On Capitalism and Dream Politics

Dream Politics looks at power as a function and tool of the evolving self. It sees interior and external sources of power as mirroring one another, reflecting and reinforcing one another. Attempting to discern which is prior and most important is a waste of time and energy; it is like asking, “Are the interior or the external quadrants of the human holon most important?” “Are the individual or the collective quadrants of the human holon most important?” Since all these are interdependent, they are like Janus: different faces of the same individual.

One form of power is economic. We all need to have money; how we make it and what we do with it says a lot about who we are and what we value. Every dollar spent is a vote for something or someone and a tacit witholding of support for other things and other people. Consequently money and its uses is an undeniable expression of personal power; there is no getting around it. Even if we disdain money and avoid dealing with it, like Buddhist monks, we still have a relationship with money and economic power. Essentially, we choose to put that power in the hands of others.

A perennial theme in spirituality is the corrupting power of politics and the corruption of politics through the introduction of money. Capitalism is often held up as a prime example of the corrupting and corrupt nature of money. At the time of this writing, March 2012, one story in the news is the whistleblowing resignation letter from an Executive Director head of Goldman Sachs U.S. equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Goldman Sachs is the premier money-churning financial house in the world. The resignation letter states, “I attend .?.?. meetings where not one single minute is spent asking how we can help clients. It’s purely how we can make the most possible money off them. It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping off their clients…If you make enough money for the firm, and are not currently an axe murderer, you will be promoted into a position of influence.’ In Rolling Stone magazine in 2009, writer Matt Taibbi famously described Goldman Sachs as ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’.

A lot of people are pointing to a cascade of evidence, of which Smith’s whistleblowing is the latest, that capitalism is inherently corrupt. But the problem is not capitalism. Power  itself is inherently addictive and therefore corrupting, whether it arises in a capitalist, socialist, communist, or libertarian. Everything that lives has its own quotient of power, of life force. Too much of it on any level and things get out of balance and there’s death. Too little of it on any level and things get out of balance and there’s death. Therefore, a better model is homeostasis – the balancing of conflicting, opposing forces that create a solid, stable status quo on which higher levels of order can be built.

Since the founding fathers lived before modern biology and the development of the concept of homeostasis, this is not what they had in mind in the creation of the checks and balances of government. Still, the US constitution is an application of homeostasis to the realm of political power. There is little doubt that the system of checks and balances on the financial sector has broken down to the place where it has undercut its credibility in the eyes of various sectors: bank customers withdrawing their funds, high end ivy-league graduates choosing not to go into the field,

the public presentation of terribly bad role models: Romney, for instance. This erosion of trust, confidence, and respect is continuing and perhaps even accelerating at present.

People go into business with noble goals. They are generally altruistic, more along the lines of a 1950’s model of business – focusing on excellence of product, trusting that if you fulfill the needs of your customer the money will follow. The problem is that when the world was less interconnected you could externalize your costs easier and stills satisfy your customer. Doing so was not considered exploitative. Your focus was on your customer – not on how the people in your supply chain were being treated or what environmental damage might be done by your industrial processes. No one cared; there were not the feedback systems to let you know that there was a problem, and therefore there were few, if any, consequences.

But the difference is also from the types of business that financial firms are allowed to do now that they couldn’t in the 50’s. Back then, Wall Street was a “ bunch of undercapitalized private partnerships. And the way it made money was taking companies public, raising debt for them, raising equity for them, advising them on merger and acquisition deals, and advising them on how to manage their money. There was very little trading. Very little risk for them.”

Former Goldman Sachs director Gus Levy has referred to that model as “long-term greed,” which meant, “treating your clients right.”

Going from that definition, the diagnosis of the problem with capitalism today is “short-term greed:” maximizing profit at the expense of long-term customer relationships, based on the need to off-load investments that are a problem or not so lucrative. This id associated with a rise in the derivative trading part of the business, something that didn’t exist in the 50’s for these firms. Today people in the financial sector are more likely to be stereotyped as greedy, exploitative, selfish, power-hungry manipulators – all the bad stereotypes people put on capitalists/financial sector types.  As Smith also notes in his resignation letter, “These days, the most common question I get from junior analysts about derivatives is, “How much money did we make off the client?” It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection of what they are observing from their leaders about the way they should behave. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the junior analyst sitting quietly in the corner of the room hearing about “muppets,” “ripping eyeballs out” and “getting paid” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.” Now the feedback systems are such that the greater environment, the governments of other nations, workers half a world away, are all “customers” in the sense that they impact your bottom line in various ways they didn’t before. This is a new reality businesses in the 1880’s, the 1920’s, and the 1950’s did not have to contend with as much. Those issues have always existed, but today they are too large to dismiss or ignore and public awareness of the internal workings of corporations is far greater than ever before and increasing steadily, as funds are set up to encourage people to report criminality. This is a huge difference that makes doing capitalism as it was done in the 1950’s much more difficult.

Short-term or long-term greed aside, the unquestioned assumption of capitalism is the Gordon Gecko motto of the film Wall Street: “Greed is good.” Is it? If not, why not? Since Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” the basic justification for capitalism is selfishness. If everyone is looking out for themselves the welfare of all is best promoted.  Therefore, greed is good. This was the editorial response of both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Of course, one can always blame the victim, which is the argument that Forbes uses in an editorial: “If what Smith is saying today is true, then the biggest problem remains the “muppets.” Not Kermit or Gonzo, but the investors that Smith claims continue to buy garbage from Goldman. Until those clients start to take responsibility for themselves, Goldman will remain incentivized to sell stuff to them.”

Some people look back at the “good old days” of pre-derivative banking and say that finance was then, as now, just as predatory as the rules allow, and then some. It wasn’t because investment banks weren’t publicly traded or that bankers of 40 years ago had more scruples, James Shaft of Reuters argues, but that heavy regulation prevented the kind of excesses that investment banks engage in now.

However, there is an important difference between selfishness and self-interest or self-concern. If we don’t make it, then everything we do is a matter of selfishness, meaning that we either need to feel guilty or predatory, and so people choose one or the other or swing back and forth between the two. But self-concern may not have anything to do with selfishness. In fact, what looks like selfishness may not be selfish at all and what we label as self-concern can be selfishness rationalized. Much of the abuse of power in the financial, governmental, and personal realms boils down to a confusion of these two very different concepts.

Is a swing to non-capitalist remedies the answer? The drama I have been watching has been around the question, “Will the financial/business sectors allow themselves to be held more accountable in various ways to the public, which goes against their basic instincts, or will they continue to pursue policies that are beneficial for stockholders and executives but seen as exploitative by a majority of the broader audience?” If they choose the first, at least in the short term they limit their profits and their power; if they choose the latter, they maintain power in the short-term while losing their long-term credibility in the market place, and increasing the likelihood that they will die and be replaced.

This same issue is very much the same for us as individuals. When are we over-reaching? When are we not minding the road signs? When do we need to set greater limits on ourselves to keep from self-destruction through our addiction to a path that has been proven to work? When do we need to ignore limits and press on, regardless?

This brings us to the Kahn Academy. One young guy is rethinking and remaking education world-wide. Instead of lessons being taught at school by teachers and practice done in homework, he flips the model. You look at a video of the lesson at home the night before and do monitored practice “homework” at school where you can get help when you have problems. This radical approach did not come from an educator, but an escapee from the financial sector who has three degrees from MIT. The system did not reform itself; it is being reformed from someone who was free to think outside the box and now is assembling the real time test score data in California public schools to validate the approach. So what does that have to do with capitalism, dream politics, and Integral Deep listening?

This is a basic reason I interview dream characters and encourage others to do so – as well as the personifications of their life issues. Many of them represent your personal equivalent of Salman Kahn. Either we as individuals, businesses, financial institutions, and governments listen to internal wake-up calls and modify our lives accordingly or external factors tend to smack us awake (or dead). This is a fundamental, universal principle. We can either look within as individuals, businesses, institutions, and governments and adjust, reform, expand, and include, or we can fossilize in habitual patterns of living life, doing business, and governing. When we do so we become shaped and controlled by more agile external forces that we often neither see nor understand.

Just last night I had a dream that literally laid out exactly this dilemma. I died, giving me an opportunity to wake up through understanding a dream, thereby avoiding an externalized physical smash-up and death.  As an example, here is that dream and what I did with it:

I am in a race. It is also a story and I am watching the race. It is both. I am in the lead. Someone is announcing the lead and it is considerable – a minute and a half or so.  It is dusk. I approach a place where the running  course is flooded. Rather than running through the deepening water I run up a cascading stream to the right, perhaps thinking I can get to the source of the water and then cut around and get back on the course. I do get to the top of the water, but then the landscape is worse than a lava field. There are big crags of rock extending for some distance. I continue, jumping from one to the next, keeping my speed up, not concerned that I may not have a next craggy boulder top to jump to. Certainly if I had slowed down or walked I wouldn’t have been able to get through that area at all. Finally I reach a point where I can go no further; there is a high, verticle cliff below me. So I simply jump into the air and allow myself to fly, to float, to be lifted up higher and higher into the sky. High up, I look around and there is a majestic scene. I am high above the edge of a large lake below. It is clearly the interior of a giant volcanic crater with high craggy cliffs glowing orange in the twilight. I must be at least five hundred feet up in the air, perhaps a thousand. I realize that I have lost my forward motion and that I am now going to fall. I don’t feel scared. I relax into the fall. I know I am not far out enough to come down into the water, but will land on the rocks at the water’s edge. I simply let go and relax. I hit the ground and die. The scene changes to some young lady who is monitoring the runners from some central control area. She has stopped getting any life readings from the front runner. There is a monitoring cable. She pulls it in and it goes nowhere – broken off.

Was this a nightmare? It didn’t feel like one. I was not scared at any point. I used to run and it felt very good to be running again. I was more interested in maintaining my intertia, my momentum, my pace than I was at being slowed down by running through deepening water.  I made a choice that led to a literal dead end. There was no fear, and there was no drama, in the sense that dying did not wake me up; however, it did push me out of role, in that I did not stay dead, but instead the scene changed to someone monitoring the death. This might be seen as a form of avoidance of the experience of death, or it may have simply been a practical end to a story, which is what it felt like in the dream. However, I realize now that I could have stayed dead and experienced that in the dream. This realization has given me an idea. Why not incubate, while dropping off to sleep at night, dying in dreams and staying dead? As such, I will either be in a clear meditative state in my dreams or experience different versions of what it is like to be dead. That is, I will dream different stories about what that experience is like.

My assumption is that running through the water would indeed slow me down but that I should have taken that path, because maintaining my speed by taking another path led to a dead end and a death – the end of that race, that story line. Does the water personifies some sort of emotional life complication that I need to wade through instead of avoiding?

One writes such assumptions before proceeding with an interview to clear them out of the way so they are less likely to influence the interview out of awareness. At the same time, they serve as a “pre-test” against which to guage the interview. Does the interview confirm these assumptions or not? If it does not, then the implication is that a novel perspective has been accessed.

Here is an example of a short interviewing process, which anyone can do but is easier once you are familiar with the complete IDL interviewing protocol:

So water, are you there to slow me down?

No. I’m just busy being water. 

I’m thinking that in the dream I was too impulsive and should have waded through you, staying on course, or waited for instructions from the race people, instead of brashly heading out on my own. What do you think?

Well, I don’t care much. But you can dream the other alternative and see what that is like for you. Different outcomes, different lessons to be learned.  In the first you got to jump boulders, fly, see a magnificent view, and die without dying, which opened up to you the idea of practicing dying in your dreams. That’s not bad. So you can imagine taking the other path and see what happens…

OK. So here goes: I am running through the water. It is slowing me down. I look around for some instruction about what to do from people supervising the race. The ones that are there are as confused as I am; they don’t know what to tell me. But I figure either the other runners will encounter the same circumstances or, if it is cleared up by the time they come along, the obstruction for me will be taken into account by the race authorities. But I decide to just include this as part of the experience of the run and keep on going. So now I’m bounding through ankle deep water, with water splashing everywhere. I see ahead that it gets deeper; there is a broken pipe, I think, at the low point, but I see that the path climbs on the other side and I figure it will take me slowly out of the water. So I slow down more and get into the water up to my knees. I’m definitely not running now, but I’m still exerting myself, and keeping my cardio at about the same pace, though using some different muscles pushing my legs and feet through the resistance of the water. I get past the low point, and the water offers less resistance until I get out of it, pick up speed, and continue on my way…

So water, what part of me do you most closely represent or personify?

I am any resistance that comes up in your life. It could be your emotions, a problem you aren’t solving, like the slow slog to learn German, a physical limitation, like losing weight or aging, someone disagreeing with you or giving you shit. It doesn’t matter what it is – any form of life resistance. The choice is, do you stay with it or look to avoid it in some way? You’ll learn either way, but you need not to be afraid of either. From my perspective as water, the dream is telling you that you need to err on the side of slogging through instead of avoiding, even though both teach you stuff. 

This is a good lesson, because sometimes I get tired of slogging through life challenges, feeling like it’s too hard, too much resistance. I need not to listen to those voices or impulses too much, but perhaps remember running, the water, and thinking about coming out of it on the other side. But at the same time I can still practice taking the other route: dying in my dreams and experiencing what happens.

So, how does this relate to the future of capitalism and financial markets? Companies, financial institutions, and governments are always getting internal wake-up calls, just like you and I are. In fact, they are getting so many that sometimes it is hard to tell which ones are important to listen to and which can be safely ignored. Whenever you have a pain do you go into crisis, thinking you might die? Probably not, because you know that most pains you get are not life-threatening. In fact you have learned that it is safe to ignore certain types of aches and pains, such as a side-stitch while running or the normal soreness of muscles when you exercise them. The problem is that like individuals, financial, social, business, and governmental institutions can become numb to all the warning signs, and ignore them, rather like I did the danger of running off the course just in order to keep up my speed. When the forces of institutional inertia, either on a personal or a social level overwhelm our ability to listen, respond, and adapt, disaster becomes more likely. Smart politics in both our sleeping and waking dream involves figuring out how to open ourselves up to new sources of innovation from within. This reduces the likelihood that external sources turn us into dinosaurs.

What are corporate examples of deep listening? Examples of internal reform that comes to mind is Wal-mart’s efforts at greening its supply chain and Apple’s heat on Foxcomm, resulting in some (but not enough) reforms that respect the needs/rights of line workers. A governmental example of misperceiving an internal wake-up call is 9/11. It was seen as a statement of external threat instead of the result of a dangerously skewed misperception by the nation itself. Because this delusional misperception was continued, there was no response to 9/11, only a reaction that confirmed and deepened the delusion, leading to attacks on elements that were not the cause of the problem, leading to a serious bleeding of national resources and international capital. A governmental example of hearing and creatively responding to an internal wake-up call is Portugal’s response to its national problems of drug abuse through legalization and the setting up of rehabilitation programs. Both drug abuse and related crime plummeted, saving the nation in both money and human resources.

When integral deep listening is used to hear wake-up calls and respond to them in a constructive way dream politics increases political and personal capital. It not only saves precious resources, but channels them in more constructive ways that benefit the development of the individual, business, or government as a whole.

The capitalistic model is here to stay, because the impulse behind it represents important and fundamental aspects of human nature. People need money and the power it brings; people also need the discernment to use that money and its power wisely. With integral deep listening that becomes more likely; without it, wake-up calls get louder, more violent, and more external. Interviewing emerging potentials like the water in the above dream help to determine the right mix of limits and accountability structures for various types of markets. It makes sense for business people, bankers, and people in government to assume that their night-time dreams are already showing them what not to do and suggesting better alternatives about the concerns they take to sleep with them – how to deal with a financial crunch, how best to market a new product, how to deal with work relationship issues, or how to best resolve the competing demands of home and work, suppliers and customers, lobbyists and electorate. IDL claims that accessing and utilizing this creative problem solving process can speed up both your learning and growth process regardless of your external circumstances. This is a testable hypothesis. You can conduct your own experiments and collect your own data. Nothing here needs to be or should be taken on faith. In time, with enough people conducting such experiments you will be able to say, “According to the feedback of my emerging potentials, the approach to power/capitalism/governance/relationships that I am using is likely to produce growth and success.” Your choices will be based much more on the wisdom of your inner compass rather than on the vagueries of financial markets, the culture of your workplace, the dramas of your family, or the structure of your government. Your happiness and inner peace, as well as your success, will be experienced as increasingly independent of what others or outside events do or do not do.

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