“Funding I consider as limited, rightfully, to a redemption of the debt within the lives of a majority of the generation contracting it; every generation coming equally, by the laws of the Creator of the world, to the free possession of the earth he made for their subsistence, unincumbered by their predecessors, who, like them, were but tenants for life.”
…from Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to John Taylor, Monticello May 28, 1816
“Wherefore we will and firmly order that the English Church be free, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably, freely and quietly, fully and wholly, for themselves and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all respects and in all places forever, as is aforesaid. An oath, moreover, has been taken, as well on our part as on the part of the barons, that all these conditions aforesaid shall be kept in good faith and without evil intent.”
“Given under our hand - the above named and many others being witnesses - in the meadow which is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign.”
…from the Magna Carta, 1215
I had the privilege of gathering with about twenty five magnificent people in San Francisco last week to engage in a dialogue about the foundations of our economy. During this interaction, we considered the degree to which our social systems – from our relationships with the Earth, our fellow humanity, and with our values and the exchanges thereof – are based on surrogacy (from the Latin meaning “cause to be chosen in place of”). Surrogacy exists in a number of forms, a few of which include:
- our use of currency and notes to represent value and the exchange or accumulation thereof;
- our unconsidered, yet ubiquitous use of Aristotelian concepts of causation and regression every time we ask the question, “Why?” (y = mx +b for the mathematicians, and Why = Measured phenomenon + unexplained error for the philosophers and drunks);
- our Aquinian view of hierarchies in which someone or something is ‘responsible’ for some or all portions of our temporal and existential experience;
- our notion of dominion and entitlement in which we, without consideration, allow others to act on our own behalf to supply our unconsidered conveniences of materials, services, and animating energy / power; and,
- our use of religious constructs, narratives, and idols to absolve ourselves of present accountability for future ‘judgment’, ‘reward’, or ‘retribution’.
As we have discussed in previous essays, an accessible example of surrogacy is the relationship that takes place when one transacts a purchase with money. When I walk into a café, I carry a few dollars, approach the counter and place an order. In the name of convenience and efficiency, I hand the money to the person at the register and, in so doing, I’m explicitly stating that with this transfer of an artifact (existing only in a consensus illusion of value without any intrinsic value), I have absolved myself of any future need or desire for any form of relationship. The matter is finished. When I receive my beverage there is no persistence of humanity between me, the clerk or the server. We’re done. But embedded within that transaction, I’ve also allowed the money to insulate me from the grower of coffee, the roaster, the shipper, the grinder, the barista – none of whom I need to consider (nor may I want to consider). Further, I require no knowledge, consciousness, or concern regarding the wood pulp pressed into a disposable cup, the resin molded to form the plastic lid nor the engineer of the espresso machine. A corollary of the notion of surrogacy is the mantra of ‘efficiency’. In our post-modern mode of detachment, the more we can insulate ourselves from our actions and the field effects thereof, the more ‘efficient’ we hail the system.
At the most superficial consideration, we may conclude that, in the frenzy of our tempo, stopping to think about the entire field effect of our actions and engagements is either impossible or unnecessary. However, I would suggest that this impulse finds itself at the root of our incapacity to effectuate a more suitable experiment with the world in which we find ourselves. Would we consume that which we do if, in so doing, we would look into the faces of all of the people that played a role in putting a good or service in our hands or at our disposal? Would we regress towards a monetary system if we could use abundance within our direct stewardship as a means of engagement and exchange? In the Magna Carta, referenced above, is it any wonder that the document is relatively neutral with respect to money but highly energized with the means of production – things like lands, forests, title, and community?
One of the structural weaknesses of our systems built on surrogacy is our ill-founded notion that somewhere there must be an expert, a guru, a master, or a diety who is watching out for, or over us. By convincing ourselves that we need to be ever outward in our quest to find sustenance, morality, or justification, we fail to understand that all externalities are merely utilities of manifestation for which personal and community stewardship can be exercised. The ‘good’ and ‘bad’, the ‘powerful’ and ‘weak’, the ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’, the ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ are but poles on a magnet – holding no intrinsic value but rather serving as attractors and repellers of energy and animation. Placing this energy and animation in the hands of others – whether through social systems, community hierarchies, or artifacts – robs each of us from our ability to fully engage in our ecosystem.
Jefferson was deeply concerned with the separation of people – as individuals and generational cohorts – from the consequence of their actions. He warned against political and religious systems that reinforce such detachment. In the Magna Carta, the barons explicitly stated that, for them to enter into agreements with the sovereign, they would take full responsibility for all of their physical and emotional impulses – both positive and negative. These sources of inspiration share a number of phenotypic similarities but, principle among them is the complete rejection of surrogacy without constant accountability from those who assign powers to a surrogate. In other words, no surrogate can work if there is not constant, informed vigilance on both the artifact of stewardship appropriated from the right holders to the custodian and the actual behavior and performance of the surrogate.
Which brings me back to San Francisco. During our conference, it became quite evident that notions of productivity and utility were unconsidered. It was clear that the difference between debt, equity, and credit were indistinguishable in the minds and lives of most of us. The principle of First Order accountability – actually consciously engaging at every level of all elements of our existence and the enablements thereof – was an inaugural, disciplined journey for all.
Not under the leadership of a master or guru, not under the banner of sovereign or politician, we the people need to reconvene at our Runnymede and reconcile ourselves to the fact that we’ve entrusted far too much with neither conscious consideration nor the means to maintain vigilance and accountability. And, having arrived at a considered review, we need to, once again, elect those things for which we’re willing to literately transfer surrogacy and those things that require our direct supervision and responsibility. As we watch events unfold this week in the madness in Congress around the nation's and the world's finance, we must all remember that we are not victims. We are those who ceded our stewardship and accountability and we now need to reclaim and animate the same.