Inside the Microsoft Vision Center café at Davos, the rich, powerful and famous leisurely engage in conversations over coffee, wine, and an occasional pastry. Nothing glitzy, just the usual small talk of people passing time. On one of the walls hangs a large poster that declares “The Global Goals.” The sign states such lofty goals as “No Poverty,” “Zero Hunger,” “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” and “Peace and Justice.” Assumingly, the participants at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos aim to achieve these worthy goals and more.
In the halls and conference rooms, there is talk about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), crises of global magnitude, and other worthy causes that chime a pleasant tone in laypeople’s ears. But the closely monitored media coverage suggests that “zero hunger” and “no poverty” are not all that is discussed in private conversations. Indeed, the reality of our daily lives proves what these most powerful people really want: power, and more power. Nothing else matters.
They are working hard to accelerate global economic growth, but whatever growth there is, it lands in the hands of the already rich and powerful, tightening their grip on the world’s resources. If last year’s goal at the WEF was to achieve “inclusive growth with decent jobs and livelihoods for all people within society,” and this year we are still striving for “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” it shows how little has been achieved.
Capitalism is a great idea. It relies on human nature’s basic instinct for self-preservation and self-gratification, and therefore does not require bogus incentives to motivate people to work, as does the communistic paradigm. As long as capitalism is reined in, it guarantees sustainable growth and gradual improvement of the standard of living for all.
However, self-interest is a double-edged sword. It helps when it is moderate, but it doesn’t stay moderate. By nature, the more we have, the more we want; and the more we want, the more we pursue. For the past several decades our pursuit of sustenance has become pursuit of wealth and power. But since our self-interest is growing, the more we have, the more of it we want. Finally, we’ve come to a state where we can think of nothing but acquiring more wealth and more power. When this happens, everything we do becomes a means to an end, and promises to support worthy social goals become lip service to calm criticism while we quietly pursue more of that delightful nectar: power!
As we pursue it and become rich and powerful, we forget about the rest of the world. People become objects, and natural resources become instruments of wealth, regardless of the environmental cost. And if gaining power means choking the middle-class until it falls to the brink of poverty, and beyond, when we are rich and powerful, we cannot see it, we simply can’t. We’ll say that it’s terrible and we must do something about it, but it will never really hurt us, because we can’t feel anything other than the lust for power. We can’t see anything other than the next takeover (often referred to as “merger”), and we can’t dream of anything other than the world kneeling before us.
We’ll do anything to get our way. If people need to be sedated, we’ll give them “medical” marijuana. If they need to be intimidated, we’ll buy some oil from a Middle Eastern terror group, sell them weapons, then send the army to fight those evil men. We co-rulers understand one another; we work in perfect harmony. All we need is to put on a front of disagreement around a topic neither of us cares about, such as income inequality, and while the world is choosing sides, we sit in hotel rooms at Davos or elsewhere in the world and plan our next move to gain still more power.
This is what happens when capitalism goes out of control, and it has been the nature of capitalism for several decades, as just said. The current economic forum won’t change anything because it isn’t meant to. No one is there to make the world a better place, but rather to make the rich richer, and the strong stronger.
But all roads come to an end, and the end of unrestrained capitalism is nearing. We will reach the end for sure, but we can do so in one of two ways.
The first way is the natural one. In it, the rich and powerful drive the world to chaos. Terrorism escalates to unbearable levels, the climate creates freak weather events and plants and animals are displaced and become extinct. People, too, become displaced because of climate change, because of war, and as in today’s Europe, because of political forces mobilizing entire populations from country to country and from continent to continent in order to create disarray and weaken political rivals. The final result of this downward spiral is a world war. But after humanity has suffered horrendously, it will come to terms with the need to take the second way.
This other way is very easy: we treat each other with care and consideration. Just like Microsoft’s Global Goals poster, everyone can have “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” “Affordable and Clean Energy,” “Good Health and Well-Being,” “Quality Education,” and “Zero Hunger.” All it takes is to find that growth does not have to be measured in wealth. It will actually make us much happier if we learn to measure it in terms of emotional and spiritual development, in improved relationships at home, at work, and with our friends.
The world is already producing far more than it consumes. If we wanted to, we could realize the noble goals just mentioned by the end of this year. It is only a matter of good will. But our lack thereof makes every innovation a threat, rather than a promise. The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” of automation and robotics, on the agenda of this year’s forum, can make our lives heaven on earth. Instead, it is threating to render millions of people jobless and destitute. Instead of welcoming progress, we fear it might destroy the foundations of society in the developed world, namely the middle class, as US Vice President Joe Biden warned in his address at the forum.
But technology isn’t ruining our lives. Robots aren’t threatening to take our jobs and make us hopelessly poor. They free resources and can give people plenty of free time for personal development. Technology can help us soar from the level of survival, where we are more like animals than humans, to the level of enlightened humankind, where we focus on the spiritual rather than on the material. And yet, our apathy toward each other stops us from achieving this. We are alien to one another on the personal, social, and political levels, so how can we expect any innovation to be used in favor of humanity?
Like cancer, our egoism is urging us to compete and destroy one another as though we aren’t dependent on the well-being of our world and our society for our survival. Blinded by narcissism, we feel better the more others feel worse, and constantly fight to be at the top of the heap. If we could be like any one of the moguls here in Davos, would we choose not to? If we were told that if we elbow enough people on our way to the top, we would get there for sure, would we not elbow them? The number of people who sincerely answer negatively to these questions is far below the critical threshold to change our world, which is why it is the way it is.
But this second way, the way of consideration and friendship, is not an option. It’s our only way to survive. The two unknowns are how much pain we will endure before we realize this, and how many of us will be there when we do. For better or worse, we are collectively responsible for our planet and our society. The moguls and magnets out there reflect our deepest dreams for power, fame, and fortune. We all need to wake up. There is no point playing the blame game; we should instead look each other in the eye and say “Hello, I’m glad you’re here.”
Every great change begins with small steps. As we induct ourselves toward cooperation rather than competition, we will create a growing network of stability and security around us, and infuse our lives with that balancing element of consideration and friendship to offset the influence of excessive self-interest. As we change our mindsets, our friends’ mindsets will change, as well, and the same will happen to our friends’ friends, whom we may not even know. Soon, new thoughts will ripple through the network that is humanity, just as currently the murky ISIS-type thoughts are spreading. If we all take small steps to start the second way, there will be no world war, no hunger, and shortage of any kind wherever we will look.
Featured in Huffington Post UK