Actualizado: 1 abr 2019
[Originally published in Spanish at Polis, Revista Latinoamericana, Volume 15, No 45, 2016]
Abstract: To be able to build a new vision of economics it is not at all sufficient to improve upon the goals and intentions of our current system and human behavior, while keeping the same underlying methodologies to reach a better system. In this essay I attempt to remove the cultural context –and unconscious collective neuronal array - of separation. Only by removing this context is it truly possible to open the space for a new way to think our economy, from a new neurons’ array we can call oneness or inter-being. To achieve this goal, I propose examining conventional economic thought in such a way that it does not miss any ethical integrity nor intelligence, while showing that it is nothing but a reflection of the separate conception of being.
Keywords: Separation, inter-being, cultural context, underlying narrative, specific neurons’ array
The script of "good against evil " in the narrative of separation
So far, as an economist committed to creating a new way of living and relating to each other and to nature, what I miss the most in our conversations is that there be true space for the new. With all the strength of my soul, I urgently need the space so that in an academic article I can speak from the sincere and vulnerable feeling of my being, instead of talking about the economy as an abstract phenomenon, alien, separate from me. As if the economy were not more than an object that I can describe on a blackboard or in a book, and has nothing to do with what has happened to me today in my life as it really is.
This space is urgent for me because otherwise I am short of breath, I am drowning in the need to think with maximum intelligence (which I imagine others impose on me and which I fear I may not be fully capable of satisfying). It suffocates me to be oppressed by the coldness of reason that limits the possibility of expression. Because what I long to express is beyond the possible in the current context, but it becomes possible within a new context.
There is need for space to question even and above all, what is our concept of ourselves. Because not even this concept is separated from our economic reality, but quite the contrary: it is the deepest basis of the matter. The rest of the issues are just symptoms. As long as we do not disrupt the context on which our society is built, we will never be able to build something new.
Undoubtedly, both I and the readers of this magazine are very clear that the neoliberal capitalist system prevailing in the world today is leading us, let us say it straightforwardly, to self-destruction. And it is not only the destructiveness of capitalism that hurts us, but it is also the ugliness, the dehumanization, the desecration, the standardization, the loss of the unique for a homogeneous and anonymous sameness.
The contribution I am seeking to make through this essay is that the problem with our economic system is deeper than an ideological issue, it is deeper than an issue of relating to nature as if it were a source of resources to be exploited. More profoundly, there is a cultural context, an underlying narrative, a specific collective arrangement of neurons that forms the basis of our modern economic system and way of life. This collective arrangement of neurons is actually a specific way of thinking, that is, a way of using our human mind, of which we are mostly unconscious.
The fact that it is unconscious is of great interest, since it is not possible to create something new from the same neural organization. To create something new it is also necessary to renew our collective neural arrangement, our unconscious cultural context. The underlying narrative -and by no means obvious- from which we move to create something. In other words, in order to create something truly new is by no means enough to improve the goals or intentions of our human system and behavior.
It is common to hear criticism of all kinds against economic science. Logically, many criticisms are quite harsh and well-founded. However legitimate and well-founded the criticisms may be, there is always an emotional aspect inseparably expressed, and we certainly have every right to indignation. Today, in fact, naming the phrase "neoliberal capitalism" is equivalent to naming the "devil" in the religious context. It is no coincidence that we have replaced the dogmatic religious belief of, say, a couple of centuries ago with an equally dogmatic belief in reason. If in a culture of faith in a punishing God the "devil" represents evil, in a culture of faith in human reason "neoliberal capitalism" represents the same thing: evilness.
It is no coincidence, either, that in both cultures there is more "evil" than anything else. In conventional religious culture there is more to it than anything else: guilt for self-perpetrated evil, fear for the permanent threat of greater evil that one is surely capable of committing, and terror because we obviously live surrounded by beings equally or more capable of terrible evil.
In our current rationalistic culture, the most there is neoliberal capitalism! It seems like an unstoppable plague that sprouts everywhere, even in Cuba (and not to mention China)... Is there anything that can stop it? Like priests who hold the keys to the kingdom, we the brilliant intellectuals who hold the keys to reason try to tell the believers what the true path is.
The absurd thing is that we intellectual priests have the same capitalist privileges as religious priests. We're bourgeois with a few exceptions. But it is not my point to demonstrate our incoherence, as if being coherent would bring out the real solutions. As if it were necessary, as in conventional religious culture, to live permanently improving upon oneself, cleansing oneself of one's sins, paying guilt for one's wickedness. Cleaning oneself of the "neoliberal capitalism" that one carries within.
In the culture of faith in Reason, if one does one's part, educates oneself in a disciplined way, reads many books, thinks independently and rigorously, one manages to get out of ignorance. One is cleansed of addictive consumerism. One cleanses oneself of watching television and blindly believing what the media say, evidently in the service of the interests of capitalism. Only then is one shocked to see the true extent of the corruption of the system, where the majority of the population are like sheep, submissive and ignorant slaves, in the service of the few who get rich.
At that moment, one can finally and rightfully declare oneself free from "neoliberal capitalism". From then on, evil is in others, and not in oneself. This is a great relief for our unconscious, educated by religion and convinced that we were conceived with evil, that is, that we come with factory failures (I am referring straight to the divine factory).
In short, the two cultures of Faith in God and Faith in Reason are extremely similar. In fact, they have the same underlying neural arrangement, and in this article I propose an unacceptable, even immoral, look. I propose that neoliberal capitalism has not been developed, nor indoctrinated, with Machiavellian intentions of domination and abuse. Rather, capitalism is a natural consequence of the conception of the Self in our culture. A culture that is not only modern, nor is it only human. It is the conception of the separate Self, which has been extensively and brilliantly exposed by Charles Eisenstein in his book The Ascent of Humanity. In this book Eisenstein traces the historical origin of the phenomenon of separation to the very origin of life and highlights all its manifestations, which have been increasing in intensity to this day.
If one conceives of oneself as a discrete and separate being, living with a lot of other beings who are also separate, in a universe that is also separate, if one accepts this conception of life (and we have done it on a neural level whether we like it or not), then obviously everything around me is at most indifferent to my person, and possibly hostile. So my natural response is to try to control as much as possible the adverse forces of nature. If the universe is at best indifferent and perhaps hostile, there is no guarantee that there will be enough for everyone; if there is no guarantee that you will have anything to do with me, even though we have sometimes cooperated with each other, sooner or later you and I will have to compete .
This happens even before the institution of the market takes shape: in this conception of the Self there is already the seed of competition, there is already the seed of the famous rational self-interest paradigm of economic thought. Therefore, the historical development at the ideological and institutional level of neoliberal capitalism was simply a matter of time. It was going to happen sooner or later. If some didn't develop it, others would.
I am saying, rightly, something completely inappropriate to say: I am saying that there is no "evil" in neoliberal capitalism. Surely reading this will be a source of indignation: am I defending those who know very well what they are doing when they abuse their power? am I naive or indifferent or insulated from the dramatic and terrible situations, including wars, all because of neoliberal capitalism? I understand the legitimate need to denounce neoliberal capitalism, to denounce indoctrination, the ideological basis of so much abuse and corruption. I'm in solidarity with it. I'm saying it's worth going deeper. As long as you don't change the script, you don't realize that another story is possible. Looked at from the old story of separation, nothing I say makes sense, so if you are not interested in contemplating a change of story, a change of unconscious neuronal organization, then everything I say will seem nonsense to you.
The conception of Being that we have adopted as a civilization is, for better or for worse, the deepest basis for generating realities, ideologies and social institutions. It also generates our civilizatory obsession with technological and economic progress. In truth, we have never been puppets of a powerful elite that manages the destiny of our civilization. Rather, even this elite has functioned as a means for the experience of separation to manifest itself in so many ways and with increasing intensity to this day. The true and only puppeteer is separation itself.
We know, at least we intuit with complete certainty, the soon death of our civilization based on separation. The conception of being that is being born, that has always been, and that has advanced - not exclusively - the Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, is that of the inter-being. In it, it is not that I am together with you, but that you and I "inter-are". That is, your being is within my being, and I am within every other being. The universe is inside me and that I'm in the universe too. Therefore, in this conception of being, the owners of Monsanto and of every large corporation, the ideologues of capitalism, the corrupt politicians, are all within me. This does not mean that there is an evil within me that I need to recognize, but more profoundly that evil does not exist, it is an illusion1.
We live essentially in a culture of separation, where some of us are necessarily better than others in virtue, in goodness. Where it's impossible for us to be the same. And one lives in the permanent internal battle to belong to the good guys, and others are the bad guys. Often one simply narrates a story, unconsciously, to convince oneself that one is good, and others are bad. Other times, one suffers intensely because one doubts one's own goodness. Some of us are arrogantly free from evil (though more profoundly it is true!), or by virtue of our personal merit we have managed to overcome much of our innate evil. Others, on the other hand, have not made enough merit, are not as virtuous as us, or come with even more factory failures than us.
Obviously I have to use sarcastic language to emphasize the absurdity.
Criticisms of the conventional economic paradigm abound, pointing to ethical flaws and lack of intelligence in economic thinking. These criticisms obviously fail, and will never succeed, in triggering a reversal of the economic paradigm by its practitioners and advocates. Why?
1) First, human reason can be used seriously, legitimately, to defend whatever one wants to defend. If one really (really) stands in the shoes of the other, one realizes that his thinking is not at all foolish, nor unethical.
2) No one is open to hearing something that comes with violence. The violence of saying "there's something wrong with you", or "you're stupid". More profoundly, no real change, no profound revolution is possible from that violence. Obviously, it is not possible to build peace by using violence as a means.
3) In fact, if one investigates seriously and carefully, if one really does this work, one discovers these two things. First of all, conventional economic thinking (no matter how much we don't like it) is not silly at all, it is actually brilliant. The brightest minds have actually devoted their efforts to developing it. Second, economic thinking, including neoliberal capitalism, is also free from ethical flaws.
I know, many people find it unacceptable for me to say what I am saying, and I say it responsibly.
The deeper problem is that being inside an underlying narrative, one is only able to see what is consistent with the narrative. It is not just about being "open-minded" to realize certain things. We live in a narrative of "good and bad" that began with religion, continued with the movies of the good fighting and defeating the evil (over and over again the same thing), and came to our present time where for many "the evil ones" are the big businessmen like Monsanto, and the politicians in their dark and corrupt power.
And on top of that we live with the illusion that one day we will defeat evil, defeat all 'Monsantos' and get rid of all corrupt politicians. Because, supposedly, our civilization works perfectly well if we get rid of the corruption, avarice, and lack of intelligence of some, doesn't it? Of course not!
That narrative of "good and bad" is the same narrative where one permanently punishes oneself, always seeking and finding something bad inside oneself. Guess what, you can always find what you're looking for. As I already mentioned: as long as you don't change your story you don't realize that another story is possible.
The contribution of Federico Aguilera Klink in Polis, Revista Latinoamericana N°41
In this section, I rely on Aguilera's article "Economics and Human Nature, Returning to Smith and Marx" published in Polis 41, which seems to me to be an indispensable work. Being an economist who studied for many years (Catholic University of Chile, University of Minnesota and finally University of Chicago), when I returned to Chile what I was most indignant about was precisely the phenomenon of indoctrination: How is it possible that through formulas, graphs and models a set of beliefs is being inculcated in the students? Beliefs that have nothing to do with scientific facts, beliefs that clearly harm human society and harm students themselves, without them even realizing it. This denunciation, which Aguilera brilliantly makes in this article, is undoubtedly necessary and urgent. In fact, I confess that for several years I myself tried unsuccessfully to write an article like the one Aguilera wrote. At least students should know that there is a serious questioning, that what they are taught as absolute truths is not such.
It is imperative to distinguish between beliefs adopted for the convenience of an ideology and indisputable scientific facts. But: that is if one accepts that scientific facts exist, a presumed truth that is already questionable. In much of our scientific truths and facts (in all of them in reality), there is necessarily an emotional charge that must be made conscious. It also happens that every abstraction of the phenomenon of life is necessarily incomplete and imperfect, simply because we are accustomed to the linear use of the human mind, and the phenomenon of life is fundamentally non-linear. So all truth, especially the complex truths about our world, are in fact and necessarily a reduction. A reduction that one chooses culturally and emotionally, according to one's preferences (but never objectively as we illusively believe).
Deeper and further in my interest is the following fundamental fact. Within a specific cultural sub-narrative, i.e. a specific neural arrangement, clear, indisputable scientific facts certainly exist and can be distinguished. And within another slightly different sub-narrative there are other indisputable, clear scientific facts. Both sets of scientific facts are totally inconsistent with each other. Why? Because it is always possible to use science and linear reasoning within any cultural sub-narrative.
That is why it is impossible to have a winner in the battle to be right, when the opponents inhabit different cultural sub-narratives. That is why it is very interesting to examine with consciousness which is the narrative that underlies both sub-narratives. Therefore, by knowing from within the economists' sub-culture, I was able to realize that, within their own narrative and sub-culture, there is no such indoctrination. There is no lack of integrity or intelligence in their postulates or in their way of thinking about economics. I know, this will be immensely difficult for the reader to accept, as long as the reader is inhabiting a different sub-narrative.
Already at the beginning of his article, Aguilera quotes De Waal: "Scholars of law, economics and politics lack the tools to look at their own society objectively. They rarely consult the extensive knowledge of human behavior accumulated by anthropology, psychology, biology or neurology..." (De Waal 2011 cited by Aguilera 2015: 1). (The bold is mine). While I sympathize with the observation that economists would gain a lot if they really listened to the contributions of other sub-narratives, I disagree remarkably that if they did, there would be such objectivity. In fact, I believe that all of us without exception have much to gain if we really listen to the other as a legitimate other, as Humberto Maturana says.
Aguilera describes the rational agent as "the one who follows a maximizing behavior without feelings or moral values that, in addition, ignores relationships with the environment and forgets that we depend on it" (Aguilera 2015: 2). This is a pretty irrational rational agent, you see? Who would consider such a completely irrational agent rational? Evidently, within the sub-narrative of conventional economic thought, the rational paradigm is seen in a different light (I will reflect on this point later).
Presented as a "law of nature" or as such (Schirrmacher 2014, quoted by Aguilera 2015: 2), the affirmation that the human being is selfish is in reality an expression, one more manifestation, of the conception of the separate Self. That is why it is no accident that in evolutionary biology the view has been adopted that the gene is a selfish entity occupied solely with its own survival. Of course, there is no other way out than to accuse: "All trappers hide their traps..." (Ibid.). No other view of economists is possible inside this sub-narrative.
According to Aguilera, "rules (...) are often described as'undesirable intervention' except when those rules benefit capital, i.e. the powerful" (Aguilera, 2015: 2). Looking at it from the outside, this is clearly what we see: permanently, in crisis or not, the beneficiaries of public policy decisions are always the powerful and capital. However, from the inside, the reality is different: I am a witness to the intense studies and honest initiatives that seek to benefit the people, which seek for example equal opportunities and an equitable distribution of wealth.
What happens is what you and I feel from the outside is that these goals will never be achieved within the common narrative of separation. Not only within the conventional economic sub-narrative there is no possible solution, neither in the anti-capitalist (and certainly separate) sub-narrative there will ever be the true and profound solutions we require.
In the anti-capitalist narrative there is also a hint of naivety: to see repeatedly, over and over again, all economists as people with bad intentions, who are only interested in the capital and power of the powerful. At the same time, it is to look at life in a terribly pessimistic way, since if you adopt that sub-narrative you have no choice but to look at the majority as subjugated, impotent, incapable people, while the prevailing and winning vision, in permanent ascent, is the neoliberal capitalist, regardless of the inexhaustible efforts of us anti-capitalist intellectuals.
Mishan, quoted by Aguilera, notes that there is a "need for a radical change in the usual way of looking at economic events" (Mishan 1971 quoted by Aguilera 2015: 2). And Aguilera adds: "It is a question of working towards the objective of integration in the face of the current situation of complete dissociation" (Aguilera 2015: 2). Exactly, we are talking about a radical change: it is about dissolving the illusion of separation. And it is extremely interesting to note that the observation of separation as a cultural context is emerging everywhere (for example, Aguilera himself and many others have observed the illusion of human and economic separation from nature).
Aguilera would like the thinking of the "economist to go in favor of human beings and the community, the contrary is what we are currently experiencing, based on violence, and it only leads to more violence and more suffering in most countries and for the majority of people" (Ibid.). The only thing left to include in his beautiful and sincere desire for peace and non-violence is the economists themselves.
Why have the many warnings about the disassociated economy in which we live been systematically ignored or disqualified? So far, the answer offered has been essentially ethical, that is, that the economists, practitioners and defenders of this dissociated economy simply have evil in them. The answer to this essay is new: these warnings are ignored or disqualified because they do not make sense within the sub-narrative of conventional economics, and also because they come with a violence, a superiority, that does not help to open the doors by listening.
The dissociated economy has blindly and foolishly believed that it offers a "universal rationality" (Aguilera 2015: 3). Indeed, I have also observed the same thing: this is what the dissociated economy believes within its sub-narrative; this is what I thought when I was inside this story as a conventional economist (this rationality of the conventional economic paradigm is so beautiful that I was madly in love with it). But the observer needs to have his own idea of "universal rationality" to be able to make this observation.
As Galbraith says in Aguilera's account, economic fraud is innocent, "those who participate in it do not explicitly recognize it as such...". (Galbraith 2004 cited by Aguilera 2015: 4). I totally agree. Within its own narrative, fraud is not fraud. I am not being sarcastic here, but I am actually saying that it is not a fraud. (That's to stand on another narrative).
I am fascinated by the quote "...mental health professionals work with people who have similar discourses" (Fernández 2013 quoted by Aguilera, 2015: 4), with regard to the delirious behavior of economists. It fascinates me because the humorous outrage interprets me. It fascinates me because for years I have struggled to denounce the delirium in others, fighting so that those who do not want to listen to me can hear me, without seeing my own delirium. And it fascinates me because delusional behavior makes sense whenever there is an objective reality that the delusional ignores or denies. But if that objective reality is relativized, it remains in doubt who is really the delusional one.
While it is true that capitalism itself favors the development of a "alienated man", long before capitalism existed, the alienation of humanity through its conception of being and separate life was already under development.
Making room in mainstream economic thinking
I will try here to open the space to conceive, to relate a story where mainstream economic thought is intelligent and ethical, even if we do not like it. Opening this space means at the same time a deeper look, which allows us to envision from where is it possible to create something new. Of course, from the inter-being, and from a new neural arrangement, that is to say a new way of thinking.
It is true that conventional economic thinking has adopted an assumption that many of us find abhorrent: that the main motive behind people's decisions is their individual, selfish interest. De Waal already says it quoted by Aguilera, that "we are less selfish and less rational than what economists suppose we are" (De Waal 2007 in Aguilera, 2015: 6).
All kinds of perfectly logical and obvious arguments have been put forward to point out the absurdity of such an assumption. However, the results have not been as expected. The use of the force of reason has not been enough to change the intellectual foundations of our society, much less to stop the proliferation of neoliberal capitalism everywhere.
For the most part, as humanity, we continue to act as if each of us were a separate being, in a predominantly hostile universe, where it may be safest to act in competition with others for personal benefit or at most for the benefit of those closest to us.
Where if in a certain moment of the day a circumstance happens to me that bothers me, I act from the notion that it must be because life around me is indifferent or hostile to me. Therefore, my usual reaction will be to take extreme precautionary and control measures to avoid situations that bother me. And yet when those situations keep repeating themselves and increasing in intensity, despite all my efforts to avoid them, I begin to wonder what I can do to make it different - how about trusting life? In my case, it was only when I got bored of suffering that I began to have real trust in life.
In particular, as I will argue further on, the criticism of the falsity and absurdity of the assumption of selfish behavior is not effective. Serious economists do not believe that human behavior is exclusively selfish. Nor do they consider the pursuit of personal well-being to be entirely tantamount to selfishness. Neither do they consider their models to be necessarily excluding compassionate or unselfish behavior. They simply consider that the rational paradigm based on self-interest is a good paradigm for understanding the prevailing behavior of the economy, for developing models that have a high analytical power and a high predictive power. In other words, criticism of the falsehood and absurdity of selfishness in the postulates of economics is not effective, it is not received, it is not really considered.
An original review of conventional economic thinking involves looking at religious belief in reason. Revealing the absurdity in this shows at the same time the absurdity of considering that those who defend the economic system do so out of evil or dishonest personal interests. That look is the absurd look where the one who looks is superior, smarter, better person.
Religious faith in reason has in worship a specific form of intelligence which is the logical, linear intelligence. This is a form of masculine intelligence: useful but incomplete, exciting but unable to grasp the phenomenon of life since our life manifests itself in a fundamentally non-linear reality.
Masculine intelligence is characterized by considering observed phenomena as external, as realities independent of the observer. It sees the universe as a constitution of objective blocks of physical reality, one on top of the other. In conventional science it is totally unacceptable to question objective reality. However, if one seriously scrutinizes one can realize that this supposed objective condition of the external world is nothing more than a cultural belief (there are many thinkers who have been saying the same thing, in different ways, such as Maturana and Varela). A way of looking at the world, of thinking about the world, which is in accordance with our underlying unconscious inner culture, but which need not be true.
Focus of economic science on material well-being
Economic science is at its core the study of the welfare of society. Contrary to what is commonly believed, economic science does not understand welfare as an exclusively material or quantitative phenomenon. Economic analysis does not restrict its attention to material goods alone. It may also include intangible assets, such as the state of environmental quality, or the scenic beauty generated by a forest. Economists do not ignore that well-being or happiness is a complex phenomenon, and that there can be many things that affect it. Economic science is wrong not because it is exclusively quantitative, but because it is exclusively intellectual.
Nevertheless, according to economic thinking it is reasonable to focus on the material aspect of welfare. To illustrate this point, consider a rational individual whose income has been increased, so that his possibilities for decisions and actions have expanded. He now has a wider range of possible choices: he has the same possible choices he had before his income increased, plus a set of new possible choices. Therefore, it cannot be that his well-being decreased. After all, if the individual so wishes he can still make the same decision he or she would have made before the increase in income (since this is still part of the possible choices).
Therefore, it is concluded that the more money an individual has, the higher his or her level of well-being. This is called in economic jargon the Weak Axiom of Revealed Preferences (WARP).
As a result, economists consider it appropriate to focus their attention on the material or quantifiable aspect of well-being. For example, the public policies that are supposed to serve the general welfare of the entire population are largely determined by how they positively or negatively affect people's income levels. My point here is to stress that this line of thinking is reasonable. That it's not the underlying problem that it was built with bad intentions, nor that it is foolish.
One could discuss the psychological edges of the Weak Axiom of Revealed Preferences. To name but one example, the fact of having new possible alternatives to choose from can be a source of stress or anguish. But within this narrative this type of edge should be overcome by a rational person, at least on an evolutionary level with the passing of time.
A deeper critique would be to look at the feedback effect on behavior. In other words, if we adopt a science and culture that considers that having a higher level of income is associated with having a higher level of well-being, what kind of effects does this have on the behaviour of ordinary people? It is quite obvious that the pursuit of happiness in our societies today is being pursued mostly through the pursuit of increasing the level of income (to top it all off, with very poor results for a majority). In short, an idolization and obsession with having more money. Anyway, we have more than enough arguments to point out what a bad idea the dogma of material welfare is. I do not need to insist on that in this paper.
A much more subtle point that is always overlooked, is of more interest to me. It's about the separate view of things. The view of separation as an unconscious cultural phenomenon. In the case of the Weak Axiom of Revealed Preferences, it is considered that other possible consequences on happiness can be set aside, since one analyzes material well-being separately without fear of making a mistake. The very fact that our mentality tends to list the possible variables that affect happiness is in itself a linear, separate way of thinking that leaves out a wealth of situations that escape linear reason. Not even an analysis that admits complexity and interrelationships of effects is sufficient to capture the essence of a phenomenon such as happiness, which is not only complex, but also lies beyond the analytical language. In other words, every time we try to reason analytically about happiness as if it were a concept its essence is lost, it disappears from the conversation.
In any case, today there is a conception rooted in our culture, according to which in order to achieve happiness we need to collect money. For example, when we feel compassion for people the first thing we think about is giving them money. Or if someone suffers emotional damage, the most common response is to compensate with money. If we care about the level of happiness of our country, then our rational response is that we want the country to grow economically, that is to say increase its income level, and at the same time, of course, we care about improving equity in the distribution of income. I call attention to the phrase level of happiness, because it again highlights our obsession with linearizing everything in life. Evidently, a conversation that considers happiness as a phenomenon that has magnitude, levels, is a conversation where the most subtle and mysterious part of the phenomenon of happiness is left out. If we think that happiness is a quantity, we are lost as humanity seeking to increase it according to the list of factors that affect it.
It is not my intention to reject material wealth, nor to ignore the urgent needs of people living in misery, on the contrary. My point is to illuminate our obsession with money, as a profound consequence of our linear and separate mentality (and not a consequence of the greed of some, greed is just another symptom of separation2).
Idealization of rational behavior
The rational paradigm of behavior is the basic assumption in conventional economic science. Even in alternative economic models (the so-called Behavioral Economics current) that recognize the lack of rationality in real-world people, this is implicitly seen as a psychological weakness, which should be overcome by the development of our intelligence, if not by the very evolution of our species. By the way, economists are not so naive as to think that real people are fully rational, in fact they are interested in models of irrationality. Rather, they consider the rational paradigm of behavior to be a good paradigm for understanding human behavior because of its analytical and predictive power.
Modern culture mainly considers rationality as an ideal characteristic of human behavior. It is expected that as humanity progresses, its behavior will approach fully rational behavior. This is rarely explicitly argued, it is considered so obvious that it is not even subject to discussion.
The idealization of the rational paradigm of human behavior is natural in a culture of religious faith in reason, which is characterized by seeing the whole as fragmented, separated, and understanding phenomena in a linear manner. Our culture of faith in reason is also characterized by the conviction that it knows a lot, and what it does not know is small, or relatively easy to grasp by the structures and concepts of what is already known.
Moreover, a non-rational understanding of human behavior, within a culture of faith in reason, is quite strange, like a Martian on Earth. In fact, tautologically, models of rational behavior work perfectly from the analytical point of view (since they are within their own context!). In contrast, models that accept non-rational behavior are analytically weak. It is strange to understand non-rational behavior in an underlying context of faith in reason, as if only the observer is capable of reasoning but not those who are observed by the observer.
Rational behavior can only make sense within the known. But no matter how great our knowledge grows, the unknown will never decrease in magnitude. The unknown is a permanent presence in our existence; how could our behavior be rational when faced with the unknown? We often have to make decisions without knowing much about the possible consequences of our actions.
Economists believe that the unknown can be reduced to random variables with probability distributions. Even their most advanced methods allow for distributions of unknown probabilities, which the decision-maker learns about as he or she makes decisions. In other words, economists "do not ignore the unknown". But their focus on faith in reason limits and reduces the extent, complexity and mystery of the unknown back to a linear phenomenon, encompassable by reason and models. In reality, we often do not even know that there is a course of action to be developed, that it is not possible to anticipate. Programmed by the linear mentality, obsessed by what you already know, we imagine a set of possible actions and sometimes we are distressed because within all the possibilities we are able to imagine, there is no conceivable solution. Is this a natural phenomenon of the very fabric of the universe, or is it a lack of rationality on our part, which we solve as we evolve and become more intelligent? I hope that this paper will serve to seriously consider the first answer.
Purely rational behaviour is simply unrealistic. For example, for behavior to be consistent with the rational paradigm, decisions must be consistent, that is, not subject to contradictions among them. Whoever knows himself knows that it is not difficult to find multiple contradictions in human behavior, even in people who act with impeccability. This is not a mistake that needs to be corrected. It is really about the permanent movement of the universe and the feminine essence of life, always subject to unexpected changes.
Usually people with an awakened spirit are accused of being idealistic or utopian. What could be more idealistic and utopian than a completely rational human being?
In short, it is absurd for a human being to attempt becoming fully rational. Human existence moves in the multidimensionality of the universe, while reason is restricted to moving linearly. In any case, we are absurd beings who illusoriously see ourselves as being coherent and serious. There's nothing left to do but laugh at ourselves.
As I said before, serious economists do not believe that human behavior is exclusively selfish. Nor do they consider the pursuit of personal well-being to be entirely tantamount to selfishness. Neither do they consider their models to be necessarily dismissive of compassionate or unselfish behaviour. They simply consider that the rational paradigm based on self-interest is a good paradigm for understanding the prevailing behavior of the economy, and for developing models that have a high analytical power and a high predictive power.
Nevertheless, scientific economic thinking considers individual interest, in one way or another, as the primary determinant of human behaviour. Our culture simply puts too much faith in the concept that the individual exists for himself; we have never stopped to contemplate a notion of co-existence. The human being is understood by economic models as an individual who makes his decisions according to what is most desirable for him. That is to say, the human being makes his decisions in such a way as to increase his personal happiness. After all, who could make a decision that would diminish her happiness? Note that this is harmless reasoning. In other words, if one emphasizes the notion of the individual (which is inescapable in a culture where the being is conceived in separation), there is nothing strange about considering that the human being makes his decisions in order to increase his own happiness.
A hypothetical individual within a traditional economic model may well be someone who is compassionate, who sincerely cares for poor people and who is affected by the state of environmental quality; and yet, he can perfectly make his decisions in order to increase his own happiness. In his case, his happiness is affected by more than his own level of consumption, but in the end it is still his own happiness. After all, who could make a decision that would diminish his happiness? By this I mean that what we see from the outside as selfishness, from the inside of economic thought may well not be so. More profoundly, the specific neural arrangement that conceives the separate being necessarily leads to a selfish understanding of the human being. One can foresee that within the conception of the separate being there is no room for anything but selfishness.
Ultimately, any attempt to rationalize a compassionate, cooperative view of the human being that maintains the paradigm of "making individual decisions in order to increase one's own happiness" falls short, as the essence of compassion is lost within the individualistic narrative of the separate self.
Compassion, a feeling that we have always felt from the inside, only makes sense in the conception of the inter-self.
In short, this is an invitation not to blame economists for assuming that we are more selfish and more rational than we really are. (And this invitation is definitely not born out of an attempt to be kind towards economists). More profoundly, this is an invitation to the new narrative of the inter-being, born out of a passion to be part of the co-creation of a new world.
Clearly we are all concerned about selfishness in our civilization. We are hurt, bothered, harmed by other people's selfish behavior. We are outraged that selfishness is legitimised as a scientific reality of human behaviour. And, if we are concerned about the presence of selfishness outside of us, we surely have some concern about our own selfishness.
When we declare that humans "are less selfish than economists suppose", we seem to accept that selfishness in our behaviour is inevitable, so is it a question of being reasonably selfish, but not as selfish as those who abuse? Within the conception of the separate self, selfishness is certainly inevitable. In a new story of inter-being, where evil is illusion, selfishness is no longer something to be avoided or controlled or defeated within oneself.
Selfishness becomes something completely healthy that is nothing more and nothing less than love for oneself.
That selfishness has no need to be defeated or controlled. In the story of inter-being, interest in other humans (and in all forms of being in the universe) merges with self-interest, they become one. In other words, in the story of inter-being no one has to overcome his own selfishness.
The form of selfishness that we see today as harmful, abusive, destructive, toxic is not a human factory failure. It is a callus that we formed in the skin of our being, when in the face of the traumatic experience of separation we did not know how to trust life and had to find ways to defend ourselves. A traumatic experience that began at the very moment of our birth on a personal level, and began millennia ago on a cultural level. A traumatic experience that heals when the soft truth of life's union is restored.