Diagram – Wellbeing As A Compass’ © by J.P. Malkin from ‘A Political Economy of Life”
Earth is the only planet that has self -replenishing systems that generate, maintain and support life. Developing an economic system that does the same is part of humanity’s evolutionary destiny and we are at a threshold of awareness of this possibility. In stark contrast our current primitive economic system based on the ‘free’ market, extracts value from people place and planet, in the process degrading or corrupting human and natural value. Life Affirming Economics is part of the new compass – an ancient-new political economy of Life.
The fundamental problems we face today are systemic. We are experiencing a systems breakdown across the board both nationally and globally to which there are no answers from within the outdated political and economic thinking of right or left or centre. In the UK, banking, government, housing, energy, education, justice, media and politics have become increasingly ineffective, risk averse, bureaucratized, certificated, literal, dehumanized and dysfunctional.
In short, the way we organize society and its institutions is part of an obsolete way of thinking that is coming up against the limits of its own linear logic and an ancient new holistic paradigm is emerging. Perhaps the key underlying societal problem we face is that wealth creation has become disconnected from wellbeing and the common good.
Our economy has no systemic mechanism for replenishing the value extracted from people, place or planet. The existing economic model is eroding the human and natural capital that we depend upon, yet in the face of this unrelenting degradation, politicians are impotent as our governance systems have no institutionalized community wealth management system in place to build, protect and extend foundational wellbeing and common wealth
The market mantra of supply and demand has become a dogma of “scarcity” in a world of abundance and overrides our humanity. But when trust and respect are undermined we all lose because Civil Society is lost too. The basis of authentic Civil Society is inclusiveness – a respect for every person and for all life. Our dysfunctional systems however, whether these are founded in maximizing profit, hoarding wealth, extremes of inequality, exclusion of women or unresponsive centralized power are bound up with a political and economic system that doesn’t respect people or nature.
Currently the measures and values upon which our institutions operate have become disconnected from the values that most of us would like to think we live our lives by. This has resulted in a schizophrenic culture in which we are collectively not at ease with ourselves or the unresponsive, unconscious and unimaginative governing elites that continue to promote business, governance and institutions that extract wealth, value and power from people place and planet.
To put this another way, our systems are no longer consistent with the trajectory of history towards a new unstoppable, global appreciation of what it means to be human, to be a unique individual, to be alive and of life itself
This new appreciation is at odds with the old paradigm of power, domination and separatist interests that degrade our common wealth – the shared value of the commons upon which all life depends and upon which civil society and wellbeing rest also.
It seems our current use of language in the West is insufficient to sustain the deeper meaning of key ideas such as sustainability and human rights without a sense of the sacred. On the one hand literal, liberal, secular and fundamentalist interpretations have hold of large swathes of popular media, technology and politics, whilst on the other separatist, neo-conservative, warrior capitalist interpretations have hold of large swathes of our economic and financial systems. Both remove personal responsibility for the whole which we all ultimately share. What is required is a new integration of the best of philosophical conservatism and liberalism – of the left and right sides of the brain. Archetypally this is represented by an integration of the authentic masculine and the authentic feminine – the mothering and fathering principles that are fundamental to nurturing and protecting the foundational wellbeing of the whole family. Such foundational wellbeing could be described as our common wealth or the commons.
“The Commons can be described generically as all the things that we inherit from nature and civil society, which we are duty-bound to pass along, undiminished, to future generations” David Bollier (i)
As such, the ‘covenant’ between people and Nature on the one hand and between people and those in power on the other urgently needs to be reimagined. Stuart Wallis (ii) of New Economics Foundation has suggested that from the 1950’s onwards neo-liberal economists created a simple powerful narrative that tapped into people’s concerns but which today upholds the rights of corporations and governments rather than civil society. It was based on three core principles: individual freedom, free enterprise and limited government.
This old paradigm which has become the antithesis of what it professed, still dominates global political economy to this day. He argues that as yet we have not articulated a coherent, convincing powerful alternative sufficient to dislodge this neo-liberal mythology. We have been better at saying what is wrong with the current system than providing a positive new story about how we can flourish within ecological limits. The question then, is what exactly are we standing for? And around what new story can the myriad of calls and initiatives for social change coalesce?
A new compass is necessary to indicate the direction towards and away from the conducive environments that support the value, potential, uniqueness, creativity and adaptability of every individual human being and of all life. It is therefore also about the unity or corruption of creation.
This ancient new cultural compass today is still a work in progress as a contemporary cultural narrative. Surely the concept of wellbeing is a key aspect of this collective endeavour, though because of its breadth it is often only partially understood. Most people see wellbeing as personal and health related. It is difficult to conceptualize wellbeing beyond the personal. Resilient communities or generative social networks play a significant role in enabling personal wellbeing to flourish by forming the ground of civil society in which it can do so. Having a compass can be helpful in identifying not only where we are but where we are going.
Marjorie Kelly (iii) in her work on organizational design has identified a polarity that is of considerable help in this regard between what is life-enhancing (generative) and what is anti-life or life degrading (extractive). Using this we can identify a new compass for thought and action that is central to wellbeing as a ‘Political Economy of Life’. The old story of scarcity misleads us into thinking in the wrong dimension – instead of a horizontal frame of separatist self-interests that offer only ‘big government’, ‘extractive economy’ and ‘small society’, we can choose self-governance, life-enhancing enterprise and big society. These can only be delivered by people themselves at the grass roots but they must be facilitated and provided with the resources that are rightfully theirs to do so by governments and institutions with any claim to foresight. A vision of a new harmony is a long way beyond sustainability conceived of as a corporate policy of viability that appears out of our hands and aims too low. We surely need to inspire people about what human society can achieve and how that relates to our collective purpose on this planet and in the cosmos.
Using this new compass Sebastian Parsons (iv) of the Civil Society Forumhas designed a new economic model – called a commons corporation – that has been described both as a new form of ‘sustainable capitalism’ and a perpetual ‘wellbeing machine’. From this perspective, we can identify a new economic mythology based on Human Value, Meaningful Work and Self Governance each of which are integral to wellbeing.
Wellbeing cannot be created by individuals alone, by governments, institutions or corporations. Wellbeing is not simply an economic or a medical goal that can be individually attained or externally imposed. Wellbeing must be seen as an intentional, imagined and co-created life process that is dependent upon awareness and opportunity, context and collaboration. Wellbeing is therefore a function of the relationship between the parts and the whole of a network. This requires taking responsibility for our own wellbeing individually and together in order to support, contribute to and sustain a conscious network or community with others. Consequently, wellbeing is dependent upon on empowerment, motivation, and respect – for self, others and for the world (known, emergent and unknown) – and upon an aspiration and intention for personal, community and environmental renewal or regeneration. Having a compass to navigate this territory can only be helpful.
(i) See David Bollier http://www.renewal.org.uk/articles/a-new-politics-of-the-commons
(ii) See http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/nov/04/economic-system-supports-people-planet-possible
(iii) See http://www.marjoriekelly.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Kelly-Economic-Genesis.pdf
(iv) See http://www.elysiacommons.org/uncategorized/a-commons-corporation-harnessing-the-creativity-of-enterprise-and-private-ownership-for-the-common-good/