Thursday, 29 December 2011

Towards a new economics of Time

'Things which are alike
In nature grow to look alike' - Nobody, Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch

“Nonhuman species obey only the law of vitality, but humanity in its distinctive features is through and through necrocratic.” — Robert Pogue Harrison, The Dominion of the Dead

Creation and consciousness are analogous to multiplication and division. Why? Because roughly speaking things are created or reproduce by multiplying themselves and when we are conscious of something we are aware of it as a thing as separate from other things - we are able to tell one thing from another and thus can divide each from each.

 The biosphere creates more out of less by multiplication and the economy of this is that very little is wasted. Benjamin Smythe says: walk through a forest sometime and try and separate the living and the dead. They are intertwined all around you. Nothing is wasted. The fungi make sure of that. We eat and eventually we are eaten.

The very real emptiness that is at the centre of many people's lives come from a dislocation with this kind of experience. The need to create feelings of elation or pleasure are all natural needs. Only when we fixate on creating them do they become addictions. Why do we do this? We need to see what is underneath the needs to feel elation, pleasure, being high and so on - it is a lack of these things in our lives - you get high because you feel low, but the sense of lack or absence or void or emptiness that we try to fill  has deeper roots.

No matter how much we try and fill ourselves with pleasurable feelings, the emptiness is a bottomless pit and will swallow them all up. It is because at the heart of the emptiness is the absurdity of ego. You are getting in your own way. Stand aside for a minute and let the light in. Every culture has understood this except modern man. His peculiar disease of thinking with the head instead of the heart makes him mad. And it's catching. Jung says that to believe you are born anew every day without any reference to the time and place you inhabit (as most of the grand projects of the twentieth century did) is a mental disorder. We are only whole inasmuch as we relate to the particular history and place within which we find ourselves. This network of stories and meanings is for our psyche like the soil the plant lives in. Our mind grows out of this matrix - this is the very meaning of humility, and it is a very great gift to be shown how fragile you really are and how dependent you are on this bed out of which you grow. Because then you can never be in your own way. You can't block out the sky with your self, you can't create darkness all around and live in a prison of your own making because you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

And that truth is so simple and yet we need a lifetime to learn it: there are others! You are one of many, all interconnected in a whole. And don't think the whole is limited to what you can see - there are invisible others too! And your actions affect them! Learn this word: reciprocity. Then live by it. You will never be empty again.

So we arrive at a natural principle: there is enough for us all. The Celtic myth-cycle had a cauldron of plenty which never ran out of food and fed everyone with abundance. It is a story common to many cultures. It represents the theme of bounty and generosity and multiplication - the story of the loaves and fishes is its Christian counterpart. This endless self-giving and never running dry is a miraculous story but I repeat; it is a principle of faith. The early Irish saints who set sail in their coracles and let the wind and the sea take them where it would or the wandering saddhus of India show what happens when self-reliance is abandoned - the universe befriends you and provides for you.

What has happened though in modern economics is we have created a system where the opposite to this has happened. Instead of making the most out of the least, and leaving little wasted, which is the law of love and creation in the universe, we have created a system dedicated to making the least out of the most, and causing waste on a massive scale. In this system, there are no others, only self. Suspicion and control and fear keep this system going. At its centre is the supermassive black hole of egoic absurdity which draws everything into it. It will eat everything and then it will eat itself. We are all propping it up. We are all its creators. We must take responsibility for it, because it has its genesis in us. This is why I wonder whether the talk of the 99% and the 1% is useful - because it takes away our responsibility - it's those bad bankers who are ruining our good world. We are all good - it's just a few bad people that are doing it. This is a philosophically naive world view. We must all seek and recognise within our own lives the things we look down on, the things we despise or believe are inferior - because it is in this that we will find our own negative traits, and you cannot start doing any good in the world until you have faced what is bad in yourself.

One of the conversations going on in the Occupy movement relates to time and the way people spend it. I think this is a very important area. Our conception of time relates to the second of the themes I mentioned at the beginning of this post - that of consciousness and division. For most of us, our time is packaged up, served out in little parcels that we use. We even talk about spending time, saving time and wasting time, like it was a commodity like money.  This comes about because of the divisive nature of consciousness. Time is a phenomenon related to the observer, and because as observers we see in discrete segments, time becomes segmented.

But what if we learnt to see in a different way? What if we trained ourselves to see things as they stand in relation to each other in a system of correspondences? In other words what if we learnt to see the whole instead of the part? Isn't that what Jung really meant when he talked of thinking with the heart? A different sense of time as something all can share in. Not my time and your time, but our time.

I think this would need a radical change in the way we all live. We are ruled at the moment by the formula Time = Money. For most of us this means we are doomed to experience most of our time as mere duration - a dead waste which we must endure so that we can live. But time is not just duration. It is also intensity. We must create a system where we are not shackled to this dead machinery and made to work for it, but where the machinery is working for us, where we can keep the intensity of our experience of time at the heart of our existence - where our sense of connectedness and satisfaction and joy are central.

 These are all things that can be found when people work in communities where every member is able to participate in the life of the organisation, where a sense of caring and fairness is found, where the business has at its heart, not the principle of making as much money as possible, but is rooted in the lives of the people that make it up. Such organisations are not pipe-dreams. Here is one example:
Such places should become far more common if we don't all want to be sucked down the gullet of the vampire-squid of modern finance.

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