4:   Scarcity and Diversity

Bob Young

Bernard Lietaer’s article in the last edition of this newsletter rests on the assumption that the modern capitalist economy is inspired by a regressive Jungian psychology. He refers to the existence of the Black Madonna as evidence of a continuing cultural heritage stretching back to Old European Goddess Culture which resisted the suppression of later patriarchal Christianity. He suggests that if we understand collective psychology represented by the Jungian concept of the archetype and its shadows, we can derive the modern concept of capitalist greed from the repression of the Great Mother archetype. According to Lietaer the Great Mother represented fertility and generosity and existed as a way of galvanising peoples’ spirits in face of the fear of scarcity. Therefore the modern suppression of the Great Mother gave rise to the shadow disposition of greed in response to natural scarcity. Ironically, or confusingly, the modern institution of capitalism which thrives on greed is also the system which ensures the perpetuation of a fear of scarcity because it allows people to hoard the commodities which are in demand.

This is obviously a simplistic summary of what is a sophisticated critique of the suppression of natural creative forces in the modern economy. However I am not concerned here to analyse the extent of his critique as a supportive argument for local currencies so much as to argue for a different concept of sustainability based on a different emphasis on the role of money in the creation of value in particular locations. My fundamental objection to his analysis of the way in which greed has become, and continues to be maintained as, the prime mover in modern capitalism, is that traditional societies did not respond to scarcity by hoarding scarce resources, but realised that their needs could be met by diversifying their consumption and that, psychologically as well as in evolutionary terms, diversity was the force of change which encouraged creativity and ensured survival. The mistake, I feel, is to identify natural fertility and abundance with the source of prosperity in the ancient world because it not only restricts economic exchange to a rational pattern of standard consumption, but, on a psychological level, it implies that the world is a kind of Platonic blueprint of a fixed material substratum of nature which defies individual creativity and the subjectivity of perception necessary in the maintenance of symbolic culture.

As Marija Gimbutas points out in her seminal work ‘The Living Goddesses’, "Our cultural programming leads to the assumption that female representations invariably represent "earth as fertility"; therefore all naked female artefacts become "fertiltity figurines". The Old European cultures certainly cared about fertility. But the wide variety of figurines, and particularly their Neolithic archaeological contexts, suggests that the feminine force played a wider religious role."

In ‘The Terrors of Globalisation’, Theresa Brennan demonstrates that a modern industrial explanation of economic efficiency is based on the surplus value theory which assumes that greater productivity and growth is more efficient, but is in fact based on an increased consumption of natural resources because raw materials are transported ever greater distances to satisfy the demands of an economy which insists on the standardization of consumption patterns. From this we can see that, much as Lietaer assumes that the Earth Mother is a source of fertility, authoritarian economics assumes that the world is a material resource which serves an essentially acquisitive human nature. It suggests an equivalence between the idea of prosperity as consumption and sexuality as reproduction.

One could perhaps assert that Goddess culture ended because it had a restrictive emphasis on the powers of natural regeneration and that these are indeed forces which tend to an individualistic social model, but Lietaer attempts to shore up this argument with reference to the notion of scarcity as a manufactured concept which assures the dominance of greed as the economic paradigm. He suggests that we perpetuate the notion of scarcity as a means of maintaining a culture of fear derived from a Jungian analysis of emotional repression. But this somewhat contradictory argument denies both that natural scarcity is a genuine fear and that our intuitive response is to diversify within our natural community rather than pledge allegiance to an authoritarian system which denies our true individuality. It suggests we are not unique creative beings but just standard statistics within a model of social conformity dominated by intellectual measurement.

On the other hand if we impute to the Goddess culture something more enduring than a cult of reproduction and consumption, we perhaps arrive at a description of sustainable culture not dissimilar from more traditional agricultural or tribal cultures of the recent past. The difference is that such cultures are fantastically diverse and unique and echo the evidence of finds of over 100,000 figurines of the Goddess culture which display an enormous variety of culture and artistic styles. It is evident from these examples that what bound these communities was not an ability to accumulate scarce resources, but the capacity for diversification and sharing as an expression of participation. As such the Goddess personified the identity of her peoples because they related to the natural world as an expression of the process of diversification. It fulfilled their needs because it reflected a process of emotional creativity happening within their own subjective view of reality.

Bob Young – 09/05/06