The logic of the market seems only natural by now: What has a value must have a price, and everything falls under the domain of the market. And if not, it really should.
It is only consequent that this year has once again seen attempts at putting a price on the phenomena and services of nature, for supposedly, that is the only way to make sure that they can compete in the marketplace as more than mere resources.
Unfortunately, though, the result is also an “enclosure” in which what used to be public and a commons becomes just another source of profit for a private few, amenable to the workings of the market – and long since, finances have become a better driver of “growth” than any real production, even and especially as economics becomes ever more divided from reality.
It is not just economics and ‘the world out there’, though.
It has come to the point where our own lives are supposed to be valued by nothing but the earnings we could command for our time, selling it – and them – off piece by piece, hour by hour.
Your worth? Your net worth, the value of your possessions and the value the market might place on your skills (until you are seen as more of a cost factor and replaced). Or maybe, your main worth is just the credit line banks and credit card companies would extend you…
Relationships? Not just about security and support as a factor among many anymore, about love and friendship and all those incalculable values, but (supposedly) better shaped by an accounting of costs and benefits, front and center. Bad earnings forecast? Look for a better partner. Not contributing to the times and ways you make money? Non-performing asset, remove that friend from your network…
Only too often, and even as we naturally (want to) take some time out to just be and forget about the pressure, we feel powerless to do anything against this primacy of price over the properly human and humane.
Better to have ecosystems protected for the profits they bring, or they will just be destroyed; better to make money and live well, or we will just end up badly-off, we think.
By giving in like that, however, we end up in the ultimate poverty: not of a scarcity of things to satisfy our needs, but a poverty of thought. We give away the power we have, to shape things for the better; we still make history, as the small influence we each are – in the very direction we might not want for it to go.
“Venerable man,” said the king, “since you have come here a distance of a thousand Ii, you have doubtless something to say for the profit of my kingdom.” Mencius replied: “0 King, why talk of profit? I have humanity and justice for my teaching, nothing more. If these be put last, and profit first, your officers will not be content till they have stripped you of all [i.e., the people will follow their ruler and his values – and with profit as the ultima ratio, seek nothing but their gain]”
Living (with) values, on the other hand, we stand to gain a lot. Not least, our humanity.
One way that it helps, avoiding the lure of making life all just about the money:
Living values reminds us that life is about living – being active, creative, here to make sense and experience life with all our senses. Making money can help with that, but only so far. Making and having enough, however, by counting our blessings and getting by with less while (and by) living more, being more, doing more, will more directly lead to the lives we want to have.
Not everything, as we will find out, has to be bought and sold. We can also barter and share, we can produce and create, and we can live and work together, helping each other, without always having to chase after (financial) profit. We are not soulless corporations, after all – we are human.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, these values, lived in daily practice, remind us of the oft-forgotten fact that there is more to being human than just existing, and more to each and every one of our lives than just ourselves.
It’s all too common that the good life is sought unthinkingly, not in doing it ourselves, crafting a life we want and can have, but in trying to buy into dreams of greatness and pleasure (or only just comfort and convenience) invented and pre-packaged for our consumption, to have whenever (make that: if only ever) we had enough money for them.
It may be better to make enough to survive in some odd jobs than to follow a half-baked passion, chasing dreams of glory and riches while squandering time, energy, and money – but even just to get by, it is ever more recommendable to learn more, become good at what you do, and better still, become a master at things you want to do and know.
If you want to and manage to turn those into the ways you make a living, good. If you can’t or don’t even want to – maybe it’s all about the growth, the passion and the contribution, and financial rewards would only diminish that – at least you make a living and you do something you want to be doing. Either way, it is necessary to be concerned about more than money, to look for power and benefit in more than profit.
So, by living with values, we stand to gain maybe not the world – which is not ours to gain in the first place – but a good life in it: the happiness that comes from living better – creatively, and not destructively; the growth that we really need, of knowledge and wisdom rather than cancerous doubt and expanding waistlines; the “enough” that a good life requires and which is the foundation on which to build up not just more, but better
The conclusion is the same as always:
You can’t buy the good life, no matter how often commercials try to promise happiness, ready-made and pre-packaged.
You can only live your good life, in this world, as a part of it, contributing and creating, crafting your own place and role.