A Perfect Storm of Crisis
As humanity wrestles with the impending storm of crisis, we are discovering that all our cherished institutions and ways of seeing the world are in dire need of fundamental transformation. As we analyze the difficult problems we are faced with and trace them back to their origins, we are discovering that isolated solutions that only have a single social, politic, technological or economic dimension do not work. The nature of a multi-dimensional problem is that the solution must tackle mutiple subproblems concurrently, lest progress in one area is negated by forces acting in another. Indeed, solving only one dimension of the overall problem can even worsen the problem in another dimension. Multiple dimensions must be addressed concurrently.
Isolated solutions cannot work when the problem is global in nature and this requires an inter-disciplinary approach. For example, progress in the interdisciplinary study of neuroeconomics enlightens us to the biological roots of our economic problem.
Figure 1: Conflict Systems Neurobehavioral Model (Source: Gerald Cory Jr.)
The Dual Motive Theory (DMT) and Conflict Systems Neurobehavioral (CSN) model of Gerald Cory Jr postulates that two fundamental archetype neural circuits of our social brain called respectively Ego (self-interest) and the Empathy (Other-interest) are in conflict with each other and the tension that is produced between them is resolved by the higher order executive functions of the neocortex and prefrontal cortex. In other words, our social interactions are a constant dynamics between fulfilling our own needs and the needs of others. This is obvious when we watch animals in nature. Predators will kill others in order to feed their own families. By doing so, they are looking after their own needs (killing the prey) and the needs of others (their family). At it’s root then, our social brains appear to be wired to consider the sacredness of self as well as the sacredness of others.
The mainstream economic system has managed to develop in a lopsided fashion, focusing only on the self-interest side and ignoring what DMT and CSN models tell us is our other fundamental half. By creating an economic system which ignores the Other-interest nature of our brains, we have inadvertently and effectively brought about an out-of-balance society. Business is an abstraction and all those who partipate in it are real human beings, brought up by parents and influenced by society. We all have other-interest in groups that we surround ourselves with. We have all had some caretaker who gave to us selflessly so that we could grow up to become independent adults. We all know that when we were born we were helpless against the world and if not for the love of our mother, we would not be here today. In short, we have all been personally and deeply gifted by someone else’s pure love and benevolence; we deeply know what other-interest is.
Rediscovering the Sacred
What do we really know about our reality? Our vast libraries of knowledge, as enormous as they may seem, will always be finite within a world of infinite potential knowledge. Life is a kind of game in which we, who are part of nature look back upon nature herself in a kind of self-reflexive game. Yet somehow, amidst all this wonder, we have transformed the world into a mundane one.
Buddhist scholar David Loy reflects that what we are confronting in this perfect storm of economic, energy, social and environmental crisis is a very serious problem at this most basic humanistic level – the alienation of the child from the eternal mother, of the human being from nature. Such profoundly deep alienation cannot be solved through technological, social nor political intervention alone. What gives rise to our misaligned actions is the distorted way in which see the world, like a magnifying lense which mishapes our perceptions. A truly sustainable world can only evolve when we, the experiencers of a distorted mundane world remove our distortions and experience the sacred at every moment. We are faced with a crisis in value and to solve it will take nothing less than getting to the existential roots of our humanity.
DMT and other new alternative economic models offer new ways of seeing one aspect of our cultural existence; a way to fix our economic system – solutions based upon the balancing of self-interest with other-interest. To create the humanistic conditions for our innate compassion and wisdom to arise will require a focused effort at removing the mundane and ubiquitous habitual patterns of self-interest that permeate our lives- patterns which create the distorting lense that replaces the sharp clarity of reality with a vague and fuzzy view.
Technological fixes can only fall short of the holistic answer. They only create a revolving door which distracts us from the true problem. It will not be enough to simply replace fossil fuels with clean energy because the emptiness that lays at the heart of consumerism will continue to find alternate routes towards resource depletion – we will simply consume more green products, more green energy. If we really want to solve the problem of rapidly diminishing resources, we are have to go to a painful place of letting go of our engrained habits of unsustainable consumption. If we do take that more difficult path, then we may be forced to realize that many of the activities of our materialistic lifestyle have been designed to fill an inner emptiness which is intrinsically impossible to satisfy through material consumption.
Through the sheer ubiquity of the unsustainable institutions we have created, we have made it almost impossible for our children to even question the status quo. Marketing has become a means of mass control to which very few have the fortitude of mind to resist or to question the norms accepted by their peers. By the harmless-appearing act of allowing our children to indulge in the “culture” of the modern world, we are giving tacit permission to the amorphous powers of the elite to condition them into vacuous consumerism.
The slow and gradual process of conditioning is also the gradual movement away from the sacred, transforming it into the mundane losing touch with the very essence of life itself. In so doing, our modern society has become a soulless, directionless sea of humanity drifting lost and confused, constantly mistaking anguish for happiness. It is clear that we must urgently find our path back to the sacred experience of all life. Unless we address the intangible and immaterial ghosts that haunt us, our material problems that have arisen from them will consume us all.