(This piece represents a collection of writings I have done over the past few years. I have grouped them according to theme, and linked them together to present a coherent whole).
As we enter the 21st century we must accept that the world as it existed through much of the 20th century will no longer be. There are multiple challenges that face us and that stand to change how we as a species coexist, with each other, and with this planet. In determining how we may meet these challenges we should be aware of our history and of our nature, because if we are to pursue a new path it should reflect something that we can wear with ease, by choosing such a path our solutions will be workable and sustainable.
There will be here a definite bias toward treating things in the light of economics. This is both unfortunate and needed, it is unfortunate because of the social sciences economics, especially the version we have become most familiar with in the West, is severely flawed, while anthropology and history should have as much to teach us not only about ourselves but about ourselves as economic agents they do not get the same attention as economics does. So this bias is necessary because economics represents a much more universal language for interpreting our world than anthropology or history does.
Our view of economics is tainted by the precepts governing what is known as capitalism and free markets, we come to view these as the ultimate, the natural destination of human activity. In reality at least two other types of economic systems held sway over much of human history and were quite successful, one was the economics of the Middle Eastern empires, and the other was the economics of China. The Middle Eastern empires had a much different view of banking and lending in particular than does modern capitalism, especially as regards usury and payment methods. We are used to viewing the ascendancy of China as a recent event, but in reality through much of history China had the worlds largest economy, it wasn’t until the early 1800s that China lost this distinction. Throughout that long history China’s economy functioned much as it does now, with a strong central authority coupled with free market dynamics, the main difference being that the central force was the Emperor not the Party. My point is not explain these systems in depth merely to point out that our current fascination with free markets and capitalism is a fairly new phenomenon.
So while modern capitalism helped enable the industrialization that made the West what it is it is not the most “natural” economic system for humans to engage in, and capitalism probably doesn’t even rank as the best.
The United States remains the most influential country in the world, and it’s economics shapes its society and how it contributes to and hopes to help fix the problems that face the world, it is then appropriate to make economics a driving facet of the arguments against this system.
A Place to Start.
We need to start out with a basic fact which is that everyone, everyone, is to some degree wrong. No matter the level of ones expertise or the depth of ones knowledge everyone believes in some things which are partially or completely incorrect.
This is not to diminish the value of listening to those who have acquired knowledge but it does provide us with an important starting point. We have come to need this starting point because for too long our discussions have centered around the idea that someone is right and someone is wrong yet only by admitting the potential fallibility of our own positions can we move on to finding value in the positions of others.
Even if someone has 99% of a position nailed, completely correct in their assumptions, their position cannot be improved upon without considering the 1% that someone else may be right about. Our collective knowledge is more important than our individual knowledge.
People can be wrong about things for many reasons, the information they rely on to draw their conclusions may be partial or flawed, remember the information they rely on was made by people with the same limits of ability to see the entire truth. Differing spheres of knowledge may have valuable input for another although they was no reason to consider this. People are limited in what they are capable of verifying for themselves, and so they have to accept a lot of information which is given to them from people they trust. People also have a tendency to extend their conclusions beyond where they are reasonable, they get further and further out on the limb of their logic until there is little upholding their argument. We also need to admit that we have a bias toward certain ideas based on our personality types, because of who we are we are drawn to seeing the world in a certain way and we accept proofs that support that bias and reject those that do not. There are also a lot things accepted as fact which really have yet to be proved, economics is very rich ground for this.
When we take this idea and apply it to our society it becomes even more important. On many issues our society is pretty evenly divided, this is true even of some things that many people accept as simply self evident. Given that it will very difficult to enact policies that address our pressing needs with only the support of half the people in the country it becomes especially important to recognize value in others positions. Even if they are only used as a roadmap to understand a regional culture one cannot dismiss views one finds uninformed. But these concepts cannot overcome all personal bias of beliefs, nor should they. What these concepts do is give us ground to accept the more frustrating aspects of collective rule, be it democracy or the simple dynamics of collective consensus in society. By accepting the idea that there is value in the beliefs of others we can more easily ride through periods where policy doesn’t reflect our personal choices. It must also be remembered that things which are ultimately destructive cannot endure, the road to find this out may be hard, but nothing that can’t last does.
This may lead to the assumption that compromise is the main approach to dealing with the things we need to deal with. I definitely wouldn’t say this is true, many of the problems we face require radical answers, not watered down solutions. Respecting differing views does not mean taking a soft approach, it means finding common ground in radical approaches. As a small example I, because of my belief system, would tend to say that the national constitution of the United States is an outdated document that needs either to be re-written or amended in ways to address the realities of our modern world. A conservative might argue that the constitution is a document that cannot be altered, that the founding fathers had created a document which is perfect in its construction. Yet many conservatives would also acknowledge that the constitution allowed for an evolution of society which was far different from what the creators envisioned, so the document itself must be flawed in some way, it must be improvable.
The true danger occurs, of course, when one enters into a discussion from the stand of mutual respect, but ones counter does not. And there are issues in which there is no common ground to be found. In such cases our tradition of consensual rule should dominate and those whose views cannot be accommodated must accept that tradition above all else.
Some of the things I write about here may seem unduly alarmist. But my focus is on what the world will be like 100 or 150 years from now, it is too easy to dismiss the challenges that face us in light of what may be occurring over the next 10 or 15 years, but this short sightedness is a failure. This may seem to be an impossibility, how can we possibly know what the future will bring, what new technologies, social movements. But to take that view is to move us into the realm of herd animals. If we are to honor what we are capable of we must consider what the world will be like for our children and grandchildren. Yes the oil age may end sooner or later, or for that matter the end of the natural gas or coal age, but does anyone doubt that it will be over in the lives of our grandchildren? We need to move into a way of life that will allow us as a species, as a people, a means of existing on this planet, and with each other that may continue for many generations, so our civilization won’t wind up as so many have in the past with a few impressive buildings sitting empty and inscrutable on a dusty plain, with those who follow us left wondering what sort of lives we lived.
I would also like to mention the lack of data presented in these writings, there is some, but if you want pages of charts and graphs you will be disappointed, and there is a reason for this, having spent a lot of time reading about and engaging people in issues I came to see very early in the process that there is no lack of people capable of collecting data to support an argument they are already predisposed to. I could provide you with data that supports any number of absurd assertions if I chose to, so let’s skip that. What I hope to do, rather than staking out some data laden claim, is provide a logical basis for thinking about how we can fashion a world that works, and can endure. There will be points here where I will offer a starting point and then leave it at that. Given my approach to what is being written about I find this to be appropriate.
There are also here many ideas which have been put forward by others by one form or another recently or in the past which will be incorporated here. It is impossible to cite all these people. Fact is when you have 5 billion people on the face of the planet, and people have spent centuries debating systems there are very few ideas which are truly new.
My arguments are meant as the basis for beginning a different way of looking at the world. Two or three hundred years ago people spent a lot of energy debating new ways we might live our lives, today we cling the same ideas over and over, meanwhile we continue to get sucked down a hole which will only lead to the destruction of everything we know as life. While thinking of, and trying, new things will lead to some failures we owe it to ourselves and our grandchildren to think of different approaches to the things that bedevil us, to become what we are really capable of being.