Utopian concepts are a natural part of our world. In the eternal struggle to improve life on earth, dreamers and con men alike have peddled visions of bountiful convergence among the earth's nations, each person sharing with and caring for one another.
Social scientist Riane Eisler offers just such a vision in her book The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. Eisler examines traditional economic theories, declaring them ‘dominant’ for their insistence on putting profit before people. Eisler suggest a new economic theory, one that values caring and care-giving as a main resource. The less than subtle implication is that the dominant theories are the result of masculine thinking, and in order to save our planet, we need to give serious thought to the more feminine caring economy.
Throughout The Real Wealth of Nations, Eisler shows examples of large-scale destruction wrought by current economic systems, adding a few references to companies and nations nurturing their workers and populations. It all sounds pretty good, until you wake up and realize that such a system is against our primordial programming.
While I applaud Eisler for giving thought to a new economic system in Real Wealth of Nations, caring economics is an under-developed concept. Eisler spends a great deal of time condemning dominant economics, but has no comprehensive plan on how her new economy can become reality. Like so many utopian authors before her, Eisler leaves the details for us to figure out.
Humanity is competitive and selfish by design. We are wired for survival and we understand on an instinctual level that our survival sometimes depends upon the destruction of other life and taking things by force. Let’s be honest — we are the only animal that kills our own for consumptive gain. History is filled with periods of rabid mass destruction which have been engaged for the sole purpose of consumptive gain. Eisler writes that achieving her ideal of an economic system that values caring and care giving will take some time. Hmmm… well, yeah, probably eons, if ever.
If you don’t believe me, watch how people in this country drive their cars. How many of them are watching for you? That, my friends, is human instinct at work. It takes a very deep, concentrated effort to overcome those responses, an effort most people aren’t willing to make. If you want to see how fragile the idea of caring economics really is, shut down the electricity grid in this country for a couple of days. Men and women alike will be at each other's throats in no time.
The effort to reverse our primitive wiring is comparable to digging Mt. McKinley to ground level one teaspoon at a time. For now, compassionate economics will be limited to companies willing to share profits with workers in myriad ways, and in the micro-loan industry that has helped poverty-stricken families find a path towards self-sufficiency.
The unfortunate fact is humans haven’t evolved very much in the last 50,000 years. We’re only about three hairs away from our distant ancestors, and I don’t see us evolving very much in the near future. Unless Eisler can figure out a way to make mankind less ignorant and lazy, I’m afraid the utopia she writes of in The Real Wealth of Nations will remain a dream.