Our Planet, Human Desire, and Economy
“Humans are a part of nature, not apart from nature.” - Marc Bekoff
Humans are quite different from other animals. Even though our DNA is very similar to others including plants, we live differently. We have useful hands, and the ability to use fire, write languages and make remarkable achievements. But there is one thing. While other animals are happy to just exist, humans want to live with a purpose because we can logically understand that we do have the end of life. It would be so depressing if we just exist while fearing death. Luckily, we have a defence mechanism so that we can enjoy our life today. We keep exploring and creating new things so that we can look forward to the future. This gives a sense of purpose and satisfaction and motivates us to do more.
However, it looks like we've been chasing more than just a purpose. While we have had knowledge and technology, why proactively solving issues like Climate change, inequality, overconsumption, and pollution are so difficult? Who is responsible for fixing them? In my opinion, building awareness about our thinking and actions by looking at the facts (feedback we are getting) is the key. There is a deep connection between our level of awareness, the systems we create, and the environment. Are we seeing the connection?
Do we really know about ourselves? Are you aware if you make decisions consciously, or blindly follow others?
One of our desires, having something to look forward to, makes our life meaningful. At the very basic level, this desire keeps us going every day. But when does this critical desire turn into "greed"? Where is the border between blessing and curse?
What is and is not greed?
Ambition is what you want, your desire. It may be having a higher standard lifestyle, becoming a leader in an organization, or earning a certain amount of money.
Vision is the ability to plan the future with imagination and wisdom. When your ambition is bigger than yourself, you will need to have the vision to convince other people to join.
When you know what you want, you have a purpose. Sometimes you may face a challenge and get lost along the way. But some people can keep trying because they are hopeful.
Hope is not an emotion or a personality. It is a cognitive skill to find alternative solutions to get the result you want. No matter how strong or smart you are, you will not be hopeful about the problem when you just can't see any solutions.
You take action to make progress, and you will get feedback that tells you if the action was successful or not. History proves that we are not so good at seeing information that is against our own ideas. You already invested your efforts. Of course, you want positive feedback. It is very easy to ignore the negative information that tells you there are things to fix. Are you aware of this human bias? Asking a few questions before moving forward will save you in the future. Is your intention still good? What good/bad impacts will you produce?
Greed is an uncontrolled ongoing desire to get or consume more materials/power than you need. Greed was needed for survival, and it wasn't distinguished from self-interest in the past. But after entering the modern economy in the mid-19th century, greed has become unethical because a small group of individuals and corporations rapidly created their wealth at the cost of others including other species and the environment.
“Being aware of being aware of being. In other words, if I not only know that I am but also know that I know it, then I belong to the human species. All the rest follows.” - Vladimir Nabokov
What drives greed?
I believe all humans are good and bad. When there is enough for basic needs and access to true information, people will make the right decision. What could prevent us from favoring greed?
- Fear of losing security: Security means different from person to person. It could be "life" for a person living without enough water in a developing country. It could be a family house or a boyfriend. The wealthiest people still fear losing, losing the wealth they have. We want good things to be permanent.
- Want to be accepted: The facts are hidden or tweaked intentionally to drive a person's interest in a certain direction. Once a certain idea or action becomes widely spread, it is accepted as "normal".
- Fear of mortality: As mentioned earlier, we have a self-protection mechanism to separate the fact that we are destined to die from daily life. But no one can escape from it. Still, many of us try to fight. Trying to look younger, wanting to be remembered, leaving a legacy, and having more children, all are to feel the end of life is still far away.
We want to find a way to live longer, possibly forever. We want our life to always be good. We do our best to invent and innovate. But we are witnessing that human creations alone do not solve all problems. Every single invention with very good intentions has unexpected consequences. Fossil oils gave many of us a great lifestyle but caused global warming. Nuclear power has created weapons that should never be used. In the past, there was not enough information available to expect the consequences. But now, the majority of consequences exist because of greed.
Economic growth should improve the quality of our life. It did help many people get out of poverty. But, our economic system is also the reason for many global issues we face, climate change, food and water shortages, deforestation, pollution, wars… Why?
There's no question that everyone wants more money because it represents value (in some cases) and you can buy things you want. Have you ever been told, "Money is not dirty, you should want more."? Yes, you should. But how much is enough, and what will you do with the money? Having more money still gives you advantages today (Nov 2022), but you may want to know the hard truth of "Fiat Money"
- Fiat Money is a government-issued currency that is not backed by a commodity. Money used to be backed up by gold, but the backup was changed to US USA dollars backed up by the tax paid by the public in the US.
- The national debt of the US Federal Government is $31.29 trillion (in Oct 2022). This debt has been traded as a US treasury bond in many other countries.
- Today, 97% of the total money available globally is in debt and there is nothing to support it. This means all of the houses, food, buildings, highways, and other tangible assets in the world are in the 3%. 97% is just paper.
- National banks and private banking corporations in most countries have a right to print money (hit a keyboard nowadays). When they create money from nothing, they do not need a deposit. When you borrow $500,000 to buy a house, the bank just needs to enter the number in a system. Then, when the debt is paid by the borrower, the money will disappear.
- Banks can re-package the debt to create derivatives, and trade in a market to make more money. This enables banks to pass the risk of holding debt to others.
You may wonder, is it legal for a private corporation to create money without any security? It is not illegal. How much money they loan to the public, where to invest, or failure to manage the risk will greatly impact the economy and our daily lives.
There are CEOs, politicians, and managers. Why does no one hold accountability?
The financial system is like an ant colony. Individuals in the financial system do not have a big impact on the whole system. No commander decides how the system works. The collections of connections, interactions, and decisions happening in the system will self-organize and drive the system. Decision-makers can influence the dynamics of the system, but they have no control over the system itself. For example, none of the leaders in a financial institution can change the price of bread or fluctuate the global economy. But they can make an economic impact by creating large-scale effects through their network and interactions.
“If you don’t know how the system you are using works, chances are the system is using you.” – Douglas Rushkoff
Finance has become increasingly disconnected from the real productive economy. Rather than investing money to produce food, house, and other values in our societies, the financial sector has directed money into non-productive markets. The modern financial system is the driver to create the inequality issue around the world. The bigger players who can borrow more money from banks can make more money easier and faster.
The hard truth…
- The more money you borrow from banks, the more money flows into already rich people's pockets via the current finance system.
- The more money you give to riches, the more power for them to make the system favorable to them. You may notice regulations and government budgets are not aligned with public interests.
- You can borrow money and spend it now, but you are committed to paying much more in the end.
“Don’t spend more than you earn.”
Is capitalism good or bad?
There are positive words…
“When you truly believe it, it will happen.” “Our mind is very powerful.” “The world is abundant.”
These are true within human systems. We should believe it. Just remember… To do anything, we need to take resources from nature and there is a limit on how much and how fast you can take them. Humans have no control over what nature does. It is totally fine to manifest your dream without violating the rights of others.
The main economic system in the world, capitalism, enables people to buy and sell whatever they want. Products and services are owned by private businesses and individuals. Governments set rules that affect how and what people can buy and sell. They also collect taxes to distribute the profit to serve the public.
Capitalism can encourage individuals to compete and lead innovation and progress. As people got richer, their quality of life improved. In fact, worldwide poverty had dramatically fallen. However, the system allows individuals with more money (capital) to make more money faster. Therefore, businesses will try to maximize profits and control more resources and markets.
This also creates an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the rest. The top 1% of the world owns 49% of global wealth while the bottom 50% owns less than 1%. Wealth inequality exists both within and between countries and has become an issue of basic human rights. Capitalism itself is just a system. But as one survey by Edelman in 2020 shows, more than half of people worldwide are seeing the performance of Western capitalism in recent decades as being deeply problematic.
There is nothing wrong with maximizing profits and earning more money as long as it is achieved within a framework of ethics and morality.
Legal but not ethical
Making a profit as a business or building wealth as an individual in real ways increases the value. For example, if a business with $1 million in sales owns its factory and employs 10 people, it has human resources, material value, and capital value. On the other hand, another business outsources manufacturing, marketing, and customer services. This type of business needs to look for the cheapest way to operate instead of increasing quality. It will not create jobs or improve society.
Publicly owned corporations have the objective of maximizing shareholder value by generating as much profit as possible. Improving product design, reducing materials and waste, or providing education to workers are long-term meaningful ways to add value. However, some corporations may choose unethical tactics to increase profit every quarter under the pressure. When the moralistic boundaries are taken away, the corporation's objective becomes greed.
Unethical business practices are anything that falls below minimum standards for the business code of conduct. This includes any behaviors that are widely accepted as being morally wrong and lead to the mistreatment of people, animals, or the environment.
Some examples of legal but unethical practices
- The industry lobbies the government not to monitor their environmental impacts so that they can cut the cost to manage pollution. This may be illegal in some countries.
- Beverage manufacturers demand access to a large amount of water while local people have a limited amount due to drought.
- Globally operating corporations send money to countries where taxes are not regulated. Corporations can reduce profits on a financial report to avoid paying taxes where they make profits. Governments around the world are losing $427 billion every year from unpaid taxes.
- Pay the media to manipulate public opinions. The oil and gas industry spent $9.6 million on Facebook advertising in 2020, $24 million on Google search ads, and more.
- Hiring workers in developing countries and forcing them to work for long hours at low pay. Foxconn employs children as young as 14 years old to work in its factories in China. Foxconn provides products to both Apple and Amazon.
- Miss leading product information. You may know Volkswagen manipulated software to measure carbon emissions on its cars and marketed them were environmentally friendly.
Actions for Our Common Future
We are living in a system that makes us want more while we are disconnected from true stories.
But humans are smart and creative. We can make good decisions and systems for all of us. History shows that humans can solve big problems when we know the cause.
“How do we solve the problems created by our own greed?”
We need to realize that the more we borrow money from a bank, the poorer our society becomes. The current global debt, $305 trillion, needs to be paid by our taxes. Remember, there are compounding interests in debt as well.
Reducing consumption is the most effective and we all should do. By reducing our consumption, we not only improve the environment but also reduce the debt. Banks will not like this because they make more money by creating more debt. You may not like this either because you may need to give up unnecessary things.
“It is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things money can’t buy.” – George Horace Lorimer
Invest money in things that support the community. When you allocate your investment funds, pay attention to where your money is invested. When you buy products, understand who gets paid, or who you are supporting.
“Where your attention goes, energy flows, and results show”
Being happy is not unimportant but happiness in and of itself does not ensure that life is meaningful. It does not stop us from tranquilizing ourselves with the trivia. If you just want to be happy, there are a lot of ways to do that, having parties, drinking alcohol, going to a sports game, shopping, etc. But it doesn't make you more mature or wise.
What is important?
What is essential?
What do you live for?
There is much more to do in your life than just pursuing happiness. And happiness is in contentment. Think about it because you are here only for a short time.
Most environmental issues such as deforestation, pollution, and waste management, are because of mindless consumption. How much do you know about typical household items?
What do you know about the banana you bought from a supermarket? If you are a consumer of bananas from Central America, have a look at Fair Trade Bananas.
Do you know how your T-shirt was made? Learn the impacts of fast fashion.
Is it normal to have clean water from a tap? We should conserve water.
What is the real cost to clean up plastic waste? Can we clean up the ocean? Do plastic recycling work?
It is convenient not to know the inconvenient truth. Because once you know, it becomes your responsibility how you respond to the issue. But ask yourself, "Do you want to be a part of the problem or a part of the solution?" Not knowing about the problem does not change the fact that you are a part of the problem. Being optimistic and denying the fact will not make anything better. Where the current normal is not how it should be, we need to change.
Remember, everyone is a part of capitalism, the financial, economic, and social system. No one in the system has the power to change it all, but every interaction and activity influences where the system goes.
While we are talking about new movies, the next party, or a family holiday, we are struggling with our survival. The challenge may not be getting food on a table, but far bigger. Just when the consequences hit you is unknown, and we have a good self-protection system that makes us feel nothing bad will happen.
If each of us develops the level of awareness that every thought and action influences others…
And have the willingness to know what influence we can make…
If we accept the fact that we are an animal and will not be here one day…
And still, be content…
If we take action to live with morals and principles…
I believe the human system will work towards where we can live in harmony with nature for a long time.
SuperHubs: How the Financial Elite and Their Networks Rule Our World - by Sandra Navidi
Ambition to Vision: From “More” to “All” - https://isha.sadhguru.org/global/en/wisdom/article/ambition-to-vision-more-to-all
Greed - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greed
What is Hope in Psychology - https://positivepsychology.com/hope-therapy/
Know Thyself: The science of Self-Awareness – by Stephen M Fleming
Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 - https://www.edelman.com/sites/g/files/aatuss191/files/2020-01/2020%20Edelman%20Trust%20Barometer%20Global%20Report.pdf
ClimateScience - https://climatescience.org/advanced-capitalism-climate