“The Silent Dancer
in a Pregnant Pause”
An essay on global sustainability
There were two films that made me sit up when I was 12 years old: “Roots” and “Gandhi”. I went on to read the books – Roots and Gandhi’s autobiography. From then on, everything changed for me. I don’t know how to explain it. It was only in the recent years that I remembered this. That I had somewhere in my pre-adolescent years made a determination, a choice, that inequality and cruelty is actually intolerable. And that education is a way out of the poverty trap. And I thought having a job would bring about that certainty and security.
Economics fascinates me beyond compare because the economy seems to be the heart of so many struggles and yet so many triumphs and liberation.
Of course, it is all politics.
But, there is something in me that refuses to allow our collective humanity to be thus reduced.
So this morning, yes, still in the midst of the artshow preparation, I recalled something that I had dreamed about for a long time:
The Humane Economy.
All kinds of economy can exist. In theory as well as reality. It is a matter of how we believe it and then systematically and methodically go about designing it and allowing the fruition and transformations.
Economies are as elusive as art as life. Or “the slippery eel” as Tim Nichols, with whom I had the great blessing to have studied with for two weeks. Or “the invisible hand”, as Professor Frank Hahn used to wave about when he was sharing with us about Hahn’s umbrella.
We would stare at each other blankly. On both occasions.
But today, suddenly, I recall Hahn’s umbrella and I suddenly regained faith.
Now, isn’t that interesting? That’s the power of hope and the power of faithfulness in each of our work, and of course, you know what I am going to lead into next: the power of love.
Our work isn’t just a job.
And our lives isn’t just work.
And that which will get us out of the poverty trap isn’t money, but love.
It isn’t scarcity that scares us, but intimacy.
It isn’t lack that we are afraid of, but death.
It isn’t politics that blocks good citizenship and governance, but greed.
And the economy does need intervention and transparent accountability.
Because we can get systemically stuck. Stuck in game theories, stuck in multiple equilibria, stuck in single games or multiple games, or general theories with linearity or non-linearity.
Because the rootedness of that stuckness had incorporated one very interesting but false axiom: that we are selfish or self-centered, and that economics is about scarcity and the allocation of scarce resources in an efficient and equitable way.
It’s stuck in the way we view our human nature. It remembered the independent self but it forgot the compassionate self. It was postulated from a worldview that didn’t know about the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex centres, and the complexity of our central nervous system. A worldview younger than today. Because today we understand emotions as the centre, not peripheral, not pooh-poohed away. Because we are also not afraid of dialogues, differing views, big emotions. Because today we dare and have the tools to unpack intense emotions, trauma and subsequently, emotional regulation, healing, renew, and regenerate.
The integrated identity of a kind self that is generative of new i.e. creative in the emerging unknown.
I stumbled upon the book “Caring Economics” and I was fueled not with knowledge but with mystery. Because I had stumbled upon it serendipitously. And because there is now a body of work that really begins to update and integrate knowledge – neuroscience, earth system science, compassionate economics, the science of happiness or wellbeing, compassion and altruism. It is beyond microfinancing and social entrepreneurship, a wonderful emergence circa 2007. It is these becoming the way of life, because a complex adaptive system would naturally equilibriate towards a stability and resilience that eventually makes us look at the boundaries and barriers. And the the open inquiries would lead to intense questioning and then dreaming and then emerging and trials and activation of new possibilities of living that is biospheric, courageous, robust in science, creative, kind, magnanimous of learning opportunities, patient and cares for the wellbeing of all.
The old way of economic thinking was stuck in a fixed pie and then all the energy went into distribution. And the equitable goal got dropped along the way, somewhat conveniently or inconveniently, because so called efficiency became the easier, demonstrable goal, presumably because it is measurable. And seemingly objective. But it of course absolutely not isn’t! If you set a system that already has rigid boundaries for change or adaptability, then in effect, the efficiency is meaningless. The work starts to become a chase which goes in circles and the only proxy remaining becomes a monetary statistic that no longer represents any real meaning or the goal has become the end in itself. It would become the epitome of negative externalities of absolutes and feels powerful, when in fact if you examined deeper, it is nothing, because it is just a statistic, a proxy of measure. The hoard of cash or wealth is just what it is. Paper or coins or derivatives or tokens of tradable negative externatilities, which, when it gets beyond the tolerable earth-humane-just-meaningful point, would no longer serve a function, and would eventually not be adopted because it no longer serves the whole – complex adaptive system. It has become selfish and selfish isn’t a sustainable part of the whole!
Sustainability is about being a wholesome part of the whole! Sustainability has to incorporate a care, meaning, daring creativity, loving patience regenerative features, in any new design. Resilience is about kind adaptability. Not destructive nor competitive compartmentalised nor ritualised reactivity. Because we are in the Anthropocene Age according to the geologists. We would have to mature individually and collectively to be able to recraft love, work, create, live cooperatively, collaboratively, givingly, openly, with lots of graciousness – both giving and receiving.
How can life be a zero sum game when life is ever growing and ever transformative? How could we be just enough when there is so much richness and diversity and complexity and life is unequivocably empirically flowing, growing, adaptive, creative and abundant?
I don’t even know why I even got talked into having to make a case for doing good for earth, people, wildlife and the world and personal cultures. And making art.
That was my lid. The need to prove myself worthy. The doubt about my own worthiness, which incidentally has got little to do with what I do or not, what I own or not, what other people say I am or not.
Because I got boxed in by my own raft in rough waters, my clinging to my intellectualism and past affirmations and validations.
But today I realise, I am not playing this boxed in game anymore. I am not an agent. I am a human person. I have a choice. And I have my own self-determination. And I have family and friends, who truly love me. And they love me beyond measure.
The dignity and worthiness and the capacity to love and experience a sense of wellbeing without any measure is everyone’s birthright.
We don’t need cannots and justifications to block us from what already is.
That integrity, kindness and courage is our innate nature. And that each of us is simply beautiful as is.
We don’t need a measure or a proxy of measure to speak for each of our and collective immutable preciousness and beauty.
December 9, 2016
a social enterprise
(after Mohammad Yunus)
founded by Peng-Ean Khoo & Khoo Peng Keat
a company limited by guarantee
with charitable purposes
founded by Peng-Ean Khoo
I have been developing charKOL since 2008 through many countless growth evolutions. The latest is an e-open studios-gift shop for meaningful economics exchanges. I have named the project “charKOL Cottage Studios“. Not Cottage Industry, but Cottage Studios. I am still learning the design and interfaces and the tensions between art and commerce. Not about the intent, but the presentation and interfaces with the artists and the community. I also founded One Love in 2014. With three art tokens in my hand – they are my clay roses. And I call them “Faith, Hope & Charity”.
“A Series of Happy & Abundant Platters” is available for private and public collection. All proceeds from the sale of the said artwork, net of Paypal and other necessary service, administrative and delivery charges, shall be donated by the artists to One Love projects. Delivery within Singapore only. This is in support of art & social enterprise.