Finding the Silver Lining in the Economy

As the world’s economy goes up and down like a yo-yo on a string, responding to the slightest tug of news from Greece or elsewhere, it is perhaps useful to look for a proverbial silver lining.  Perhaps “silver” is a poor choice of metaphors here due to the association of silver with the perspective of money – a great deal of which is being lost (and, yes, gained) by these turbulent times.  Nonetheless, the notion of a silver lining hinges on the perspective that hidden in adversity may be opportunity; and, indeed, there is opportunity for the world in these turbulent times.

It is easy to argue, by perspectives spanning from Malthus to ecology, that current consumption is not sustainable on the planet (at lease as on the levels which have developed in today’s technocracies).  The planet groans under our assault on its resources.  Even more importantly, it groans under our beliefs (within technocracies) about what constitutes a successful life – having the most, conspicuous consumption, living vastly beyond necessity.

In the U.S. there is a saying: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”  It is a saying born of our genetics and our time.  We, as H. sapiens, are born with a fundamental belief that we need to acquire – and the more the better.  The fundamental belief that “there isn’t enough to go around” comes from eons of genetic preamble.  Indeed, in some parts of the world there still isn’t enough to go around (probably not in the area where you live as you read this on your computer).  However, the big picture of life on Earth today is that there is enough to go around, if we don’t live by the slogan “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

In primitive life it is understandable to believe that when you have the most stuff you are successful.  The stuff either protects you from the environment or is food.  But the situation changes in the developed world.  There comes a point where having stuff does not lead life to be any more sustainable, happy, or satisfying.  There comes a point where the stuff becomes things to manage, things to protect, things to generate negative emotions of envy, jealousy, and the like.  The story is endlessly retold yet rarely believed: money – past a certain point – does not buy happiness.  So, that brings us to one view of the silver lining in these turbulent economic times.  If the world is to succeed in its best way then we must grow past the comparatively primitive belief that success is measured in “toys”.   In this time of economic turbulence perhaps we can pause to reassess what makes life happy and what doesn’t.  We may learn that success as a human being (in life’s long view) is ultimately measured by what you can contribute, not by what you can take.

In these times there is another reason for feeling some hope.  Not so many generations ago the economic woes of Greece may have been broadly a cause for celebration.  Other countries may have looked at the potential fall as an opportunity for conquest; but, now the world’s economies are interconnected.  In the broad view, the World’s economic turbulence reveals that economic stability throughout the world is good overall for the world.  (Of course, there will always be those who crouch and wait.  Life is not “The Glad Game” – the fabulously optimistic view of Pollyanna.  Yet…)  We have become interdependent – and this is a good thing.  Much more than in the past, the perspective is not “them versus us”.  It is “us”.  Summits of the entire world’s economic leaders over what to do about a small country’s fiscal insolvency reveal perspectives of how the world is changing.  The trend is good.  The world’s ecology has long known that “we’re all in this together”.  Now we are learning it is true.

So, these are turbulent times.  Money will be lost (and gained).  But through it we will discover more about ourselves and how we must now lead the world if we (collectively) are to do well.  There is reason for hope.  If the world’s economy slows for a while maybe we will discover that less can be more.  If we discover that we are more interconnected maybe we will discover that “them” is “us”.  Evolution will take another step forward.

1 thought on “Finding the Silver Lining in the Economy

  1. John, you express an opinion here that I feel is gathering momentum – namely, that what may come out of this financial breakdown is a recognition of the need to find a new way. A new way that recognises that ‘growth’ untempered has all the sophistication of bacteria, and just as consuming with damaging consequences.

    For many years we have seen individual greed find justification in a new age where religion has been overtaken by economics – a new, self-justifying faith based on the accumulation of wealth at all costs, especially through ‘big win’ risky investments.

    For all the progressiveness and supposed human development it seems that we, as a species, quickly forget the the wisdom of years gone – “never a lender or a borrower be” reminds us of the human suffering that inevitably bears the brunt of this.

    We have become slaves to money – it has become an end in itself. What would Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare make of it all? They would perhaps say “I told you so” – as we have clearly not headed the warnings from Ebenezer Scrooge (in the timely, A Christmas Carol) nor from the emotionally detached Shylock’s “pound of flesh” (in The Merchant of Venice).

    Like most things – however “grown up” we may think we are, it seems to me that we nonetheless have to learn in the same way as children; we cannot be told, we have to find it out for ourselves. If the ‘silver lining’ is learning this lesson, then this is definitely a positive step forward for humanity – however unwelcome a hard slap in the face is, it is a wake-up call that has been long overdue.

    A great blog post – very thought provoking as ever!

    Is there any neuroscience behind the thought above that we learn like children (having to learn the hard way)?


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