Wealth, Work, Our Planet, and You and Me
This picture moves me profoundly. It was taken in 2018 during the California fires, raging infernos that blocked out the light of the sun. The uncontrolled fire is coming over the hills in the background, the gagging smoke and flames threatening the life and health of everything in its path. And here are the farm workers, with only bandanas for protection, harvesting the food for our plates as we sit safe in our homes far away from the danger. “Who labors,” I must ask, “and how do they labor that I may live?
There is a ground swell of demand in our time that our human dignity be honored. Healthy souls inwardly rebel at having our labor - our life work, our youth and creativity, literally the sweat of our brow - bought, traded, exploited, used, extracted, and then discarded like a box car of potatoes or washing machine parts that has spoiled or rusted. There is revolution throughout society today, and rightly so, against being viewed as inferior, disposable human beings in a hostile economic system. Labor per hour is repugnant even on the grand economic scale, such as the buying and selling of professional athletes, who benefit financially and have their moment of fame, but must submit to the auction block for their market ‘worth’. On the other hand, those so bartered in the slave markets of our nation’s history could only struggle to survive the forced exploitation and hideous violations of human rights and dignity they endured.
We know that human rights and recognition of our human dignity are fundamental rights and every human being is meant to stand equally before God, humanity, and society. You and I are born to be a human being among human beings, and we each expect to be treated with basic respect.
When the United States was founded, the bold Declaration of Independence broke thousands of years of rule by inherited monarchies and caste systems and declared, “We hold these truths, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our painful history in this country, (and the world at large), has been the struggle to make this a reality for everyone. Sadly, the elephant in that Philadelphia stateroom on July 4, 1776 when the courageous step was taken, was that those
inalienable rights did not hold for over half of the population of the times; women, the Native Americans who had modeled the democratic foundation for this country’s governance by inspiring the founding fathers, the population of slaves whose labor generated the agricultural productivity of the land, indentured servants, and others who owned no property. While the founders were earnestly dedicated to finding new forms of governance, they were unable to address this massive hypocrisy that would be played out in the tragic blood bath of the Civil War eighty years later. We are still struggling to realize these goals for all citizens.
Further, I feel the last phrase the “pursuit of happiness”, has been tragically distorted. For far too many, a materialistic, egotistical interpretation of ‘freedom’ means to do whatever we please out of our whims and desires without responsibility for the outcome. I feel that a higher spiritual vision was in fact the intention behind the words “pursuit of happiness;” - that it ultimately means “fulfilling the mission for which I was born with the unique gift that I can give.” What a difference it would make if we could consider in this light!
The founding principle of modern exploitive/extractive capitalism, penned by Adam Smith, is that our selfishness, our self-serving interest is the driver of our desire to work and amass wealth. So we have become a society, an economy that counts on, is founded on, cold, selfish, anti-social energy to take whatever advantage we have and use it to competitively crush others for personal gain. Therefore NOT caring for the planet and one another is seen as the ‘motivation’ to work. We are expected to take care of our personal welfare at the expense of others. This has worked as intended in many ways. The greediest among us have used their accumulated wealth and power to unethically exploit labor and world resources to the extent
this is threatening the very existence of the planet that sustains us all. We are all experiencing the results of desecrating the earth and all who live on it. Further, the most ruthless of the wealthy use their power to control the governance of entire countries to maintain their inhuman, insatiable demands for an ever greater share of the wealth resulting from world resources and human labor. They have tweaked tax laws, given full human rights to soulless corporate entities that can never die, have deceived and misled the people at every level to give themselves even more advantage to exploit everything in their wake, and there is no end in sight. The hearts of millions know this is a monumental wrong but don’t know how to change it.
We need to realize we all play a part in the scheme of things. With our thinking, feeling, and doing, and the choices we make as self-conscious individuals, we either impact and serve the current system and mind set or forge new thoughts and deeds for the future.
I enthusiastically acknowledge that many admirable individuals and groups are using their hard work, entrepreneurial skills and ingenuity to build truly admirable businesses and organizations that we all need. They have fair and inclusive cooperative models and practices that consider all the stakeholders who create their businesses, as well as their impact on the environment. May they thrive!
Rudolf Steiner stated that there are social spiritual laws that we ignore to our peril. He stated that there are different realms of society and that each different aspect has a different universal law behind it. There is a Cultural realm (religion, education, the arts, innovation, ideas, philosophy) where the law of freedom is meant to rightly reign as the ultimate principle.
There is a realm of Rights a social/political sphere that must be strengthened and upheld until all human beings are commonly endowed with the same basic rights under the law. Equality is the higher law of this realm.
There is the third realm of Economics which provides for the primal needs we all have to survive in this world that we all share. Brother/Sisterhood is the core recognition we need in this realm if we are to progress both individually and collectively in this area and progress as a world society. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” - this is not a new phrase but one that needs deep and thoughtful consideration.
Rudolf Steiner proposed an unusual concept: that we should not work for wages, where our life substance, vitality, innovation, and creativity, can be used, bartered, ignored, exploited, and then we can be discarded. Rather, we should ultimately all be supported by one another so that we may give our unique gifts to benefit the whole out of our self directed intentions and the missions for which we were born. Utopian impossibility? Place it, dear friends, beside the surreal nightmare we are now are living which threatens the very existence of the planet. Ours is a time of Darwinistic survival of the most powerful and most brutal kind - and it starts with the thinking that lies behind exploitive, self-serving economics! Like surly dogs, we are charged to look at one another as competitors to be savagely eliminated as we vie for the world resources.
How I treasure that I was blessed to be raised by parents with a social ethic that could be expressed something like this: “Go into any situation, see what needs to be done, and do it, without fanfare just because it needs to be done - with good will and good cheer.... as a gift!” This gave me
assurance I was needed and could make a difference in this world and that fulfillment would follow, even if my contribution was not outwardly acknowledged. All gifts large and small have honor. Do we value a fulfilled life in the long run or a heap of material goods that lie useless at our feet when we die?
It is surely time to discuss new ideas of what it means to be human and be a part of society and the world today. It is time to talk together about how we cooperatively create the future we want and to talk about whether we literally have a future at all. The children and young people of this world are powerfully rising up and asking world leaders to address these questions... right now!
With our limited egocentric perspective we believe that our rugged individualism, so prized in Western culture, is what allows us to succeed and be rewarded with the trappings of success. There is no question the individual is of paramount importance - one needs to be one’s own decision maker about where one gives one’s thoughts, dedication, faith, beliefs, work and energy. In fact no one else should be doing this for us. But what is the truth of how we actually live?
We may think that because we are given certain advantages at birth, such as inherited wealth, talents, good parenting, educational opportunities, and also whether we work and compete diligently in the marketplace and make our money to buy ever more things are what determines our ‘worth’. In this system we are rewarded with societal status and/or a salary we feel we deserve and may spend as we please. We feel we are ultimately the ones responsible for our lives, our successes, and our material goods in life
because we earned them. This is not false from one view point; we do certainly shape and earn the fruits of our life endeavors.
But there is another primal truth that we often ignore. What actually allows us to live? The truth is we are fed, clothed, sheltered, served and cared for thanks to hundreds, thousands, millions of individuals who got up in the morning and went to work, some at very dreary and thankless jobs who have labored to provide for our needs. There is not one single thing in my home that I touch or use daily to serve my personal needs that does not represent the life work, the sweat of the brow, the gift of labor that others have provided. I literally depend on millions of others every day of my life! Without them I will perish. I will perish.
When we are brought low and humbled, rendered in awe of this TRUTH of our very existence (as we ought to be), then look at the meaning of life and society. With such a concept we stand once more at the primal starting line and truth of the human race. The fact is we can view our gift of living in this world is because we are standing on the shoulders of our fellow human beings who have provided for our well being. We exist through the labor, gifts, and love of millions of our fellow human citizens of this planet. We begin our lives on this earth, upheld and honored with a life made possible because our fellow human beings offered their work and commitment into the community of LIFE ITSELF - down to the shoes on our feet, the spoon into our mouth, the car we drive, the phone we use, and on and on.
What if every nine year old child was offered these thoughts? What if our children were imbued with the knowledge that their unique contributions are honored and needed and that the mystery quest of their life - their
‘pursuit of happiness’ - is to find their mission where they can give the treasure of their gift to the whole of humanity? In some indigenous wisdom-filled societies the children were raised to think for themselves and work to serve others - to serve the community with their gift and contributions to the people of their community and well being of all the created world we have been gifted to live in.
The great truth is that behind all the abundance created by the labor of
human beings lies the selfless gifts of the natural world and the divine Creator - the gifts of the planet we share which we are so arrogantly desecrating and exploiting. Our natural world, our Mother Earth, is reeling now from the forces of that disrespect. That all thing are connected is a fact regardless of our personal beliefs.
It’s certainly time if it ever was time to talk about these things. In Iroquois tradition the elected chief is he who is the most selfless leader and cares for his people, even personally sacrificing for their physical care and welfare. Our current Commander in Chief of the United States has dishonored the role to an extent that would be pathetic if it were not so blatantly harmful to so many people and lives.
The current structure of society supports exploitation of people and the world resources. We must find a way to re-structure society to support the equality of rights under the law and in the political realm. As our current capitalistic society results in untrammeled greed there is a clarion call to generate gratitude and generosity as a power of each responsible individual.
Our economies need to be run by representatives of all stakeholders involved working in cooperation for the larger good of society. This is exemplified in the law of Brother/Sisterhood in the economic realm encouraging the holding of others with selflessness and a sense of service. We need to be ever mindful that the third law of Freedom must also be strong so we thrive in the realm of religious faith, culture, education and creative innovation. All three realms need to be clearly recognized and supported in developing the higher universal laws unique to each realm. Then we could bring about some clarity and hope to the complex society in which we all need to live and thrive.
We can look to the wisdom of First Peoples from our indigenous cultures as models of the proper respect, awe, and humility we all need now. This can bring us to the realization that the bounteous gifts of the natural world, new regenerative cooperative thinking, greater moral/spiritual insight, both personal and national, and gratitude are all needed to go forward in the evolution of humanity. And the time is NOW!
Nancy Jewel Poer, April, 2019 Written in preparation for the ReConnecting Conference with Native American Elders at White Feather Ranch