Creating a System That Reflects Our Own Values

Handsinair

by Alison Wakelin

Alison WakelinRecurrent woes are symptomatic of an underlying problem, and Unificationists are experiencing issues with stewardship of external resources. This has potential to create deep rifts unless we manage the transition from a system where a leader could remove manpower and resources from any project at a moment’s notice, and place both elsewhere. In moving beyond continued emergency status, we must establish stability and settlement in accordance with our own values.

The Western world is struggling with its relationship with the creation, just as are Unificationists. Americans and Europeans are facing a new reality of poverty and real challenges to economic growth. We find ourselves trapped in a system where governments have caused the population to become dependent on government income and support, and we seem powerless to go beyond this state of affairs.

But there are solutions, and we must look clearly, then make the requisite changes.

Firstly, women especially do not find it acceptable that any person should be impoverished and left to die by a system that demands they must work in order to survive, and yet cannot come up with enough jobs, let alone reasonable incomes. We cannot accept that humans should be thrown away because they didn’t work hard enough. A reasonable distribution is not a distant goal to be desired, but an immediate reality that must be accomplished.

When it comes to inequality, people get upset (depending on where they are in the distribution), but so far none of the attempts to put things right have worked. This is because any plan encompassing the ownership of property comes up against very deeply hidden barriers.

Historically, there was plenty of land and villages could easily be arranged so that each householder had access to land and the crops he could grow. Simple arrangements for simpler times – and simplicity is usually the best guide even when things seem to have gotten very complicated.

These simple arrangements were not complicated by a burgeoning population or by the industrial revolution, for example, so much as by a ruling monarch who saw his control being potentially eroded as a merchant class grew, or as others in society began to assert their own rights.

Monarchs historically simply took the land, and gave it to the wealthy noblemen, thereby creating the “landed gentry” class as a means to keep them from taking more power. These landowners thus owed their private ownership of land to a right granted by government, making them dependent upon the good will of the state. This has continued as the basis for private ownership of land to this day. Government has triumphed over nature in matters of ownership, to the extent that now most people never even question the right to own land. However, this ownership is not based on labor, on good stewardship, or on natural rights. Government now grants the right to ownership based on wealth.

Therefore when we confront the issue of distribution of land and natural resources, we are facing the issue of power and control.

Capitalism has never gone beyond the “trickle down” theory which few believe in anymore, because money is clearly perceived to trickle up these days, and it takes a very die-hard capitalist to presume that all but the top 0.1% are lazy good-for-nothings. Socialism hasn’t worked in any of its manifestations, since taking from the rich to give to the poor so often leads to resentment and dependency.

What salient points are being missed?

I suggest we are facing a crucial point: there is a debt of “sin” remaining from the early days in America when the traditional respect for and spiritual sensitivity towards nature among the indigenous peoples was destroyed by the European settlers. The land is not inert and without internal identity, and therefore is capable of participating in a relationship with those who live on it. Instead, it has been regarded as something to be exploited and dominated for our use.

This underlying void in the Western nature in turn evolved from the European drive for expansionism, taking land and resources without care or respect for others. This is not a statement that all colonialism was wrong, but rather that it was undermined by such flawed motivations, and thenceforth manipulated into the current outstanding injustices.

Here of course we realize the power of Unificationism to point out the underlying flaws. Divine Principle states that all of creation has a dual nature, both internal and external. It is the first among the monotheistic religious traditions to recognize this.

Nature has provided the land, natural resources, the tendency of seeds to grow when supplied with soil and water, rain, soil, air, oceans, living beings…there is no end. Even the most conservative estimate has determined that nature provides at least 50% of the wealth in any economy. Who, then, owns this?

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Nature clearly does not discriminate. If we acknowledge our identity as spiritual beings then there can be no doubt that each of us has a natural right to this wealth, even before we start to do any labor to increase the wealth. Indigenous peoples tended to recognize this, since they had not conceived of the idea of owning the land or nature, and this is what the European settlers destroyed when they ended the Native American way of life.

Poor people, then, have been disenfranchised by our system, not shown up as failures in it. There is systemic discrimination and injustice that creates victims, because a human being is entitled to a share of nature, not because she works for it, but because she is a human being.

America has turned into a rentier economy where it is much more profitable to fundraise from the government than to actually produce something and engage in capitalistic enterprise. The increase in value of land, brought about by the whole, is appropriated into private hands by land owners, while the people whose labor created the wealth face a heavy tax on income. The government has turned into a predator, in the U.S. and Europe, and those countries who have been forced by the financial invasion of the West into some form of capitalistic material-based economics.

Capitalism is great, if its underlying injustices are addressed. Socialism is inevitable if they are not, and redistributive taxation follows whereby labor is taxed, making no sense since we want to encourage labor. Wealth, acquired through speculation and ownership of the products of nature such as land and natural resources, is taxed at a far lower level. While speculation is rewarded, wages tend to a minimum, and those not born into opportunity are forced into wage slavery and devastating poverty.

Poor people, then, have been disenfranchised by our system, not shown up as failures in our system. There is systemic discrimination and injustice that creates victims, because a human being is entitled to a share of nature – not because she works for it, but because she is a human being. Even a simple tax on the use of nature would serve a fairer distributive function than an income tax.

A new class of the super rich has emerged and consolidated financial power, completely walled off from the economic disaster affecting everyone else, and ideally suited to take advantage of other’s distress. They have made unbelievable fortunes due to their special relationship with government, taking over banks, the legal system and alarmingly high rates of land ownership at the same time. In Scotland today, for example, 432 people own half of the private rural land in the whole country. Ownership turns out to be very hard to determine. Why? Because that is how rich people become richer and avoid public scrutiny.

The government itself becomes a predator, finding itself in debt and forced to extend the social safety net to a wider percentage of society. The middle class, having lost their land, find themselves subject to ever-increasing taxation to feed the hungry government, which having taken power over the right of ownership of the land and natural resources, has thereby taken ownership of people’s thoughts.

Any new system – and we must have a new system now in order to move forward – must return a voice and some responsibility to the individual for the activity of the whole. It must also clarify everyone’s basic right to the fulfillment of survival needs. No one should experience loss of the right to basic housing and food security for any reason, and neither should this be considered a handout from the government, since it is the inalienable birthright of any human being, given freely by nature.

The people can collectively choose to create a system based on a just distribution and the values of distributed empowerment and the right to use of the land.

As a first step, it would be a good idea to write a Bill of Economic Rights and Responsibilities. While we are collectively stewards of the land in some way, nature didn’t go as far as providing the housing and infrastructure we need to survive, so it’s not all rights, we have to figure out how to distribute the responsibility for the infrastructure too.

Secondly, the Green Party in Europe is seriously considering a “Citizens’ Income” as a way to ensure that each person captures his or her right to the use of some small part of nature throughout their whole life on earth. If everyone receives this, it ceases to be redistributive and instead helps prevent the capturing of the economic rent on the part of the very few at the expense of the many.

As Unificationists we need to create a system that reflects our own values. We must make decisions which empower the self, and support all efforts to do the same, until those in power see the value of an empowered membership.

Unificationists all accepted the need for emergency status over the last few decades, but now we need to let go of a system that enables a leader to pull the funding or manpower from under any enterprise at a moment’s notice. This is contributing to general poverty among members. Do we want to create a movement where families struggle to be responsible to educate and raise their children, while those in charge continue to disempower everybody just simply to preserve a way of operating with which they probably do not truly agree?♦

Alison Wakelin (UTS Class of 1989) has a M.A. in Astrophysics from Princeton University, and is currently a Senior Lecturer in Physics and Astronomy at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. Previously, she lived and worked in Korea for ten years.

14 thoughts on “Creating a System That Reflects Our Own Values

  1. Poor people are not disenfranchised by the capitalist system as it has existed in America. a country that has produced more independence and prosperity for the greatest number of people since the beginning of time. No American has ever been kept out of the prosperity game (except for various minorities oppressed by our society at various times, which is a different issue). Land is not some holy thing. Many things are the foundation of wealth, land merely the oldest of them, perhaps followed by animals and crops.

    The problem with economics is fallen human nature. American free enterprise only works properly when the people in it are motivated, educated, hard-working, responsible and moral. Extract any one or more of those requirements, and the system quickly begins to clog like arterial sclerosis until people start complaining they’re being disenfranchised or abused…while, in fact, they’ve merely opted out while still demanding its fruits. Communism or Socialism would work fine in a more ideal world…but in such a world neither would be necessary, as both are a means to deal with two things: an oppressive government and irresponsible human beings. Free enterprise, on the other hand, is an ideal system designed to work with a free, limited government and responsible human beings. Today’s economic problems in America are not economic, but moral. And that is a problem of fallen human nature.

    In a world of fallen nature, we do not need yet another poorly-thought-out system of economy or government that attempts to function with irresponsible people. Any such attempt will crash yet again into the inevitable. We need to address the failure of human beings to be responsible, moral, motivated, educated, and self-sacrificial when required. This is religion’s purpose, to deal with the inner human being. Externals will take care of themselves naturally when the internal is correct, just as happened during the founding of this country by Americans thinking beyond their own selfish pecuniary interests for the greater, and future, good.

  2. It would seem (to me, at least) that the “recurrent woes” noted here are simply the usual: dysfunction of the family unit.

    For any religion or nation (or whatever) to take it higher than that for a lasting or final solution, well, has so far proved temporal, at best.

    Hence, let the usual temporal efforts (introspection, balancing, prognosticating, etc.) continue. And may the most courageous ones ever shine brightest.

  3. I want to thank Alison for encouraging us to develop a set of values that will inform the nature of the social system we seek. Without this we are like Seneca’s ship in the ocean that has no port for its destination, but just drifts where the winds take it. I think that pretty much sums up our democracies guided by, and divided by, factions that pursue their own interests at the expense of everyone else. However, I would discourage against trying to implement a new system from scratch, the way the Marxists did in Russia and China, or Jim Jones did in Guyana. Rather, once we have our destination known, we should work to gradually transform each social system, starting where it is.

    I would see the first principles of the system as the principles that govern each of the three social spheres: political, cultural and economic. No social system will be immune to fallen nature, but there need to be checks and balances on forces that are unprincipled and take a society farther away from the destination. That would be the backbone of the political system.

    In addition, there needs to be a better understanding of the development of stages of consciousness in individuals, so there can be a culture that encourages all people to see the world from a transcendent position. That would be the backbone of the cultural system.

    And finally, we need to develop an economic system in which incentives to produce, the ability to keep the fruits of one’s labor, the ability to compete in the market, and taxes on concentrated unproductive or passive wealth would be higher than on individual citizens as an incentive for wide distribution that is not based on theft like Marxism.

  4. I find Alison Wakelin’s discussion of ideals to live by a good basis to discuss our current society and its problems.

    I think many, like Ms. Wakelin, make similar errors in analyzing history and the situation of society that has been handed us by our predecessors. With a poor analysis, we will always come up with imperfect solutions to propose.

    For example, in this essay it is stated that ownership of property is a less than savory remnant of an evil authoritarian system whereby a king provided land to supporters in return for allegiance, thereby establishing a landed gentry class who perpetually keeps the poor from obtaining property.

    In fact, John Locke and others argued that our fundamental rights included ‘life, liberty and property’. Only by securing those rights could people have the means to obtain what Jefferson put in the our Declaration of Independence: ‘the pursuit of happiness’. This was an argument against the state controlling ownership, appropriating it and distributing it based on the whim of an authoritarian state.

    If we have a state with defined limited powers that ensures a right to Locke’s “possession of outward things,” then people can defy an unjust government who would seek to take from them their means of production.

    The criticism offered by Wakelin to capitalism’s “trickle down” theory would be better directed to the sinful selfishness of individuals instead of an economic system. While examples of glaring consumptionism and abuse of nature by some individuals (and the companies/corporations they have inspired), it is also very clear that a movement of philanthropy is developing among the wealthiest individuals in this world. Bill and Melinda Gates have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to address health issues in Africa and elsewhere. They have committed to spending billions of their estate on this cause and are leading others to do the same. This is the noblest example of trickle down and I among many do believe in that.

    There is some merit to the argument that we all have a right to inherit natural resources: “soil and water, rain, air, oceans, etc.” After all, we did not put the minerals in the ground, or the oil, or cause the genetics of life to occur. We don’t have a right to declare exclusive rights to these things when they are in their natural state. A word of caution is in order here. The leader of Zimbabwe agreed with the premise of Wakelin’s argument and reassigned the right of land ownership to those who claimed ancestral ownership of the property. The results have been disastrous and the people there have suffered from the loss of productivity.

    While the Aljazera article linked to in Wakelin’s post indicates America is a “rentier economy,” she takes that argument to establish that an evil has been created by those who fundraise from the government to support capitalistic enterprise. The irony is that she goes on to advocate for fundraising from the government by those who are not engaged in capitalistic enterprises for whatever reason. I will agree that we have a form of rentier economy in that property taxes by the state enforce the concept that my house is not my own if I do not pay the (rent) tax.

    There is one phrase in the essay that symbolized for me the non sequitur nature of argumentation used. “We want to encourage labor,” was stated as a goal for our society. It is similar to the idea of other’s asking the government to “create jobs.” We don’t want to encourage labor per se. We want to encourage the development of ideas, tools, conditions, and circumstances that will be a benefit for all. In so doing, people will be employed as labor to establish those things. Work toward an unproductive end is actually a detriment to society and to those who participate in it.

    She goes on to state that “The government itself becomes a predator, finding itself in debt and forced to extend the social safety net to a wider percentage of society.” The government doesn’t “find itself in debt.” Advocates for spending create the debt. In the USA, the debt that has been put upon future generations by the federal government is over $55,000 for every man, woman and child who lives here. If you include state and local government debt, that number increases significantly. Some have sought to find a way to prosperity through education and have piled college loan debt — to the tune of nearly a trillion dollars — on top of that. One can question the wisdom of such actions.

    Some government spending assists in greater economic expansion but in the USA and Europe, most of it is a simple transfer from those that can pay tax to those who cannot. Expanding the social safety net was not a simple afterthought, it is the contributory reason the debt expanded.

    I for one oppose the concept of a “Citizen’s Income” as suggested by the author. It is inappropriate to distribute assets owned by all when the recipients do not participate, even voluntarily, in some form of activity that leads to community well-being. If there are not enough jobs available at the moment, then any sharing of resources should be based on the contribution of individuals to the well-being of all of society in some form of constructive volunteerism. Failure to do so will lead us to the distribution of the working capital of a society and possibility of general economic failure in the future.

    The desire of the essay’s author to create a system that reflects our (Unificationists) own values is a good one. We do need to discuss this. We did allow ourselves to live in a church socialism for decades with unsatisfactory results. But that was a personal choice, not a governmental one. We can endeavor to participate in establishing a church system that will reflect our values, but that is a difficult task in a spiritual monarchy. In fact, most of what the author suggests are not church structure changes but governmental ones.

    I, for one, wish for a more participatory process in that arena. Let the discussion continue.

    • There’s a lot in your response here, David! First, though, bringing up John Locke probably isn’t going to be very helpful to your argument, since his ideas were focused solely on the rights of English male capitalists. Women, slaves, indigenous people were simply not within his radar — apart from his investments in the slave trade. I find myself less enthused about him than you might be.

      On the whole I’m not against private ownership, but I think we need to find a way to share the increase in value of the land/natural resources, and we need to safeguard nature against exploitation due to seeking short term profits as opposed to long term sustainability.

      I’m happy that you want to continue discussion, because I think it’s long overdue, and we’re busy writing constitutions without such conversations.

  5. Power corrupts. That is axiomatic. Historically, power and wealth have gone hand in hand and those with power have attempted to stack the system in their favor to increment or safeguard their wealth. Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world, thinks it immoral that his secretary has to pay a higher proportion of her income in tax than he does. I agree.

    Also, the Principle tells us that man is a custodian of the creation. The ability of individuals to leverage ownership of land, or for that matter God-given talents, in order to amass wealth and use it purely to satiate their own desires or perhaps those of a small circle of friends and family seems “unprincipled”, to say the least.

    However, Alison proposes that the solution to such an imbalance is systemic, hence the title “Creating a System that Reflects our Own Values”. It is here we must part company. Ultimately the problem is spiritual. “Spreading our Values so that People can behave in a more Principled Way” seems a far more robust and permanent solution.

    But, hang on a moment, isn’t that what we’ve been trying to do for the last 60 years or so, albeit with very limited success?

  6. In her concern to solve what she sees as a serious problem in our movement, Alison says, “Unificationists all accepted the need for emergency status over the last few decades, but now we need to let go of a system that enables a leader to pull the funding or manpower from under any enterprise at a moment’s notice.” “In moving beyond continued emergency status, we must establish stability and settlement in accordance with our own values.”

    I am not as inclined to trust “our own values“ as Alison apparently is.

    Show me a family, a caring family, united with each other and united in their service to God, True Parents and the community; show me a church community, made up of such families, with a growing membership, pouring out their heart to reach all people in the community, addressing their needs, helping them solve their problems and bringing them to True Parents and the Blessing. When we can find such ideal communities and see them rapidly expanding throughout the world, then I would say say that the values they exhibit are ones we can trust.

    How many lives still need saving? When there are no others in need, I would say we no longer need to be in emergency mode.

    We are all veterans; our battle scars tell the story, but I don’t think that means we qualify to declare our independence from the direction of those God put in the position of authority over us. The DP asserts that there can only be love when there is proper order. I believe we will “leave our position” when we are ready to graduate. And when we graduate, when we have met the proper conditions, we will do so with God and True Parents‘ blessing.

    There were reasons why God viewed David as “a man after God‘s own heart.” And I surmise this was one of the reasons: David honored the position of Saul in spite of his aberrant behavior. David knew that God had anointed Saul king over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1). Because David trusted God, he was determined to let God choose when Saul should no longer be king. David knew that God had anointed him king over Israel (1 Samuel 16:13). David’s great faith in God compelled him to wait until God made him king in actual fact. David was content to wait for God’s timing instead of trying to force things.

    We do need a new system as Alison points out, but grounded in what?

    Regarding our leadership:

    You and I may have had to endure under such painful leadership at times. I have grown through such experiences and seen major and positive changes finally reached. My response to the “emergency mode” Alison refers to:

    True Parents have lived in the emergency mode as long as I have known them. If we want to be there for them how can it be any different for us?

    Being uprooted and asked to pioneer somewhere or take on some new mission was something that has happened to many of us in the past. A leader pulling funding or manpower from under any enterprise at a moment’s notice is a present reality. But is this the norm? Not according to my observations. Not to deny such an event can bring great calamity would be shortsighted; still I would say the manner in which Alison refers to it being cause for changing the system may be more a a knee jerk response than an idea based on a complete understanding of all the reasons behind such a decision. If this is the case, it is truly unfortunate that there is not sufficient trust or maturity in our movement to speak frankly, tell the truth, and give the reasons for such decisions. But, being open and honest and willing to take criticism should not just be viewed as a problem with the leaders.

    Still, we may be ready for a change; for a new system; hence, there may be a need to address this subject, but I hope that when we do so, we realize that if we want God to bless it, we need to maintain and respect the vertical connection.

  7. As a family movement, our solution should be to empower the family by removing the special economic privileges enjoyed by the politically connected. Online reviews can serve to protect consumers much better than the supposed purpose of business regulations. This would allow for tremendous productivity and prosperity on the family level, which would gradually result in a greater leveling of the wealth between families. Attempts to redistribute wealth by force, on the other hand, kill productivity, result in general poverty, increased inequality of wealth, and greater government control. Capitalism is characterized by a free market. Anything without a free market is not capitalism.

    It is true that current governments are descended from the monarchs of a bygone age. The brutal history was rewritten to justify the continued dominion by the gang that prevailed on the battlefield. This archangelic dominion will continue until the people are enlightened enough to no longer believe the lies of court historians and academics. There has to be a withdrawal of the consent of the governed. That educational process will take a long time.

    We are created to follow our conscience and have dominion over all things. We are not created to be dumb sheep following the minutiae of government regulations. We have millions of pages of often vaguely written laws and regulations we are legally obligated to obey at any given time. A lawyer who specializes in defending against federal prosecutions wrote a book on how the average adult in America probably commits three felonies a day without realizing it.

    To create a society of conscientious prosperous families, we have to have economic opportunity for all to freely love others in a free market economy. We must reject central economic planning and instead encourage living by conscience.

  8. This is a highly intelligent article on a complex issue. The word “capitalism”, which conjures up big fat men, smoking cigars with piles of money in front of them, ought to be avoided, and the term “free enterprise”, which is an aspect of freedom itself, emphasized. Many good points are brought up. True Father said once: “I cannot say I have fulfilled my mission on earth, until I establish the condition for one worldwide standard of heart and ethics, centering on the land of Korea”. So instead of focusing on John Locke, and other Western thinkers, we ought to identify these Korean ethics more and especially Korean/Western couples could help there. In Korea, society and local government run very well (even the fact that there is little violent crime says enough), so it is worth it to study the “secrets” around that society. Therefore, I think that bringing the world to True Parents means, besides the most essential Blessing first, adopting many aspects of Korean culture.

  9. Collectivism mostly fails. The only place I think it has ever worked is in monasteries or convents. Or in the case of single, Unificationists or “Moonies”. In order for it to function, the interests of the individual must be sublimated to the interests of the group. Once people are married, it is shown that families fare poorly in communal life. The hard realities are elevated to sharp focus once direct responsibility for family arises. People very quickly are thrust into facing their needs, and they apply whatever talents or schemes may be employed to achieve personal success. Those who planned to make a life from taking orders from a “leader”, whom they see as “responsible for them” must be sure to pick one who truly is responsible.

    The above explorations are focused on those in the Unificationist sphere, and about what economics is best. They are on the right track, but is there a separate economy, with separate distinguishing characteristics within or among the Unification culture? I never saw one. There are two economic ideas ruling the world — free market capitalism and collectivism. One allows individual personal success, the other professes an ideal of a unitary existence — except for some idealized “leader figure” who will fulfill all of the dreams and aspirations of humanity, so that the unitary mass does not have to. Once, the UC defended Western freedoms. In recent decades it seems to have lost that objective.

    • The Hutterites, spread across the northern US and western Canada, kept their communities going and remained prosperous, even after they established families, and they seem to be the closest of keeping the spirit of their founders going at the same time. Even though there are things to learn from them, it is unclear and doubtful though how the rest of the world can follow such an exclusive culture, and how they themselves could ever accept the Second Coming/Korean ethics in this time.

      • What I meant to convey in my previous comment was that groups like the Hutterites and also the Bruderhof Communities were the ones that before 1960, the year of the Marriage of the Lamb, kept the spirit of he Founding Fathers of America going, the spirit that True Father wanted to bring back to America. I wonder if there were efforts made to connect to those groups?

  10. I enjoyed Alison’s article. I would just like to comment on two points. The first is stewardship of creation as nature is a resource that we pass on to future generations. I for one am glad that True Mother also addresses the need to protect and sustain nature and encourages us to learn from nature in order to stimulate our original mind. We are all fortunate to have access to national parks and public walkways even if we live in cities and don’t own any private land.

    The second point is on the unequal distribution of wealth. I do think the current economic system in most Western countries tends to favour the very wealthy. These very wealthy people never loose even during a severe downturn of the economy because they have accumulated wealth and are almost untouchable. The philanthropists are still the exception to the rule and they are to be highly commended for their generosity. We need a fairer system in society generally but I am not sure how it is going to happen. Greece has voted in a new government and there is the possibility of debt forgiveness so that the ordinary people can get on with their lives with hope and dignity. Economics should be guided by a spiritual vision that engenders hope and forgiveness.

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