Sunday, December 21, 2014


At its root, economics is about properly and sustainably managing a household. Or, more poetically, about taking care of our home. This is not news to anyone of course, but perhaps what has gone relatively unexamined is what we mean by home, and how our understanding of this concept ought to feed into economics.

Various thinkers observe an expansion of humanity’s sense of home from Hearth to Earth. While I suspect the spiritual journeys in trance of hunter gatherers and other so-called uncivilized folk were cosmic in scope, generally speaking this observation is a valid one. Further, while it is true that as our home grows to become an entire planet some see as a living being, it shrinks too as distance is bested by the speed of technological development. As this brings us together, cultural differences are exposed, and our inability to talk and listen to each other across cultural divides fuels tensions that too often precede war. Ironically, though different cultures may all see the entire planet as our home, though it is clear to us all that if we fail to live with our home wisely we will perish, this shared wisdom is insufficient to foster cooperation of sufficient breadth and depth. This problem is evident both across and within borders, even within families.

Perhaps the reason for this is that we have, as a thinking species, not sufficiently understood what home is about, or not allowed space for what we know in our institutions.

Home is not about glory, glamour and fame, it is not size and ostentation, it is not competitive advantage securing conspicuous prosperity for you and those you favour. Home is love. Love of life, of others, of planet, of self, not as vanity, not as narcissism, but with humility, courage, creativity, generosity of spirit, wisdom and faith. Were home truly about the former, truly about vanity and ostentation, it would generate dysfunctional families, discord, an insatiable emptiness in the soul, a feeling of non-belonging, a constant hunger to consume anything and everything that distracts to keep the pain of that emptiness at bay. Such a state of being is not home, nor can it arise from home; it is a spiritual and psychological diaspora of isolated individuals. Civilisation has generated an ‘economics’ of perpetual and atomised diaspora. In other words, economics is not economics; it is a conceptual construct that perpetuates homelessness in pursuit of more and more numbers and total control of nature. Orthodox ‘economics’destroys home.

If we experience this as a problem, what we can sure of is that a way out will not be found in more of the same. I have come to connect love with economics. I have come to see that love must be foundational to our thinking and doing if we are to create an economics worthy of the name.


Tao Jonesing said...

"At its root, economics is about properly and sustainably managing a household."

Really? People sought to properly and sustainably manage their households for millenia before "economics" came along.

"Home is not about glory, glamour and fame, it is not size and ostentation, it is not competitive advantage securing conspicuous prosperity for you and those you favour."

Yeah, but economics is all about securing conspicuous prosperity for the few and their control of the many. The entire discipline as we know it today was created to achieve that purpose.

"I have come to connect love with economics. I have come to see that love must be foundational to our thinking and doing if we are to create an economics worthy of the name."

To build up your vision of what economics ought to be, you must start by tearing down economics as it is. Economics claims to be "value judgment free," but it in fact embodies a value system, a morality, that is diametrically opposed to your own.

Toby said...

Hi Tao,

Yes, economics is about household management etymologically speaking, that's very uncontroversial. As for tearing down economics, that's a cultural process many people are contributing to, even unwittingly. The way I go about it has changed, though not so dramatically that I disagree with your final sentence's admonition. That's what I've been doing since I started this blog. Hence its name...

Timbo614 said...

You reminded me of this from those heady days of hope:

When the white eagle of the North
Is flying overhead
And the browns, reds and golds of autumn
Lie in the gutter, dead

Remember then, the summer birds
With wings of fire flaying
Come to witness Spring's new hope
Born of leaves decaying

As new life will come from death
Love will come at leisure
Love of love, love of life
And giving without measure

Gives in return a wondrous yearn
Of a promise almost seen
Live hand-in-hand
And together we'll stand

On the threshold of a dream.

Graeme Edge (1969)
The Dream

Debra said...

Suspense. Can I post now, or not, after a year in Google limbo ??
Cross your fingers...

Debra said...

Ha !!!!
It worked.
Happy New Year to all.
I seriously recommend Paul Tournier's book on violence and aggression to everybody on this blog.
Tournier was a Christian medical doctor, "psychologist" and thinker who has much to say about how we got where we are through good intentions.
Too much lip service paid to intentional, conscious, and voluntary ill doing in our world for my taste. Focussing on the manipulation of the "rich" makes us powerless victims, and that is a very double edged sword, my friends. On the one hand, it is terribly convenient, but on the other hand, feeling powerless is not good for one's self esteem.
I think we have been indoctrinated by our media and our TV on this subject.
We have a cowardly tendancy to pin the blame on others, too. Tss, tss...
Over the holidays, I meditate on a book by Charles Singer, a fictional epistle of Judas.
Our medieval civilization made a scapegoat out of Judas, and demonized him... and money, too, as being behind Jesus's betrayal.
But Jesus and Judas were both logically obsessed by money... it shows in Jesus's parables, and in his economic philosophy, which is not austerity, by the way...(remember, in the Gospels, Jesus is almost never seen to be handling money. Only... for philosophical purposes, and we all know that doesn't COUNT, right ?)
But since Judas handled the purse strings for the little band, think for a minute what it is like to be counting nickels and dimes to scrape enough together for a picnic, and how that tends to make you... obsessed with money, right ?? Not like Jesus, certainly, but still.. obsessed with money.
From one extreme to the opposite, that's what mankind is all about.
Toby, you are much more Christian than you know, or want to know.
And Tao ? Maybe you are less Christian than you think..
But we are all... STILL Christian.
No escaping that.
It appears more evident to me all the time.

Tao Jonesing said...

Hey, Debbie! I hope you and all your family are doing well to kick off the New Year.

"And Tao ? Maybe you are less Christian than you think.."

Impossible. I am not Christian at all. If I am less Christian by not caring about money as much as Jesus and Judas, then I am no less Christian than I thought I was.

"But we are all... STILL Christian."

Nope. You can't successfully collapse all creeds into an obsession about money. It just doesn't work that way, logically or rhetorically.

"No escaping that."

Judaism began as a pure state based on the Hellenistic philosophy of Plato (Laws and Republic) and Aristotle (Ethics). Christianity began as a Roman gloss on Judaism. Islam began as an Arabic gloss on Christianity. An obsession over money is not what ties the three Abrahamic religions together. Rather, it is an obsession of maintaining the power structure of the state. Money may be a symptom, but it is not the disease.

Debra said...

Most people are incensed when I say "obsessed about money", and immediately read it as a negative value judgment.
That is not at all what I intend.
To the extent that money is one aspect of our symbolic system(s), all tied together in our language(s), I maintain what I said.
"Money" means in relation to all the other manners of exchanging... what can be exchanged, and also what can not be bought, borrowed, sold, etc.
"Money" also means through its relation to "grace" and the modern substitute, "gratuity".
Stick "gratuity" next to "free" and fireworks go off.
The concept "people" comes down to us thanks to Judaïsm.
When I say that we are all Christian, I am also saying that it is not because you... think that because you don't believe in the existence of a Judeo-Christian God you are not Christian that you will be.. free of Christian influence.
It does not work that way.
But modern hubris makes you.. think that it works that way...
By the way, Toby, irony would have it that I will soon not be able to post here, because of blogger's irritating challenges to make me prove that I am not a robot.
Soon... you will have to be a robot to prove that you are not a robot.
How... logical...

Tao Jonesing said...


"Most people are incensed when I say 'obsessed about money', and immediately read it as a negative value judgment."

Rest assured, I am not most people. I was, at worst, mildly amused.

"To the extent that money is one aspect of our symbolic system(s), all tied together in our language(s), I maintain what I said."

But you assume a certain immutability that is not warranted by history. If you want to say that TODAY money is one aspect of our symbolic systems, you are correct. But it has not always been so, nor need it ever be so.

"'Money' means in relation to all the other manners of exchanging... what can be exchanged, and also what can not be bought, borrowed, sold, etc."

You seem to assume that humanity has always organized around markets. That's just not true historically.

"The concept 'people' comes down to us thanks to Judaïsm."

Please. Judaism as we know it began as an Hellenistic phenomenon. There were Greeks thinking of themselves as one people (Panhellenism) centuries before modern Judaism coalesced in the second century BCE. I'd be happy to provide cites to sources.

"When I say that we are all Christian, I am also saying that it is not because you... think that because you don't believe in the existence of a Judeo-Christian God you are not Christian that you will be.. free of Christian influence."

You completely missed my point, which tends to make me believe you're an atheist yourself. Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in the same God. But belief in the same god does not render their creeds the same.

Personally, I believe that all three creeds are based on the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle adjusted for the cultural norms within which they arose. I recognize, however, that there are substantial differences between the creeds in spite of their common core belief system, which actually stands apart from being "god fearing."

"But modern hubris makes you.. think that it works that way..."

Not really. I have spent a lot of time studying and researching the Old Testament (and a fair amount studying the New Testament), and I recognize what lies behind them both: the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.

The West is not Judeo-Christian, it is Greco-Roman. That said, to collapse distinct creeds with distinctly different historical approaches to money and debt is neither warranted nor wise. If you want to use "Christian" as a meaningless cipher that can hold any value you assign to it, I am okay with that, but make sure you are explicit about that fact. You can't just assign well-understood terms any meaning you want without informing others of that fact.


Toby said...

Hi Timbo,

Sorry for the tardy response, my family and I are on holiday in the Philippines.

I love the poem, hadn't read it before nor had I heard of the poet. Thank you for sharing it, and I'm flattered this post reminded you of it, though I can also see where you see similarities of course.

Happy New Year!

Toby said...

Welcome back Debbie!

Victimhood is a very slippery concept as it grows out free will (whatever that is). There are power relations, and they do accumulate and distribute differently across social groups. If a person's ability to survive depends on the whims of another, it can be very hard for that person to extricate him- or herself from that situation. This dynamic is writ large in the money and state systems, which are symbiotic social dynamics in my opinion, 'both' (they're parts of the same whole) depending for their continued functioning on class systems that calcify and perpetuate exploitation, i.e. victimhood. It's built into the cake. Escaping this dynamic logically requires a cultural shift that would then generate a very different social dynamic/structure/system.

So, where as individuals we can each make efforts to change the dynamic between us and another person, or perhaps even a single institution, at the cultural level this is a very slow process indeed. As you put it:

"I think we have been indoctrinated by our media and our TV on this subject."

You appear to be saying that we are guilty of allowing ourselves to be indoctrinated into thinking we are victims, when in reality we are not. A logical impossibility. There IS victimhood; how necessary it is, however, or how avoidable generally speaking, is another matter entirely and a very complex one. Looking at it ecologically, we might ask rhetorically whether the deer is the victim of the wolf, or the wolf the victim of the deer: they need each other. Deer would strip the forest of the food they need to survive unless the wolf were there to keep their numbers down. The wolf would over-hunt the deer population if the deer were not able to use its skills to escape, to flee, to dodge etc. Victimhood seems besides the point. But for humans, as I imply in the above paragraph, the situation is more complex, as you appear to concede.

That said, I agree with the thrust of what you say, and am not suggesting in my post that people should consider themselves powerless.

To be continued...

Toby said...

I happen to believe that we are slowly wriggling out from our need to be victims and 'coddled' by a patriarchal structure that keeps things organised, tamed, safe etc. The process is fitful and of uncertain outcome, but one thing is certain: we have to create it with our own hands. We have to believe in our power, both as individuals and as groups of whatever size, to 'succeed' (whatever that means). Which brings us to intentions, good or ill.

I find "the-road-to-hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions" argument tiresome. Are we then supposed to have bad intentions to get to heaven? Or no intentions whatsoever? Who defines heaven and hell?

Humans cannot help but want stuff and are capable of planning. These basic abilities necessarily generate intentions that we can and do act on. Outcomes are always uncertain and it's good that way: I'm not after totally controlled futures... What matters is the scale of our operations and the wisdom and patience with which we cooperate. If progress is about anything, it's about that, broadly speaking. I speak to that here in this post and elsewhere, hopefully without prescribing too much, though I have been very guilty of that in the past...

Toby said...

On Christianity: I'm actually very aware of my Christian heritage, but, as Tao rightly points out, also aware that it has a heritage too. There's nothing without heritage, without context.

Nothing makes sense in isolation.

Debra said...

Tao, I don't think we understand each other.
I can understand your point that the West is Greco-Roman, particularly since many of the words in our modern languages are constructed out of Greek or Latin etymons. That in itself is enough to make our civilization Greco-Roman.
I also understand that our understanding of the New and Old Testament has been incredibly influenced by the fact that the texts have come down to us in Greek translation, in many cases.
I agree with your observation about Plato and Aristotle's role in our thought, and in the thought of the Church, and in Jewish thought also.
If I turn to an etymological dictionary, and look up the word "sûr" in French, (sure), I find that it progressively loses its polysemic meaning of 1) a place, or person in whom I can have confidence, whom I trust 2) what is considered true, undubitable, often constructed in an impersonal form, leaving only definition 2, starting in the 17th century.
This gradual shift, over a period of 500 years or so, from 1100 to 1600 manifests the evolution of the relationship between faith and science/knowledge in our civilization ; the passage from an attitude where faith was reserved for the God in which/whom we put our trust, (cf, what is printed on American money...) an attitude which allowed us to feel... secure, and an attitude where trust in a supernatural power has been gradually eroded to the advantage of... certitude in the power of science, and our own knowledge, to give us that sense of security.
From the little I know about Plato, and Aristotle, I feel competent to say that Plato's philosophy, while definitely utopian, has been very instrumental in eroding trust, while attacking all forms of fiction and imagination which are not... Platonic...Plato held that mythology was old wives' tales, I think. That idea has great weight for our modernity in many domains, incidentally.
On money : what do you mean by "markets", Tao ? I presume you are not talking about my bi weekly market where I buy fruit and vegetables, and tons of other goodies ? Or ARE you ? The word... is the since the word is the same, I feel like saying that my little market must have something IN COMMON with the other meanings of the word at this time. Doesn't it ?
On common core belief systems, and "god fearing" : I have on numerous occasions, here and elsewhere, talked about the importance of being god fearing, in the sense of having a healthy respect for what we do not, and can not, control. So.. maybe this attitude transcends the core belief systems ?.. That interests me.
On Monotheism, I feel like saying that I am not sure that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in the same God, even adjusted for cultural differences, but that the effects produced by MONOtheism are similar in all three creeds.
We are arguing about the meaning of the word "identity", incidentally.
On atheism.. if you were in France right now, you would be well situated to understand why Jewish rabbis were apparently serene about atheism, but angered by agnosticism, as a more pernicious form of unbelief.
Toby, I understand what makes you impatient about the road to hell, but prefer to preach on small blogs to trying to make a BIG difference. That is my vocation, if you like.