Capitalism is dead. Socialism never could have worked- who else but the capitalists could afford it anyway. Communism ended in tears, toil, blood and sweat. Bringing us to a vacuum that has debilitated the influencers leaving the field open to anarchists and opportunists. At worst. At best, to those with little sense of direction for the future.
Maybe it is time to go back to the drawing board. Maybe it is time we consciously and cognitively made a choice about ourselves as a people and as humanity. Maybe we give ourselves the option to design and build the house we would want to live in, with others. “The house that Jack built” was never meant to last, we may need a new rhyme for our times. For the time we have left. To make more time, maybe.
Simple is what works, we have seen, after designing elaborate algorithms to sort out complex reality. We may need complex tools, but when it comes to scaled adoption, only the simplest solutions work. We are a simple people. Not linear, as assembly lines taught us to become, but simple. Give us our basics, and we will muddle along in any patterns that are set for us…for a long while.
So what are these basics that will form the nodes of the world we want to design? Our ideal world, not quite utopian, but so close to it that we know we can, but don’t. Perfection, Equilibrium, God (informed, formed or formless) are all a hand’s width away in our world. To attain it would be to tip over to the other side and we may have to start all over again.
Humans need three things: A Quest, A Rest and some Reason. These are the three pillars on which one will have to construct the future. This is what we have learnt from who we are — and when we build, we will have to build for these truths.
To change, we must be smarter than we are — and we are not that — yet.
Do we seek to be smarter than we are? Clearly yes, as the quest for AI and embedded toolkits informs. Do we know what it means to be smarter? Clearly not. We are little children, building with the toys we have to hand, not knowing if it is a chemistry kit that will blow up, or a lego kit that will do some cleaning for us if we just embed a chip and a sensor. Do we know if it is smarter to create an intelligence that can learn and eventually become smarter than us? No, but we do it anyway. Just to see — and that is the yearning for the Quest that we cannot change. That is what was built into us, when we were designed. This we have to acknowledge as we build a new economic order. What else do we seek? To be the designer — to create things in our image, and possibly better. Things that make our lives better and easier. The urge to Rest has driven all that we call progress so far. To out do the designer who we often call god in all its names and versions (whether it is an evolutionary system or a team sitting in interminable meetings or one genius force is immaterial here). We seek to rest, and to find ways to make life easier for ourselves. At least most of us do. Ask the farmer leaning on his spade, looking at the far away clouds. Ask the office worker on a cigarette break. Ask the writer wasting away the day on twitter. Or the one with the tough day, who finally sinks into a place of rest at the end of the day. As much as food or water, we seek our rest. But more than rest, there is the thing that will not let us rest — and that is reason. Our existential questions come from that, our sleepless nights come from that, our curiosity about the world and consequent actions come from that — we need a reason to do things, to be able to find our purpose, and thence our passion, and then onwards to a plan, from which we drive all action. This reason has been fundamental to all that we have done as humans and humanity. If we cannot find reason, we have created reason via social constructs — a family, a tribe, a land, a religion. Anything that gets us away from the void that we know and refuse to acknowledge. There has to be a reason, or we would go mad. And so we create our delusions.
Everyday Indian philosophy tells us that all of the world is Maya — a word that carries a depth of meaning — each overlapping with the other — wealth, attachment and delusion. We translate it to mean virtual, for we see the physicality of the world, and assume that the truism handed down to us refers to this physical world which then must be ‘not’ — therefore virtual. In my humble opinion, it refers to the constructs of our mind. The realities we construct to build and sustain our worlds.
Such as economic systems.
The ones we created were based on assumptions. Assumptions that humans do things for their own good, and we called it being rational. But humans are often stupid and not rational. Or would anyone ever get drunk and have a hangover? Or would one ever go adventuring? It is not rational to court danger. We imposed these delusions upon ourselves and got trapped in our own assumptions. Worse, we took a step forward, and started making predictions on the basis of these assumptions. All of our accounting systems are based on an Italian system formulated in the fourteenth century that tells us to assume that the future is already here, and it is rosy. It is designed to reassure our creditors and our investors into giving us money — another delusion or belief system we created to facilitate exchange. Our business plans, indeed our books of accounts are built on flimsy ground. A house of cards that often falls to the ground, and we have the cheek to call it the boom and bust cycle. It deserves a harsher name, for it is a culling. A sophisticated culling no doubt, for there are rescues for those who have friends in powerful places, and none for those who are bent under the burden of the powerful. It is — again — the sustaining of another delusion — the concept of power. Finally, we built our economic systems for growth. To be bigger, better, faster was to create value for society, and was rewarded with profits — which furthered growth. But as we know from nature, from our very own bodies that untrammelled growth is a cancer, not progress.
We have been living a series of lies.
We have been seeking a series of lies.
And before we start to build afresh, we need to know ourselves, our needs and our truths. However unpleasant, the truth is what will sustain.
Maybe that is all we seek — to survive, to sustain and to simplify.
Then, that is what we must build.
[These are notes for a larger argument I’m building. This is not well ordered writing, yet.]
(Meeta Sengupta is a lapsed banker, manager, teacher, writer, speaker, advisor and now seeks refuge in writing. She is @meetasengupta on twitter)