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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mind and Morality for the New Economy


The Mind and Morality of the New Economy

A new more sustainable and hopefully more resilient economy is emerging.  It is racing to become established before the old economy destroys us.

The new economy has been announced by its prophets in their books, seminars, and symposiums.  But the new economy is not emerging from classrooms, think tanks, or media outlets.  It is not the product of philosophers, economists, political thinkers, or journalists.

It is emerging through hundreds of thousands of experiments in doing business and creating livelihoods that connect to building community while respecting the earth as the condition of human life in its fullness.

The new economy is a matter of neither reform nor revolution. Tinkering around the edges with a few more rules while preserving the old ones is not bringing in the holistic, systemic change in arrangements and institutions in our way of doing business. But neither would imposition of a whole scale change by force or fiat modify our personal and social habits.

The new economy, some call it “sustainable capitalism,” is resulting from innumerable on-the-ground efforts: new ventures in “earth friendly” manufacturing and agriculture, renewable energy enterprises to displace carbon-emitting producers, urban planning and development for sustainable communities and agriculture, public and private community-based financing and investment, community oriented businesses and cooperatives, experiments in liberating education that fosters innovation in science, art, and creative earth-friendly technologies, organization and development of voluntary organizations that promote a sustainable economy.

I saw many of these experiments in the Central Valley of California where I worked for fourteen years. My friend Randy the farmer and self-educated expert in renewable energy is planting fast growing trees and crops in uncultivated fields linked to three other enterprises in non carbon-emitting fuel production. Arnold is developing cork type roofing that will eliminate much of the need for heating and cooling of homes. Keith is working with city planners of fourteen cities to create new communities and remake old ones that will meet strong California air, water, and energy sufficiency goals building grass roots popular support as they go. John is using the dumped waste from Southern California and the Bay Area; and Courtney is pushing the development of wind and waste power that could make the Valley, and perhaps most of California, energy independent by 2025. I was also a part of a team of federal leaders that engaged with state and local officials to engage with and link up these experiments with public and private support.

I am now encountering experiments in the new economy on the East Coast where community development corporations are partnering with governments and businesses to shore up community banks, green housing in walkable neighborhoods, bicycle corridors, urban agriculture projects, cooperative food buying from local farmers, and so many more endeavors.  And interfaith and other community-based groups are pushing cities, counties, and states to support these experiments through tax and investment strategies.

The institutions of the old economy are resistant; so dominated are they by those for whom the old rules have worked so well.  Never mind the growing gap between them, the extremely rich, and the extremely poor with a dwindling middle class.  Never mind the numerous popping “bubbles” of boom and bust stressing families and neighborhoods. Never mind the depletion of earth, social, and political resources. Never mind the rapid warming of the earth and change of climate, the loss of localism in business and commerce, and the increasing concentration of power in transnational corporations with little allegiance to the community or nation of origin.

David Korten (Agenda for a New Economy) at a symposium I attended in DC spoke of the need for a new narrative or a new creation story that images God not as a Judeo-Catholic Royal Patriarch supporting feudal hierarchical organization. Nor as an industrial age Protestant CEO designing the machine universe and oiling it from time to time. He proposes an “Integral Spirit” made up of humans joining consciousness and action in connection with the Earth in a way that wealth is defined not as the accumulation of consumptive capacity measured by money, but as relationship with others and with resources of the planet measured by happiness.

So if, according to the first sociologist Max Weber, the old economy arose out of the cultural meme soup of Calvinism with its predestined divine plan, material reward in God’s grace, and commandment to subdue the earth, we need a new theology to support an economy that is founded on much different principles. Theologians inspired by the new physics and biology as well as drawing from mystic traditions and ancient earth religions are at work to provide that new Mind.

And political thinkers and philosophers, persuaded by neuroscience and evolutionary psychology and anthropology, are busily crafting an ethic that critiques the morality of a destructive economy and founds a morality for a more sustainable one. I call this ethics for the new economy “the Ethic of Integrity.”

The Ethic of Integrity is neither absolutist not relativist; but relational. It is based on the symbolic interaction model of human nature arising through environmental anthropology and neuroscience. This model portrays the human species characteristically adapting to its environment through symbols (metaphors, images, language, memes), giving rise to a consciousness of self in relation to other selves towards objects in the world in time and space on a background of unconscious memories, intentions, instincts, desires.

Human symbolic behavior operates between many polarities that are continually in tension. The imperative that arises from the fact of dynamic human being, the “should” from the “is,” is the imperative to integrate one’s self with oneself and with others. The human task is to act in the present, holding tension between the past and the future, between the interiority of thoughtfulness with the experience of the outer world, and between the real and the ideal.

It is the imperative of being fully human that founds a morality of an economy in which all the capitals--social, political, historical, ecological, spiritual, not just financial--are taken into account. The economy is the system of livelihood, achieving what will keep a person, a community, and a species alive. The old economy, by not assigning value to all the capitals or by separating them, is using them up by growing only the financial one. That is why it is destroying the very conditions of human life.

While the emergence of the new economy is in the hands of those who are actually taking on ventures based on the new Mind and Morality, the theologians, philosophers, economists and political thinkers can help. They can forge the link among the experimenters. They can interpret the importance of what they are doing. They can indicate the meaning they are weaving together in their ventures.  Most important they can articulate the new Mind and Morality that will push the new economy past the tipping point, before it's too late.

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