Daniel Pinchbeck is an author and modern philosopher who specialises in contemporary shamanism. The following text was taken from a conversation we had on evolution and economy. The remainder of the interview will be published in the coming weeks.
My view is that corporations are, in themselves, expressions of the rapid ongoing evolution of society and of human consciousness. Corporations are the most powerful social technologies humans have created. They can take ideas and convert them into tangible global infrastructures with incredible power and speed. They are artificial life forms built out of legal code, brand insignias, mission statements, and so on. Each corporation is like a mini-religion or cult that impacts and transforms the consciousness of those who work for it. I see corporations as a part of our evolutionary process.
However as artificial life-forms humans have created, we have given them the wrong directive. We inject them into a game we also created, called the stock market, and gave these artificial life forms one prime directive: To maximize shareholder value. Therefore, that is what they seek to do, even if that means buying politicians, corrupting environmental regulations, avoiding taxes, and so on. We can’t reform this system sufficiently. We need to redesign it so that corporations function as transparent orchestrations – organs in the collective body of humanity, who seek to maximize human welfare, support biodiversity and ecosystem health, and build resilient and participatory local communities.
Capitalism has united the world through a global infrastructure of transport, manufacturing, and communication. It was an evolutionary necessity. Now we must “transcend and include” it by establishing a new socioeconomic form.
We will inevitably see a profound transformation of our economic system over the next decades. The problem is that our current financial system is based on debt, under the monopoly control of a small private elite, and compels ecologically destructive behavior. Currently, the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is growing around 2% per year, while global debt is growing 7% a year. What this means in practice is that we must keep pushing unsustainable growth to try to satisfy the interest on debts. In fact, when we consider that we are running out of many resources on our finite planet, we no longer want this kind of growth, and we need to transition into a situation that is no longer based on rampant external development, but promotes inner growth – self-cultivation, self-mastery, connection with local community and environment. Either we will fundamentally transform our economic system to support cooperation and reduce economic inequality, or we will most likely see increasingly destructive environmental assaults and an eventual ugly collapse of society itself. The economy is ultimately a subset of the ecology, not the other way around.
The most radical form of currency/exchange is the “gift economy,” where indigenous cultures meshed people together through bonds of reciprocity – where, in Lewis Mumford’s terms, “the gift moves toward the empty place.” I have experienced a very thin form of gift exchange at the Burning Man festival – but even in that elite, spurious environment, there is still something moving about receiving presents from strangers, who want nothing in return accept a moment of acknowledgment and gratitude. I believe that we could “reverse engineer” our current situation to establish a system based on reciprocal exchanges of value and global networks of trust. I think the Internet could facilitate this and we have seen foreshadowings in platforms like CouchSurfing, and the ongoing transition from ownership as a desirable model to a model where you want to have something – a car, a room, a romantic partner – at the time when you desire it, and otherwise you don’t need or even want to be in possession of it.
We could do it in a few decades or less. Once the social tools exist that outmode or supersede the current system, people will sign on in droves – they will do it as soon as it makes their lives tangibly better, easier, and more fun.
The most valuable lesson we can learn from intact indigenous communities is that all life is sacred, and we have a role as human beings to serve and protect the greater community of life. I recommend Helena Norbert Hodge’s book Ancient Futures, on the Tibetan Buddhist culture of Ladakh, which established a long-term balance with its local ecosystem. People trusted each other. They didn’t seek to excessively compete with each other; arguments were always mediated; and maintaining a peaceful, dharmic existence was considered of much greater value than accumulating wealth. If we are going to attain a sustainable society, we are going to have to undergo a transformation of consciousness in a similar direction. Tools like currencies both reflect the prevailing form of consciousness and also help to continuously re-imprint it.
I think we need to develop a new media ecosystem that is focused on the solutions to the problems humanity has created – a media that accelerates progress in all areas, and celebrates true human achievement. Such a media can be integrated with social tools that allow people to get involved, immediately, in causes and actions they believe in. If you can find me $5 – 10 million, I will start developing this next week.