I AM CURRENTLY Time magazine’s Person of the Year. I am a Protestor (aka an Occupier) I helped organize the NY event and spent the previous years prior to September 17th involved in many activities with similar sensibilities.
Only a few people know this and most that do could care less. Not many of my friends have asked me about my experience, which is fine and pretty much the way things roll here in Larchmont, NY. There are a lot of big celebrities and very accomplished people here. Plus, this is a land of finance people. Tim Geithner, to name but one.
But some have asked what Occupy is all about. Usually not in a nice way. The most common questions I get are: Why no demands? What do they want? This thing you call a movement is a leaderless mess that’s never going to matter. What’s the point? Why Wall Street, why not Washington?
I’ve answered in various ways but never concisely or in a cogent manner. But this past week I stumbled across a talk that I think can answer the questions in a way that folks around the here might understand a little better. It’s given by the wonderful philosopher and economist Charles Eisenstein speaking to a group in Vancouver. A mutual friend posted it on Facebook. Listen to the entire talk “Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition” if you like.
Charles is talking about a financial model that is not based on debt and hoarding, but a new model based (in part) on gift. A model that does not reward collecting assets, but rather giving away assets. He outlines a sustainable system based on balance, rather than the existing unsustainable system based on growth. In the last three minutes of this talk there is a wonderful and enlightening story. I’ll paraphrase…
Let’s say there is a company and they own an island covered in old growth forest. The company has a decision to make, they could log the island sustainably and make $1mm per year, or clear cut it, destroy the forest and make $100mm this year. Well, for a competent company that’s not much of a decision at all. Any rational CEO would clear cut the forest, invest the $100mm, even at 3% interest that is $3mm per year, rather than just the $1mm per year. Easy decision.
Ok. Say there is an awakened CEO and she decides to be sustainable and take the $1mm per year. Fine. But now a corporate raider comes. He marshals investors by showing the company is completely mismanaged and undervalued–the stock price does not represent the real value the company is sitting on. They buy out the company, cut down the forest and get rich. The only way the CEO can stop the take-over is to raise the stock price, and the only way to raise the stock price is to cut down the forest. That’s market discipline for you. It’s harsh.
Now let’s suppose you are CEO and absolute dictator of Earth. One day some ETs show up from another planet and say they’d like to buy Earth. “We’re going to make it worth your while. We have run the numbers and gross world profit this year is about $60 trillion dollars. How would you like $10 quadrillion dollars right now? It’s a good deal. The interest on that alone is way more than $60 trillion, you’re gonna be rich! We’re going to buy the planet from you, we’re going to pollute the atmosphere, were going to poison the oceans and level mountains. We are going to completely destroy the planet because we need the materials to build an amusement park on the other side of the galaxy.”
Would anyone say yes to this deal? No. That would be crazy.
Yet we are saying yes to this deal every day. With our current financial and corporate system we are slowly, and with intention and resolve, destroying the planet. This system of debt-based money will forever commodify and destroy the life systems we depend upon. We are watching it play out in real time. Almost imperceptibly, but ceaselessly and with quiet force and determination. …one oil leak, one felled tree, one chemical filled well, one new Big Pharm drug, one car, one cellphone at a time.
My wife and I were talking about this story the other night. And she said that when this unsustainable system comes to an end, some finance guy will just say, “Yes. You know what? You were right. It was a bad idea. I thought it would work, but I guess it didn’t.” Because that’s the way things go in the corporate world. Ride an idea to the end while it’s working and leave harmful consequences for some other, hopefully external, entity to handle down the line. Privatize the gain and socialize the loss. The most obvious and glaring example of this to me is Alan Greenspan saying he was wrong about all that low interest and deregulation. Years of economic policy that led so many to suffer (and a very few to prosper) and all he has to say is something akin to, “My bad. That’s on me.” No repercussion for Alan, hardly anyone even reported on it.
That’s what Occupy Wall Street is about. It’s about recognizing that our most powerful leaders are in the finance industry and most act in unskilled ways. They are disconnected to the heart and to ageless human wisdoms. There’s an absence of understanding and compassion that is endemic, and even celebrated in this culture. It’s a world that desires all of the bounty and frivolity of great privilege, without any of the weight and responsibility of great leadership. It’s sociopathic.
Many are waking up though–they no longer buy into this financial model with its complex jargon and math designed to obfuscate simple greed. They have looked deeply and understand a debt-based system–that will forever take assets from the periphery and bring them to the center–will fail and nobody will outmaneuver the karma. They see the human species needs to change this system of money or perish. So how can one change a system that is so entrenched?
Here’s how: Start asking those around you, “How can we do this?” Ask questions and listen deeply to answers. Organize around truths that are universal and benefit balance and harmony. Give credibility to change. And most importantly, within the halls of your company or on the sidewalks of our neighborhood, be courageous. Be willing to take real risks and change your relationship to your world. People are finding like-minded people and occupying the commons. We are supporting each other. It’s fun!
To occupy we just make the decision to begin walking a new path and work on building sustainable models to replace the out-dated infinite growth models. We just begin, that’s all. One breath. One little decision. And then give yourself a good pat on the back.
People say that I’m a dreamer. These changes can’t happen. But I say advocates of the current economic system are the true dreamers. I’m practical. I’m a realist. I’m not dreaming, I’m wide awake!
This transformation is happening whether we like it or not. We can be ahead of it and in control of it, or it can control us. And while I appreciate Time magazine’s recognition, they don’t quite get that we are not protesters, we are participants.
– Gregg Hill, Co-Producer, Occupy Love