Responsibility versus anti-possession as response to disaster

If ever you might need a clear example of the difference between a responsibility-based economy versus a possession-based one, and the fundamental dysfunctionality of the latter, take a look at the international response to the current natural-disaster in Japan, with huge problems arising from a massive earthquake and tsunami all down its north-east coast, and collateral impacts such as damage to and failure of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

It should be obvious – more like blindingly-obvious, I hope – that there is a massive need for resources there, of all kinds. The human impact is huge: the immediate fact that so many have died is almost trivial compared to the inner-work that each of the survivors will need to do, over years and decades to come. Many villages and towns and even cities have been all but erased from the map: the physical costs of rebuilding the homes and shops and workspaces and infrastructure need to be matched by all the other types of costs involved in rebuilding human community. It’s clear that whatever happens onward, the power-plant is already seriously damaged, possibly beyond repair: which means that Japan has lost a significant proportion of its power-generating capacity, partially crippling its entire industrial and social base, not just for a few days or weeks, but probably for several years to come, until a replacement can be brought on-line. (The costs of decommissioning the damaged plant are another story again…) And right now, all of those people directly affected by the disaster – at least half a million people, and probably many more – need food, clothing, shelter and much more; and in the long term, rebuilding not just the physical spaces and work and everything else that goes with it, but rebuilding hope as well.

A responsibility-based economy matches the resources to the need. It prepares for that need, too – as can be seen in Japan’s rapid, well-rehearsed response, including mobilising 100,000 troops in the disaster-recovery effort (a distinct non-warfighting role for its armed-forces). Around the world, nations and NGOs alike have sent not just words but practical aid: and even if the sheer scale of the problems tends in practice to render many of these well-meant efforts down to little more than token gestures, the fact that mutual-responsibility is acknowledged there is important, with more than just token effect.

Contrast that with the response from the possession-economy – in other words, that which currently presents itself as ‘the economy’. In a sense that response could best be summarised by an, uh, unfortunate ‘Freudian slip’ by US economics-commentator Larry Kudlow, as reported by the largely apolitical lifestyle-magazine Vanity Fair:

In these tough economic times, isn’t it nice to know that calamitous natural disasters needn’t have an adverse affect on your investment portfolio? After the 8.9-magnitude earthquake in Japan failed to induce a market nosedive, CNBC’s Larry Kudlow expressed his relief in terms that seemed to appall even his fellow cheerleaders for capitalism: “The human toll here,” he declared, “looks to be much worse than the economic toll and we can be grateful for that.”

Yet whilst the disaster “failed to induce a market nosedive” in the US, the immediate ‘economic’ response to Japan has been very different. The national bank, for example, ‘released’ trillions of yen (hundreds of billions of dollars) to protect the national economy – yet in effect diluted and devalued the price-worth of every other yen currency-unit by doing so, because the price/resource balance has to come from somewhere. And in almost every other market elsewhere in the world, share-values in just about anything Japanese – car-companies, electronics, whatever – have taken a steep nosedive, already by 10% or more, and going down further with each new item of bad news. Insurance-companies worldwide have also been badly hit. In other words, the possession-economy’s response to a disaster of any kind is to reduce the available resources to recover from that disaster – just at the point where they are most needed.

In short, the possession-economy is driven not merely by the myths of ‘possession’ – the purported ‘right’ to claim exclusive access to shared resources, and to withhold those resources from others on personal whim or for personal gain at others’ expense – but also by anti-possession – the purported ‘right’ to avoid any inherent responsibilities that arise from that claim of possession. This is the dysfunctional side of entrepreneurship – where an entrepreneur acts not as a symbiotic catalyst in the economic ecosystem, but as a literal ‘between-taker’ [‘entre’, between; ‘prendre’, to take], a parasite whose sole ‘service’ is to take, and take, and take, whilst giving little or nothing in return.

Like a ‘fair-weather friend’, the possession-economy demands its (often excessive) ‘cut’ whenever times are good, but is nowhere to be seen whenever times are bad. In fact that’s when we discover that our so-called ‘friend’ has instead taken away whatever we need for recovery, and may even actively hinder us as we struggle to recover, creating an enforced dependence in order to maximise any future ‘take’. Responsibility accepts the costs of caring; whilst possession ‘succeeds’ because it does not care – placing itself above all others, demanding responsibility from those others, but evading the duty and mutual-responsibility of care for others in return.

There will always be some parasites in every ecosystem, of course. But to put it in its bluntest form, the paradigmatic parasitism of the possession-economy is a ‘luxury’ we can no longer afford. If we are to have any chance to survive in the longer term, we have no choice in this: somehow – and even if as yet we have no idea as to how – we must bring the possession-economy to an end.

Posted in Complexity / Structure, Futures, Power and responsibility, Society Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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