Saturday, May 22, 2010

Step Away from the Trough

This has been a bad week for US PIIGGS (the rather pejorative acronym used by economists to refer to the once powerful economic hegemonic countries where deficit and debt vastly exceed economic prospects – modified, as you would expect by yours truly to include the United States to accompany Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Great Britain, and Spain). As we reflect on the countries that once colonized the resources of the world to feed their cavernous appetites of consumption, we find some irony in the fact that now, it is the objects of their colonial impulses that seem to be ascending with indifference towards the plight of their former dominators. In a display of exceptionally fragile acquiescence, the Germans decided that the preservation of the euro was more important that confronting fiscal reality and so, to the hyperbolic acclaim of Friday’s markets, they passed fiscal measures to defer the date of the euro collapse for the near future.

Cutting through the “fat-finger” perfect storm hypnotic babble which told investors that the market was once again safe to pour more money into the casino, one can see the emergence of a specter who, like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Future, is asking us to consider. Do we want the future that our actions have dictated or, can we still save Tiny Tim and the Cratchit family, and in so doing ourselves, by deeply changing our consensus illusions and behaviors?

US PIIGGS fattened at a trough that is characterized by a progressive journey through six layers of cognitive detachment. Sausage is the destiny for this journey. Join me, if you will, on a journey whose language you were taught at an early age and in whose shadow your archetypes have been carefully maintained.

US PIIGGS are the legacy of Exploration. The Exploration impulse is an interesting one. The premise is simple. We come to a point where local conditions trigger an impulse to have more than that which is around us so we set off confident that we know what we’re looking for and that we’ll recognize it when we find it. Cloaked in the bravado that somewhere out there is “more” and that once found, the “more” will be “ours” over which we will have dominion, we set out.

Our journey enters the second step of delusion when we Discover that for which we were looking. Isn’t it ironic that we “discover” what’s already there? Whether it’s the Portuguese “discovering” Brazil, or Jack Welch “discovering” that people in India had brains worthy of service to GE, the arrogance of the term “discovery” is staggering. We don’t contemplate for a moment that what we label discovery could also be correctly described as the “confirmation of our prior ignorance now unveiled by new information”. But that, my friends, wouldn’t support a very glorious story so we don’t call it what it really is.

Having discovered place, people, or resource, our next impulse is Conquest. The impulse is not to interact with that which was moments before the object of our ignorance. No, we’d rather make sure that it (or they) knows that our value system dictates subjugation for our predetermined needs. And, by the way, the “value” of it or them is measured by us. Period. The forest is worth its lumber. The soil is worth its minerals or crops. If there is spirit or medicine or sanctuary, forget it. That’s the stuff of myth and legend. If other perspectives or people who happen to be “there” challenge the illusion of our ownership, we exterminate the evidence. Ask yourself how many Iraqis have needed to die so that we can rid them of the scourge of a leader that killed his own people?

And then, once we conquer, we Colonize. This impulse is vital as it invites like minded into our ownership and enclosure illusion. By inviting those who share our views of the world into our newly “discovered” reality (and reminding them that it’s ours), we build a consensus illusion into which systems of control and enclosure can be established and maintained.

Once appropriately enclosed, we then Domesticate. We reduce the unrecognizable into conformity with our needs. A multi-species ecosystem becomes hectares of “usable” crops. A mountain becomes a concession for extraction. A community becomes a labor pool which, if trained to perform within the confines of an established order, may be designated as “skilled” and rewarded at a modicum above those who remain “illiterate”.

And having thus extinguished the essence from our new conquest, we Indenture and Commoditize. The final step in this hideous descent into globally integrated participation in the industrial world order is to insure that those who “supply” are saddled with what Paul Collier describes as the “Natural Resources Trap” in his book, The Bottom Billion. This trap is where abundance is enslaved through corporate concessions and “debt-based” “development” from which all benefit flows externally save the few despots who sell out their countrymen for a few coins of graft. Tragically, Paul, like so many development experts and economists remain silent on the degree to which corporations – acting for the benefit of shareholders – are given license to engage in graft, slavery, and corruption and this is just, in Paul’s silence, the way “business is done”.

One billion people, slaves to US PIIGGS for over two centuries, still starve, still lack clean water, still live with civil unrest, war, and destabilization. And now, the trough, filled at their expense, has emptied.

Is there another way? Is there a six step program which can provide us something other than a wallowing hole filled with the stench of excess?

I would propose that there is.

Education. No I don’t mean literacy. I don’t mean training for consensus belief. I don’t mean the literal removal of willful ignorance with an internet, search engine world. Education means that we move into a posture of genuine inquiry where we seek to learn that which we don’t understand. Education involves sitting down at the feet of many and hearing numerous perspectives and from them drawing a new sense of order, purpose and values. Education means that we see ourselves as learners and students – finding perspectives that inspire and challenge historical metrics and myths opening up possibilities for the new rather than the perpetuation of the old.

This opens the door for Observation. Where discovery evoked an arrogant confirmation that we recognized that for which we set out to covet, observation involves taking the time to see what the yet-unknown has to teach. In observation, the recognized should be momentarily marginalized and devalued so that the perplexing, the unexplainable, can be considered. Maybe we have something that we can offer. Maybe something is being offered. Maybe we have no place in this place at all. Maybe we need to change to adapt to the new.

That which we observe allows us to Integrate. Beyond impulses to enclose, integration connotes a process in which the observer and observed begin a process of mutual interaction for mutual benefit. If benefit is derived from cooperation, great. If value is enhanced or preserved by sharing learning but moving separately, great too. In both instances, the interacting parties are richer for having experienced respectful engagement.

As we integrate our observations, we can begin to Contribute. Once upon a time we realized that investment involved making deposits BEFORE we expect returns. In the Post World War II industrial globalization, we expected concessions and returns just for showing up. When I speak about contribution, I mean genuinely invest in the people and the place. Listen to local needs and local challenges. Begin by offering perspective – not solutions. Offer creativity, not the privilege of being associated with a multi-national brand. Collaborate rather than enclose. In partnerships and meaningful, respectful engagement, bring what you can fully into the mix of ingredients from which something new can emerge.

This opens up the possibilities for Invitation. Invitation sometimes involves opening up opportunities for others. Sometimes it involves having opportunities opened for you. Sometimes new opportunities arise that benefit all parties. In our work in India with a new startup launched by Sharadha Ramakrishnan, we have seen huge opportunities arise where resource sharing – information, physical space, and commercial endeavors – all are emerging unsolicited. A major industrial trade show in the U.S. is opening up the possibility for global market interaction with South America, the Middle East and North Africa, simply by being open to invitations from previously unknown partners.

And from these five steps emerges the sixth stage of Fruitful Cooperation. While the dying world is filled with Sustainability (the ability to survive without resource exhaustion – doesn’t that sound fun?) and Resilience (the elastic response to come back from extreme deforming stress – wow, even more fun!) peddlers from the end of the caravan, Fruitfulness has to do with persistent, cooperative abundance derived from networks of endeavors and value exchanges. Using the principles of Abundant Enterprise, fruitfulness seeks to insure that discipline and moderation are heard over the cacophony of the frenetic “more”.

Exploration loses its allure in the commitment to genuine Education.
Discovery disintegrates as the Observed becomes more enchanting.
Conquest expires while the inspiration of Integration breathes life and meaning.
Colonization unravels as Contribution creates networks of trust.
Domestication is unbridled as creativity Invites possibility for new engagements.
And the enslavement of the Indentured is emancipated for Fruitful participation in beneficial enterprises which enable ethical, repurposing stewardship.

Ideal? Utopian? No. We are evidencing this possibility in enterprises around the world. Given the fact that we’re seeing US PIIGGS collapse, precisely what evidence do you have supporting the “it’s working well” theory supporting the consensus illusion from which my proposal sounds utopian? Last time I checked, the small furry creatures who lived together did a whole lot better than the Brontosaurus. Look into it!


1 comment:

  1. Excelent Dave! The arguments are clear and invite us to change and to act. Thank you for the inspiration. Good fortune to all who get inspired by this. Cheers, Gilson.


Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave