and the current great extinction, our notions of owning, having and consuming will shift. Maybe, in that time period, this age will be looked on as Golden Age because people will live in a time of scarcity. Or maybe, they will live with more balance and look back at this time periods as a period of obscene over-consumption and stupid degradation of our habitat. Maybe there will be a shift in thought. What future systems can you envision?