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Reframing Wealth as an Evolutionary Calling

One of the Evolutionary Philanthropy papers


In order for life to reorganize at a higher level, it needs to break down and be woven into a new order. Concentrated wealth arose from the fragmentation of nature and is a major resource for an evolutionary leap to weave humankind and nature into a remarkable, vibrant whole never before seen on Earth.

  • Human society has been nature's means of fragmenting itself -- through resource extraction, transportation, language, borders, individualism, anthropomorphism, jobs, mathematics, oppression, analysis, medicine and more -- while at the same time providing the means -- consciousness, concentrated wealth, holistic sciences, generative conversations, new forms of interconnectedness, integral wisdom, sustainable technologies and biomimicry -- to weave a new whole, a new inclusive natural order. What some have viewed as a disastrous mistake -- the industrial scientific era -- can be viewed instead as a developmental stage, not unlike adolescence, for humanity collectively, and for Life, enroute to becoming something greater together.
  • Wealth, science, individualism, and consumerism all play a part in this larger dynamic -- this fragmenting of the world in preparation for a new, more sophisticated wholeness. However, they have reached their time of ripeness, when it is time to move on or begin to rot. It is now time for these things to mature from their fragmenting, isolating, dominating modes to their healing, weaving, and transforming modes.
  • Our personal and collective decisions can trigger this transformation at any time. Starting now, we face a choice -- individually and collectively, moment to moment: Either we continue to create and support systems that fragment Life for our individual and group benefit OR we use the resources evolution has given us -- including our accumulated wealth -- to heal and transform ourselves and our world.
  • We can be -- and are now called to become -- far more conscious and choiceful about our own evolution and the evolution of our world.

The primary source of private wealth

Most people believe that private wealth comes from the value-added labor and spirit -- innovation, creativity, intelligence, entrepreneurship, commitment, competitive competence -- of people who then receive their due portion of that wealth in reward for their part in its creation. While this is very true in a narrow sense, the more broadly we view it, the more we see a different story emerging. If we honestly look at the big picture of profit and production, we may be surprised to find that most private financial wealth comes from activities and cultures that fragment the world, breaking it apart to generate income and profit. We will explore that big picture here.

Consider: How much wealth would we have if we left the stored capital of nature -- oil, minerals, topsoil, pure water, DNA, and all the rest -- just as it is -- or if we paid Nature for it? (It is enlightening to reflect on what form of payment would suffice...) Notice how we call these substances and patterns that required billions of years to create "natural resources" -- real estate, board feet, mines, property... Although we had little or nothing to do with their creation, we act as if they were just there, free for the taking, for us. We "discover" them, and then take them.

There's more: How much wealth would we have if we couldn't assume the creative, stable functioning of nature -- the services of pollination and orderly genetic development, the vast cycles of water and gasses, the familiar patterns of weather? We don't usually think of these things, but more of us have begun to think of them lately, as the weather becomes strange, as the bee colonies die, as chemicals and radiation distort the genetic development of animals and children, as rivers and aquifers dry. Not having to care for all these things earlier -- investing resources or restraining our profitable businesses and economic development -- has enhanced our ability to accumulate wealth for generations. This is becoming clear today, as Nature knocks at our door, demanding payment on our overdue account.

So Lesson 1: Tremendous wealth accumulates from breaking our bonds with nature, breaking up the wholeness of nature, and acting as if nature is merely the background for our play, resource for our production, slave for our mastery.

The story goes on: How much wealth would we have if ALL people were supported in living healthy, self-defined lives that served both their wellbeing and the common good, the commonwealth. Throughout history, the labor, creativity, and lives of billions of people have been used to generate massive private wealth of which most participants received only a small part, if anything. Slaves, women, people of color, tribal peoples, people who are not happy with their jobs, underpaid laborers, consumers shopping to fill an unfillable emptiness.... The life energy of all these people has added -- and continues to add -- untold substance to the wealth that exists today. Had it not been for their (usually unhappy, sometimes unwitting) sacrifice, where would that wealth be? And further wealth accumulates by transferring the costs of private gain into the public realm -- what has come to be called "corporate welfare", from subsidies to tax breaks to tax-supported wars and toxic clean-ups -- while human needs go begging.

And here's another part to it: money makes it so we don't need each other: we can get what we want by ourselves. The more money we have, the less we need to depend on anyone we don't pay. We see this as freedom, and fail to see how it divides us from each other and, given our deep need for communion, from ourselves.

So Lesson 2: Tremendous wealth accumulates through the fragmentation of humanity.

We can also wonder: How much wealth would we have if all things -- communities, lives, knowledge, organizations, cultures, natural materials, organisms, and ecosystems -- were maintained in as whole a condition as possible? To grasp this better, let us consider what has happened to communities under the onslaught of individualism, mass entertainment, the automobile, eminent domain, technology, the global economy and so many other fragmenting forces. What if the wholeness of communities was sacrosanct, and these abusive centrifugal forces were taboo (as they are to a great extent among the Amish and certain other communities)? What if the integrity of ecosystems -- of mountains, rivers, forests, oceans, and the needs of migrating birds, butterflies and whales -- were all sacrosanct and could not be violated, dug into, polluted, blocked or broken? How many fortunes would have never been made, just in this last century? 

So we come to Lesson 3: Tremendous wealth accumulates through the fragmentation of life, itself.

The questions continue: How much wealth would we have if every investment decision and every business or industrial activity was judged primarily on the basis of its impact on future generations? How much wealth accumulates simply by ignoring the problems created by economic and technological activity and by wanton waste that fouls the nest of our children -- and by delaying the handling of these things as long as possible. The bumpersticker on the RV says "We are spending our children's inheritance." In deed.

But future generations aren't the only ones we exploit. How much wealth would we have if we had to pay for the benefits we receive from the wealth, knowledge, creativity, care and productivity of those who came before us, whose life-energy is the foundation of our lives? How much wealth would there be if these people hadn't gone before us, and done what they did? What do we owe to their unfulfilled dreams? We are embedded in a cultural matrix and dense web of supports from our ancestors to which we -- especially the privileged amongst us -- have such free access that most of us take it quite for granted.

So Lesson 4: Tremendous wealth accumulates through breaking our bonds with past and future generations and acting as if we did it all ourselves and owe nothing to anybody.

Why don't we see this? How much wealth would we have if humanity were fully aware of what is happening to us, of how the world works, and about the roles we play -- individually and collectively -- in what is happening? Mass obliviousness regarding these essential facts of life is vital for the accumulation and concentration of tremendous wealth, and for that accumulation to continue. Denial about the full role of wealth in the world and in our lives -- including the systematic obscuring of truths about the roles of wealth and power from most of society and even denial of the hidden losses generated by privilege on the privileged as well as the oppressed. Also hidden is how the oppressed co-create their oppression and possess their own forms of wealth and power -- truths used by Gandhi and others to empower the powerless. If all of us awoke to what was happening -- how our humanity was being eroded and how powerful we really are -- we would all rise up and change the world overnight. The accumulation of wealth and degradation goes on in an awareness vaccuum, a virtual reality divorced from deeper truths necessary for us all to live out a full affirmation of our aliveness, individually and together.

Lesson 5 is harder to see, but perhaps the most important of all: Tremendous wealth accumulates through the fragmentation of our awareness -- individually and collectively -- especially about our actual role and power in life.

And finally, we need to ask how much wealth we would have if our social systems and cultures supported all the wholeness we've been talking about, and forbade all the fragmentation. Wealth is not acquired, accumulated, and sustained all by itself, without massive societal support. The profit-based money economy, institutionalized injustice (from racism to low minimum wage), powerholder control of media, distractive consumerism, status quo structures and habits, the broader culture of control, competition, hierarchy, and so many other things, all support this fragmentation and channel the resources of nature and human communities toward the accumulation of private wealth.

Thus we could say there is one more important lesson: Lesson 6: Tremendous wealth accumulates through social institutions that support the profitable fragmentation of life in all its forms.

So we find ourselves beginning the 21st century with tremendous wealth and tremendous fragmentation, intimately intertwined. And we find it increasingly obvious that we are near the limits of both. Before the wealth bubble bursts, it is time to turn that wealth to its evolutionary task of healing and weaving a profound new wholeness in our world. It is time for evolutionary leaps in the right direction. A concentrated pool of resources has been evolving for centuries to support those leaps. Just as concentrated fossil fuels were destined to fuel the industrial era, so concentrated wealth has been destined to fuel the transformation and conscious evolution of the world.

The choice

Wealth usually provides access to an endless set of great things for "me and mine," where "mine" is anyone and anything I care about. To the extent I am wealthy, I have ready access to enjoyment, education, comfort, possessions, novelty, beauty, health, options, security, power, attention, service, space, and more. Significantly, I also have access to more wealth. And because such access is not available to everyone and I can and usually do take much of it for granted, I have privilege.

One of the most important blessings of wealth and privilege is greater choice. And with choice comes responsibility -- responsibility I may or may not welcome. Privilege can help me turn away from responsibility, but it can also help me take it on and make a significant difference. So what is involved in my choosing to take an active role in the positive evolution of civilization in the 21st century? And how could my wealth empower me as an evolutionary agent?

Among the things that privilege and weath can provide me if I choose to actively participate in the conscious evolutionary path are these:

  • more time to learn, evolve, create and serve -- and to improve my ability to do these things -- including waking up to the dynamics of evolution and wholeness happening everywhere in and around me
  • more independence from the systems and forces of fragmentation so I can see the transformational path more clearly and have time and attention to help the world move more elegantly and compassionately down that path
  • more power to influence individuals, communities, targeted populations, powerholders, and larger human and natural systems towards wholeness through media, philanthropy, politics, education, the arts, etc.
  • more ability to create contexts and opportunities to promote healing, transformation, connection, and conscious evolution at all levels, in all sectors
  • more resources to empower people and organizations already fostering generative conversations, conscious evolution, resilience and sustainability, greater human potential, and the emergence of wisdom cultures
  • more time, access, and freedom to generate collective wisdom with others on behalf of the whole.

By doing such things I am consciously using my privilege and wealth to transform the world. As I align myself with the thrust of evolution towards consciousness and wholeness in and around me, I become a force of nature. I know that the wealth-power and privilege I have are not my own, that Nature invested them in me on behalf of the future. For centuries nature has used me, my associates, my ancestors, my species, to split herself up into our man-made world and bring us to these precarious edge-times where humanity now finds itself, filled with promise and danger. And now is the historic moment in which I use that same wealth-power to fire up this next great leap in our collective evolution on behalf of life, so that humankind and nature achieve a more profound level of wholeness and consciousness together than has ever existed before on Earth.

The mission

Our mission is to participate actively and creatively in an emerging natural-and-human wholeness that grows ever-more richly nuanced, densely interwoven, infused with spirit and beauty, and vibrantly alive with both chaos and order, action and rest, awareness and mystery, inside and out -- a world becoming ever more conscious of itself and more consciously evolving. 

Waking up to this mission involves a Great Turning in our own consciousness and lives -- the realization that our wealth did not come to us for our personal (fragmentary) benefit. We are the stewards of this powerful tool that arose out of and contributed to Life's sacrifice (fragmentation) enroute to Its greater reintegration. Thus our wealth (which contains the life energy of the Whole) came to us (as facets of the Whole) to empower the living reconfiguration of the Whole into higher forms of organization and aliveness.

It is a solemn, joyful, unprecedented journey that we undertake, this challenge to thoroughly transform ourselves and our world. We don't have to be "rich" to undertake it. The vast majority of us in the developed world are "wealthy" in this financial way, compared to the rest of the world -- and the rest of us are wealthy in many other ways. We can all wake up to this evolutionary reality and rise into this deeply meaningful evolutionary identity. 

Let us give of ourselves and our wealth with due intelligence, elegance and wisdom. Nothing less than the conscious dimension of Life is at stake. For we are a profound experiment of Life testing our minds and spirits as a way for the Universe to wake up to itself. We are the evolution we have been hoping for. The calling we feel is a reverberation of the first Great Radiance as it opened up a universe of infinite possibilities...


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