Monday, June 30, 2008

Two Basic Principles

Let me start with two simple guiding principles.

The first has been used by everyone from Saul Alinsky to Ayn Rand and is one of the tenets of capitalism. It's that people are basically selfish; they act on the basis of their own self-interest. I think it's true--but it's a problem without the other principle.

The other principle comes from ecology and systems theory and even economics. It's that everything is connected. Everything effects everything else. Maybe the butterfly doesn't cause the tornado, but certainly anything we do effects what is around us, and since everything is connected, it eventually effects us.

Most religions recognize this. From Ecclesiates (Hebrew bible): "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you shall find it after many days." From Galatians (Christian bible): "...whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap." In Hinduism and Buddhism it's referred to as 'karma'.

Problems come when we don't see the connection between these two principles. If you want to take care of yourself, you've got to take care of the world, or at least the world around you.

Getting people to see this IS social change. If we see that taking care of others and taking care of the world is taking care of ourselves then there's no problem with being selfish.

Unfortunately, most people don't see this. Otherwise, why would industrial CEOs build plants that pollute the air that they breathe (along with everyone else)? Why would we engage in wars that basically cause a build up of resentment against us and thereby lead to more fighting and violence that ends up hurting us in the long run? (Witness how many terrorists we've created by the wars in Afganistan and Iraq. "Victory breeds hatred" - Gautama Buddha)

The question, therefore, is how to get people to see this. Someone pointed out to me the seductiveness of instant gratification and how many folks get hooked on it. Committing to taking care of the world, to social change, means delaying gratification for long term gain. It means we need to live simply, cooperatively, and sustainably; it means we need to promote equality, diversity, and justice. And for selfish reasons--because it will create the kind of world that we want to live in. It's not easy to do, but it's the only thing that works in the long run.

Maybe this is the first piece of education that we need to get out to the general public. And it's not going to be easy.

Quote of the day: "I do believe we're all connected. ... I do believe in putting good out into the world. And I believe in taking care of each other." - Harvey Fierstein
Word (or phrase) of the day: Cisgendered
Hero(es) of the day: Thomas Atkins

1 comment:

Laura Austan said...

These principles of selfishness go hand in hand with the theory that being rotten and mean is stupid. :) Thanks, MoonRaven, blog on...