Monday, November 30, 2009

The madness of crowds

"No warning can save a people determined to suddenly grow rich." Lord Overstone.

I can’t confirm the good gentleman spoke (or wrote) that provocative sentence, but it’s a good one nonetheless (split infinitive aside). It means you can’t do nothing when crowds get mad (double negative aside). Depressions happen. Shit happens. All true, as far as that goes.

But guess what, “rich” has meaning in a particular context, one of differential advantage engendered by an ongoing competition over scarce goods and services. In such a system, any people can suddenly determine to become rich, because society, via various means, makes it very plain indeed that success is measured monetarily. Not all people fall prey to this message, but the vast majority does. Nice guys finish last. Survival of the fittest. You know the story.

My personal reading of this wee pearl of wisdom is that monetary systems are inherently destructive, because they falsely map a philosophy of scarcity over a situation of abundance. The dissonance set up by this false mapping has a number of harmful and unnecessary consequences. One is the calcifying of hierarchies as the “succcessful” secure their positions, the other is a tendency to consume unwisely, to make a passion of consumption because this demonstrates success. To be forced by an unwise paradigm to squabble over artificially scarce goods and services is to ensure cyclical collapse. As we become global in the force of our numbers, the ecosystem is being pulled ever more into our self-inflicted, unhealthy rhythm of overconsumption and collapse. We are now also able to poison it with newly invented chemicals. The abundance that might be sustainably nurtured is squandered because our management of it is informed by the wrong philosophy.

Because we encourage competition over scarce resources, we are obliged to expect the madness of crowds to crave what the “successful” have; riches. We tell ourselves, in all sorts of ways, that this is what life is about. What right does any of us have to bemoan this when it happens!

Wisdom will be finding the right place for competition, and the right place for cooperation. Once we have that, abundance will follow, whereupon we can allow people to be individuals at last, free enough to become whatever they can, with enough space in which to grow up, and make their own decisions. Monetary wealth need have nothing to do with it. Riches need be no carrot, poverty no stick.


Edwardo said...

Yes, that observation has been widely attributed, correctly, it would seem, to Lord Overstone. NIce post on some of the twisted tendencies fostered by monetary systems.

Toby said...

Thanks again Edwardo. And I'm still on the case regarding our discussion themes, in conversation with the guy behind I'd be interested to hear your take on what he has going there, whether we might start to build momentum using his discussion forum as a platform. Let me know what you think.