A sore reminder of the function and impact of words: Alternatives to “economy”.

Painted stones as symbols of animals, humans, and feathers by Gracie and Ginny Battson.

Physics informs us that relativity exists between everything in the universe. Flows of information travel in all possible directions by wave and particle, force and probability. So it is the same for LiFE on Earth. Biology informs us that LiFE is alive with flows of information within and between cells, and between beings, using a plethora of processes. It happens between generations.

At continua of scales of magnitude and frequency, language, generated as bundles of recognisable, absorbable energy, moves back and forth between humans through multimedia and space-time. Our epoch-making physiology of speech and sign, sight, sound, and touch (for example, Braille), is transmitted between biological senses and brains, and we have adopted all kinds of technologies to enhance and collate. There may be exquisite nature-close forms of language that have been lost to the vast entropy of the universe. If we stop to think about it, these systems, in their vast total forms, are awe-inspiring and beautiful.

No matter the transmission device–biological, physical, chemical, technological, or a combination of either or all–we come to absorb and understand words in repetitive patterns and as sensory shortcuts to meaning. And we can do this from a relatively young age if given the chance. But, as in evolution itself, language mutates, evolves, and semantically shifts at many levels between the myriad of organisational groupings and moments of usage.

In meaning, we absorb, process, and act – cause/effect/repeat. We fuse our memories and emotions with language in positive and negative ways, and we shrink, reject, or propel different values expressed through ethics that we apply from this kind of embodiment. We are beings of bias, searching for patterns for survival whether or not they are before us. Sometimes we resort to making them up. And language-as-pattern can either satiate this evolved urge and settle our anxieties, or motivate and catalyse change towards new goals. Words can be acts of persuasion and confusion, and sometimes the perpetuation of misinterpretation can even help individuals or groups to achieve certain goals.

All things are relative, and the human species has an almost unlimited potential for linguistic, cultural, mental, and physiological differences. Diversity, like LiFE, is good; covers all the bases in a dynamic world but even changes in mood may impact perception, as may microbiomes affecting the gut-brain axis, or the specific place or trajectory we find ourselves within (or without) the biosphere–high in the mountains, down deep in a cave, on the ISS. Again, as a social species, who we are with matters, and across language barriers, and via our antennae-like constructions of space-time– (more often than not) to human scale.

Wittgenstein says you and I together may perceive a “beetle-in-a-box” placed before us slightly differently. We may both take for granted a mutual familiarity and imagine that the experience is exactly the same for each of us. But that might be false. Our uniqueness of embodiment, or consciousness, may interfere with the communication of the exact inner experience. How do you perceive the “idea” of an organic, complex living being if I say to you that they are “trapped” in this geometric block of space-time? “Trapped” to kill, or rescue and release? What else is going on in your imagination? What is the box made of? Could it be toxic? Try articulating both what you simply observe and what you feel, through words. Would there be any knock-on effects of any difference in articulating our perceptions? How do we now feel about each other? Should we try to shift our view to match each other, to lie, or is that wrong? Would a difference magnify as the story is passed onwards?

Interpret or change the meaning of particular words in any significant way, and as a social species with a strong evolved tendency for evaluating, if more people begin to imagine one thing over another, we are more susceptible to follow. Are “beetles” good or bad? For whom, what? There is power in the amplification and there are consequences. Cultural expression is influential and encourages feedback loops and paradigm shifts, and social guides or regulatory political policies emerge with their own set of consequences.

Economy, zoenem, ilesariany.

I have been making a purely unscientific note of the frequency of the use of the words “economy” and “economics” on BBC News. I’m sure language AIs could provide a more accurate representation of the data, but the sum of the everyday use of “the economy” seems gargantuan, with a gravity generated almost as big as a Black Hole. The audience is bound to be effected/affected. The words, as a packet of information, are passed between a certain narrow set of people and mass audiences and are therefore highly influential in society. The same goes for “Economics” although seemingly in the context of experts discussing “it.” I noticed “it” is almost always described as “THE Economy”, with a definite article defining it as one particular thing, as if there is no other kind. The journalists and editors refer to “it” and barely question what kind of economy “it” is. “It” is objectified as if it is an unstoppable growth machine shapen intermittently by the chaos of external forces. A hierarchy of values is taken for granted. There is no mention of how this hierarchy is organised (with the exception of GDP and capital growth or recession), and how a different order may direct action by way of conscious change.

Over human history, there have been many different systems of production and exchange. British journalists don’t see it as their job to set “the economy” or “the UK economy” in the context of this very rich history, nor refer to “it” as any kind of choice, especially now as Conservatives and Labour are so similar in outlook. The BBC itself justifies its own existence by its role in growth rates.

“The principles relating to the BBC’s political impartiality and independence from political influence are central to our coverage of politics and public policy.”

That is until it comes to economic policy.

They make comparisons with “the” economies of other nation-states–mainly the US & China– and, of course, “the global” economy. In that sense, we are perpetually reminded that we are running at maximum VO2 in a global competitive race, with status reports issued each year issued from the World Economic Forum. It’s exhausting and, in terms of embodiment, traumatic for too many, human and teresapien alike. The critical distraction of survival within this elitist constructed process means very few are able to even think about it, let alone feel enabled to change it.*

Formal definitions of the word “economy” vary, but we may say it is generally the rationalisation of anthropocentric efficiency of resources, goods, services, and labour. Its etymology seems (anthropocentrically) clear, stemming mainly from the Greek oikonomia meaning household management, or thrift. The modern political sense of the word, in English, has seemingly developed only in the last three or four centuries and corresponds with (brutal) Colonialism and, more recently, its ignominious legacy of corporate Globalism (call it neoliberalism).

An economy is now more of a political value system of exchange with variable parameters that are designed by an elite– some may say more of an art. At a macro scale, there’s an obvious time lag between cause and effect. I remember my sixth-form economics class one Autumn, and how we were very excited–and then quickly horrified–by a new computer macro-economic modelling system. We could play with inputting new data to the variables, and in multiple combinations, and could almost immediately see the predicted consequences for a hypothetical human population, which were usually devastating. Stop-Go! It struck me then how narrow those choices were because they were based on a narrow set of values leading to “growth of GDP”.

There have been many systems with many variables and different goals in human history, generally broken down into taxa (as per huma-usual), such as traditional**, command, centrally planned, market, and mixed. Britain’s 19th-century laissez-faire fuelled Empire caused an inordinate amount of suffering within our national boundaries and beyond, and the social kickback can be broadly traced to that suffering – disease outbreaks, mass-fatalities in expanding industries, oppression – leading rebellions, uprisings, strikes, independence movements, and new labour laws, and then in the post-war periods of the 20thC Britain the introduction of a Welfare State and the NHS. Those very safety nets, even within a capitalist system, are now under significant attack by the extreme free marketeers in power, as are the small strides made in the protection of nature, including our atmosphere (the correlation is clear).

In my usual way, I am looking for moments in the cycles of cause/effect to highlight or tweak them in the hope of spurring more thought towards real care for Life as our central ethic. As we are human, and we use language, and I have learned the power of words as small acts to effect big acts, I see the overall repetitive use of the words “the economy” as a negative feedback loop. This is because, I suggest, their centrifugal mass of meaning has changed, in the context of GDP and capital growth, plus inequitable distribution, at the expense of vast numbers of vulnerable people and our interconnected biosphere. And I now think the words are beyond retrieval in our market-saturated culture. “The economy’ as equivalent to neoliberal growth is, of course, simply a hypothesis and remains unproven. Again, I would love someone to test it. But I think it is such an important problem that it’s worth forging alternative offerings now: words that may just shift the centrifugal mass of meaning towards wellbeing and the cycles of LiFE as central to developing new systems of production and distribution, and indisputably built into their etymology.

Meanwhile, please see the latest news on planetary boundaries and tipping points (hint: not good).

*See Steady State and how it fundamentally challenges the growth paradigm which is so abysmally taken for granted as a “successful” strategy.

**A fascinating array of systems, generally closer to nature, by way of immense cultural diversity across human history.