A New World or No World? (Part 2)

06/20/2008 02:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Eighty years after the great economist John Maynard Keynes observed that the market is psychological and goes up and down primarily because of how investors feel, few people grasp how profound he was. We still rely on objective standards that are only marginally credible: graphs and models, price swings turned into predictive software, and battling academic theories that never come to a consensus. But understanding Keynes's insight is absolutely vital, and then going even further to comprehend why we behave the way we do. For a new world to be born, a new mindset is necessary. "Mind before money" encapsulates the truth. There has never been a more threatening time for the U.S. and the global economy since the Great Depression and the era of totalitarianism.

The future depends on consciousness in undeniable ways. Here are the major factors:

1. Self-confidence and optimism.
2. Giving value to things that really matter.
3 A vision of the future.
4. The courage and will to carry out that vision.
5. A viable definition of personal happiness.

Today, the vast majority of decision-making rarely takes these factors into account. Instead, we pretend that economics is a science, and we measure success sheerly in terms of wealth. We maximize selfishness while encouraging the neglect of others. As a result, huge portions of the world's population have in essence been thrown away. Human beings are now disposable because they are economic pawns. For example, Thailand's economy was devastated in the 90s by currency speculators on /Wall St. who first inflated the Thai economy as part of the "Asian miracle", and then allowed it to collapse once the returns of speculation had run their course from boom to bust. The immorality of an outside agency destroying innocent people's lives meant nothing when Thailand was reduced to a computer model that set to jump ship as soon as profits dropped below expectations. The vaunted free market may "work," but only if you're willing to take no responsibility for the harm it does in human terms.

Let's evaluate what it means to look at markets as Keynes suggested, as a byproduct of how people feel.

1. Self-confidence and optimism.
These qualities emerge naturally when people are prosperous. They dwindle in the face of adversity, just when they are most needed. The trick is how to remain confident under pressure and optimistic when the going gets rough. At present, objective measures of confidence and optimism are basically useless. They are seen wrongly as byproducts of money. We have diminish ourselves into pawns of outside forces. But if that view is false, what replaces it?

The answer is consciousness. People gain in confidence and optimism when they have self-esteem, when they can successfully carry out big projects, overcome obstacles, and acquire an unshakable sense of their own worth and skills -- all subjective qualities. Growth of consciousness is the only viable way to obtain inner stability under stress. Look at the American economy. People were made confident by getting richer, but once the housing market retreated by a small degree, near panic set in. Our confidence, it turned out, was tied to low mortgages, high salaries, and cheap goods at the mall. The shallowness of "consumer confidence" is obvious. What's not so obvious is that true confidence must stand up to change and rise above downturns. By ignoring consciousness and clinging to money, we opened ourselves up to crippling insecurity.

2. Giving value to things that really matter.
In the past, people inherited their sense of value, which came to them ready made and second-hand. Religion, for example, held that nothing mattered more than faith (in Christianity, at least). Obedience was rewarded by God. Original sin doomed humanity to perpetual guilt and whatever could heal that guilt. But with the astonishing rise of science, not only was religion displaced, but it left a vacuum of values. People became more and more free to decide for themselves what really mattered. The good news is that each person could espouse values that don't come from the outside, imposed by authority. The bad news is that false and trivial values rushed in to fill the vacuum, far ahead of meaningful values.

In the consumer culture that arose, a gorgeous supermodel, a Mercedes, five bedrooms, and the right labels on your clothes leave us helpless to deal with something like global warming. We are submerged in distractions and pulled into a spiral of narcissism. Fickle desire trumps stable human values, and in time consciousness gets stuck in a self-indulgent rut. The greatest harm, however, was done out of sight. Awareness became dull and detached. This is what spiritual teachers mean by being asleep. People get used to a total lack of alertness and self-awareness. "I am what I buy" is so much easier than "I know myself."

Thus we created a permanent sub-class of Cassandras, awake enough to see looming disasters but unable to attract anyone else's attention. The warmakers in the White House had ample access to experts who knew the Middle East and foresaw the disastrous results of invading Iraq. Instead, decisions were made with almost no forethought or curiosity about the unknown. Indeed, being too awake came to be seen as a political threat. Trying to alert the public and wake up their conscience was anathema. Leaving the war aside, this dumbing down shuts off growth of consciousness itself, lulling us more and more into the delusion that sleeping through life is good enough to make for a comfortable existence.

(To be cont.)