The Great Unraveling and an Antidote

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source: Possibilitator

(CNN)When Congressman Paul Ryan opined recently that there was a “real culture problem” in poor communities, “in our inner cities in particular,” and that this culture was behind some of the country’s economic troubles, he didn’t realize how half right he was.

People are continuing to debate fiercely what Ryan said and whether he meant to propagate racially coded explanations of poverty’s roots. But put that aside for a moment. Here’s what he was right about: There is indeed a culture in America that is pathological and now threatens our social fabric. It’s not the culture of poverty, though. It’s the culture of wealth.
 Citizen University
So begins Eric Liu’s opinion piece “How America is Rigged for the Rich” this week on CNN. Liu is the founder of Citizen University and author of several books, including Gardens of Democracy. In this short piece Liu goes on to say,
             When the richest 400 families in America have more wealth than the bottom 155 million        Americans combined, the danger to the republic is far more clear and present than that posed by the “welfare queens” of lore or by anecdotes of shiftless inner-city men.
In another article that found its way into my line of vision this week, Evolution Institute Vice President  and professor of biology and anthropology, Peter Turchin, shares his analysis of forces at work in earlier societies unraveling.
 He cites some examples that turned earlier marches to the cliff around.

In some cases, however, societies come through relatively unscathed, by adopting a series of judicious reforms, initiated by elites who understand that we are all in this boat together. This is precisely what happened in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Several legislative initiatives, which created the framework for cooperative relations among labor, employers and the government, were introduced during the Progressive Era and cemented in the New Deal. 

          By introducing the Great Compression, these policies benefited society as a whole. They enabled it to overcome the challenges of the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War, and to achieve the postwar prosperity. Whether we can follow such a trajectory again is largely up to our political and economic leaders. It will depend on all of us, rich and poor alike, recognizing the real dangers and acting to address them.

While I found each of these pieces informative and thoughtful, the underlying frame offered in Mohammed Mesbahi‘s “Commercialization: The Antithesis of Sharing” is the more radical, both in the sense of getting at the “roots” and in what it has us ask of  ourselves.
       The danger is not commercialization per se but our constant identification with its inner and outer manifestation, in which humanity’s intelligence is led in the opposite direction from nature and spiritual evolution. What is evil, anyway, if not our identification with it?
Mesbahi, who founded Share the World’s Resources, goes on to elaborate. 
         We all understand what sharing means on a personal level, as everybody shares within their homes and communities. So why do so few people understand the need to implement the principle of sharing on a national and worldwide level? A large part of the answer to this question can be simply put: it is because the foundations of our society have been constructed in such a way that market forces have become loose. We have developed complex economic and political systems that are increasingly geared towards profit and commercialization: the tax structures, the large corporations, the countless legal regulations that are created to defend private interests – all of this creates a highly complicated and divisive society. Nobody understands the system in the end, but the system understands precisely how to manipulate us for its own purposes. And in such a complex society, with so many laws and policies created to facilitate commercialization, the principle of sharing is almost non-existent.


          As long as we live in a society that is driven by profit and commercialization, the principle of sharing will always be eclipsed. In every sphere of human activity it can be observed that when commercialization moves in, sharing moves out. The same reality also pertains to the environment: when commercialization moves in, nature moves out. Indeed when commercialization moves in it can be so invasive, so destructive, that it can break apart families. It can break apart traditions and national identities, as we have seen with many free trade agreements and the economic integration of Europe. Wherever these forces are unleashed it can lead to a widening gulf between rich and poor, a loss of community solidarity and a contagion of spiritual turmoil, and a diversion of man’s God-given intelligence in the opposite direction of social progress and evolution. And if commercialization is left to blindly guide a society for a long enough period of time, it can even compromise human life.


The signs are everywhere that we are unraveling not only the life-support systems we depend on, but the social fabric that might hold us together – the IPCC report from last week just being one recent piece of evidence. The increasing concentration of wealth and power just being another. And as  one can deduce from reading the pieces cited above they are fundamentally because our social myopia has us believe that we are free and independent from each other and the planet that sustains us. The boundaries of difference that we erect – political, class, ethnicity, religion are mere fictions. When we can both understand that reality and act in accordance with it, embracing Meshabi’s call for sharing, maybe we can forestall the unraveling and enjoy our connectedness with nature and all those we are in kinship with.
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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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