Unify Prana Power

Decommodify Humanity

Com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion dehu­man­izes. We are more than the prof­it we gen­er­ate. Con­trol dri­ve, but not one another.

“We are not objects, you and I. We are not apps, we are not code, we are not com­modi­ties. Noth­ing that we are can tru­ly be bought or sold, and we are more impor­tant than things.” — Caveat Magister

Cap­i­tal­ism is a crafty, greedy sys­tem. Its need for growth com­pels it to take up as much space as pos­si­ble. It is such a vast, hun­gry force that it often spills over into are­nas of social inter­ac­tion. Capitalism’s flex­i­bil­i­ty allows it to adapt to rad­i­cal­ly chang­ing cir­cum­stances, quick­ly find­ing ways to sus­tain itself, no dif­fer­ent than a virus or a parasite.

Cap­i­tal­ism is a mind­set and phi­los­o­phy, increas­ing­ly influ­enc­ing all streams of human expe­ri­ence. Eco­nom­ic con­di­tions become ever-present medi­a­tors in dai­ly inter­ac­tions, influ­enc­ing our most pri­mal moments. Even access to basic ameni­ties, like pub­lic toi­lets, is often restrict­ed on the basis of ones’ abil­i­ty to pay. The entire human exis­tence is becom­ing swamped with the lan­guage of commodities.

For many, the option of “opt­ing out” of this ever-present eco­nom­ic sys­tem is not avail­able. The real­i­ties of human orga­ni­za­tion in the first quar­ter of the 21st cen­tu­ry dic­tate that our most basic pro­tec­tive need for shel­ter must be paid for. This alone thrusts us head­first into the machin­ery of the free-mar­ket econ­o­my if we wish to survive.

This arrange­ment throws us into a per­ma­nent state of con­flict with one anoth­er. On one lev­el, there’s our com­pe­ti­tion against one anoth­er for a finite num­ber of paid posi­tions. In lean times, scarci­ty rears its ugly head and the stakes for win­ning or los­ing inten­si­fy. Anoth­er form of con­flict occurs between us and our own instincts. Enor­mous num­bers of peo­ple are cur­rent­ly employed in posi­tions of great tedi­um. Any sat­is­fac­tion they might derive from the work itself is fleet­ing. Many work­ers may even be sub­ject to dra­con­ian pun­ish­ments, or arbi­trary and dehu­man­iz­ing rules. Only the most extreme of cir­cum­stances of pover­ty could pos­si­bly com­pel them to remain com­mit­ted to such an endeav­or. But it is pre­cise­ly these extreme cir­cum­stances that dri­ve these dis­ad­van­taged work­ers to give up so much of their own self just to be able to main­tain the very base lev­el of their exis­tence. Dis­uni­ty can occur with­in us as indi­vid­u­als, as much as between groups.

“Angel for Primer”, George Jasper Stone + Cross­lu­cid, 2019
Franck V., 2018

The com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of human work is a reduc­tion of a core facet of being. The per­for­mance of work can cre­ate a sense of mean­ing and authen­tic­i­ty. It can imbue an indi­vid­ual with a feel­ing of pur­pose. How­ev­er, under the vices of cap­i­tal­ism, these ele­ments of work are so often lost. 

Often, the work most inte­gral to the main­te­nance of the well-being of a soci­ety is ter­mi­nal­ly under appre­ci­at­ed. Teach­ers, nurs­es, and oth­ers on the front lines of social care are usu­al­ly under­paid. In con­trast, bankers and oil exec­u­tives are rich­ly reward­ed for their abil­i­ty to extract wealth from an increas­ing­ly frag­ile plan­et. The appar­ent con­tra­dic­tion here is, in real­i­ty, not a con­tra­dic­tion at all. It reveals a basic truth of the pre­dom­i­nant eco­nom­ic sys­tem. High­ly-extrac­tive behav­ior is per­mit­ted and reward­ed, while con­tribu­tive action for the com­mon good is large­ly under­val­ued. Through this unspo­ken pol­i­cy, the rel­a­tive impor­tance of dif­fer­ent types of work is mud­dled and we attribute high sta­tus to types of work that do not deserve such reverence.

The anx­i­ety that per­me­ates the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of self is felt by all. Rather than per­form­ing self-direct­ed work for the sim­ple val­ue of self-expres­sion, we instead exchange labor for cash. For most peo­ple, not very much cash either. This cre­ates mass unful­fill­ment and an over­all soci­etal malaise. Over thou­sands of years, philoso­phers have exam­ined the routes by which the best human life can be lived. We may not yet know the answer, but there are cer­tain­ly bet­ter alter­na­tives than our cur­rent paradigm.

For a start, there’s no need for all of us to be work­ing so much. We can incor­po­rate more nat­ur­al, exchange-based arrange­ments in our inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships and grad­u­al­ly exper­i­ment with enabling that kind of mutu­al­ism in more areas of life. Basic needs, like hous­ing, should be guar­an­teed to all peo­ple to pro­tect them from des­per­a­tion, and there­by exploita­tion. The need to per­form some kind of work will always be nec­es­sary. We should look beyond the cur­rent sad state of affairs we have accept­ed as the new norm and look to demand more mean­ing­ful devel­op­ment from our workplaces.

Jan Kolar, 2019
Unify Prana Power

Decommodify the Planet

Food, water, ener­gy, and even the air we breathe must be democ­ra­tized. Equi­table access to life-sus­tain­ing resources can no longer wait.

“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me; Sign was paint­ed, it said pri­vate prop­er­ty; But on the back side it didn’t say noth­ing; This land was made for you and me.” — Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land”, 1940

Decom­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the human spir­it is just one step toward cre­at­ing the con­di­tions under which we can lever­age the pow­er of coop­er­a­tion over com­pe­ti­tion. Lib­er­a­tion of one­self is pow­er­ful, but ulti­mate­ly mean­ing­less unless it also coin­cides with col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty for all the basic ele­ments of a healthy life. 

How could it be pos­si­ble for one group to have exclu­sive own­er­ship of any­thing organ­ic on the plan­et? Life was all here long before us and it will remain long after we die. Humans are mere­ly bor­row­ing the world for a lit­tle while and we should behave accord­ing­ly. Each new gen­er­a­tion must assume the role of stew­ards of the Earth. It’s a cat­a­stroph­ic mis­take to assume we are its master.

Yet, there are many who con­tin­ue this pur­suit of eco­log­i­cal mas­tery. Com­pa­nies like Mon­san­to and Syn­gen­ta tweak the genet­ic mate­r­i­al of seeds and use this as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for intel­lec­tu­al own­er­ship. Aggres­sive busi­ness prac­tices and suc­cess­ful lob­by­ing help these com­pa­nies become monop­o­lies. They become like impe­ri­al­ist states, sweep­ing across the world and bend­ing agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices to their will. And in their wake we’re left with drink­ing water that’s taint­ed and air that’s pol­lut­ed. Illog­i­cal­ly, it is those who face no direct con­se­quences from the abuse of nat­ur­al resources who are the ones who get to decide their use.

And yet, water uni­fies all peo­ple with Earth. Water con­nects us to the orig­i­nal source of life. Half the water in our bod­ies, oceans, and streams con­tains hydro­gen from the ori­gins of the uni­verse. Water uni­fies the sto­ry of all that is, ever was, and will be. Water reveals the neces­si­ty of a decom­mod­i­fied plan­et. Every­one must be able to drink from this pow­er­ful medicine.

Obser­va­tion of rain­bow trout
“Suprachro­ma­cy”, FIELD
Evi Kale­mi, 2018

We can­not trust the prof­i­teers to take good care of the nat­ur­al resources of our plan­et. Nat­ur­al resource is the great­est wealth there is and must be democ­ra­tized. The tragedy of the com­mons is a hypoth­e­sis that claims that shared use of nat­ur­al resources makes those resources prone to dam­age due to overuse by non-cor­po­rate indi­vid­u­als abus­ing the resource for their ben­e­fit. Though an obvi­ous myth, it has played a use­ful pro­pa­gan­dis­tic role in jus­ti­fy­ing the pri­va­ti­za­tion of land. The cor­po­ra­tions con­trol­ling the land then claim­ing that only through clear­ly-defined own­er­ship can a resource be ade­quate­ly main­tained.  But the cur­rent con­di­tion of the envi­ron­ment has proven this the­o­ry false. Even now, free-mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ists call for the pri­vate own­er­ship of the very air we breathe as a solu­tion to the ris­ing lev­els of CO₂ with­in its make­up. We deserve far more faith in our own col­lec­tive actions than that.

We envi­sion a soci­ety run on the prin­ci­ples of mutu­al aid, one of unmedi­at­ed and vol­un­tary coop­er­a­tion. We are more than capa­ble of self-reg­u­la­tion. In this new, pro­posed sys­tem that did not reward vio­la­tions of moral­i­ty, self-reg­u­la­tion would become even eas­i­er. In a mutu­al aid soci­ety, any­one who sought to exploit a shared resource for per­son­al enrich­ment would face seri­ous sanctions.

De-com­mod­i­fy­ing the plan­et will take time. And it will require enact­ing mass par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy. But if we can con­fig­ure soci­ety in a way that engages the pop­u­lace, invites every­one in, and ensures that we all feel like mem­bers, then we might very well find our­selves on a path toward the type of utopi­an future we’ve always imagined.

Unify Prana Power

Placing the Levers of Control in the Hands of the People

Democ­ra­cy works when all peo­ple are includ­ed. Con­cen­trat­ed pow­er too often leads to oppres­sion. Only the checks and bal­ances offered by a civi­cal­ly-engaged pop­u­lace can cre­ate effec­tive safe­guards for the integri­ty of democracy.

The basic idea of “rule by peo­ple” has often come with trou­bling caveats in its appli­ca­tion. The prob­lem tends to arise from deci­sions about who we count as “peo­ple” in this equa­tion. It’s often been the case that women, eth­nic minori­ties, or the poor have found them­selves exclud­ed from the offi­cial polit­i­cal process­es of state. It has only been through rad­i­cal polit­i­cal activism and immense self-sac­ri­fice that these groups have claimed their rights. But even today, the bat­tle is still far from over. 

Even in nations with sup­posed equal rights under law, dis­en­fran­chise­ment seems to find a way. Peo­ple want to have a say in their own gov­er­nance. Robbed of this right, it is inevitable that those who are mar­gin­al­ized will even­tu­al­ly fight for their right to be includ­ed. Free and fair elec­tions are the bedrock for any sound soci­ety. Coer­cion, manip­u­la­tion, and cor­rup­tion will always threat­en to under­mine the abil­i­ty for peo­ple to leg­is­late their own pow­er. Deci­sion-mak­ing should not be con­trolled by those with access to the influ­ence of spe­cial inter­ests groups. Deci­sions that have wide­spread effects need to include wide­spread participation.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy requires deep pub­lic trust in insti­tu­tions. Democ­ra­cy, like any rela­tion­ship between mul­ti­ple par­ties, can only func­tion effec­tive­ly with trust. The rela­tion­ship we have with our elect­ed lead­ers must be gen­uine­ly trust­wor­thy as well. Why are peo­ple in polit­i­cal office so often guilty of the very same vices they admon­ish? What’s more, the talk­ing points of can­di­dates so often feel rehearsed and over­sim­pli­fied. Yes, peo­ple want a mes­sage, but more impor­tant­ly, peo­ple want their water to be clean and drink­able and their schools to be safe and inspir­ing. The con­tin­u­al fail­ure of gov­ern­ment to act in the inter­ests of the peo­ple has now erod­ed pub­lic trust. The result­ing back­lash has led to wide-rang­ing attempts to dis­man­tle such seats of authority.

This response is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing. The whole­sale change we need to opti­mize our civ­i­liza­tions may very well require rebuild­ing from the foun­da­tions up. The frame­work we use in this process of decon­struc­tion will heav­i­ly influ­ence the vision for what comes next.

Gilets Jaunes, Nor­bu Gyachung, 2019
Hong Kong protest graf­fi­ti, Joseph Chan, 2019

As we envi­sion mod­els for com­mu­ni­ties with greater par­tic­i­pa­to­ry pow­er, we can learn much from how pow­er is shared with­in peace­ful soci­eties. Many peace­ful soci­eties fea­ture non-strat­i­fied rela­tions between indi­vid­u­als. In the Semai tribe of Malaysia, when one per­son has more than the oth­ers, that indi­vid­ual is com­pelled to share amongst the set­tle­ment. Peo­ple also learn to not ask for more than some­one can give. Anthro­pol­o­gy calls a soci­ety with no for­mal lead­er­ship “acephalous”, which comes from the Greek word for “head­less”. A more egal­i­tar­i­an soci­ety can expand in a mod­el based on that foundation.

“World peace must devel­op from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence.Peace is, I think, the man­i­fes­ta­tion of human com­pas­sion.” — Dalai Lama

Crim­i­nol­o­gy, the sci­en­tif­ic study of crimes and crim­i­nals, often looks at the indi­vid­ual cir­cum­stances that helped cause or pre­vent a spe­cif­ic crime, not at the prob­lem of crime on a sys­temic lev­el. In an 1997 arti­cle from the Jour­nal of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice, Explain­ing the absence of vio­lent crime among the Semai of Malaysia: Is crim­i­no­log­i­cal the­o­ry up to the task?, the author, Geof­frey Moss, looked at how the Semai “appear to have uni­ver­sal­ly social­ized their mem­bers to react to poten­tial­ly vio­lent sit­u­a­tions (i.e., frus­trat­ing stim­uli) with a fear response that inhibits them from com­mit­ting vio­lent crim­i­nal acts.”2 In addi­tion, the paper acknowl­edged that crim­i­nol­o­gy has yet to even address this abil­i­ty to pre­vent violence.

“There is no author­i­ty here but embar­rass­ment.” — Semai Tribe

To col­lec­tive­ly social­ize a self-imposed pro­hi­bi­tion of com­mit­ting wrong­do­ing would help not just with crime, but also with cre­at­ing mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions between indi­vid­u­als. Eco­nom­ic motives for com­mit­ting crime are also large­ly non-exis­tent among the Semai as what is need­ed can sim­ply be asked for. The actions that emerge from this soci­etal set­up are inher­ent­ly more egal­i­tar­i­an as the abil­i­ty to share equal oppor­tu­ni­ties and rights becomes the defin­ing attribute of their soci­etal composition.

A new uni­fy­ing soci­etal frame­work will be strength­ened by acknowl­edg­ing the inher­ent capa­bil­i­ty of peo­ple to share resources. More­over, lever­ag­ing the pos­i­tive pow­er of trust—as much as the neg­a­tive ener­gy asso­ci­at­ed with wrongdoing—will serve to give com­mu­ni­ties greater author­i­ty for tak­ing care of the group and one anoth­er. Mech­a­nisms of self-con­trol trans­late to a more advan­ta­geous­ly self-reg­u­lat­ed soci­ety. The more involved we become in our com­mu­ni­ties, the more respon­si­ble we feel for what we con­tribute and, sub­se­quent­ly, the more good we can accomplish.

Unify Prana Power

Revitalizing Engagement in the Public Sphere

Each voice con­tributes to a mighty cho­rus. To acti­vate a more par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy, every­day civic life has to con­nect to col­lec­tive decision-making.

From “Oph­thalmod­ouleia”, a man­u­script on eye dis­or­ders, Georg Bar­tisch, 1583

The rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cies com­mon to mod­ern gov­ern­ment leave plen­ty of room for improve­ment. And with this acknowl­edge­ment, we, the cit­i­zens of our respec­tive gov­ern­ments, are giv­en an awe­some oppor­tu­ni­ty to be involved in that process of improve­ment. The main chal­lenge comes in fig­ur­ing out how exact­ly we should each get involved.

With decades of gov­ern­men­tal stag­na­tion, and the bro­ken promis­es of our elect­ed offi­cials for­ev­er locked in our col­lec­tive mem­o­ries, it’s no won­der that so many feel entire­ly dis­il­lu­sioned by the elec­toral process. Betray­al by elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives has become entire­ly nor­mal­ized. As a result, many feel as though none of the giv­en options for can­di­dates ever suc­ceed in rep­re­sent­ing their interests.

Deci­sion-mak­ing itself is increas­ing­ly influ­enced by hid­den algo­rithms in society’s dig­i­tal space that pre­dict and tai­lor the con­tent each view­er sees. Vot­er turnout in gen­er­al elec­tions in many major democ­ra­cies has been in decline for sev­er­al decades. Non-vot­ers are some­times chas­tised for their inac­tion and told that their right to crit­i­cize or demand alter­na­tives is lost upon their choice to abstain from vot­ing. This issue reflects a wide­spread belief that polit­i­cal engage­ment begins and ends with the trip to the bal­lot box once every few years. Gov­er­nance can, and must, be so much more than this.

Democ­ra­cy demands par­tic­i­pa­tion and per­son­al invest­ment. Pol­i­cy deci­sions affect life for all cit­i­zens. So why leave those deci­sions to oth­ers when they ulti­mate­ly affect us? Espe­cial­ly when we already pos­sess the fun­da­men­tal means for greater involve­ment through our own per­spec­tives and voices.

We all have a stake in the deci­sions being made around how we orga­nize resources and atten­tion. Are we going to choose to arm our­selves, or edu­cate our­selves? What is the most effec­tive approach to lib­er­a­tion? Democ­ra­cy is the means by which auton­o­my can be assert­ed. Pow­er can be more even­ly dis­trib­uted and free­dom can be claimed by all. Vibrant par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cies, pro­pelled by informed cit­i­zens exer­cis­ing author­i­ty over their own lives, can become con­duits for a more rea­son­able and respon­si­ble civ­i­liza­tion. Every grass­roots move­ment work­ing for empow­er­ing change takes us a step clos­er to this ideal.

Women’s strike, Clau­dio Schwarz, 2019
Clau­dio Schwarz, 2019

“The smart way to keep peo­ple pas­sive and obe­di­ent is to strict­ly lim­it the spec­trum of ­accept­able opin­ion, but allow very live­ly debate with­in that spec­trum.” — Noam Chomsky

The sta­tus quo thrives off the polit­i­cal­ly dis­en­gaged. Dis­en­gage­ment should be not be under­stood to refer only to the apa­thet­ic, but instead to the vast major­i­ty of us. Regard­less of how well informed we may be, or how thought­ful­ly we’ve con­struct­ed our opin­ions, these fac­tors do not con­sti­tute polit­i­cal action. With­out direct par­tic­i­pa­tion in some polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion or goal-dri­ven endeav­or, cast­ing our vote rep­re­sents the sum total of our input in the gov­ern­ment. This is not a moral or per­son­al fail­ure, but sim­ply the result of struc­tur­al cir­cum­stances. In the course of dai­ly life, it is incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for most peo­ple to find time for some­thing like direct polit­i­cal action. Jug­gling life, fam­i­ly, work, and oth­er respon­si­bil­i­ties takes enough time and ener­gy with­out adding on polit­i­cal action. Becom­ing involved in the machi­na­tions of pol­i­cy-mak­ing and polit­i­cal maneu­ver­ing is most­ly messy and overwhelming.

The media doesn’t help encour­age engage­ment either. Through much of main­stream media, the mech­a­nisms of pow­er have become high­ly adept at mud­dy­ing real­i­ties and spread­ing a mes­sage that fails to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo or the roots of injus­tice. It’s cru­cial we all under­stand that there is no con­spir­a­cy or shad­owy cabal of fig­ures who meet to deter­mine the cho­sen nar­ra­tive to be dis­sem­i­nat­ed by the media giants. Instead, the very, wealthy own­ers of enor­mous cor­po­rate media enti­ties tend to share the same base polit­i­cal inter­ests found­ed on mate­r­i­al con­cerns. It doesn’t pay to ques­tion the prof­it-dri­ven sta­tus quo when the goal is to reap prof­its. That is the rea­son why we so often get caught up in repet­i­tive cycles of the same old sto­ries. Or, at the very least, media activ­i­ties are led by a desire for high rat­ings, so sen­sa­tion­al­ist twists try to lure view­er­ship or readership.

It is sel­dom a case of news out­lets out­right lying. Rather, the cur­rent infor­ma­tion land­scape strays from the truth through a game of pri­or­i­ti­za­tion, omis­sion, dis­missal, and decon­tex­tu­al­iza­tion. Events can be described, but with­out the suf­fi­cient infor­ma­tion required to ful­ly under­stand their cause. Alter­na­tive ideas are occa­sion­al­ly pre­sent­ed but are often either deemed rad­i­cal, or appro­pri­at­ed into a gen­tler, less chal­leng­ing form. The aim is to dis­guise the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy and rein­vent it as com­mon sense.

Eid cel­e­bra­tion in Del­hi, Shiv­am Garg, 2019

The Over­ton win­dow is the term used to describe the “accept­able” range of ideas and ide­olo­gies that can be used in pub­lic dis­course. Although fuzzy and intan­gi­ble, it rough­ly dic­tates the fla­vor of nation­al con­ver­sa­tion. Con­trol of this win­dow is a pri­ma­ry func­tion of pop­u­lar media. The illu­sion of vir­ile debate must be main­tained, but with­in a care­ful­ly posi­tioned and shrunk­en Over­ton win­dow. Each time the Over­ton win­dow skews in a direc­tion of greater sen­sa­tion­al­iza­tion, we are cheat­ed by our intel­li­gence being under­es­ti­mat­ed. It’s crit­i­cal that we as an audi­ence reject this pan­der­ing of over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tions and we get our hands dirty by dig­ging fur­ther into what’s actu­al­ly going on in mat­ters of policy.

As cit­i­zens, it’s time to focus our atten­tion on the deci­sions that have the largest impact on how our pri­or­i­ties are con­struct­ed. It’s essen­tial we find ways to cre­ate more mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions with our elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives. We can­not set­tle for sim­ple tac­tics for decid­ing our approval of them like how they look or speak. It’s time we feel engaged in our com­mu­ni­ties at every lev­el and real­ly work togeth­er. In par­tic­u­lar, we should focus on the deci­sions that shape the future of our health­care, the edu­ca­tion of our chil­dren, and our oppor­tu­ni­ties for last­ing peace. The best means of revi­tal­iz­ing this sense of engage­ment will come down to, not only feel­ing that our own future is at stake but also, find­ing the moti­va­tion to par­tic­i­pate because we know it will make for a ful­fill­ing life.

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