At birth, we are gifted with a body and born into a world with an unknown set of rules. The game of life comes with a game piece but lacks a copy of the rules. From our first breath, the human mind begins to evaluate and define a set of rules based on direct experience, testing and refining a personal set of rules that grows and evolves with us until the moment of death or perhaps even beyond. Some would say that it is this set of rules written upon some non-physical aspect of our minds that is all that survives the death of our bodies. Whether or not this is true, while we live, our personal copy of the set of rules helps guide all of our relationships, our rules of engagement in a manner of speaking. We also learn from those around us, usually, family, friends and community as they share with us their own understandings of the rules of the game. As long as we live, our personal set of rules will be constantly refined both from personal experience and through cultural sharing.
As a living biological entity, our bodies are a hardwired set of rules we call genetics. Our best understandings today of what we call the “science of genetics” is simply a small subset of the set of rules often called “Natural Law”. Science, as it has emerge in human culture over the millennia, is a culturally transmitted set of rules, a set of rules in a constant state of flux. The Scientific rules of the game are developed and modified by a particular set of rules of engagement we call the scientific method. The extent to which the Scientific rules are incorporated into our own personal copy of the rules of the game is entirely a matter of personal understanding.
Rules and Natural Law
Why the emphasis on “Rules”? Whether individually recognized or not, both the rules as defined by Natural Law and those as defined by cultural tradition, constantly influence our life experience and thus shape our personal understandings of the rules of the game as well as our personal behaviors. With so much about life that is unknown, our personal copy of the rules gives us a handle that we use to guide understandings of our relationships with the world and with others. Rules are something we can work with. We use rules to write computer programs. We use rules to structure language so that we can communicate with others. We use rules to define our economic relationships. We use rules to create communities of affinity, like families and nations. We use rules to create all of our cultural institutions like money, science, religions, laws and the schools we use to pass on rules to the next generation. The number of ways in which we use rules are vast but perhaps the most universally important way in which we all use rules is in the development of our own personal set of rules for understanding our experiences in life.
In the Zen tradition is a recognition that our personal set of rules creates an artificial separation between us and life. We see a tree through the filter of the set of rules that resides in our mind but not the actual unique tree before us. Science embraces this same understanding through the ideas of the scientific method by promoting constant experimentation and refinement of hypotheses based on careful observation. The primary difference between Zen and Science is one of inward rather than outward focus. Zen is a type of application of the rules of the scientific method to the inner world of the human mind in which one refines ones personal set of rules to more closely reflect “what is” in a fashion similar to the way in which science refines theories to more accurately reflect experimental observations. Natural Laws are recognized or unrecognized rules of “what is”, in either the inner world of the human mind or the “objective” world of scientific investigations.
Basic Human Rights
Basic human rights represent a set of rules at least partially defined by Natural Law. When we consider basic human rights, we are placing all human beings in a single group. Affinity groups are defined within human society by an agreed upon set of rules. For example, members of any particular religious community identify with their group because of the acceptance of a common set of rules. The same is true of any particular national identity or political party affiliation. Money works because those who choose to use money operate with a certain shared set of rules. Whether it is religious, national, political or economic, groups are defined by embracing a shared set of rules. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights reflects an attempt to define a set of rules that are universally shared by all humans, without exception. As with all groups, the individual’s identification with any particular group is entirely dependent upon our own personal recognition and understanding of an intersection between our personal set of rules and the shared set of rules of the group. When it comes to basic human rights, this is often problematic when some humans don’t recognize other humans as having the same rights as themselves. So the problem of a universal acceptance of basic human rights becomes one of convincing all human beings that we all share a common set of rules.
Any human who embraces as a part of their own personal set of rules any particular rule that marginalizes any other human makes the universal adoption of basic human rights impossible. So rules are very important, with institutionalized rules garnering additional importance because of the broad cultural reinforcement they receive and provide. From this perspective on rules, let us now take a closer look at some particular rules that are dominant in today’s Zeitgeist.
The Zeitgeist or the “spirit of our time” is simply the sum of the rules of our society, and of our global civilization at any given moment. This includes every individual’s sets of rules as well as every institutionalized set of rules. Peter Joseph’s “Zeitgeist” film series was so popular at least in part because Peter was able to express in an understandable manner for many people some of the often unrecognized and problematic sets of rules by which our modern society operates. Remember that missing set of instructions from when you were born? Whatever game is afoot, to echo Sherlock Holmes, a certain amount of critical thinking and scientific reasoning is necessary to “understand it”. To “understand it”, meaning to discover the rules of the game both for individuals and for groups of individuals.
It is not my purpose in this article to examine in minute detail the many rules of the game, some of which have been well illuminated by The Zeitgeist Movement, but more to help clarify a framework for understanding the ways in which the rules of the game as discovered by each of us interact and evolve. My hope is to clarify how we might arrive at a more stable and sustainable global human civilization. This is the motivating idea behind The Zeitgeist Movement, to move The Zeitgeist toward global sustainability by more clearly understanding our process both as individuals and as groups of individuals.
The idea behind a Natural Law Resource Based Economy is to arrive at a shared set of rules across humanity for meeting our shared needs in as sustainable a manner as humanly possible. The operating system for our global economy runs on a decentralized set of rules that exists within each of us, in a manner similar to the way that cryptocurrencies and blockchains operate as a decentralized sets of rules on many different computers across the Internet. The real problem we face is that the decentralized rule sets are resulting in unsustainable human behaviors.
The Monetary Market Economy
The big three unsustainable rule sets of the monetary market economy are the rules of money, the rules of markets and the rules of ownership. Each of those rule sets are in critical need of updating to more accurately enable a more sustainable set of rules of engagement between humanity and the Natural World. Each of those three rule sets represent old approximations of the real world based on outdated understandings we now know are inadequate expressions of Natural Law. Money is a poor expression of the exchanges that occur in natural ecosystems. Markets are a poor expression of the natural commons upon which all life depends. Ownership is a flawed expression of the acquisition of natural resources needed to sustain quality of life. The imbalance that has been created by the flawed expression of monetary market economics in the natural ecosystems of our planet is profound. The source of that flawed expression is in the imperfect rule sets within each of us. If we wish to share a sustainable future, you and I, we cannot define our relationships with one another only by money, by markets and by ownership.
A Natural Law Resource Based Economy
Through the recognition of the universally shared basic human rights of all individuals, we can begin to lay the foundations of a sustainable global economy. Our real natural needs are much easier to meet than the artificially bloated advertising driven demand of the infinite growth debt based profit driven monetary market economy. Through a thoughtful analysis using the scientific method of thought, we can arrive at certain insights. The recognition of our shared common humanity and the rationality of supporting a universal recognition of basic human rights for everyone is foundational.
Another recognition is that improvements in the quality of life and standards of living for the majority of humanity today have been a direct consequence of broadly sharing ideas and technologies. Logically following this train of thought, the more widespread and openly we share ideas and technologies, the greater our chances of improving the quality of life for more people. A NLRBE is designed around this understanding as opposed to the competitive, often secretive nature of monetary market economics that will sometimes suppress innovation when it is harmful to short term profits.
A third recognition is the necessity of access to natural resources for everyone in order to meet even the most basic of needs like food, water and shelter. The deeply embedded ideas of private property and ownership in monetary market economics more often restrict access to those basic needs than they facilitate access. One insight of this recognition is that private ownership is fundamentally theft when one recognizes the fundamental right of all life to meet basic needs. A NLRBE prioritizes the meeting of basic needs for everyone, promoting access over ownership.
These three simple “rules”, basic human rights, sharing and access around which a NLRBE is designed and developed should be enough to enable and assure a sustainable future for humanity. The big question is always about transition. How do we move from a monetary market system into a NLRBE? The answer is as simple as these rules. When the rules governing the personal lives of enough of us are based around this simple set of rules, respect for the basic human rights of everyone, a willingness to share and a willingness to recognize the rights of access to the natural resources everyone needs to meet their most basic needs, we can expect to see a time of healing, sustainable living, flourishing, joy, freedom and creativity beyond our wildest imaginations. By ensuring every person what they actually need to be healthy contributors to society, we lay the necessary foundations for a vibrant, caring, sustainable global community.
Embedded today within the rules of the game, but often hidden from the players, is an immense systemic violence. As we look back on history, it is often more obvious in retrospect. For example, within the colonization that has spread across the planet over the past centuries, the embedded violence is evidenced by the massive genocides that have followed. The violence exists both with the enforced displacements of those doing the colonizing and with the indigenous peoples being displaced. Inevitably, at the root of the violence is always some type of organizing authority enforced at times with overt violence or threats of violence. On the surface, it is often easy to miss the underlying violence. However, it is simply a matter of considering what will happen if those in authority are not obeyed. When Columbus discovered the Americas, he was greeted with friendship by the indigenous inhabitants, yet he carried with him on the ships the soldiers who would be used to enforce his authority upon colonists and natives alike.
It is wrong to think that this violence is something of historic expression only. The same threat of violence from “authority” continues today only slightly modified. The outright slavery and enforced migrations of huge populations is today embodied in the civil authority that enforces labor and property laws, rules of the game that enforce labor for income, protects property ownership over even the most basic needs of people everywhere. As one walks through the “peaceful” suburbs of affluent societies and the markets overflowing with goods, the violence is hidden behind a facade that is pierced every time someone is arrested for trespassing, breaking and entering or theft.
The greater part of the laws in western society today are related to the protection against violations of private property. The American constitution at its core was primarily a document not so much designed to protect basic human rights as to protect the property rights of the wealthy owners. If a homeless man today seeks shelter in a vacant home to preserve his life on a bitter cold night, he is considered a trespasser, a type of thief by the rules of the game. In truth, the real thief is the property owner who has deprived another human being of access to the resources needed to provide for themselves. In Europe during the colonial era, it was often those who stole to provide food for their families who were arrested by authorities and transported to the colonies as indentured servants to work off their “debt” to society that were the ones who were the colonizers. In turn, the colonizers, when given the opportunity, would use the laws of the colonial authorities to “take possession” of the land used for generations by indigenous peoples to provide for themselves. One aspect of this process that is often overlooked today is that the generations of indigenous peoples usually lived in a harmonious balance with the natural habitat that provided all their needs. The idea of ownership of the land was largely alien to them. They viewed themselves as belonging to the land like all the other life they relied upon to support themselves. It was the colonizers taking “possession” of the land that began immediately to disrupt the harmonious balance between people and nature. The heart of the violence was the rules of the game that existed within people’s minds regarding property and ownership.
Property and Ownership
The rules of the game related to ownership have evolved gradually over the millennia, until today, our entire global civilization revolves around them. It is only too easy, especially for those who benefit from the short term advantages of ownership, to overlook or even defend and justify the violence that exists at the heart of the rules of ownership and private property. The real thieves are the owners when they enforce exclusionary rights of ownership over a harmonious relationship with the natural world discarding even the most basic Natural Law rights of others to simply live. The false division of ourselves from nature and from one another is at the heart of violence. It exists at all times, enforced by the man made laws and backed by the physical violence of authority that enforce those laws. At this point in time, it is so out of control that we have created a global environmental instability we call climate change that is culminating in a mass extinction of life across planet on a scale that rivals historic mass extinctions only this time, it is being driven by a simple set of rules created within the human imaginations of people everywhere, a set of rules we call ownership.
The seeds of the idea of ownership are at least millennia old. In some of our oldest written documents, like the bible, the idea is enshrined that God gave Man dominion over the Earth and all life that lives upon the Earth. That dominion was one of stewardship for the Creator(owner), God. In this context, the idea of human ownership is a kind of blasphemy of domination by Man rather than dominion, especially as we are proving ourselves to be such poor stewards of God’s Creation. I am sure that most of the indigenous peoples would agree. This inversion of values that has evolved into the rules of the game as they exist today within the minds of so many people are the seeds of the self destructive violence that are tearing asunder our global civilization. The harder we work to enforce the rules, the greater the self inflicted violence that rains down upon us as reflected in Nature by the melting polar caps, unprecedented storms, massive flooding and disrupted global ecosystems.
The seeds of the systemic violence are the rules of the game that we carry in our hearts and minds. The term itself, “Systemic Violence” hides the terrible truth of the overwhelmingly real violence that is a direct consequence of the “rules of the game” by which we play. The terrible violence at the heart of this game has never deterred us from playing in the past. I don’t know why we should expect the future to be any different.
A Sustainable Future
Yet, the seeds of change have already been sown. The rules of the game as laid out in the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provide the broad outlines of a nonviolent set of rules for a global humanity that might carry us away from the deep systemic violence of the global monetary market system of property and ownership. The need to change the rules of the game we are playing becomes increasingly obvious with each new violence. Understanding what we are trying to change and why is the first step towards sharing and embracing a new set of rules for ourselves as individuals and for the whole of humanity. Our stewardship of the Earth can only become sustainable by embracing the nonviolent rules of universal basic human rights. Those rules are already written in each of our hearts. For the new rules of the game to work, we must embrace both the Natural Laws which they seek to mirror and the Laws written in our hearts. The enforcing violence at the core of today’s rules must end. We need only look within our own hearts for the enforcer of the new rules of universal basic human rights. Oh, the joy that awaits us!!!
For a deeper insight into the relationship between the rules of the game and human rights, I highly recommend Peter Joseph’s new book, “The New Human Rights Movement, Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression”.