Reflections on the rise of the so-called market economy.
Hlatky wrote this piece in 1995, shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain when ‘the market economy’ became global, no longer opposed, as it were, by an alternative view. The piece begins with a reference to the name that Hlatky and those interested in his view gave to their activities. But it moves on quickly to discuss economics and its inability to solve the world’s problems, as well as the difficulty nowadays of reaching an agreement – which Hlatky considered essential – to the philosophical question of the original cause and meaning.
Broaden the Dialogue! is an initiative or proposal in living language, that is, in dialogue with one another and with our children, to reinstate the original contradiction-free meaning of the word God, that is, a meaning that is reconcilable with reason. Nowadays we have a historically unique opportunity for doing this because of the development of modern science and the associated development of technology and the mass media. These have transformed what have hitherto been geographically splintered and isolated attempts to solve the problem of life and how we live together into a unitary, global matter, one that is ever more urgently in need of a common solution.
You don’t think then that the idea of the market economy, which has been accepted almost globally since the fall of the Iron Curtain, can solve the problem of how we live together?
Market economy is a new term which is misleading, because it gives no hint of the ideology that lies behind it. Part of that ideology is the idea of free enterprise limited only by competition. It is generally interpreted as a new attempt to come to grips with the economic problem, and is seen as the opposite of another term, planned economy. But the latter term is equally misleading, because economics without planning is as unthinkable as economics without a market.
That the two terms have become so generally accepted – with the hope that the first will yield a more satisfactory solution than the second – has to do with the fact that modern humanity, as blinded as it is fascinated by growing industrialism and its associated growing money market, seems to have completely forgotten that the word economy means household management (referring originally to the apparatus of production and consumption, arising from Nature, that is represented by life on the Earth’s surface).
The economic situation we now face began developing long before the split marked by the Iron Curtain first arose. The only effect of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the switch to the new terminology is that it is now being faced in a less divided way. But it is still being faced in a way that is just as unconscious of the whole problem as it was before.
The economic situation has since grown uninterruptedly, and it seems to be accelerating unstoppably and be completely overshadowing the original economy. This has all arisen as an unforeseen consequence (unforeseen because there has never been an example of it historically) of the fact that modern technology, with its energy-driven, increasingly automated production-, transport- and information-apparatus, has ended up transforming the problem of husbandry into a global affair. It has now become an inescapable reality full of unpredictability. And, because of the same fascination and blindness, it will continue to grow, in an equally overshadowing way, independently of whatever economic ideology will be used.
The fascination and blindness persists unchanged for two reasons.
The first is that the whole modern undertaking from its very beginning – that is, since the invention of the microscope and telescope in the early 1600s – has been a historical first. So it has been a journey of discovery that has been completely blind and unforeseeable as to its consequences – and for that reason has been maximally fascinating, exciting and engaging.
From the start it was focussed theoretically on Democritus’ atomic theory and the mechanistic cosmology he based on his theory. The aim was to find what Democritus conceived of as reality’s smallest, indivisible, and so unchangeably existent, ultimate building-blocks. But in practice all that the search revealed was a never previously observed richness of detail in the visible reality, detail which later proved to be inexhaustible. But no discovery was made of indivisible, ultimately unchangeably existent building-blocks. What was shown was that what people hoped from Democritus’ theory – that they would develop some original control over reality and become original constructors of it – cannot be achieved. On the contrary, the undertaking came basically to the same ancient insight that humanity has always had: that all that exist are endless possibilities for intervening in and changing the outward image of visible reality, that is, the manifold. What modern science has done is merely to uncover previously historically unknown, albeit highly effective, physical powers and ways of doing this.
This created the second reason for the same blind fascination. It has to do with modern science’s focus on uncovering the hidden, invisible reality and with automation. (Automation began to be introduced using energy that was hidden, and so it was regarded in the beginning as mystical. Generally knowable energies such as water-power and wind-power had already been used technically.) Together modern science and automation came to be judged – without the slightest reflection – as being able to rescue or free humanity. This judgement has since taken firm root historically and has been taught to each new generation.
According to this learnt judgement, science is regarded as rescuing us, freeing us from all historical superstitions, that is, irrational beliefs. It had in particular mind the ‘dark Middle Ages’, to which science succeeded, bit by bit, in putting a definitive end. Because the new science came into being after scientists had begun to make a categorical distinction between the question of cause and the question of meaning and had begun to limit their discipline of thought to solely the first question, this evaluation of science’s role then gave rise to the misleading designations of objective science and, seen as its opposite, subjective science. This corrupted the original meaning of the words: subject relates to the invisibly active consciousness – it means thrown under, lying under; object relates to the visibly active body – it means thrown in front of, lying in front of. The same evaluation later gave rise to the term The Age of Enlightenment, which alluded to the old inward-orientated science’s interpretation of so-called transcendental or mystical experiences, which were incomprehensible to ordinary people.
With the later arrival of automation associated with the use of energy, the same evaluation was applied to mean rescuing and freeing people from all the old labour and slavery, that is, from bondage to the earth and bondage to land-owners, the so-called feudal lords. In the longer view, this meant rescuing and freeing people from all economic bondage: everyone will become free and rich; machines will do the work so that humanity can devote itself to more worthy matters than simply toiling for its bread and butter.
This interpretation of the modern undertaking, with the new so-called objective science at its head and the new automated technology in its tow, resulted in two revolts. One was against psychological oppression by the Church. This had taken the form of witch-trials, following the earlier splintering of the Church by the Reformation. The other was against the old practical oppression by the authorities based on the ownership of land.
Towards the end of the 1700s, these two revolts led ideologically to modern atheism – that is, to a total break with the old philosophical cultural heritage. And in practical terms they led to the French revolution.
Then came the emergence of the new dependence on industries, the discontent with the rootlessness of town life, and the new poverty of the migrated industrial workers, the so-called proletariat, which Marx and Engels so graphically describe in The Communist Manifesto. The struggle for general freedom and wealth continued thereafter through Marxist revolutions, in which capitalism and socialism were misleadingly regarded as opposites of one another. The actual opposition is between so-called liberal- (understood private-) capitalism and state-capitalism. It gave rise after the second world war to the Iron Curtain, the formal division between two opposed ‘philosophies’ – although before that these had already been divided into the left and the right, on the basis of the way delegates were physically placed in parliaments, with mixes in the middle.
This interpretation of the modern undertaking as history’s first and practically feasible path to an unimaginable, unprecedented economic future, under the emblem of freedom and wealth, now has 400 year old roots. It is regarded as offering a future life together that would be equally satisfying for all human beings – either on the Earth’s surface, or, if we manage to make that uninhabitable, after emigration to cities in space. In fact, it is the same dream that humans have always had: previously it was closely associated with other basic theoretical conceptions such as paradise (imagined as on the Earth’s surface), or different conceptions of heaven (following emigration from the Earth).
Today’s generally accepted version of the dream of a life together that is equally satisfying for all is as well-meant as it is irrational. This means in practice that modern humanity has no wish to hear any challenge to its chosen path. It is unwilling to begin to see, notice, reflect on, freely discuss and realise what with time has become clearer and clearer and what it is practically impossible to overlook as things stand today:
- that automation – including all existing and future generations of computers, as well as the related research into the future, as blind as it is fascinating – does not give what everyone wants to believe it gives, that is, a steadily increasing, effective grip on the economic problem;
- that the accelerating growth in size of the economic problem is due solely to this fascination, which is absolutely well-meant but which is blinkered and blind to its negative consequences; and that this is the case completely independently of whichever economic philosophy is applied;
- that now that the automated economy has grown into an inescapable globally connected problem reduced purely to the mathematics of money, our calculations, as they affect both the psychological and the physical areas of our living together, can at any moment slip from our hands, with chaos as the result. (In other words, we could revert to the chaos that future-research – according to the standpoint of modern science – tacitly considers existed in the beginning, before the whole universe and conditions on the Earth’s surface became – as they see it – by chance an inadequately functioning order requiring improvement.)
The first step towards a reality-anchored solution must then be that we globally agree – before the global calculations slip out of the economists’ hands and chaos ensues – that the problem of humans living together is impossible to solve as an economic problem, either in its smallest scope, which is the family, or in its largest form, which is intercontinental. That the problem is impossible to solve economically relates to the fact that the life of humans together is not solely a problem of practical survival – which is how life would seem to be for the other species (on a spontaneous view of their situation from the outside).
The second step – which is crucial and follows from this insight – must then be that we learn from our 400-year experience of our historically unique undertaking and, quite independently of the difficult and threatening economic problems, we globally reflect and take stock, until we can reach agreement about the problem that constantly presents itself afresh to every new-born human being (and which is therefore typically human and ancient): we must ask, and agree about, the question:
What is the problem of living that is so refractory and which quite clearly all humans experience and which equally clearly no other species has?
If we reflect thoroughly, it is the question of the original cause. To have complete clarity about this question is a characteristically human need. It is something the other species cannot be interested in, because interest in it requires the capacity for wholeness-covering speech [UR, Appendix A].
My idea with the initiative to Broaden the Dialogue! is that we must do something about the lack of agreement that has existed throughout all the centuries of which we know the cultural history. For it has hindered dialogue (in the sense of discussion that presupposes we are talking about the same subject).
Surely we can’t drop the deeply contentious and complicated economic problem and the associated future-calculations that we have become completely dependent on and start devoting ourselves to a problem that is even more – if that were possible – contentious and complicated? Moreover, from what I can see, this human need and the economic problems are inseparably connected.
The fact that it is only possible purely theoretically to distinguish the problem with the human need from economics, which deals with practical life, means that the treatment of the economic problem has for the most part been hopelessly contentious throughout history. But this is because of the lack of agreement and the consequent lack of clarity about the question of the original cause. The crucial difference compared with today is only that the historical dispute about the original cause did not create such far-reaching negative consequences for the environment and the atmosphere as the modern enterprise of trying to solve the problem in a technical way has. It is these consequences which indirectly force us, if we are to avoid chaos, to solve the original dispute with the help of the original, so-called philosophical procedure of dialogue – which means discussion from the starting-point of our basically common consciousness of the whole [UR, p. 72].
The problem today is that at the beginning of the development of modern, so-called objective, science, the historical dispute about the question of the original cause was summarily ‘swept under the carpet’. And that is where the lack of agreement still lies, well buried in the so-called unconscious, the hope being that the scientists will gradually solve the problem through technology.
And it was with the rise of modern science that humanity, first in Europe and gradually in every country, went in for the dream that remains largely unchanged nowadays: namely, that through greater and greater enlightenment – that is, knowledge of cause and effect – and through more and more highly automated technology, humans will acquire everything that they need in order to satisfy, rapidly and effectively, their Nature-determined, inescapable, so-called animal needs. In this way all humans – and not just, as hitherto, those belonging to the upper class – will become happy, because all humans will then acquire the time and the practical possibility of realising, and devoting themselves to, the same ‘life worthy of human beings’ that the propertied upper class has demonstrated throughout the centuries at the expense of those below it.
In this way irrational conceptions – of freedom from dependence on Nature, on the one hand, of freedom from the whole cultural heritage, on the other, as well as a new dream of an unforeseeable wealth and capacity to control – have totally locked humanity into the perspective of an alluring, predictable future of economic independence. Thus the ancient way of seeking to demonstrate practical independence from Nature (economically through wealth), now enhanced by constantly increasing modern possibilities, has become practically the sole measure of a life worthy of humans.
All existing economic ideologies agree about this generally accepted future view of life and existence. It is only the question ‘How?’ – that is, what is the most effective way to arrive at this goal – which differentiates the conceptions, and that into two theoretical extremes. The first wants the development to be in the spirit of equality; the second wants it to be in the spirit of contest, the desire to win, competition.
It is only theoretically, however, that the two courses of action can figure as opposites, because both are in practice impossible to realise. The impossibility relates to the fact that the mistake lies not in the two mutually exclusive theories or in how compromise is made between the two, but in their common goal. We must all see that the meaning of life cannot possibly be that humans should, without any perspective (that is, as an end in itself) and without any agreement (that is, without any common meaning or purpose), become richer day by day. That all humans, like the other species, must have everything that they need in order to be able to manage existence, is self-evident and a problem that can be solved. It is impossible, however, to satisfy freely, arbitrarily chosen, varied and unlimitable so-called human needs without coming into increasing conflict with the housekeeping of Nature.
If we leave out of account for the moment the ways modern technology allows us to come into conflict with the order of Nature, then the two modern economic ideologies – the one concentrating on the spirit of equality, brotherhood, the other on the spirit of the desire to win, differentiation, inequality – are in no way modern, but are as old as humanity. And the fact that it is impossible to make either work has meant that humanity’s economic thinking and the application of that thinking have always been fraught and controversial – and always because of the prevailing lack of clarity about the question of the original cause.
Because the new, modern path towards increased knowledge and wealth is just as unpredictable nowadays as it was in its beginning, the idea of how its final realised form will look does not even arise. The slightest idea of arriving at or aiming towards an end-goal for scientific, technological and economic development, is equally repugnant to all involved, for it goes completely against the generally accepted ideology of knowledge growing as an end in itself, without perspective. This means in fact growth in power and know-how, which constitutes the double meaning of the word wealth – in Punic or Aramaic mamon. With the designation mammon in the New Testament (St. Matthew 6:24), this goal is presented as one possible form of belief, in an exclusive relationship to its opposite, which is belief in God.
On the new, 400-year-old, path, all that exists nowadays is the objective, scientific, future-oriented interest in further detailed causality (more knowledge) with a view to its technical applicability (more power). Interest in the ancient philosophical dispute about the question of the original cause is completely absent in the modern cultural landscape. It does not even arise in discussions in philosophical faculties, nor within or between the old religious and so-called spiritual traditions. And yet both are places where one might expect consciousness of the fundamental dispute that has remained unchanged throughout history to survive.
1. This piece was extracted from Hlatky’s papers and printed as a lone-standing article by Per Andersson in 2008 under the title ‘Vad betyder verksamhetsbeteckningen ‘Vidga Samtalet!’?’ (‘What does the activity ‘Broaden the Dialogue!’ mean?’). It has been translated by Philip Booth. Vidga Samtalet! (Broaden the Dialogue!) was the way that Hlatky and those interested in his hypothesis described their activity for public occasions (see, for example, chapters 3 and 4 of Understanding Reality and the article on the book website about climate change.) The group had no enduring structure outside those public occasions. The term related to the suggestion that Hlatky’s hypothesis should be considered, in a public dialogue, alongside the other main theories of the original cause prevalent in modern culture, thus ‘broadening the dialogue’ in this respect. The structure of the book Understanding Reality is dictated by the same wish to place Hlatky’s views in such a broadened dialogue.↩
2. ‘No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.’↩