A Different Place

By David Laveman | Bio 

David Korten certainly seems to have a grasp of the timely and seemingly intractable problems we face and a platform from which to raise critical questions. I read his book “The Great Turning” shortly after it was published and I found it provocative in the best sense of the word, laying out in clear relief the choices in front of us. His recent posts on “Beyond the Bailout” on Serene Ambition and on the New Economy initiative on his website spurred me to begin a deeper inquiry, the highlights of which I’d like to share here. 

Although Korten’s analysis of the source of our current economic problems makes sense, I do not see much by way of articulating the real implementation trade-offs, conflicts and behavioral reactions that his ‘New Economy’ solution will trigger. For instance, even on a smaller scale we can see the enormous reaction that would take place if the government bails out homeowners who are being foreclosed and do nothing for those who are struggling to pay their mortgage at considerable sacrifice. It becomes a slippery slope very quickly. In the rough and tumble of implementing this plan (and not that one), our everyday survival-based psychology will be on full display (right/wrong, good/bad, domination/avoid domination, etc.). Thus in the current environment, solutions are doomed to creating winners and losers (maybe even sore losers, and perhaps even sore losers with money and power and no desire to get beyond their reactivity who can clog up the works). Survival situations bring out all the shadow elements lurking in the background. 

We need to enter into all solution-based dialogues from a different place. 

Interestingly, Korten mentions this in the last two paragraphs of his Tikkun article excerpted below.

As we consider the need for bold initiatives by visionary leaders, we must also keep in mind the deeper questions that rarely find their way into political debates or public discourse: What is the source of true happiness and well-being? What is the purpose of economic life? What does it mean to be human on a living spaceship with finite resources? What is the human role in the great drama of evolution’s continued unfolding? These are deeply spiritual questions that call us to an epic quest of discovery and the great work of redesigning our societies to bring forth the world of our shared human dream. There is a need for people of faith to step forward to make these questions a part of our public conversation through initiatives such as the Network of Spiritual Progressives and through our churches, synagogues, mosques, and our other religious and spiritual institutions.

From my view, the problem is exponentially compounded by the fact that we as a culture are out of time—really out of time. So I am not sure what to do other than dramatically heighten the urgency with which we ask the core questions both privately and publicly. The ones Korten suggests above are a good place to start.

As a person who is involved with the American financial industry and who hopes to profit from some of what financial engineering makes possible, I am well aware that it is fashionable to point an accusatory finger at Wall Street (with plenty of good evidence) as the villain in the current tragedy. So why might I be interested in joining a dialogue that would be aimed at dismantling the institution? I trust that what follows will give you a better idea of the dialogue I hope will become much more public—one that I think is woefully missing from our national debate.

As a preliminary comment, I think Korten’s use of the term ‘New Economy’ obfuscates the conversation rather than clarifies it.  That term first emerged in the late ‘90s to indicate an era of unrivaled global prosperity driven by the mania about how the Internet was going to change how we conduct commerce. More recently, media like CNBC are using ‘New Economy’ in almost a directly opposite way to indicate an economy that is massively de-leveraging, causing yet-to-be understood dislocations. It seems Korten wants to use the same "New Economy" term to denote a total re-vision of the institutional underpinnings of the economy. I’m sure there is a better moniker out there under which to make his argument. 

Secondly, the traditional role of Wall Street (and our banking system broadly defined) is to make available a smooth flow of capital, investment dollars for innovative new enterprises, and widely available credit. That role is critical to the functioning of our Main Street economy. In a somewhat oversimplified way, one could state that the problem with Wall Street was an over-rich incentive system that was totally based on front-end selling (and not on longer-term success) and an explosion of financial engineering that exceeded anyone’s ability to adequately understand its interrelated and subterranean features. While the all too human failings of greed run amuck is a Wall Street institution of its own, the equally human failing of “ignorance, and I’m proud of it” is not an uncommon Main Street attitude. Candidly, I can’t really get too excited about a Wall Street vs. Main Street polemic.
I think Korten is pointing at some key “spiritual” and consciousness questions that beg to be addressed. It is this deeper inquiry that I have serious personal curiosity in, and it is also in this domain that I believe we don’t have anything even approaching a sufficient public dialogue. I think the core issue we need to grapple with has to do with the very nature and level of our rational discursive consciousness. Some initial questions that could be front and center in such a dialogue might be:

  • How do we avoid the very human tendency to look for ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ / victims and exploiters without sweeping under the rug the real abuse our current systems lead to?
  • What really blocks our "consumer" culture from getting in touch with deeper reservoirs of intrinsic joy and wellbeing? Why do we consistently confuse the acquisition of "things" and their transitory pleasures with the winning of authentic inner freedom?
  • Why are there so few leaders who have sufficient spiritual literacy and depth that they can effectively communicate across exoteric religious lines and touch the core of our yearning for higher values, noble causes and willingness to take on personal disciplines (and ‘sacrifices’ in the elevated sense of that word) to achieve them?
  • Are we too focused on the outer world, setting up another round of endless debate about reforming outer institutions only, without the needed balance to seriously look at our inner world?
  • What does the role of our unconscious (both the personal and collective "shadow" elements and the deeper "transpersonal’ strata) play in the current meltdown? And how can a re-vision of our relationship to these inner realities help us toward creating a sustainable future?
  • How can relating to a ‘power greater than our ego’ be brought to bear on the issues we face without tripping hardwired conventional religious prejudices? Can we be open enough to engage in a real inquiry into what this greater power is and how it can be brought to bear?

In all this there is a significant spiritual / consciousness turning that we have collectively and individually (speaking for myself) yet to make—but which we are clearly on the path to making. In these times, we are all invited to dig deeper to confront the magnitude of what is unfolding before us.

 © 2008 Dave Laveman. All rights reserved.

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