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Revolutionize the Wheels of the Soul to Reimagine Capitalism
Martin Luther King said ‘We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.’ E. O. Wilson: ‘The real problem of Humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology ‘. And Aldous Huxley stated ‘There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.’
Mashup by José Luis Martín Descalzo (Reasons to Live) and Rebecca Henderson (Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire) to synthesize some key concepts: the progress that we witness as spectators; and its material and emotional consequences.
In the last century we have witnessed a true acceleration of history, an unbelievable advance in everything material. Anyone who has lived through the 20th century has known from the discovery of the automobile to trips to the Moon and, in between, all the great inventions that the world enjoys today. And it is that it took 55 centuries to go from the discovery of the first potter’s wheel and the wagon wheel to the wheels of a car, but, instead, a single century has been enough to go from the first cars to interplanetary travels. Progress, at least the material, has been unleashed.
But have the wheels of the soul progressed at the same rate? Has the spirit of men improved so rapidly? Or, as far as the soul is concerned, do we go on walking on wagon wheels?
These are issues on which it is difficult to generalize. There is no doubt that, at least in the West, there are areas in which progress has been made in the ‘quality of life’; health standards are better, there is a higher percentage of people who have been able to study; we are freer, at least when it comes to lifestyle or being able to travel; we dress and eat, together, better; the possibilities of filling our free time are more extensive and varied… But are we better for that? Are we happier with it?
Few things in this world are more ambiguous than progress. And Henry F. Amiel was right when he defined it as ‘the phenomenon that a thousand things advance and only nine hundred and ninety-nine regress.’ And that progress is like one of those shotguns in which the recoil is almost as strong as the shot. Today we measure very well how strong the recoil of our civilization has been: industrialization was an obvious advance, but it has brought us the destruction of forests, air, and river pollution, even putting the ozone layer in danger; the discovery of the automobile gave us greater mobility, but it also made it impossible to live in our cities; the division of the atom achieved spectacular advances in science, but it brought us the atomic and nuclear risk; television itself brought the world into our homes, but multiplied the political intoxication of citizens and brought down reading. With which every step forward is ambivalent, ambiguous.
Rebecca Henderson explains that capitalism has a huge share in progress and its consequences here. Perhaps one of the most incredible inventions in history, a source of prosperity as never seen before, but a threat to the planet and societies. To better understand it, it is necessary to start with the most serious problems that we are suffering: environmental degradation, economic inequality, and institutional collapses. The world is on fire. We didn’t start the fire, as Billy Joel would say, but we are slowly burning.
We can start by asking ourselves the following questions, like Rebecca Henderson in Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire: Can I really make money while doing the right thing? Would it make any difference in the end if I could?
But the dramatic thing is when progress is made in everything except the essential. Because — I return to the phrase of Martin Luther King — what would we gain by learning to fly like birds and swim like fish, if we did not know how to live together, if we did not learn to love each other?
We ourselves, each one of us, can assure that today is a better person than ten years ago? That is more open to others? Aldous Huxley was absolutely right in assuring that ‘there is only one corner of the universe where one can be sure of progress, and that corner is oneself’. And who among us can swear that this corner of his has progressed? That it has grown both in his soul as in his money? That it has improved both his heart as the quality of his house or his car? That he today feels more like a brother among brothers? If this is not the case, we will continue to have souls from the stone age; we will continue to be a breed of crabs that — as Eliot used to say — ‘advance proudly backwards’.