Friday, May 21, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 22, 2021 - Putting Our Quacks in Order

What is your general rule of thumb when spending money? For most of us, we buy what’s convenient, affordable, and has a level of quality to it that we are willing to sacrifice to various degrees according to convenience and affordability. You get what you pay for. That’s how we shop almost all of us, almost all the time. Few of us ever spend very much time considering what it actually is that we’re truly purchasing when we buy something. Some of us know full well what’s at stake, but we justify our behavior because of convenience and affordability. 

But you get what you pay for. We have expectations of the things we purchase. So check your expectations for a moment. What do you really expect from the dollar you spend? Do you expect that dollar to save the world? You darn well should.

Buddhist teachings say that money viewed through the principles of right view, right thought, right speech, and right conduct help one to perceive their own money as a positive influence in the world, as honored as any form of abundance. Yet still cautioning against attachment to it. Now, to remove attachment from our money is not to give it away, it’s to spend it! Enjoyably and wisely and compassionately because we are more relaxed about it. And when we are more relaxed, we make better decisions about where to spend and what to sell. 

When we are relaxed into our best version of ourselves we are able to take the time to see a broader list of ethical choices we often miss when we’re busy and frustrated. When we’re like that we just want to get dinner over with, get the school clothes for the kids, whatever, so long as it fits, they don’t complain, and it’s cheap, I don’t care. But those are the moments when we must care the most.

This from Benjamin Franklin: “He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.” If you think money will make you happy you will put all of your resources toward it. Because happiness is what we most desire as a species. We will do almost anything to cause our happiness and to prevent our sadness. So if you think, “I could be happy if only I could win a million dollars. A million dollars will make me happy.” A lot of people would agree with you, but none of them would be right. The money itself will not provide you happiness. You could use a million dollars in many ways. And some of them could legitimately make you happy. Probably many of them. But unless you are taking the Buddha’s advice when spending it, it will be gone, and with it, your expectation of happiness. And for those who worship money who do not win it in a lottery, they will do literally anything to get it. But those who imagine the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence never had to fertilize it.

Confucius said, "Wealth and rank are what people desire, but unless they are obtained in the right way they may not be possessed." See, here too, it’s all about the fertilizer. Unless they are grown the right way the flowers will fall over and be useless to the bees.

I believe that love can exist anywhere. I have seen what the rich can do with money when they have integrity. The temptation to become corrupt is real but not futile to resist. Our culture has made us ashamed of money, mostly because we see what many people who have it do with it. And we are ashamed of many of them. We have a complicated relationship with money because we need it at the same time as we are afraid of it, or feel unworthy of it, or believe to our core that we are poor and always will be. This is the way of thinking that complicates our relationship with money and commercialism both. This is the way of thinking that makes us feel the victim of commercialism rather than recognize that our vulnerability is an illusion.

We are the ones with the dollars, folks. If they want them, they need to be more accountable for how they get them from our hands. And if we have them, we have to be more accountable for how we spend them. 

The word capital means money and wealth used to produce more money and wealth. Capitalism works by encouraging competition in a fair and open market. Sadly, our markets are neither fair nor open. Ergo capitalism becomes too easily twisted and corrupt, and the system which surrounds it supports the continuation of that model. It’s why the income gap in this country is especially unbalanced. It’s why the truly rich are so few and the truly poor are so many. The markets are not fair. They are biased in favor of the belief that we cannot be both good and wealthy.

In the United States, however, we are not purely capitalist. The opposite of capitalism is socialism, where all business is owned by the community as a whole. And whether or not we choose to comprehend it, we are actually a combination of both. In truth, we in the United States are a socialist people who operate under an economic philosophy of capitalism as its self-sustaining model. We are socio-capitalists. A purely capitalist society would have no public schools, no public parks, no social services, and the roads would need to be maintained by the businesses and residents utilizing them. There would be no taxes, because you would pay for every service you use. Life would be entirely a la carte. A purely capitalist society would never allow state-owned liquor stores, or state-run gambling, or state-run healthcare. So let’s make sure that we know what we’re talking about when it comes to whether or not we truly seek Socialism as a model of life here in America.

But must all capitalism be free from integrity? Capitalism by definition is value-neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It's much like a car. Sitting in the driveway a car does neither harm nor help. It just sits there until an operator shows up. Until it has a driver it's little better than a concept. But once someone is given license to operate it, the car becomes a potential vehicle for transformation, freedom, change, and growth. It also holds the potential to be a deadly weapon. It has the power to terrorize, pollute the air, and remembering Steven King's film "Christine," even play the villain in a movie. But there was also "Herbie the Love Bug." Capitalism, like cars, can go either way. Just like people.

Conscious capitalism is borne of an awareness that the "car" can be driven anywhere. It can be electric. It can carpool. It can be fun and fancy and free while still remaining mindful of the impact it makes upon the world.

So who’s trying to convince us otherwise? How come we don’t realize that we are the ones with all the power? Because we listen to quacks. Charlatans! Ignorant practitioners of mindless, selfish commerce! Dishonesty and even death masquerading as public service. Corrupt corporations have done much to destroy this planet and its people in an attempt to sell them something. They are guilty of the worst crimes against humanity, make no mistake about that. But their power, just like the fear they use to promote it, is an illusion.

But we must now put these things in order. We must understand what the real pecking order is around here and start asserting our right as consumers to stand up to the quacks who would murder us for a dollar. We must demand fair treatment for workers, fair markets, fair pricing, consciously raised food. Workers’ rights. 

And we assert these rights by putting our money where our mouth is. Stand up to the quacks. Support the companies that do well by doing good. They already exist. Support social enterprise that partners the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. They are not mutually exclusive. And many of us, even the companies themselves, often don’t realize that what they’re already doing is social enterprise, aka conscious capitalism. 

Vote with your money and put some thought into it. There are good people in this world who need our support and we can do it best by doing what we already do every day. Buy stuff. But buy it mindfully. If you’re a meat eater, insist on the ethical treatment of domesticated animals. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, be sure that your foods are as ethical as you are. And when business leaders say it’s not cost effective to be good, they’ll learn soon enough how wrong they have been.  You have all the power to define this world. Now go out there and use it.

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