Nowadays we like to talk about the supremacy of our constitution and the ascendancy of market forces. We like to think of ourselves as living under the rule of law and we tend to think of our good lives, or our bad lives, being the output of our economies. After all, the muscular development of our economies has brought us the fruits of development and our societies are held together by the rule of law, right? Well, true, up to a certain extent. But we are in danger of missing a crucial truth that underlies these facts: law and wealth have existed before.
Great wealth and strong legal systems have been features of human empires before now: Egyptian, Mayan, Roman, Mongol, Ottoman, Russian and British empires, to name but a few, all had strong legal systems and generated enormous wealth. The difference between what exists today and the history is not the mere existence of law and wealth, it is the manner and tone of their application. This is the first hint at what we might be missing in our perspective of the current times. The fact that we have laws and wealth is not the defining character of our times, it is the nature of our laws and our wealth that distinguishes us from our forebears.
What determines the nature and manner in which law is applied, or economic wealth is experienced? It is the culture and norms of the society within which they operate that shapes the form and function of law and wealth. To think of the value of our society as the crude existence of the rule of law and the freedom of markets is to miss a crucial element; the application of our rules of law and the operation of our free markets are critically dependent on our social standards to deliver the preferred outcomes. Our society is not shaped by law and wealth, our society shapes our law and wealth. If you are thinking some version of “Well duh! Of course!” at this moment, then dodge this: you are not the recipient of the benefits of this system, nor are you the victim of it, you are a critically important shaper, protector and developer of this system. The supreme determinant of the quality of our system is not our laws and economies, it is the social framework within which those operate; and we are all individually and collectively responsible for the nature of that framework.
Understanding the supremacy of our social constructs as the defining framework that determines the quality of the outputs from our other mechanisms is a crucial step toward delivering better outcomes. Only once we accept responsibility for our role in determining the nature and norms of our society can we expect our laws and our economy to deliver the outputs we seek. Our laws and our wealth cannot protect us from that which we fail to take responsibility for, they are dependent for their efficacy on us first.
So it is the nature and the character of the society within which we define our laws and economies that determines the results. We cannot expect that our laws will defend us from the flaws we establish in our basic social constructs. Laws against profiteering will not prevent profiteering in the delivery of services that we outsource to profiteers. Laws against the trade in substances that we desire will not prevent the trade in those substances. Laws against unequal treatment will not create equality. Only when we have taken responsibility for establishing our standards will the mechanisms deliver results – intention is everything.
A crucial understanding that evolves is that we are not a society made from laws and economics, we are an intentional society that creates laws and economies to serve our society. A constitution does not define our society, it reflects our society. Free markets do not create our society, they serve our society.
The challenge that this presents us is that of being responsible for shaping our society, our environment, our framework. As creatures evolved from millennia of being passive recipients of our environment, we are not yet used to having to take responsibility for creating it, we are more used to seeing ourselves as actors subservient to the scriptwriter. But humans are no longer the passive recipients of evolutionary constraints, we have become active participants in defining our evolution. This presents an huge increase in our responsibility, and one which we tend to neither accept nor enjoy; but fact is truth and we have no escape from this development.
Talk of being the hapless products of our environment, of being the vassals of something bigger, of being the lucky recipients of the fruits of external systems, are all abdications of our responsibility; albeit a responsibility we wondered into unintentionally. We cannot get out of our way and everything will be alright, we have surpassed the point of no return on the evolutionary path and now we have no choice but to take up the mantle and grow into our role. I’m not sure there ever was one, but now there is no such thing as a self-directed free market that will serve our needs; our needs can only be met through intentionally directed activity. We cannot be slaves to a constitution written two hundred years ago and founded in traditions even older than that; we must accept the responsibility to develop a constitutional framework that suits our times and the nature of our modern predicament. Much of the nonsense spouted in the name of politics today is mere cowardice and ignorance in the face of an inescapable need to face up to the reality that humankind is now a partner in evolution, and not just a product of it.
Abdication in the face of necessity is not a strategy, it is pure childish folly. If you’re young enough to be pretty sure of being alive in 2030 you’d be a fool to let the mirage of ancient fallacies deter you from action any longer. And if you’re old enough to be pretty sure that you won’t be alive in 2030 you’ll go down in history as the most selfish and ignorant generation of the entire human race, if you don’t come alive to your responsibilities now and stop hiding behind the skirts of dysfunctional democracy and the hollow promises of dysfunctional economics. You are the determinant of the nature of your society and your society is the determinant of the output of your laws and your economy – take up the mantle, wake up your heart and grasp the nettle that is our common responsibility to intend our future, not accept an impoverished alternative.