Winner: 2015’s Blog of the Year #6
We have a constant ego-based structure in our society that will prohibit our spiritual development until we succeed in shifting our priorities away from personal individual gain and more toward collective well-being. Money was intended to act as a place-holder for labour. We could store someone’s labour in the idea of money, and then they could collect on their previous labour later, when they found something they wanted to have or experience.
Eventually ideas like interest and fees came to exist and everything was disturbed because now it was possible to get the money without the labour. This evolved over time and eventually raced out of control. Because our ego has so many wants —and because advertising exists for the sole purpose of inflaming those wants– we have a culture that now urges people to place their personal wants ahead of the health of the tribe overall. This is a form of egoic disease that has the potential to be our ultimate downfall.
You cannot exist without others. No matter how many iDevices you own, no matter how many advertising slogans tell you that you’re important or special, no matter how much money you have you simply cannot live without other people. Can you grow or inspect or even prepare your own food? Can you generate electricity or fix your own machines? Can you clean your own water, or can you educate yourself, or perform an operation on yourself?
All of these things require cooperation and yet capitalism has told the lie that we benefit most from competition when modern science shows that cooperation is what we’re wired for. I’ll go along with the competitive advantage that to a degree. Boys running across a field might run quicker if they’re racing each other, but they don’t need an artificial, external imaginary reward like money or status for that to happen. They’ll do it naturally until we corrupt that with me-over-them thinking.
The Tarahumara Indians are featured in the brilliant book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. They have zero violence in their culture, their diets are remarkably impressive, and they are the absolute best runners in the world. You can completely remove them from their experience—you can put them in cold weather, way above sea level, running in conditions that are entirely unfamiliar and yet they will still beat the best professional runners in the world quite easily. And how do they train? They don’t. They run for fun.
The Tarahumara run because they like it. And with that as their motivation: when they have “races,” they don’t recognize a winner. They’re like kids. Children are happy because happiness is the pursuit not the achievement. Adults in our cultures are unhappy because they have surrendered joy so instead they can work to close the gap regarding inequities in beauty, wealth, power and status. The Tarahumara prove that you can be an adult and still keep your priorities straight.
Why is Capitalism so insidious? Because it creates a falseness between us. Do you think it’s a coincidence it’s hard to find the contact us link on most commercial websites? Do you think they forgot to include a convenient number for you to call, or that they didn’t know to hire enough people to answer the phone?
These are people’s jobs today! Their job is to irritate, trick, confuse and lie to their fellow man! Capitalism was supposed to be about making things better but the stock market and concepts like status have turned that into people wanting your money or they’ll make your life worse. Just one word: telemarketing. Is it any wonder everyone’s stressed? And then we all get on the roads at 5pm and drive home with all of these other people who’ve also been forced to do awful stressful things because someone was trying to trick their money away from them.
Likewise, our personal interactions are sullied. In 90% of cases the clerk at the computer store will not love his job, so he will not recommend the best part to you he’ll recommend a workable part for which he is paid the biggest bonus. $4.99 is a lie—the thing is five dollars. Interest is money invented out of thin air and it has no relevant labour connected to it. And thanks to the stock market wanting 15% growth every year, a company can be seen to be failing even though it has experienced a 10% rise in profit. That’s simply silly.
So how do the Powers That Be suggest that 15% is achieved? By charging you 15% more, or by making your soup can 15% smaller, or by paying the farmers 15% less, or by adding in 15% more filler that isn’t good for you. It’s a losing game and that’s guaranteed by the rules. Growth (or winning) in a capitalistic market is created by providing less for more. Period.
As we age we become jaded by the falseness of life. We realize that many people we do business with are willing to use this system to get the money without the labour. Repairmen charging for work that isn’t done, food companies silently inserting less healthy ingredients and accountants looking the other way because something is profitable even though it is clearly not something we would have done to anyone we cared about. If you’re approving dumping effluent into a river because it saves money then you are profoundly removed from your spiritual nature because that is not something you would do without the egocentric attraction of money or success.
We usually recognize the falseness of the material, capitalistic world once we first face the notion that our time here is limited. People always say time is money, but they forget that money is also time. And if you’re busy making more money then you are missing out on the time you could otherwise be spending with those you love. And once you recognize that time is limited your ego begins to fall away and you begin to re-prioritize the world the way a healthy child would. You’ll pause to care for the suffering—your compassion will not be mitigated by any calculations of who gains or who loses. You’ll value joy and laughter and caring. And you’ll realize that the rest really is just stuff.
Capitalism isn’t antithetical to spirituality. But it’s currently running contrary to it because it hinges on us forever wanting more. That constant pull on our society steals energy from the open, supportive loving that we would otherwise do. What do we do in emergencies? Do we ask the Tsunami/ Volcano/ Flood/ Hurricane/ victims if they have cash or do we send them what they need? Do we worry about who’s paying for a search and rescue team or do we act on our natural impulse? Do we think people with more money deserve better health or would we like to see any loved-one, no matter how wealthy, get the health care they need to stay happy and available to contribute to the lives of their loved ones?
Star Trek didn’t show people elevating themselves through their wealth or their clothing. That’s not how we fantasize our future. We fantasize that we’re past all of that. That we’ve risen above it. Okay, well what’s above trying to get things from each other? How about trying to give things to each other? After all, you didn’t see Captain Kirk sending a bill after he’d rescued another planet.
Yes, there is more wealth in the world. But there remains a lot of preventable suffering, we have deteriorating ecological conditions and we’re still willing to sell objects of death as a way of paying for the high life. We don’t even live like we believe what we claim to believe. So if you want the world to be a better place consider asking what you can give instead of what you can get. Let your life be your prayer.
I was once in a little store on Salt Spring Island and I heard a lady ask how much a hand-made hat was. The owner asked what the woman thought it was worth and the woman said $25. The store owner agreed to the price and the lady left happy with not only the hat but also with the authenticity exhibited in the purchase itself. After she left and I asked the owner what she would have been happy with, she told me $15. And she didn’t even have to compete for the other $10 because the other lady obviously thought it was worth it.
Both women felt they had been given a gift. Now that’s a win-win. And yet, despite you believing me about what living this way has the potential to do, you still feel resistance—don’t you? You still want your stuff and you’ve got narratives to justify why. That’s okay. You’re hardly alone. Just remember: that is ego. You don’t have to rush out and kill it. But whenever you can, watch it. As you come to realize that it is the bane of your existence it’s power over you will slowly dissolve.
Go live as though you’re an integral part of the world you want to see created. Because it is your actions and the actions of those around you that will cause that to happen. Forget ego. Forget ownership. Forget wealth. Forget status. Instead, look at your life closely. For if you do that reflection honestly you will easily recognize that your most rewarding joys throughout your life have not come from what you got, but rather from what you gave.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.