Many years ago, I passed some time with those who have naught but the bottles of wine that they acquire by begging from the passing stranger -- the "street winos". One day found us gathered about a colleague sprawled out in the grass and there was mention of his severe sickness. He said, "If only people would share, there would be so much." With the utterance of those words the people scattered abruptly from his side as if blown by a strike of wind, and I too joined the dispersion, compelled by some urge I could not identify. Did the man die with that sentence? Was it such a last moment that gave power to his words, so that they became a manifestation of Satyagraha, the power of speaking the Truth? Can a human being who is commonly considered fallen to no more than the sharing of drunkenness know a profound truth, and seek to convert his life's meaning into a summary conveyance of that knowledge? I do not know, I only remember.
Jeff Gate's focus on the widening disparities of wealth as a threat to the stability and future of society [in his book, "The Ownership Solution"], and the necessary direction of remedy as a greater sharing of the wealth, is correct. The examples of successful endeavors in ESOPs [Employee Stock Ownership Plan] and cooperative communities are real, and their incremental extension is envisionable. This knowledgeable book presents itself somewhat as a Trojan horse. There is solution presented, and there is the obligatory homage given to "free enterprise" as the vehicle that must carry us, even if as has ever been the case, that means with a modified, now more beneficial distortion away from pure laissez-faire, to be attained politically through regulatory or fiscal policy. But the failures of capitalism are strongly presented, along with many disparaging comments made by others. One wonders whether Jeff Gate's faith in "free enterprise" is due to strong conviction or simple resignation to the fact that there is no evidenced alternative within our consciousness.
The problem I have in not giving a sigh of relief that here is a fully illuminated path that we might trod upon, is the time frame involved, which will still be problematic in any alternative vision, and the requirement of continuing economic growth that is stated repeatedly by the author to be conducive to the spreading of ESOPs and their variants. The development of ESOPs has been up until now, a gradual, evolutionary process, dependent upon capital's perception of its corresponding best interest.
It has been a quarter of a century since we were made painfully aware of our dependence upon oil, and we have anxiously awaited the technological breakthroughs which were to alleviate our extensive dependence on that liquid energy. They are not yet manifested. Instead, we have frantically drilled in the last, most forbidding areas, and returned to a heedless exhaustion, acting as if the solution were in hand. We are risking a fools' reckoning on a level not before seen in human history. Crude prices have soared more than 50% with the recent OPEC reduction in petroleum supply, of 2.6% of the global total (precisely the anticipatable rate of global annual supply decline indicated by Colin J. Campbell in "The Coming Oil Crisis"). Why does OPEC appear to be regaining its natural monopoly, with others joining in? Is is because those other producers, historically the spoilers of OPEC's intentions, now sense the onset of their inevitable declining production and seek to disguise the fact for financial advantage? Have we actually passed the peak of global production, and begun the ending of the age of petroleum?
It doesn't really matter whether that moment of zenith has passed or remains a handful of years yet away, for either case will likely find us as equally unprepared. We have built a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure based upon physical private property being communicable between work and home, through affordable and universal private vehicular transportation; based upon being able to haul food great distances in truck with no need for local agriculture, and distant food production itself a great exhauster of fossil fuels. The measure of our real wealth, and the faith in the monetary veracity of that measure, are dependent upon the continuing viability of the infrastructure. The sudden obsolescence of that laboring of generations, would be as suddenly the devaluation of our real wealth, the habitual energy-matter mechanism of our existence, for what ceases to serve us, loses value precisely to the degree of its lessened utility.
Some of us perceive our situation to be the "Overshoot" of William J. Catton, that structuring of a house-of-cards detritivore civilization which can only collapse from its present course. And our best way of dealing with that possibility is to have acted yesterday as if it had occurred generations ago. The concept "free enterprise", is a great evoker of passions, undoubtedly somewhat due to the inclusion of the Great American longing represented by the word "free". When people proclaim the concept it often means their desire for a more laissez-faire approach to economic matters: let the multitudinous, individualistic competition to acquire money with its creations both great and iniquitous be less fettered by Government interference. But, the political body's constant modification and regulation of this struggle has been necessary for the furthering of society. The managing of our energy-matter mechanism through the monetary transaction has been mainly the consequence of a long evolution, with learning done after the fact of what has already or elsewhere manifested, rather that through any conscious planning design. Its major impetus in the western part of the Old World began with pretty, pretty gold, now changed into fiat money, paper or computer byte, whose exchange value is that of its momentary purchasing power, which is itself dependent upon collective expectations concerning the stability of that power. Its use begets a particular way of consciousness.
The child goes into the store and finds something she hungers for, but cannot have, for lack of a particular token. There it is. One must have those tokens in order to eat; it is above any relationship to the earth or other beings; it is the primary reality that confronts. It does not matter in the least how they are gotten, only that they are. It is a Newtonian, individualistic reality. My ability to command the efforts of other humans is related to the number of tokens that I possess. Having two tokens I am twice having one, bound by the siren-song of more upon more. Let us properly call the streams and stores of these tokens, the multitudinous competition for their possession, and our faith in their ability to lead us where we wouldst go, Dollar. Without The State, Dollar cannot exist, and neither has The State been without its Dollar. We so dread The State, that we proclaim the might of Dollar.
Now, we are all upon the exponential horse riding towards Dollar. The horse is becoming faster, more enormous, and requiring greater energies to achieve its ever increasing velocity. We fear to even rein in, for there are mountains of dollars which exist only to have more piled upon them, and were they to no longer be thus cherished but become at once abandoned for what they would then truly be worth, the avalanche of chaos would be upon us. Yet, if one has ever ridden beyond their ability an accelerating horse, they remember that by the time they realized they could not stop the horse, they could then only wish that they had slid from his back earlier.
We have not yet fought "the moral equivalent of war", and like slavery of some time ago, our intent to ignore the necessary resolution will not avoid the confrontation. We wagered a quarter of a century ago that the exponential horse was going to carry us so quickly and so far that the technological solution would inevitably be found. I remain unable to perceive it, if it does not include a quantum leap reorganization of society, its property relations, its conception of wealth and well-being.
The subtitle of Catton's "Overshoot" is "the Ecological Basis for Revolutionary Change." The magnitude of the change that we contemplate should be comparable to the magnitude of the problems we confront. Some will perceive no storms upon the horizon, and believe that their growing number of tokens is their future in hand, while there are others of us who can feel only the approaching rumble: it is we who would conceive of somehow getting off the exponential horse. Even to stop chasing Dollar; to turn away from using money. Certainly there could be nothing more revolutionary than contemplating that we might be able to build a world where this Newtonian element no longer prevailed, and nothing initially seeming more absurdly impossible of realization. Quite as unenvisionable as telling the uninitiated that by using bits of paper money a man could be put on the moon; thought properly belonging to madmen or wide-eyed children, like expectation of an end to warring, massive extinction of species, degradation of biosphere, and increase of green house gases.
Allocative efficiency is the theoretical justification for the usage of money. But the efficiency is in terms of what? Is it the throughput which is most wisely utilized, or the sustainability of our Hicksian income that is achieved; are our labors genuinely best coordinated toward our planetary well-being? Or is the efficiency of money, so differently deployed by those who have it in differing quantities and so very directed towards its own increase, finally in terms only of itself, thus, a circular logic? We are infatuated and awed with what has been built using money, and it is undeniably our collective creation, of those prodigious in their vanities and of those wretched in their wants: the more advantaged experience their daily freedom in the selecting of merchandise. Where does our greater promise of evolution now lie? Is it yet in the things that we craft with our hands that stand apart from us, or is it in dimensions of being that we will only access through a commonality of goal, and community of living?
Money has served us for the purposes of the past: we have accumulated knowledge and their embodiments through our using it to manage the exhaustion of natural capital, converting that greatest of all surplus values, petroleum energy, blithely into what we presently esteem to be wealth. It was better that greater possibility be concentrated into few hands, that only a few nations be with a luxuriousness of real capital, by which to best foster development of what be needed, before the limitations of the earth overwhelmed and rendered progress impossible. It is a very long wave that we have been upon, since the beginning of recorded history, but that does not mean the time for its recedence can never come. Now, we must seek progress in our relations to one another and to the earth.
We cannot move in one step from the labyrinth of monies bound to money, to its replacement with a sharing beyond that principle of separation, nor shall we move without immersion and excellence within that labyrinth. We cannot even admit that such be our goal. But we can seek transition in that direction, and it is ultimately toward a far different modus operandi than each of us seeking our handhold upon the exponential horse in the more widely spread proliferation of financial instruments. It is a way to distance ourselves from dependence upon interest rates, and the necessity of exponential growth to serve them; the great disparities of wealth sought as expressions of self-worth; it is a way to build a genuine community of communities due to the bonding force that shall need evolve to substitute for allegiance to Dollar; a way to focus on a method of valuation richer and more complex than competition for tokens; a way to cast the foundation of a Green religion, to realize the extended family beyond our blood line; a way to turn toward an input-output economic consideration of the amount of human endeavor that is replaced by the use of fossil fuels.
As long as the mirage of growth is pursuable it is foreseeable that society shall continue in its present traces, perhaps increasingly pursuing the ESOPs in the "Ownership Solution" as a realistic improvement. Only if the present economic impetus utterly breaks and we confront massive unsustainability of existing infrastructures, if we do become driven by brutal necessity, then, such a fantastic path might gain in viability. Far easier would it be to move toward the dream of a novel well-being than to continue to depend simplistically upon increasing possession of tokens, when the failure of that past social design becomes patent. What will be important is the degree of beginning which then exists, remembering that we do not need to know every curve and rise of the path ahead to realize it is the correctly chosen.
The "oversoul" mentioned by Jeff Gates will be to many only a word, while to some others it will be inadequate reference to a greater reality experienced, "Tat Tvam Asi", to use yet other words. How are we to move toward the evolution that the Great Spirit within us yearns for, that unifying force of quantum physics, if we insist upon a sharded noösphere, of each forced to place Dollar above all else, regardless of accompanying consequences; if we do not reflect in our economic transactions the fact that our interdependence upon and with the planet is paramount? How shall we merit the breath of the Great Spirit unless we are willing to live our momentary lives as if they were but a fragment of our immortality upon the earth, and this earth that we might trod with bared feet the only true home we shall ever know? How will we change if we do not not surpass the primary method by which our consciousness is now focussed, if we do not change the Way of our consciousness?
The movement of the seas is not limited to monotonous pattern, but ranges from a constancy of mildness in which the eroding shores would be perceptibly modified over the span of a lifetime, unto a vehemence of startling intensity in which suddenly, nothing within reach is left as it was. So it is with the changing of human culture, this ongoing evolution of existence with age beyond any meaningfulness of temporal measurement.
Published in a seminar by communications for a sustainable future, CSU http://csf.colorado.edu/seminars/sustecon/Gates.may99/msg00055.html
Also, at the same site, by this author:
The Sine Qua Non of Growth
The Slighting of Agriculture
From the Back Side of the Looking Glass