One of my goals with COSMOS Cooperative is to reimagine work, what it means to be creative, and what it means to have enough. What wealth do we need? What do we really desire, as humans? How can we better meet our own real wants and needs?
I was never able to get on board with the 9 to 5 corporate program; I had never been interested in making a lot money if it seemed like it would compromise my integrity—though I’ve often been tempted by the thought, “If I could just make enough money…THEN I’ll be free.” (Which is a lie…but an effective one.)
The problem is: nothing I’ve ever really been interested in doing is considered profitable in the system we live in, which, by crook or design, atomizes us into separate economic agents, each vying for survival and advancement, mostly doing things we don’t actually care for, in a way that abstracts us (though the mechanisms of finance) from each other—and from an inherent capacity to meet our common needs.
I tried to duke it out as a freelancer, doing web design, editing, and creative consulting at a reasonable hourly rate. My clients were decent people; the work was benign. But something gnawed at me inside and wouldn’t let up. The very fact that I was being forced to exchange my time for money began to feel like a form of slavery. “Wage slavery,” it’s called. Which of course, is nothing like real slavery; but in a deeper, systemic way, it is—insofar as you don’t have a choice not to participate in the money economy, no matter how destructive, wasteful, and inhuman it’s proven itself to be. No matter the wars it funds, or the ecological despoliation, or the obscene accumulation of wealth and power by the few.
I was stuck, it seemed, being a wage slave, my life force serving demonic interests. I was comfortable enough in my (precarious) privilege—I could still shop at Whole Foods, after all! (within the constraints of our budget)—but I was a slave nonetheless.
My days centered around the clock, working the requisite number of hours, to make the necessary money to meet our unavoidable expenses. I was getting older. The great entrepreneurial idea hadn’t arrived; the great novel wasn’t being written. I was getting more depressed.
I realized that I would never make any kind of ‘right livelihood’ selling books that weren’t being written, anyway, because the bulk of my mental energy was going into merely getting by. And sure, I could “sell out” and write my poetry “on the side”—but then what good would it be? A sad diversion, at best. Moreover, there was the ethical challenge: I realized that my ongoing consent was part of the much larger problem, which was only metastasizing. The future looked grim.
Then it dawned me that while I could never earn my keep doing all those ‘unprofitable things’ by myself—I MIGHT be able to do so with others, if we could only put our minds together and collaborate on a solution. That’s the purpose of the co-op.
The question I have is: how do we put OURSELVES, our actual needs and values, back at the center of the economic equation? How can we shift our time, energy, and attention away from extractive, unjust, unfair, power-hungry, soul-killing systems, and reinvest it in living systems that sustain us on every level—the material and the spiritual reintegrated?
This is the koan I hope we’ll engage here, collectively. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above and/or the article below. How do you think we can cooperate to create a more mindful and ethical economy that meets our human needs and sustains our deepest values? What can we create if we really put our minds to it?