|Newtonian physics: the system of physics based principally on the dynamics of Isaac Newton, 1642-1727 (including his famous law of gravitation). The system was very successful in predicting the behavior of particles, pendulums, machines ,etc., up to the end of the 19th Century when the new physics began to have its impact.|
Our metaphors fail to accurately reflect money and economic realities.
Newtonian physics: the system of physics based principally on the dynamics of Isaac Newton, 1642-1727 (including his famous law of gravitation). The system was very successful in predicting the behaviour of particles, pendulums, machines ,etc., up to the end of the 19th Century when the new physics began to have its impact.
â€“Dr. Christopher Southgate
Though there is much debate among scientists about the particular forces acting upon organisms in particular situations, and about the pacing, or timing, of changes, there is little or no debate among biologists regarding the idea that natural selection, basically as outlined by Charles Darwin, is working on all organisms at all times.
â€“Robert B. Hole Jr.
Our talking tools include metaphors. Metaphors are fundamental, vital words; compelling, simplifying models. By structuring perceptions, they enable sensible comprehension of surrounding complexities. As a downside, they control and limit our vision. Therein lies an issue for thoughtful money workers. Regrettably, not only are our money words inappropriate for our current understanding of moneyâ€™s function, they are unsuitable for moneyâ€™s continued evolution.
Trouble is, our money words tend to ground in old models, particularly 17th Century physics and 19th Century biology. They have yet to incorporate the integral visions of 20th Century quantum physics or ecology. The result: â€œmachinesâ€ vs. â€œecosystems.â€ Not wrong, but not necessarily helpful. Often harmful. Mechanistic metaphors induce linear thinking that doesnâ€™t accurately reflect 21st Century money. And money is hard enough without dysfunctional underpinnings. Unfortunately, inappropriate metaphors contribute to misunderstandings and questionable actions.
Moneyâ€™s mechanistic misperceptions have rippling ramifications. Sectors separate. Ecological interrelatedness is absent. Machines â€œbreak,â€ needing â€œrepairâ€ (metaphorically implying that â€œrepairâ€ of a given machine part is actually possible). With machines, problems are fixed with fungible parts. Plus, machines are subject to forces such as gravity and velocities. Once in motion they tend to stay in motion. Reactions are equal and opposite.
That these do not generally apply to modern money forces has not hindered their persistent use. Consider alternatives, like â€œgardens.â€ We tend gardens. We donâ€™t fix them. Conversely, merely tending imperfect machines will leave them broken. A tended garden is self-correcting, but requires time and patience. Gardens are calm; machines are not.
Same issues, different metaphors, different attitudes. Both models imply technical skill. One requires force and resistance; the other rewards serenity and tenderness. But when we disregard moneyâ€™s underlying chaotic orders and interdependencies, we tend to think â€œrepairsâ€ not â€œcultivation.â€ Yet, money does not â€œfixâ€ like an engine. Trillions of independent actions generate â€œmoney.â€
Unfortunately, our money words are old and very tired. They come from times when wealth was might, land, jewels, silver and gold, not â€œmoney.â€ They ground amid seminal social transformations of rationalism and the Industrial Age when machines were simultaneously miracles and cultural revolutions. In those days, science partially supplanted religionâ€™s belief systemsâ€”not just in the minds of most, but the hearts of many. Three hundred years later, Newtonian dogmatists continue to unconsciously insist that machine metaphors rule the world of money as if money was matter. Darwinâ€™s self-congratulatory disciples proclaim â€œblood in tooth and clawâ€ as a morally superior excuse for a market society without regard for moneyâ€™s organic, interconnective virtues.
Now, we live with their metaphoric legacies. Too bad for us.
For example, we frequently proclaim â€œit is a jungle out there.â€ Yet, for the â€œjungleâ€ metaphor to be meaningful, we ought, at the very least, have some knowledge of â€œjungles.â€ But our ideas mislead. The dictionary says a â€œjungleâ€ is. â€œa confused or chaotic mass of objects.â€ Or â€œa place of ruthless struggle for survival.â€ Really. It has been my observation that â€œjunglesâ€ are rich, diverse, organic, chaordic ecosystems within which virtuous symbiosis is both norm and necessity. This metaphor views â€œjunglesâ€ as places where systemic survival requires interactive, complex, diverse, self-contained systems. They thrive with no help from humans, or in spite of us. Neither jungles nor money are â€œeither you or meâ€ places. Their synergies enable wealth and its spread.
Of course, jungles contain death and killing, but without this virtuous and eco-systemic connectivity, there is no jungle. Yet, Darwinism continues to proclaim the morality of savagery, apparently justifying the most heinous behaviors. This is not â€œtruth.â€ This is just succumbing to delusions and inept metaphors.
Fractals are as real as corpses and much more instructive. Ecologies and economies reflect organic chaos and systemic flawlessness machines canâ€™t match. Mechanistic thinking blocks moneyâ€™s ecological realities. As no jungle species could survive without mutually dependent species, most humans depend in part upon moneyâ€™s circulation, especially in this country.
It may be a â€œjungle,â€ but if Qwest and United have money troubles, the consequences flow to suppliers, employees, and stockholders. In turn, their effects will spread to other suppliers, employees and stockholders, plus related reliants. That is not â€œsurvival of the fittest.â€ That is virtuous interdependency.
So, what do we actually hear in our words? As our world shrinks, as the money forces grow in criticality, as financial realities harden and become parts of our ways of life, our language will enable or obstruct our personal and collective abilities to intelligently respond.
We may eventually invent the words but, for now, linguistic limitations are all too real. Headline language and political speeches consistently reflect Newtonian machinery, math, fixed forms or vectors.
Consider these words and phrases: Assets, frozen, liquidated, leveraged, multiplying, dividing, shrinking, impact, returns, stuck, expanding, contracting, market moved up, down, head, shoulders, floor, ceiling, sideways, light, heavy, top-down, bottom-up, hierarchy, base, pyramidal, structure, top, down, both sides, change, rock solid, hard times, left, right, position, retool, fix, economic machine, fungible, downsizing, function, momentum, union, solidarity, worker, management, counter, constructive, unconstructive, circle, stakes, stakeholders, tools, under, control, economies heat up or cool down, inflation, deflation, depression, sectors, indexes rising or falling, increased, decreased, cracks, stability, instability, balance, leverage, bottom line, in the red, or in the black, controls, instruments, upper class, lower class, middle class and so on.
These are flatland indicators of existing language. And they are as inadequate as thermometers for helping us grasp our financial weather systems. Newtonian words mislead and distort. So many words, so little holism. Unless we can pierce our language sources, it will be impossible to view our current issues through the eyes of current realities.
The â€œeconomyâ€ is dysfunctional shorthand implying an impenetrable monolith while obfuscating the living, breathing, teeming, organically chaotic realities of money/market systems. To suggest that the â€œmarketsâ€ go â€œupâ€ or â€œdownâ€ is as conceptually ridiculous as the convention that â€œnorthâ€ is â€œupâ€ and â€œsouthâ€ is â€œdown.â€ There is no reason Africa is not â€œaboveâ€ Europe. In point of fact, there is no â€œupâ€ or â€œdownâ€ on the sphere that is planet earth, and there is no â€œupâ€ or â€œdownâ€ for an â€œeconomy.â€ These are merely metaphoric conventions.
Consider Darwinâ€™s notions of the â€œsurvival of the fittest.â€ It enables the pervasive notion that economic systems ought to reward the strong not the weak; that it is fit and proper for Darwinian natural selection to control the body social. Unfortunately, the metaphor is inept and inapt. Our economies are more like human bodies or natural ecosystems than machines. Human needs do not contain the need for the â€œstrongestâ€ or â€œbiggestâ€ companies.
Newtonian organizations are â€œdownsizedâ€ and â€œstreamlined.â€ Gardens are â€œweededâ€ and plants are â€œpruned.â€ Newtonian organizations fear â€œnon-productivityâ€ and reward instant results; gardens â€œlie fallow,â€ anticipating â€œfertilityâ€ and â€œgenerativityâ€ in natureâ€™s time.
Not â€œwrong â€œ or â€œright,â€ modeling spirits generate diverse thoughts and consequences. Same issues, dissimilar views, different expectations.
There is no economic â€œmachineâ€ subject to â€œcontrols,â€ â€œleverage,â€ â€œinfrastructure,â€ â€œparts,â€ â€œsectorsâ€ or â€œsides.â€ We cannot sensibly reduce millions of buy-sell decisions to sound-bite analyses. Metaphoric understanding of our eco-nomic ecosystems requires more.
â€œSo what!?â€ you properly ask. Unfortunately, this â€œso whatâ€ is our baseline, most fundamental, essential economic/money perceptions. These perceptions touch every living being. If our metaphors fail to accurately reflect money and economic realities, they are neither adequately enabling nor enhancing understanding.
What if we talked â€œorganismsâ€ instead of â€œsectors?â€ Fractals, not parts? Or grounded our language in ecosystems and mutually strengthened interdependencies rather than machineâ€™s fragile linearities? What if money analogies engaged imaginations at levels of life forces and bodies social rather than Freudâ€™s considerably less tasteful analogies to human waste?
Quantum physics, biology/ecology and spirituality show promise. Spiral dynamics, integralism, chaordic theories and the arts have unlimited metaphoric possibilities. Can we generate new conceptual vocabularies? What are we learning and how can we apply it?
Either way, these are times of promise or threat. Machines are yesterdayâ€™s news. Todayâ€™s includes biology, quantum physics, expansive integral finance and metaphoric references awaiting birth. With a public unwilling to accept the inherent inhumanity of â€œsurvival of the fittestâ€ or economies built on nonproductive â€œisms,â€ these times seek mutual understanding and grasps of fragile human economies/systems.
Our language is vital. First we must notice how we talk. Second, we must process. Finally, we ask whether our metaphors deepen or cloud our understanding. Then we notice our results. This is good interior work for a 21st Century profession.
May our conversations facilitate vision, understanding and peace.
Richard B. Wagner, JD, CFP, is the principal of WorthLiving LLC, based in Denver.
Article originally published in Financial Advisor Magazine March, 2003