This is a speech written for The Other Economic Summit (June '97). Please feel free to post or reprint in whole or in part. (This site employs Style Sheets so you also need to download CCstyle.css.txt, rename it "CCstyle.css", and include it where you put this file.)
The word define, literally means to draw a line around something -- to separate a part of reality from the whole. At the Fetzer Institute, quantum physicists met with Navajo, Hopi and other indigenous people to discover that native languages were able to convey the nature of quantum realities much better than English or French. In the structure of our language, we separate subject and object. In Navajo or Hopi the separation does not exist, everything is in relationship. The foundation of the aboriginal cultures includes a reverence for the sacred dimension of life, our deep interconnection with the Earth, the Cosmos, and all living things and it is reflected in the language itself.
Western Civilization has tried to separate spirit from matter. First dualism, then came the idea of God as the machine maker, and a mechanical worldview which put man above all else -- the alpha and omega of creation. Eventually God was eliminated, and we were left with a meaningless, purposeless Universe. Only recently have scientists begun to recognize and validate what indigenous cultures have been saying for countless millennia, that we cannot separate subject from object, we are all connected. Still there seems to be a jetlag between insights and institutions. Powerful illusions have been maintained by an extraordinary propaganda machine without which our institutions, and our governments would crumble.
We realize that our planet is under attack, our oceans are dying, the rivers are being poisoned, our forests are being destroyed, millions of people are suffering from hunger and terrible exploitation, species are going extinct every moment. How can we reverse this onslaught, this wave of destruction? How can we fortify the people and lifeforms that remain?
First we must recognize the root causes of the host of maladies that are afflicting humanity and the Earth. The dominant culture's worldview promotes disconnection, encourages specialization, neglects a holistic view of ourselves and our relationship to the world. This worldview amplifies and supports hierarchical systems, the control and exploitation of people, natural resources, as well as other lifeforms. It does not recognize the sacredness of life, or the value of living ecosystems, people, or anything that cannot be measured and monetized. The global economy is absolutely blind to the webs of interdependence between all living things and our mother planet. It's a systemic problem which has gotten progressively worse.
It's easy to blame everything on the rapacious greed of politicians or CEO's who are earning obscene amounts of money while laying off employees and destroying the environment, but the system which molds their behavior must also be examined. In the past two decades, merger mania has dramatically restructured industry, resulting in the monopolization and vertical integration of large sections of the economy by fewer and fewer transnational corporations. There was a time when companies expressed concern towards their employees, when loyal, hard-working employees expected to keep their jobs and get a pension when they retired. Enlightened presidents and executive directors actually tried to treat their employees well and behave in a socially responsible manner. Many of those companies have been shut down and the goods they once produced are now being produced in Third World countries where military dictatorships keep wages low and drop environmental standards. The most socially responsible CEO's lost their positions, or their companies became the targets of hostile takeovers, the corporate raiders loot pension funds, liquidate the company resources for short term gains. Now, the tyranny of the bottom line means -- that it is almost impossible for CEO's to behave in a socially responsible way. The financial pressure demands that they externalize costs and increase profits or lose their positions or their companies. Unenlightened CEO's, who do not mind downsizing, are removed if they do not do it fast enough, and are found to be "underperforming " by Wall Street standards. In David Korten's book When Corporations Rule the World, there are examples of the CEO's of the largest corporations, GM, American Express, IBM, Westinghouse, being axed by an extractive financial system.
Should we blame the managers of investment funds who wield this power? Or are the investors to blame for their collective blindness and greed? We need to look at the misconceptions and emotions which have created and maintain the dominant institutions which continue to "rule" and control the world. The fictitious entities known as corporations which are totalitarian and have rewritten the laws to gain immortality and rights over nations, states, communities and individuals. There is a book called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841 which chronicles in the first hundred pages those times when nations were caught up in speculative frenzies, the tulipmania in Holland in the 1600's, France and England with the South Sea Bubbles, and Mississippi Schemes in the 1700's. Everyone is familiar with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, but I think these historical speculative bouts were relatively mild compared to the speculative frenzy which is happening at this very moment.
Bernard Lietaer, who is writing a book called The Future of Money: Beyond Greed and Scarcity, says that our official monetary system has almost nothing to do with the real economy. The volume of currency exchanged on the global level is $1.3 trillion per day. This is 30 times more than the daily GDP of all of the developed countries together. Of that, only 2 or 3 % has to do with real trade or investment; the remainder takes place in the speculative global cyber-casino. He sees the possibility of a crash as about 50/50 over the next 5 or 10 years. Many people, including me, say it's 100 percent. George Soros, who has made a fortune speculating in currencies says, "Instability is cumulative, so the eventual breakdown of freely floating exchanges is virtually assured." Joel Kurtzman, ex-editor of the Harvard Business Review, entitles his latest book: The Death of Money and forecasts an imminent collapse. Bernard elaborates that if there were a crisis, and if all the Central Banks were to agree to work together (which they never do) and if they were to use all their reserves (which is another thing that never happens) they have the funds to control only half the volume of a normal day of trading. In a crisis day, that volume could easily double or triple, and the total Central Bank reserves would last two or three hours. In 1929, the stock market crashed, but the gold standard held. The monetary system held. Here, we are dealing with something that's more fundamental. Bernard adds, "The only precedent I know of is the Roman Empire collapse, which ended Roman currency. That was, of course, at a time when it took about a century and a half for the breakdown to spread through the empire; now it would take a few hours."
What is holding the system together? And when it does collapse, what will replace it? Each of us, consciously or unconsciously is playing a role in this. What we believe, what we do with our money, our time, either strengthens the dominant belief systems and institutions or weakens them and draws strength to the creation of new belief systems and alternative institutions.
We are living in an extraordinary time of chaos and paradox, where all sorts of possibilities are opening up. The vast majority of people are losing faith in institutions and trying to improve their lives in countless ways. There are heretics within governments, corporations, educational institutions. Non-profit organizations continue to blossom and grow. There has never been a better time to organize. The New Age movement needs to be grounded. The hard core political activists could benefit from consciousness raising. The environmental movement needs to address the issues of class, race and gender. This is happening, as people come together, learn from one another, and build coalitions.
We recognize that all our issues are interrelated, that we are more alike than different in our common goals -- peace, justice, a future for our children, a healthy planet and healthy environments for all living things. It is also a time of great personal transformation, our worldviews are continually challenged by new information. As we become more aware of the consequences of our collective actions, it becomes harder and harder to live a "normal" life because to live in adherence with our values, we must change our living patterns, and change the most basic systems upon which we depend. How we obtain the food we eat, the clothes we wear, our shelter, our means of transportation, how we educate our children, take on greater meaning and become political acts, broadcasting our belief system and our values. This cannot happen overnight, so each of us must experience the contradictions, paradoxes of transformation which we are witnessing in the world today.
Aung Sung Suu Kyi wrote: "It is not power that corrupts, but fear -- fear of losing power and fear of the scourge of those who wield it." This fear corrupts politicians and immobilizes the vast majority. Fear is used, created, to justify all military activities, the ever expanding security forces that governments use to oppress their people, and the expanding prison industry. Anything we do to add to that level of fear, that immobilizes people and reduces their capacity to respond in a creative, positive way can be harmful. Academia and the media play a major role in promoting the myths which feed fears and create the image of a dangerous world of scarce resources where overpopulation threatens us with extinction.
Is the world dangerous? Are people dangerous? The world would be a much safer place without armies and police to "protect" us. Imagine if the military budget and the money spent on police and prisons were spent on health, education, housing, clean water. The fears are created to "control" and "exploit" people.
Look at the scarce resource myth promoted by Malthus before we were born. "Resources are scarce; we must compete for them in order to survive. They are getting scarcer and scarcer all the time as the population grows and there is less land, less water, less fish in the sea." Well, if Malthus had said, "Resources are not scarce; there is plenty for everybody, so long as we share." he would probably not have become famous, his ideas would have served no useful purpose for the ruling class -- but if the idea that the Earth has abundant resources, if they are equitably shared had prevailed, I don't think we would have the disparity between the rich and the poor that we have now. Look at the distribution of wealth. There is plenty of money, and yet there is no money for meeting the basic needs of the vast majority. While the number of billionaires increase and the transnational corporation's economies grow to dwarf those of countries, more and more people are being denied their rights to live and support themselves and their families.
Overconsumption is surely as threatening, if not more threatening, than overpopulation, but the corporate media aren't going to promote the idea of voluntary simplicity. It's obscene that 20% of the world is consuming more than 70% of the world's energy while the remaining three-quarters consume less than 30%. The closer we look at those numbers, the worse it looks -- two billion people have no access to electricity. Blame the world's problems on those least able to defend themselves has been the favored tactic of the rich and powerful.
When the Europeans first began to colonize the rest of the world, they used force. In order to get people to work for them, they had to drive people off the land. The same techniques have been used again and again throughout the world. A tiny percentage of people hold most of the world's land and are the greatest cause of abject poverty. Forced into cities or wage slavery, torn from their cultures, women have had ever larger families. Access to land, equality, education and the availability of family planning would reduce birthrates dramatically. One percent of the world's wealth is held by women, and most of the world's work is done by women, whether they are paid or not. Truly there is enough to meet everyone's needs, but there will never be enough to satisfy the greed of the few.
Buckminster Fuller created a game called "The World Game." You can play it with between 50 and 200 people on a board the size of a basketball court, which represents the world. Each person is given the actual resources available in the part of the world that he represents, but instead of trying to take over the world, the object of the game is to solve the world's problems. The illuminating thing about the game is that the problems are very solvable, if people simply play cooperatively. It just shows that in the real world, what we lack are not resources, but the political will to put aside narrow personal interests and act on behalf of the greater good.
In the film, Who's Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies & Global Economics, Marilyn discovers the origins of the U.N. Systems of National Accounts, a system imposed upon every country that joins the U.N. and hopes to get a loan from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. The system was based upon a pamphlet by John Maynard Keynes and Richard Stone entitled "The British System of National Accounts and How to Pay for the War." This system enables the global elites to finance their militaries. Indeed it is in the economic interest of the major powers, who earn so much from their arms deals, that there is always a war going on somewhere. The system does not recognize the value of peace, an intact ecosystem, or the unpaid labor of women. Monetary transactions are measured and deemed of the greatest importance, no matter how devastating their effects are. It does not see anything of unquantifiable value -- life, people, the Earth; it only sees that which it measures -- money. The forests, the lungs of our planet, our worthless according to this system, unless they are chopped down and sold as timber.
By elevating money to the point where everything else may be sacrificed to obtain it, by confusing money with real wealth, our civilization is rushing to destroy itself. Toynbee chronicles the rise and fall of civilizations, one feature that they have in common is the extreme concentration of wealth and power, and ecological collapse. The rich have never been richer nor the poor poorer. Agribusiness has meant a loss of 90% of the edible plant species since the turn of the century; it rivals the military as far as the devastation that it has wreaked upon all arable lands. Despite the obvious needs of the vast majority of humanity, money is being siphoned from the poor to the rich. Through the IMF and the World Bank, the money continues to flow to the wealthy countries, in 1994 net payments to the US from "developing" countries reached $2 billion. The Bretton Woods Institutions force countries to open themselves to foreign investment, devalue their currencies, switch from growing food for local consumption to growing export crops. These policies are as devastating as war and just as deadly. If the children who starve quietly in their homes as a result of World Bank policies were taken out into their village squares or city parks and shot, the world would be horrified. But the catastrophic suffering remains invisible to those who focus their attention on making money, and feel no connection to people outside of their class and culture. As cancer, unchecked consumes its host; the world's parasites continue to feast upon the world oblivious to the suffering of the bulk of humanity and the stresses on our mutual life support system, the planet. Without water, food, friendship, love, health, all the money, gold, toys become worthless baubles.
The old system has relied upon military force and control to maintain the wealth and privilege of the ruling elite. Weapons, misinformation, and money are the tools this system has relied upon. By beating the drum and blaming the world's ills on overpopulation, it subtly encourages the idea that masses of people are expendable, institutionally it says that the lives in industrialized nations are worth more than those in "developing" nations and within wealthy countries the rich are idolized and society's ills blamed on the poor. Wherever we can, we must challenge military expenditures, expanding "security and prison systems." We must nurture all efforts towards non-violent conflict resolution. We need to institutionalize a global minimum wage and a maximum wage. We should respect and honor people for their integrity, character, wisdom and gifts to society, as opposed to the amount of wealth they can extract from society. We should also recognize the gifts we have received from the Earth and recognize our responsibility to future generations to safeguard their living heritage.
We must speak "truth" to power and challenge the misinformation which is broadcast by the major media. For example -- the growth illusion, the GDP myth; GDP is more indicative of the rape and exploitation of resources in a country than the health and well-being of its people or ecosystems. We need new indicators which measure what really matters -- our health, the health of the environment, quality of life. the disparity between the rich and the poor. We must support the alternative media, which is not dominated by corporate or government interests and tries to speak for those whose voices need to be heard.
I just read 3 books by Makoto Shichida who has studied children in Japan for decades and specializes in developing courses for preschoolers and mentally retarded children. He has written over 50 books, including Babies are Geniuses and Right Brain Education in Infancy -- Theory and Practice. His thesis, basically, is that geniuses are people who use both sides of their brains. Generally, in the west, we only give attention to the abilities of the left side of the brain, but it is the right side that should be nurtured in its most formative years. Right brain abilities include mathematical calculating ability, photographic memory, image visualization, the ability to absorb vast quantities of information and make sense of it, and what is referred to as extra-sensory perception, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition. Imagine how different the world would be, if every baby born were loved, nurtured and given the opportunity to develop all their abilities, mental, spiritual and physical. The well being of our infants and children worldwide should be at the top of our priority list, as a species!! Therein lies the hope of humanity and the world. A few enlightened people aren't going to turn our situation around; its time for collective enlightenment. The dominant worldview is a dying worldview; the holistic, cooperative, worldview is being born, the youngest are the quickest to grasp these truths, when they are given the opportunity.
Hilka Pietela, Hazel Henderson see that the real economy is for the most part "invisible" to those blind "economists" who are mainly hired by the rich to serve "their" agendas. The life support system of the planet, the warming rays of our sun, these "gifts" form the foundation of the human economy upon which everything else depends. The unpaid work of women, the voluntary networks of cooperation and community are also a fundamental vital chunk of the real economy. On top of that, there is the protected sector which provides many basic services, and is guided by official means for domestic markets, food, construction,...The smallest part of the economy, the icing, so to speak, is the "global economy" which includes large scale production for export, and to compete with imports. This gets most of the attention, and the transnational corporations that dominate world trade get most of the profits, employing less than 1/3 of 1% of the world's population. Pietela finds that the most fatal shortcoming of the prevailing economics is that it does not distinguish the cultivation economy from industrial production. This effort to control, and extract value from living nature is taking a great toll on people and our world.
I have a T-shirt with a Dollar bill on it which clearly states- Warning! Use of this product may cause apathy, laziness, selfishness, ignorance, loss of identity, greed... environmental destruction, racial tension, murder, war, and impoverishment for others. Continuous and excessive use could render a permanent state of indifference to the welfare of those around you. Use at your own risk!
I think we should make little warning labels and stick them on our cash. We need to shatter a few illusions about money -- who creates it, who benefits from its use and who suffers. We need to remind people that our health, our relationships, the well-being of our communities, the health of our eco-systems, economic justice, world peace, and our happiness are more important than our bank balance.
Bankers create money out of thin air and loan it to governments and others at interest, but they don't create the interest, so it is never possible to pay off all the debts. Money is a tool of empire; it allows the flow of resources from the poor to the rich. It used to be called usury and was condemned by all the world's religions, but when the Catholic Church became the largest landowner, it figured out how to break the old taboo.
Helena Norberge-Hodge has chronicled in her film and book -- Ancient Futures how a nonmonetized culture, in Ladahk, rich in Buddhist spiritual traditions, with an intricate system of family and social ties, where ninety percent of the land was evenly distributed amongst families, people lived ecologically and sustainably. Almost everyone knew how to build a house and meet all of their basic needs. Money, a road to India, tourism have been disastrous for the culture, creating the same problems we find in industrialized societies. There are lessons to be learned here, to reverse this process and point our culture towards a more sustainable, happier existence.
Suppose we create a different kind of money, with a different dynamic, based upon that which we value -- to encourage healthy relationships, build community, and restore the environment. We could write those values directly on the money to raise awareness and remind people of what is important. This is what Paul Glover in Ithaca, New York and others have done. Not only does local currency help build community and prevent resources from being drained away by transnational corporations, it is a tool to raise consciousness, to promote meaningful exchanges, and help reweave the bonds of community. Community comes from words meaning "the free exchange of gifts." In ideal societies, there is no need for money because people exchange their gifts freely. We must remember that money is simply a tool, it can be impersonal, anonymous, destructive or we could redesign it to encourage recognition of our deepest values and to help build a world based upon respect and healthy relationships between all people.
There is a concerted effort, at the moment, by the rich, to make sure that this doesn't happen. It's called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and if the rich countries agree, the poorer countries might be forced to sign on to an elimination of all barriers on foreign investment. It gives all rights to capital, and removes the ability of communities, states, sovereign nations to demand some sort of accountability from "investors." As the World Trade Organization became a Bill of Rights for corporations, this international agreement could become a bill of rights for the very rich, at the expense of all governments, people, and the environment. The only good thing about it is that if any politician votes for it then you know he or she is a prostitute working for monied interests with no regards for their constituency; the bad thing is that if it does go through, to undo it would take at least 15 years, so by the time you get rid of the politicians that passed it, the others won't be able to do much about it.
So we need to launch a public education campaign about this, and why not teach people about the monetary system at the same time? Create community currencies, print the values you wish to strengthen and encourage on your bills and point out how "the other monetary system" is hell bent on destroying those things.
Explaining the monetary system to most folks is not easy. It shatters too many belief systems that have been held for a long time. Yes! The Journal of Positive Futures, latest issue is on the subject of money and local currencies with great articles by David Korten on the difference between money and real wealth and Bernard Lietaer whom I've quoted. It's a great consciousness raising tool for grown-ups. It's much easier to explain this to first graders, who don't have to unlearn so much and quickly grasp the main ideas. In one sentence -- our current monetary system concentrates wealth and power destroying the Earth in the process; we need to create a new system that redistributes wealth and power, healing the Earth in the process.
As our old system is dependent upon fear, greed, military force, misinformation, the new system should be based upon love, respect, compassion, cooperation, beauty and truth. The old system will topple because it is so disconnected from the real world, the real economy. The new system will be born out of recognition for what people value in their communities, and how they organize and cooperate to meet their community's needs; their will be as many systems as there are communities, richly diverse. The shared values of different communities will give rise to regional or bioregional currencies. Let us create a system that relies upon cooperation and trust to meet the needs of all people and improve the health of the ecosystem upon which all life depends. The old system relied on "fear" to control others. Let us create a system which "nurtures" people and life and actively encourages diversity.
It is time to practice cooperation, respect and love in all areas. My husband and I took a class in "building equality" in relationships. Our instructor, Bill Moyer, explained to us that in his work with men who had been violent towards their wives, he had discovered that only 3% of the violence was physical, 45% was verbal and the rest was psychological. The difference between most people and violent guys was that 3% area. He discovered that the men always felt that they were the victims when they attacked their spouses -- because their wives had threatened their self-image or their worldview. (This applies to government behavior, as well.) We are conditioned by society to "win" arguments, to "dominate," to have the last word, to have our opinions prevail. We are not generally taught that our perception of ourselves is not dependent upon other people's opinions or that if we actively listen to, and respect one another, we will learn from one another. We generally unconsciously start debating and defending our views, controlling and dominating others. The class helped my husband and I become aware of the way we communicated with each other, as well as our interactions within different groups, but where I really felt the difference was in my relationship with my children. It is so easy to adopt "control" mode with 3 little boys who want to go off in 3 different directions. It is a daily challenge for me to transform myself, to listen, to develop cooperative patterns within my home. Now I realize that they are my teachers, and our lifelong learning adventure is a cooperative one.
The old system depended on "experts" who imposed their ideas upon the many. Let us actively encourage the participation of all, so that we might learn from one another and go from a "smart" culture to a "wisdom" culture.
Let us nurture respect in all of our relationships and organizations. Let us recognize that our own well-being cannot be separated from the well-being of all people.