The basic problem for the world at the moment is that we have had an economic system that has kind-of worked for several hundred years but is reaching its sell-by date, but, as yet, we have no credible alternative on offer. The fact of reaching an end point is partly because of the system's inherent internal contradictions and partly of the effects of the ecological crisis and these two are not wholly unrelated.

The system is expansive capitalism. It has delivered a lot over the years and our politics and social life revolve around it. However, it is predicated on the assumption of endless growth and progressive integration of the whole world into the one dominant system. These two factors are ultimately irreconcilable because the whole world does not grow endlessly and this limiting aspect has recently been made increasingly obvious by the ecological crisis.

In the 17th century we had the illusion of expanding our economic activity in a limitless space. Now, however, the limits are ever more apparent. Our expansion squeezes out other species. Our farmers want to protect their livestock from diseases, so they exterminate wildlife. The expansion of our fields destroys the habits of other life. Our expansion of industrial activity ruins the seas and the atmosphere. We are placing ourselves in mortal danger as a species.

At the same time the philosophy of capitalism teaches us that the solution to problems is individual, so we all do our best to run our individual households in a vaguely ecological way even though this is a totally insufficient remedy for the problem. At the same time, we still clear the way for big business and big government to go on massively depleting the natural world.

So what is the solution? This is very difficult to discern. Yellow vest protests and the rise of the far right politically do nothing to put things right, they are simply a symptom of the frustration that is an inevitable concomitant of the system gradually grinding to a standstill. We protest that the system is no longer yielding more and more and more. We protest even though we are, collectively, for the moment, at least, some of the most fortunate humans who have walked the Earth. We protest  because we cannot understand what is happening.

What experiments are there? China is attempting an extreme degree of regulation and social control, but will this actually change the rate of depletion? It is difficult to see how it can. The EU is trying to create a liberal, progressive utopia, which is, in some ways, admirable, but again it is unlikely to make much dent in the fundamental problem. Socialistic experiments too have their merit but they are variants upon the existing theme when what is called for is something so radical as to be uncontemplatable.

Perhaps, to live in balance with our planet there needs to be many less of us. Perhaps if the world population were reduced to 5% of what it is today we might begin to have a chance. Even then it would be on the high side. Perhaps we need to slow everything down - travel by sailing ship rather than airplane - reverse the tendency to faster and faster which is really just another reflection of more and more. Is it even thinkable that we could? Perhaps agriculture needs to be more or less totally replaced by horticulture, which might mean returning 50% of the population to the land - can you see it happening? Not really.

It seems more likely that nothing is going to really change until we hit a wall. It is not a happy thought that in all probability disasters are going to multiply more of less steadily until nature has forced us to change in ways that are more radical than anybody can bear to think about seriously at the moment.

Views: 120

Replies to This Discussion

Acceptance of the accuracy of your words is contingent upon each of us understanding we are all complicit in this outcome. Instead we become held in anger and blaming as we begin to see the reality of the situation. We do little to resist. So much activism is caught up in finding new ways to maintain our level of energy use...or abuse more accurately. Extreme slashing of our energy use is not even yet on social and individual agendas. The hubris of naming ourselves the wise apes...

Yes, I think we are on the same page. Thanks, Robert.

This captures the dangerous muddle we are in today so very well.  Its been a while since you posted it but of course nothing has changed really — although covid has made some people look more closely, while others — caught up in the daily complexity of life with covid — stop looking. Your comment about needing to hit a wall is interesting: I believe we have enough awareness to sense that the wall is somewhere nearby, but don’t believe that we are capable of determining when we have hit it.  Like individual identity, there is no ‘it’ there.  There are a multiplicity of interacting ‘it’s’ whose outcomes we cannot reliably know.  The most we can judge are the trends.  Perhaps we can change our thinking to say “ if we continue on doing ‘this’, it will almost inevitably result in ‘that’”.  If we don’t want ‘that’ we’ll have to change how we do things.  

But if doing ‘this’ gives us what we want now, and doing ‘that’ takes away what we want in the moment, it is a hard sell.  Particularly if we take the view that governments are supposed to have our best interests at heart and should be making those decisions & changes of rules for us.  We often resort to acting like children, expecting our governments to be good parents, giving us just what we want while keeping us safe.  But in real life this often results in impossible situations and catch 22’s, when what we want short term will endanger us long-term.  The worse the real world situation is perceived to be the easier it becomes for someone like a trump to be invited to take power as they are the most willing to comfortably offer the impossible, without being troubled by any need to to actually provide it.  The more uneasy the citizenry is about the status quo, the more prone to magical thinking they become.

At the heart of this conundrum is our inability to be able to see directly the actual state of things and the danger we and the planet are in.  The commonly used analogy is that of the frog in a pan of gradually heated water who simply cannot perceive the gradual temperature change and so may well boil to death.  We have no trouble responding to immediate perceivable danger, but danger on the scale we are facing it today, danger that requires not only perception on a vast scale, but also coherent action across large groups and even nations, that is a challenge we cannot easily meet.  


Thanks for this. I found it late, but do agree - GDP growth measures the reduction of things (from the care of the elderly, to forests) into markets .But the reduction things such as of our habitats and CO2 levels in the environment into markets leaves them open to exploitation. There has to be an alternative way of managing our relationships than money.

The system we still call ‘capitalism’ is now however a thousand miles from the domestic idea of market distribution of the butcher and the baker of Adam Smith, and is one of International finincialisation - which can be seen by the gap today between the poor economy now, which hundreds of thousands of people facing unemployment, and the strong markets, splashing around the cash from 2008-2020 Bank bailouts.

I’m reminded of words of the Dalia Lama,


Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes – that is the majority – as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair … The failure of the regime in the Soviet Union was, for me not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason, I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.
(Dalai Lama, 1996, Beyond Dogma: Dialogues and Discourses)

My spell checker doesn’t like Dalai!

Thanks, Paul.  I think I am only a quarter Marxist since it seems that Marx saw the problem but did not really have a workable solution and when what he offered was tried, totalitarianism was almost inevitably the result.  Equality is unnatural in the simple sense that it does not happen naturally, so if you want to maintain it, it requires regulation and the more powerful the idea of equality becomes, the more regulation you end up with.  Capitalism allows a more hands off kind of freedom, but this then becomes the freedom to accumulate capital until we reach the situation we have now where there is an obscene degree of inequality.  Neither system provides long term welfare for all.  However, whatever their relative merits vis-a-vis each other, neither of them solves the more fundamental problem caused by human expansion beyond the limits of its ecological niche.  Both are systems for the human "conquest" of nature which becomes self-defeating in the end and that end is now arriving.  Marx's historicism may well soon go into reverse as our current systems are defeated.  Rather than an inevitable march toward utopia, we may well be on the verge of anarchistic chaos as the systems that we have built up crumble as the damage we have already done to nature comes back to destroy us.   I cannot see any of the currently popular political or economic systems being adequate to avert this tragedy.  Beyond a certain point, hopelessness sets in.  We can get excited about the urgent necessity to do what is needed to prevent disaster, but we are probably already past that stage.  There probably is nothing that we can do to preserve the current human population in a state of wellbeing.  Rather, we need to start thinking what we are going to do and how we are going to be in the dark times that are coming. 

Thank You David! I have exactly the same view. We have now to prepare for very difficult times with lots of suffering all around. It has been always like that and will always be:  each of us has to transform the darkness inside. Political systems only give the frame and support ( or inhibition and repression) for this individual transformation work, they can’t do the work for us. 
Our society is sick with cancer. Endless economical growth IS cancer. Ignorance, greed and hate are the cause of the global situation,  as Buddha told us. What to do? Just to continue to uphold bodhicitta in our hearts, to train our minds, to help and support as much as possible people in distress. It is what You are doing David!  Thank You!


David Brazier said:

Thanks, Paul.  I think I am only a quarter Marxist since it seems that Marx saw the problem but did not really have a workable solution and when what he offered was tried, totalitarianism was almost inevitably the result.  Equality is unnatural in the simple sense that it does not happen naturally, so if you want to maintain it, it requires regulation and the more powerful the idea of equality becomes, the more regulation you end up with.  Capitalism allows a more hands off kind of freedom, but this then becomes the freedom to accumulate capital until we reach the situation we have now where there is an obscene degree of inequality.  Neither system provides long term welfare for all.  However, whatever their relative merits vis-a-vis each other, neither of them solves the more fundamental problem caused by human expansion beyond the limits of its ecological niche.  Both are systems for the human "conquest" of nature which becomes self-defeating in the end and that end is now arriving.  Marx's historicism may well soon go into reverse as our current systems are defeated.  Rather than an inevitable march toward utopia, we may well be on the verge of anarchistic chaos as the systems that we have built up crumble as the damage we have already done to nature comes back to destroy us.   I cannot see any of the currently popular political or economic systems being adequate to avert this tragedy.  Beyond a certain point, hopelessness sets in.  We can get excited about the urgent necessity to do what is needed to prevent disaster, but we are probably already past that stage.  There probably is nothing that we can do to preserve the current human population in a state of wellbeing.  Rather, we need to start thinking what we are going to do and how we are going to be in the dark times that are coming. 

"Here just a quote i love...

 »Therefore, with the armies of loving-kindness and compassion, to tame one's own mind is the practice of a bodhisattva."

"All this emphasis on how to deal with others is based on the idea that we have pacified and befriended our own mind. In order to cultivate an introspective practice the mind has first to be tamed. That means the mind has to become trusting and wants to cooperate. Our problem is often that our aspirations go one way but our selfish desires go another way. Instead they need to work together. So this is why the Buddha said that first we give loving kindness and compassion to ourselves." ~Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

*Quote from The Heart of Compassion: The Thirty-seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva, author Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (original author Gyalse Tokme Zangpo,37 Practices of Bodhisattvas)

RSS

MAILING LIST

Subscribe to Global Sangha mailing list

Powered by EmailOctopus

Blog Posts

Thatcher Woods

Posted by Robert Joshin Althouse on January 23, 2021 at 1:21 0 Comments

Thatcher Woods

Posted by Robert Joshin Althouse on January 23, 2021 at 1:13 0 Comments

Fire

Posted by Tineke Osterloh on January 21, 2021 at 21:15 0 Comments

Thatcher Woods

Posted by Robert Joshin Althouse on January 16, 2021 at 19:08 0 Comments

© 2021   Created by David Brazier.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service