The Tide of Commercialism

Eventually the tide of commercialism as the dominant theme of society will ebb, and the next phase of human development will rise.  It is evident from the force of the movement of commercialism, however, that it is fulfilling some real purpose in Nature’s evolutionary progression, and it retains its dynamism and continues to expand its reach.  It matters little whether the commercialism is founded in capitalism or socialism– they both represent the same principle of turning human life and activity into markers of economic value rather than some higher principle, with capitalism rewarding those who provide the capital or investment primarily, and socialism rewarding those who provide the input of labour primarily.

Even in times of extreme predominance of some principle or another, one can find seeds or small shoots sprouting up that represent the birth of the next principle.  We can see in our world today, an increase of religion, but also of spirituality, where individuals undertake to develop a direct relationship to the Spirit in whatever way, shape or form they happen to conceive of the Spirit, without necessarily wanting the intermediation of a church or religious institution.  This may very well represent a future phase, and given the development of the human being from the perspective of an evolution of consciousness, there is a high likelihood that this is the case, once the physical, vital and mental platform has been fully developed, exploited and solidified as a basis for humanity to move to the next phase.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The religious spirit is reviving and even the old discouraged religious creeds and forms are recovering a kind of vigour.  In the secular thought of mankind there are signs of an idealism which increasingly admits a spiritual element among its motives.  But all this is as yet slight and superficial; the body of thought and practice, the effective motive, the propelling impulsion remain untouched and unchanged.  That impulsion is still towards the industrialising of the human race and the perfection of the life of society as an economic and productive organism.  Nor is this spirit likely to die as yet by exhaustion, for it has not yet fulfilled itself and is growing, not declining in force.”

With regard to whether labour is able to supplant capital as the factor that dominates the commercial spirit, Sri Aurobindo observes:  “It will be a change from one side of economism to the other, but not a change from economism to the domination of some other and higher motive of human life.  The change itself is likely to be one of the chief factors with which international unification will have to deal and either its greatest aid or its greatest difficulty.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 25, War and the Need of Economic Unity, pp. 218-219

The Dominance of Commercialism Is Entrenched and Unlikely to Be Altered in the Near Term

As with every major upheaval in societal focus and organisation, the move towards commercialism as the dominant characteristic of society has both its proponents and detractors.  Particularly for those whose power and influence has been displaced by this change, there is a nostalgic desire to return to the past and embrace it as some kind of “golden age” of society.   But major changes in society tend to move forward, not backward, and the changes that were ushered in with this commercialism were perhaps necessary to address imbalances that had dominated societal organisation under the former systems.  Certainly, the dominance of a landed aristocracy and the subservience and slavery of large portions of humanity was something that had to disappear.  There are also those who feel that the rise of commercialism is a transitional stage in and of itself towards something that will bring about the tenets expressed so clearly during the French revolution, of “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  Certainly commercialism has seen the replacement of one elite ruling group by another.  The rise of socialism was expected to bring about the supremacy of labour over capital, yet it remains, one way or the other, rooted in the commercialist spirit.  If a change is to come, it must represent a further step forward along the development path, the full scope and direction of which is not yet fully obvious.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Certain prophetic voices announce indeed the speedy passing of the age of commercialism.  But it is not easy to see how this is to come about; certainly, it will not be by a reversion to the predominantly political spirit of the past or the temper and forms of the old aristocratic social type.  The sigh of the extreme conservative mind for the golden age of the past, which was not so golden as it appears to an imaginative eye in the distance, is a vain breath blown to the winds by the rush of the car of the Time-Spirit in the extreme velocity of its progress.  The end of commercialism can only come about either by some unexpected development of commercialism itself or through a reawakening of spirituality in the race and its coming to its own by the subordination of the political and economic motives of life to the spiritual motive.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 25, War and the Need of Economic Unity, pp. 217-218

Cultural Development As Seen Through the Lens of the Commercialist Priorities of the Modern Society

As a commercial mind-set has permeated society, it has dramatically changed the way humanity, in general, looks at the development of capabilities that are not strictly commercial in their application.  In the past, we have prized art, music, science, religious practice, education for the ways that they have enhanced the individual’s inner growth and attainments.  The ideal of the Renaissance Man, who developed capacities in these various ranges, and who attained knowledge and proficiency across a wide spectrum of development, was considered to be an ideal for Western man to attain to.  In the East, similar respect was afforded to those who developed their mental and spiritual-religious faculties without a specific economic motive.  In today’s world, such a concept has, however, faded away.  There are even universities in the United States that are proposing to dispense with majors in English, Philosophy or History in favor of “useful” subjects that have a specific economic value in modern society.  We are thus dispensing with the idea of a “liberal education in the humanities” in favor of utilitarian pursuits.  We are doing away with any concept of a higher purpose to human life.  The result of course will be the weakening of our adherence to values beyond a pure commercial view, and thus, reduce all of human achievement to some kind of numerical value on an economic scale.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “For the modern economic view of life, culture and its products have chiefly a decorative view; they are costly and desirable luxuries, not at all indispensable necessities.  Religion is in this view a by-product of the human mind with a very restricted utility — if indeed it is not a waste and a hindrance.  Education has a recognised importance but its object and form are no longer so much cultural as scientific, utilitarian and economic, its value the preparation of the efficient individual unit to take his place in the body of the economic organism.  Science is of immense importance not because it discovers the secrets of Nature for the advancement of knowledge, but because it utilises them for the creation of machinery and develops and organises the economic resources of the community.  The thought-power of the society, almost its soul-power — if it has any longer so unsubstantial and unproductive a thing as a soul — is not in its religion or its literature, although the former drags on a feeble existence and the latter teems and spawns, but in the daily Press primarily an instrument of commercialism and governed by the political and commercial spirit and not like literature a direct instrument of culture.”

“Free thought and culture remain on the surface of this great increasing mass of commercialism and influence and modify it, but are themselves more and more influenced, penetrated, coloured, subjugated by the economic, commercial and industrial view of human life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 25, War and the Need of Economic Unity, pg. 217

The Commercial and Utilitarian Spirit of the Modern Age

Ancient societies tended to adopt what may be called their “time-spirit” from the lead role of the educated and religious, or in other cases the military and political classes.  In the Hindu tradition, this would be the leadership of the Brahmin and the Kshatriya classes.  The commercial man of business, and the laborer played an important role, of course, in the constitution and functioning of the society, but did not thereby play the predominant role in determining the “spirit of the age”.  For the last couple of hundred years, however, we have seen an ever-increasing focus on and predominance of the commercial, industrial and business classes and with this, the entire spirit of the age has taken on a commercialist air.  Education, art, cultural development, religious spirit have all become secondary, so that they are judged to a great degree by their utility and ability to provide business and commercial advantage.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The phenomenon of modern social development is the decline of the Brahmin and Kshatriya, of the Church, the military aristocracy and the aristocracy of letters and culture, and the rise to power or predominance of the commercial and industrial classes, Vaishya and Shudra, Capital and Labour.  Together they have swallowed up or cast out their rivals and are now engaged in a fratricidal conflict for sole possession in which the completion of the downward force of social gravitation, the ultimate triumph of Labour and the remodelling of all social conceptions and institutions with Labour as the first, the most dignified term which will give its value to all others seem to be the visible writing of Fate.  At present, however, it is still the Vaishya who still predominates and his stamp on the world is commercialism, the predominance of the economic man, the universality of the commercial value for everything in human life.  Even in the outlook on knowledge, thought, science, art, poetry and religion the economic conception of life overrides all others.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 25, War and the Need of Economic Unity, pg. 216

The Rise of Economic Interdependence As a Major Factor in Modern-Day Civilisation

The role of the economic activity has moved front and center as the primary consideration for societal actions in the modern world.  The role of the individual as an economic producer and consumer drives policy, and the relationship of economic activity drives relations between nations.  In many instances, we can see that economic benefit is able to dominate the discussion over the health and well-being of the citizens, and the economic cost of protecting people is used as a rationale for not protecting citizens from the costs of industrial pollution, climate change impacts, or business practices that enrich economic producing firms at the expense of the citizenry.  This represents a major change and difference from earlier views of citizens in the society, and implies an enormous set of consequences for the direction and development of world unity–the economic impacts will have to be understood and addressed.

Sri Aurobindo observes, noting that the military necessity is the first step in gaining the control needed for a world union, that there is yet another issue to be addressed:  “But there is behind it another necessity which is much more powerful in its action on the modern mind, the commercial and industrial, the necessity born of economic interdependence.  Commercialism is a modern sociological phenomenon; one might almost say that is the whole phenomenon of modern society.  The economic part of life is always important to an organised community and even fundamental; but in former times it was simply the first need, it was not that which occupied the thoughts of men, gave the whole tone to the social life, stood at the head and was clearly recognised as standing at the root of social principles.”

It is interesting to note that in the ancient Hindu system, the economic principle was not considered to be the leading issue of governance, which was first and foremost vested in the intellectual and religious and military-political classes.  “Commercial interests entered into the relations of States and into the motives of war and peace; but they entered as subordinate and secondary predisposing causes of amity or hostility and only rarely and as it were accidentally came to be enumerated among the overt and conscious causes of peace, alliance and strife.  The political consciousness, the political motive dominated; increase of wealth was primarily regarded as a means of political power and greatness and opulence of the mobilisable resources of the State than as an end in itself or a first consideration.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 25, War and the Need of Economic Unity, pp. 215-216

The Necessity of Force in the Creation and Maintenance of a World-State

Humanity’s leading idealistic thinkers and visionaries dream of a time when force will no longer be the arbiter of affairs between people and their societal groupings.  Such a time, however, will require a considerable change in basic human nature which we cannot yet see on the horizon.  At some point in future history, of course, such a result might eventuate, as humanity evolves beyond the vital animal to become truly a self-conscious soul-being guided in action by the highest lights of spirit and implemented through the unique mental capacities of which human beings are capable.

In the interim, however, it is nevertheless essential that a solution be found to the worldwide issues that threaten the very existence of humanity, and, given the inability of a confederation of the world’s nations to truly reach equilibrium, and eschew the use of military force when an advantage is observed, it becomes necessary to consider the development of a World-State which would exercise complete and ultimate power of action including holding a monopoly on the military power and the armaments of the world.  The obvious concerns about concentration of power among any small group of human beings still remain and must be addressed, of course.

Sri Aurobindo notes with respect to the creation of a World-State:  “For it can be brought into truly effective existence only if the international authority became, not merely the arbiter of disputes, but the source  of law and the final power behind their execution.  For the execution of its decrees against recalcitrant countries or classes, for the prevention of all kinds of strife not merely political but commercial, industrial and others or at least of their decision by any other ways than a peaceful resort to law and arbitration, for the suppression of any attempt at violent change and revolution, the World-State, even at its strongest, would still need the concentration of all force in its own hands.  While man remains what he is, force in spite of all idealisms and generous pacific hopes must remain the ultimate arbiter and governor of his life and its possessor the real ruler.  Force may veil its crude presence at ordinary times and take only mild and civilised forms, — mild in comparison, for are not the jail and the executioner still the two great pillars of the social order? — but it is there silently upholding the specious appearances of our civilisation and ready to intervene, whenever called upon, in the workings of the fairer but still feebler gods of the social cosmos.  Diffused, force fulfils the free workings of Nature and is the servant of life but also of discord and struggle; concentrated, it becomes the guarantee of organisation and the bond of order.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 24, The Need of Military Unification, pp. 213-214

The World-Governing Central Authority Must Hold the Exclusive Military Power If It Is to Succeed

After World War I, the victorious allies laid down conditions on Germany that seriously limited the military power of the defeated Power.  In the end, however, this did not prevent Germany from rebuilding its military, building out an air force and a navy, and ramping up armaments manufacturing to create, prior to the advent of the Second World War, the most powerful and daunting military force in the world at that time.  The resurgent German military was able to plunge the world into a conflagration that far exceeded in scope and suffering, even the tragedies of the First World War.  We see illustrated here the rationale for Sri Aurobindo’s observation that in order for a centralised world-authority to effectively operate, address the issues facing all of humanity, and maintain peace, there must be total disarmament by all the nations, with their military forces disbanded and their munitions industries shut down.  Obviously, in the current state of the world, there is no immediate possibility of such a response, but it is essential to understand why this is actually a necessity:

“For so long as the national egoisms of any kind remained and along with them mutual distrust, the nations would not sacrifice their possession of an armed force on which they could rely for self-defence if their interests, or at lest those that they considered essential to their prosperity and their existence, came to be threatened.  Any distrust of the assured impartiality of the international government would operate in the same direction.  Yet such a disarmament would be essential to the assured cessation of war — in the absence of some great and radical psychological and moral change.  If national armies exist, the possibility, even the certainty of war will exist along with them.  However small they might be made in times of peace, and international authority, even with a military force of its own behind it, would be in the position of the feudal king never quite sure of his effective control of his vassals.  The international authority must hold under its command the sole trained military force in the world for the policing of the nations and also — otherwise the monopoly would be ineffective — the sole disposal of the means of manufacturing arms and implements of war.  National and private munitions factories and arms factories must disappear.  National armies must become like the old baronial armies a memory of past and dead ages.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 24, The Need of Military Unification, pg. 213