Bill Totten's Weblog

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The economy isn't everything

by Grace Lee Boggs

The Michigan Citizen (October 19 2008)

In these times of economic meltdown, when so many of us are losing our homes and our jobs and agonizing about how to pay our bills, the conventional wisdom is to insist that the economy is everything, and that you're stupid if you don't agree.

That is why I'd like to share the email about the Dow that I received this week from my friend, Rosa Naparstek, who used to live in Detroit and now lives in New York. Rosa is an artist who helps us liberate our imaginations from the dominant culture and get to our human essence. In August she gave a very moving slide show presentation of her artwork at the Boggs Center. She called it "Childscapes" because it revealed how our inner landscapes form the emotional roots of the world we create personally and politically.

In this email about the Dow, Rosa reminds us that life isn't only about the economy. We are, first and foremost, human beings who down through the ages have created our way of life according to who and what we are. Until the onset of capitalism only a few centuries ago, our relationships with one another and our communities, not the rapid growth of the economy, were what we valued. The current crisis provides us with the opportunity to reclaim those fundamental human values.

"Last week", her email begins, "my sister and I went to Ellis Island , the portal of our entry into the United States in 1951. I remember standing on deck at the railing, holding my father's hand and cheering at the sight of the statue and land. I knew we had arrived for a new life and home.

"My father was a socialist who brought me up to respect labor and recognize that capitalism was an exploitative form of human relationships. He was a scholar and also by trade an 'upper maker' (the top part of the shoe) who worked at Henry Ford's cutting upholstery. My mother worked there too, sewing the upholstery. She had been a seamstress. He wanted to teach me how to make shoes so that I could always earn a living. I told him I didn't need to; that I would go to college and be safe.

"Now, after many professions, I find myself gathering things, the fruit of human labor, to put together in a form that honors the story behind them so that I too can finally say I have made something with my hands.

"We are at an interesting juncture. The sky is falling. Crisis, danger and opportunity are palpable. Evolution takes a long time, but emergent realities can sometimes break through.

"Many celebrated when 'communism' failed in what seemed 'not with a bang, but a whimper'. We won, we won! And now, who will say forthrightly that capitalism, unfettered markets and unaccountable profits, have failed, bringing us down with a global bang?

"As much as I read and have read about economics now and in the past, I feel most of what we say about it is fiction. We do not live the truths in each theory. We live and create from the truth of who and what we are.

"Socialism and communism are spiritual economic systems: to give according to our abilities and receive according to our needs. And, the final stage, the withering away of the state, is the stage when we no longer need external rules or laws because we have become our best and highest selves, and are unafraid to know that we are all one.

"Laissez faire also has its theoretical validity, a belief in personal freedom, which after all is also the highest goal of 'the withering away of the state'. However, personal freedom unmoored from spiritual development can become greed and ruthless disregard of the other and the best in ourselves.

"We can create an economy of caring and sharing and cooperating. The land is still here. The people, hands, minds are still here. It is an affair of the heart, giving and receiving."

Bill Totten


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