Heart’s Guidance: An Economic Imagination, Part I

January 16, 2014

by John Bloom

The mind thinks it loves; the heart loves before the thought.

In our current stage of materialist economy, we are entranced with capital and disconnected from our hearts. This discord is a result of the inherent nature of capital, so centered as it is in the head, as the origin of the word indicates. In the visible world discord looks like a widening gap between wealth and poverty, and in the inner world like a disintegration of beliefs, values, and behavioral decisions. Make no mistake, we need capital in one form or another, and we need those who work with capital to be in the world in a way that values each human being and supports the regeneration of nature. This inner integrity might then begin to heal social and ecological wounds.

So, how might the imagination of economic life change from where we currently are— dependence on growth that is heading toward the demise of nature and increased suffering—to one that is instead life affirming and regenerative? The purpose of this essay is to focus on a guiding framework for systemic change. Real change never happens without a guiding imagination.

Let’s start with the basics. As I remember, the things that I needed to know or commit to memory, I learned by heart—a poem, a lifeline phone number, a lover’s birthday. I suspect this is true for others as well, though ever-present reference technology has helped us grow lazy about such matters. Long before textbooks, encyclopedias, and wikipedias, the heart is what we had by way of stored knowledge, even while it was the head’s task to process that knowledge. Thus, consciousness has been as much if not more a product of the heart than of the head, though modern industrial culture has come to prize intellect over character. We have learned how to perceive and transform nature, while also learning from each other in order to survive as individuals and in communities.

As we evolved, our relationships were practical as well as spiritual; that is to say that trust catalyzed community action, whether the trust was a result of blood connection or common cause. Each individual discovers and develops her or his own capacities or gifts. And, it is when those capacities begin to serve both self and others that the glimmerings of economic life emerge. Fast forward and you get the industrialized version of economic efficiencies in the division of labor. When I am contributing my capacities and in return receiving what I need back from the community, I feel engaged, recognized, and valued—supported both materially and through a sense of fulfillment. While this is a somewhat simplistic framing, I believe this feeling is one desired not only by me, but also by a significant number of individuals open to reflecting on the nature of vocation and economic life.

What I am describing is a heart-centered economy, one motivated by continuous circulation, connection, caring, and cognizant of each person’s dignity and destiny. And most important, an economy in which the rediscovery of trust becomes the vital element supporting the circulation and regeneration of resources as common, co-produced wealth, including but certainly not limited to money. After all, money emerged primarily as an economic convenience, as a portable way to store value. By agreement its value was established through the exchange of goods and services. It was a means. But, as money has become more a valued commodity in and of itself, it has been disconnected from its purpose of accounting for economic flow, disconnected from real needs and human activity. In this sense, the more money is valued as an accumulated object attached to an individual, the more anti-social it becomes. In contrast, economics is deeply social as we are fully dependent upon one another’s capacities to meet our material needs.

Click here for Part II

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

3 Comments »

  1. John again thank you for your work with money. May we all hear and continue the path to becoming ever more conscious and awake to economy and money, each alone and then in community. Higher spiritual beings have given us the truly sacred task of creating an economy based on love and trust. Money, part of this gift, is so wonderful as it lives in the place where the spiritual and the material meet and thus has such creative potential to inspire, to heal, and to nourish. We must be careful not to drag it down into matter but also not to let it dissipate into the heavens without any form. I will stay tuned.

    Comment by Dorothy Hinkle-Uhlig — January 18, 2014 @ 7:20 am

  2. John,
    Thanks John for this blog. I loved the idea of a “guiding imagination” for what economic life should become.

    We need echo chambers beyond echo chambers to turn the idea of re-imagining economic life into a collective endeavor that we each of us feels the responsibility to engage in.

    Yet, the challenges are even more immense than your blog lets on. For example: You have written that “money emerged primarily as an economic convenience, as a portable way to store value. By agreement, its value was established through the exchange of goods and services. It was a means.”

    Ah yes. But a means to WHAT? With its ability to store up value and to render one thing commensurable with another, money was a tool to channel, organize and amplify human capacity. And what has that capacity been used for, over and over through time?

    As a means for one society to organize and amplify its abilities to dominate others in order that its economic wealth may grow. By wresting resources from others, from those “outside” to enrich those within.

    Thus, the citizens of Greece enjoyed their democratic freedoms because their economy, which powered their political innovations, was sustained by conquest and fueled with money exacted as tribute from conquered communities. Likewise, as we often prefer to forget, America’s growth into a world power depended on the wresting of resources from non-citizens: lands from native inhabitants; labor from slaves.

    Dominance and economics have so often fallen and stood together. How can we imagine a world that uncouples them? Money has been merely the means for their joining. What role might it play in their separation?

    We live in an era when we are so numerous, so productive, and so interconnected that across the globe the wresting of resources from others to use them to our own ends — however productively we do so — merely adds to our collective demise. Power, productivity, wealth. We they all come into play together. Re-imagining our economic life. Yes. But also, reimagining the most fundamental notions that determine who counts. Who does not.

    Comment by Christine Gray — January 22, 2014 @ 8:04 am

  3. Christine your comments are so vivid. Thank you. I would suggest a beginning to answer the question – a means to what – by defining culturally what qualities we associate with money. Money is a means to allow the economic system to function well. Thus it serves the moral impulse that is behind the economic system. Each of us in our daily dealings with the economic system creates this moral climate. According to Rudolf Steiner the moral impulse behind the economic system is to serve and support the other. Our social conscience, which permeates our education, teaches something very different. When we give our children allowances so that they can carefully figure out what they can afford – what of their needs and wants they can acquire – we teach them that money is there to serve the owner of the money. He/she is free to spend the allowance money as he/she freely chooses within the parameters of what he/she can afford. The moral impulse behind money develops into a sense of freehood and personal development rather than the impulse to serve, to help the other. The adult grows up understanding that money is to obtain, to serve his own personal freehood, his own wants and needs. The other be it people, the environment, the social fabric are not as important or perhaps not part of the thought. This type of thinking about money permeates our culture as in the example of a child’s allowance, and we must find these thought norms and root them out. Each of us as business people, as consumers, as citizens of this world must actively seek to think about capital, about money, about the economy in the simple terms of service. Money is a means to serve and be served.

    Comment by Dorothy Hinkle-Uhlig — January 24, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

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