We live in a world and era that is very much out of balance. Imbalance causes problems and suffering. Balance is not some new age or airy fairy concept, it is the natural and proper state of all things in the universe. We need balance in all things, those within and those without, those big and those small. We need balance in the natural world and the man made world; balance in our societies and balance in our own bodies.
When things are out of balance, they cannot function properly–be it a plant, a human body, or a society. If farm plants do not get the right balance of everything they need to grow, bear fruit and be healthy, then they will not be properly optimized (i.e., they will be out of balance) for consumption and nutrition, in turn putting those that consume them out of balance. If the air has too much pollution, then there will not be enough clean oxygen for us to breathe, negatively impacting our lungs and our ability to live and breathe (literally) in health and balance. If society has too much poverty, misery and suffering, it will fall out of balance.
Some may believe that the social or man-made world does not require balance in the same way the natural world or human body does. That is not true. The social requires just as much balance, if not more so. Jean-Paul Sartre said that no man is an island. Whether we like it or not, we share this planet with billions of other human beings. Think of it like being on a ship full of people. If the majority of individuals are at the end or back of the ship, the ship’s weight will not be equally distrusted—it will be off balance—and it will tip and sink. Have you ever been on an airplane and asked to change seats, only to have a flight attendant tell you okay, but you have to sit on this or that particular side because the weight has to be equally balanced or distributed. Why do you think they say that? Because if the weight is not properly distributed the plane could go down; just like that ship. The weight on the plane does not have to be completely equally distributed. But too much on one end, and not enough on the other, and the plane could go down. And no one on board wants that; not the people in first class or the people in coach. Everyone is on that plane together, and if it goes down, they all go down; no matter which seat or section or class one is seated in.
The same is true of the social or man-made world. But the elites (what many refer to as the 1 percent) of today—and probably throughout history—fail to realize this reality. While you can gate yourself off from the riff raff and build entire walls and cities exclusively for the those at the very top, eventually what happens at the bottom will impact those at the top. To illustrate this point let’s use the notion of the body politic, but in a different manner than it has traditionally been employed. The body politic is a medieval metaphor that likens a nation to a corporation, with a corporation being understood as a group of people acting as a single entity. This concept is often used in discussions of nations or nation states and the authority or sovereignty of monarchs and leaders (as the head of the corporation or body politic).
For our discussion, I use that term to connote that a society or nation, collectively, make up one body, with members of that society making up the different parts of the body. While the rich and powerful may be the head or at the top of that body, if the other, “lower” parts of the body become diseased or dysfunctional it will eventually impact the head or those on top. This means that if there is too much disparity—especially of income and resources—and the “lower” parts become so impoverished that they cannot function in a reasonably healthily (and dignified) manner, this will eventually affect and infect the entire body. In other words, if the society is too unbalanced (with respect to wealth, resources, power, means, access to employment, health care, etc.) this disparity will eventually impact the whole body, including those at the very top.
Now, it does not have to be completely equal or even. It is inevitable that some will have more and others will have less. But when a very small minority have everything and the majority can barely survive—and if that minority creates, perpetuates, or exploits (feeds off of) the suffering of the majority—then we are grossly off balance and have a serious problem. We end up with a body politic with diseased limbs, and a head that often exploits or creates those diseases in the first place. This is a foolish and destructive state of being, not least because what happens to the lower body parts will eventually impact the head. While the head may benefit for a while from the suffering of the other parts, in reality, a diseased or neglected limb will eventually infect the entire body. If not treated, the outcome is eventual death.
Capitalism in its present form is a socio-economic system that would rather chop off its diseased limbs and hobble itself than feed and nourish those limbs to prevent disease in the first place. It is a system that believes it profits from the malnourishment and suffering of those limbs. And in the short term it does profit; financially that is. But remember that unbalanced ship. Eventually even those at the very front of the ship—the monopoly capitalists, the bankers, the multinational corporations, the complicit governments and political leaders—will be impacted by a ship of poor integrity. When a ship with too many holes begins to sink, it will not matter what class or section one is seated in. We will all go down.
If the present corona virus situation, and the economic fallout from it, has shown us anything, it is that many people in western society are overburdened with debt. Very few households have enough savings to get them through a couple months without work, let alone a year or more. While we are reluctant to talk about it, especially in the mainstream media, the old notion of work and employment (with regular paycheques, medical benefits and pensions) is becoming a thing of the past, and has been for years. In the era of economic globalization the reality of the workforce is one of diminished traditional employment. This manifests as either outright unemployment or underemployment. Examples of underemployment are freelance work, contract work, “gigging” or being forced to participate in the sharing economy. These terms are euphemisms for the reality of growing economic crisis and reduced economic security. The reality is that access to stable and well-paying work and income has been decreasing since the 1980s while the cost of living has only gone up. To fill in the gaps in their income, many households have had to rely on increasing debt and credit card usage just to get by. And when, suddenly, what little work and income these underemployed people do have is halted due to a virus, there is no way to service debts; not to mention, pay for rent, mortgages and food.
Basically people: The ship is sinking. The economic disparity and the uneven distribution of wealth and resources has come home to roost. Now, those on top (the bankers, etc.) will likely benefit from this dire situation in the short term. They may reduce interest rates or allow for the deferral of debt payments, mortgages, etc.–ultimately creating greater profits for themselves as individuals, businesses and governments borrow more money and go further into debt. However, with no one working and no one able to service those debts, eventually, it will all crash and burn.
A debt economy is unsustainable. It was unsustainable (and unrealistic) from the very beginning but no one was willing to admit it. Not the individual that wants to live beyond their means by relying on credit. Or the individual that is forced to live on credit because they have far too little means to begin with. Or the bankers that get mega rich by keeping everyone in debt, with individuals paying back fake money (i.e., money that banks create as a credit card balance by entering numbers into a computer screen) with real money (i.e., the real interest one has to pay to use that fake money). Or the capitalist/banker/corporate-allied politicians who can stave off politico-economic revolution as long as the population is able to eat and survive by using credit and borrowing money.
The culture of debt has allowed us to ignore how unbalanced and desperate the economic situation actually is. It is a house of cards that we all patriciate in and all help to prop up, and with one ‘global pandemic’ it may all come crumbling down. Whether we will be better or worse off for it—whether the leaders and the mega-rich will use the virus situation to make politico-economic life more austere and more draconian, or whether humanity will find a way to prevent that and come together in an unprecedented form of collective living and cooperation—remains to be seen. A realist would say it will surely change for the worst; the system always finds a way to profit from disaster and come out on top. While others might say that the paradigm as we know it is shifting, and a new socio-economic paradigm is inevitable.
What that paradigm could look like, and if it is even possible, is a topic for another day…