written 21 March 2021
published 28 March 2021
One of my favorite movies is "A Beautiful Mind", about the Nobel prize winning mathematician, John Nash. The larger story is a triumph of intention and heart over mental illness. But I was fascinated by the core of Nash's mathematical discovery, what he called "governing dynamics". He showed there are two fundamental, simultaneous forces organizing any society, human or otherwise: the drive for individual gain, and the drive for societal gain. In the movie, when Nash presents his thesis in 1950, his advisor notes that it overturns centuries of capitalist economic theory.
Capitalism is an economic model based only on the first of these two drives, the assumption that everyone is always operating from their most selfish motives. Over the last half century, this has devolved to maximizing profits for corporate shareholders at the expense of everything else. In addition to creating corruption at the top, it has produced massive wealth inequity. In America, the wealthiest country in the world, two men (Jeff Bezos and Elan Musk) own as much wealth as the poorest 40% of the country, more than 130 million people. This profit has come at great environmental cost as well, with increasing air, water, and food contamination, global species extinction, and the potential collapse of the entire biosphere (not to mention the economy), due to abrupt climate change.
State Communism is an economic model based only on the second drive, the assumption that the collective society is the only value. This created corruption at the top, massive institutional oppression of the individual, stifled creativity, and, because only humans are considered in the collective, generated wide spread environmental degradation.
Neither extreme is a complete or sustainable solution. A combination like democratic socialism may be the right balance, where the vital creative energy of capitalism is channeled and constrained by fundamental social structures, much like a fireplace prevents a housefire.
The imperative to value both society and self is similar to the fundamental quantum mechanical wave particle duality. When physics was first formalized, matter was determined to be particles, with definite qualities like mass and location in space with defined boundaries, much like the sense of the individual. The quantum revolution threw that certainty into question. Matter manifests as both a particle and a wave, depending on how one does the experiment. It shows particle like properties when examined as a particle, but wave like properties when examined like a wave. Waves are associated with motion and are not localized in space, but extend to the whole of reality.
In philosophic history, the particle view, or "atomism", has been in and out of vogue several times, and the quantum wave nature of matter was first dismissed as absurd. But decades of scientific experimentation have expanded the investigation of matter with increasing sophistication, into dimensions previously unobtainable. The results continually demonstrate wave particle duality is the reality we inhabit, no matter how difficult it is to comprehend. Technology based on this physics has radically transformed our entire economy and society, presenting further validation. Reality is both specific and whole, and our continued survival depends on embracing this at the deepest level.
Which brings us back to the relationship between the "self" and "other", or self and society. As I have mentioned many times before, all the spiritual traditions on the planet include some variation on the Golden Rule, which arises from an understanding that we are all fundamentally connected. Yet every day the news reports events where people kill, oppress, disenfranchise, and impoverish others out of pride or fear for self.
The problem is not Trump and his followers, the Q-anon crazies, regressive Republican voter suppression, extreme capitalist wealth inequity, misogyny, intolerance based on race religion or sexual preference, environmental degradation for short term corporate profit, or even the threat of extreme climate change. Every one of these critical socially disruptive issues are symptoms of the same problem, failure to experience that we are both self and society, particle and wave. Every individual must be honored as a unique expression of manifestation, while at the same time recognizing that our personal survival depends on nourishing all individuals, and not just the humans, within our collective reality. Embracing this will be a game changer. Failure leads to inevitable, and perhaps imminent, collapse.