The Flaw of Our Economics is Ontological

3 04 2011

All modern theories of economy are based on the idea that the person is completely a self-contained, isolated individual. This concept of the self comes out of the Enlightenment philosophy of the West (esp. Descarte, Hobbes and Locke). It has led to the prominent axioms of our understanding of economy today: individualism, competition, a monoculture globalization.
If you change this self concept, you will change the economy, as Herman Daly succinctly explains in the article clipped here. Rather than identify oneself as an unconnected “atom,” identify oneself as constituted in one’s relationships. Even as a business person, I am who I am in my relations to fellow workers, suppliers, customers, investors, and not only in my non commercial relations such as family, friends, neighbors, etc.
Such an “ontological” distinction (i.e. as to what is this thing called “my self?”) has huge implications for economics. Am I a discrete entity, or more of a localized field of consciousness?
Many people who are familiar with transpersonal psychology are aware of this concept of self. But it has not even begun to percolate in the economics profession. I am an economist who also has been trained in group dream interpretation. In this process, one feels the “social field of the self” very directly. I’m trying to map this into economic theory and action.

Amplify’d from

Homo Economicus Versus Person-in-Community

by Herman Daly

The problem with Homo economicus (the abstract picture of a human being on which economic theory is based) is that she is an atomistic individual connected to other people and things only by external relations. John Cobb and I (For the Common Good) proposed instead the concept of “person-in-community” whose very identity is constituted by internal relations to others in the community. I can only define myself by reference to these relations in community. Who am I? I am son of…, husband of…, father of…, friend of…, citizen of…, member of…, etc. Shorn of all these relations there is not much left of “me”. I am defined by these relations, and therefore they are internal to my identity as a self-conscious, willing being, not just external connections between some abstract, atomistic, independent “me” and other people, places, or things. Similarly, my relation to the environment is not just external, the economist’s term “externalities” notwithstanding. I am literally constituted by what I take in from the environment. My connection to air is not just external, it is an internal relation manifested in my lungs — I am an air-breather, just as I am the brother of…. This is an ontological statement about how the world is, how people are, not a wish about how they should be. The customary vision of Homo economicus is a wish about how people would have to be for neoclassical economics to work! Homo economicus is a misleading picture of people, consequently neoclassical economics is a misleading theory, and policy based on it has been badly misled.



Congresswoman Giffords and the Far Side of Individualism

9 01 2011

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson on Saturday by Jared Lee Loughner is a clear demonstration of the sickness of the “individualist” creed of American culture. There is such a disrespect and disavowel of the existence of a social fabric by some people, that murder is considered by many Americans as a personal right.

Killing each other is the end game of the right wingers. The ardent belief in only the “right” of the individual, with no recognition of the responsibilities of the individual, will lead to a battle of all against all. Then, the person with the most ammunition wins, but the loneliness that will follow extermination of society by one’s own hand will probably lead to suicide.

Already the conservative pundits are spinning the Giffords shooting as a “lone, unhinged madman.” Today on ABC’s This Week program, George Will said forget about searching the social fabric for an explanation. Dick Armey, also on the program and chairman of conservative PAC Freedomworks, said the answer to this shooting will come from psychology, not sociology.

They said that this is more like Columbine and Virginia Tech rather than the Oklahoma City bombing. The first two were acts of “crazies.” The last one was politically motivated.

George Will, Dick Armey, Sarah Palin, Timothy McVeigh, Ronald Reagan and the rest of the right wingers are wrong. They recognize only half the equation of individual freedom, rights. They forget about the responsibilities. They don’t believe in society. They don’t believe in government. They think that the individual has nothing but rights; there is no responsibility to others according to their ideology.

The right wingers are misguided. The rights of the individual REST UPON an agreement by the rest of us to respect those rights. If you don’t respect that other people respect your rights, if you don’t realize that your freedom comes about through an agreement by other people to respect your freedom, if you don’t realize that your private property is a social convention, then your only recourse is to use violence to claim your rights. But by then, you can’t speak of “rights” anymore. Rights assume a society. Rights come inextricably bound with responsibilities. When you don’t recognize society, your view of the world is just all about force and violence. Your force against my force.

It is this concept of ‘personal freedom as force’ that is the sickness of the conservative right wing.

Conservatives can’t handle true individualism. True individualism requires a balance of speaking and living one’s own unique truth WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY respecting others’ to also speak and live their own unique truth. This is hard to do. This is the “far side” of individualism. This is the real meaning of E Pluribus Unum: from the great plurality of views, there is a magnificent unity. The far side of individualism is that, while I have a unique and very localized view of the world, this unique and local view is only a part of a much greater organic unity called society, called ecology, called universe. If you don’t recognize the larger field in which you exist, you are a sick, insane, sociopath. You are a murdering and dangerous person. Either get therapy, or, instead of pointing your rifles at others, point it at yourself and pull the trigger now, so that the rest of us, who believe in society, can live in peace.