Myth of Unlimited Economic Expansion – Insights from the Wilderness #155

Myth of Unlimited Economic ExpansionI believe we are beginning to see the wisdom Wendell Berry wrote in 1977 when he warned that unlimited growth and unlimited economic expansion is a myth. The global economic issues we are witnessing in the world today seem to be reflecting the truth of his prophetic words. What he didn’t warn us about was the social instability that would result when the truth of his words became reality.

There was a time in my life when I felt that sense of instability on a personal level. I had just quit a job in engineering management. After years of denying the inner knowledge that being an electrical engineer was not what I wanted to do with my life, I quit my job and moved my family to a 30 acre parcel of land in the southern tier of upstate New York to begin what eventually became a six year adventure in homesteading. As a gold and silver jewelry craftsman at the time, I was able to eek out a small income. Between the jewelry sales, the crops we grew, the chickens, the goats we milked, and the pigs we raised, we survived; but just barely.

What I learned from that experience was how hard it is to find an emotional balance internally and think clearly when threatened every day with financial collapse. When my dream to create a self-sufficient life for my family and myself collapsed, I quickly discovered how difficult it was climb out of poverty. I found myself swinging from feelings of panic, to the calm that comes with denial and the avoidance of reality.  I felt like I was on an emotional pendulum swinging from one extreme to another. Most of all, I felt powerless.

I think that is what much of the world is beginning to experience today. The illusion of unlimited economic expansion is beginning to unravel. The growing sense of fear and uncertainty created by our global recession, and the need for austerity, is creating a dangerous social instability. This instability and fear we are witnessing around the world is giving birth to an alarming increase in extremist thinking. Our world is changing too rapidly. And change is always accompanied by fear.

With 80 million baby boomers moving toward down sizing, increasing their savings, paying down debt, and decreasing their over all spending it’s becoming increasingly clear if we are to have any hope of bringing our financial house back into the black, there is a high probability we are going to have to embrace austerity, increase the level of taxation, and reduce entitlements and social programs.

When we include the fact that the next generation of young people are not getting married and purchasing homes as early in life, are increasingly buried under college debt, are having difficulty finding work, and are choosing to rent so they can follow the job market; the potential for a strong recovery in the housing market is very questionable. Fear and instability is increasing.

The reality of global change that is coming too rapid, and a growing uncertainty about the future, is creating the social upheaval we are witnessing around the world; the emotional pendulum of a world swinging from one extremist solution to another. These extremist solutions are only creating more fear and the need for even more extremist short-term solutions to the problems. We are witnessing the reality that that fear driven solutions only cause more instability, and more emotionally driven extremist solutions.

Our primitive ego always wants immediate answers. It does not do well with delayed gratification. Unfortunately there are no short-term fixes for the economic realities that are facing our global economy.  We need to think about and plan for long-term solutions. We need to find a middlepath that will move us back to a more stable global economic system. The further the world moves into instability and reactive solutions, the more we will create the fertile ground that extremism needs to flourish and grow.

More than ever, the world needs the thinking process of a matured middlepath consciousness; the ability to hold two directly opposing truths in our mind at the same time without assuming one is truth and the other is not. Only an enlightened middlepath consciousness knows that truth is always found on both sides of every issue. So whatever the solution we need to deal with the fear and instability of change in our world, only a middlepath consciousness will know that compromise will be required; not militant sword waving and inflexible extremist ultimatums, or ideological extremism that creates inflexible gridlock in our political system.

The need for a collective middlepath, both/and thinking that actively searches for the truth on both sides of the issue has never been more urgent. We may not always agree with some of the solutions offered, but moving to the extremes on the other side of the issue is never going to lead to the creative solutions we need as a nation, or as a global economic culture. The more we embrace extremist solutions, the more we will continue to create the escalating violence we are witnessing in our world.

I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to think clearly when the world we live in feels threatened. But I also know that the collective transformation of our species, the transformation toward that of an authentic and fully awakened middlepath consciousness, will happen only when that transformation in the way we think begins to take place within each of us as individuals.

Our authenticity as a species will be found only when we awaken and begin to embrace middlepath thinking.

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