This was my writers' group column in the Spectrum on November 2, 2011
F. S. Michaels in her thought provoking book The Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything examines the influence that a predominant story or narrative has on a culture. She traces different periods in history in which for example there was a religious, scientific, machine, or mathematics monoculture.
She presents evidence showing that we are currently living the “economic story” and that story whether we are aware of it or not determines to a large extent our societal worldview. In the economic story spending and the accumulation of “stuff” becomes our priority. Michaels probes more deeply the reasons that the economic story distracts us from living in a way that satisfies our deeper human needs.
The author describes how six areas of our lives are changing because of the rise of the economic story. “How you think about your work, your relationships with others and the natural world, your community, your physical and spiritual health, your education, and your creativity are being shaped by economic values and assumptions,”
For example it is evident that the economic story influences our relationships with others and the world. Recently Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Carter, while discussing the complexity of the challenges we face in Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East observed that we have become so preoccupied with greed, financial success, with having to make a living, with just surviving that we are unaware of the painful consequences of what we are doing in the world.
Our preoccupation with the economic story enables us to engage in two costly wars content with allowing the burden of those wars to be carried by less than one percent of our population. How many of us ever come in contact with those whose lives are forever changed because of the sacrifices they make on the battlefield and the impact of those sacrifices on their families?
In the economic story American health care has experienced a transformation “from compassionate relief of suffering to a profit-orientated business.” During this transformation, given the growing emphasis on the business of health care, our costs exceed those of other developed nations while outcomes rank us no better that thirty- seventh among those nations.
Is the growing awareness of this “economic story” and the increasing inequalities in our nation driving the actions of the Tea Party movement and now the Occupy Wall Street protests? Perhaps the public is beginning to confront the inability of our political system to deal with the pain and challenges being experienced by so many.
Michaels invites us to become more introspective and thoughtful about the possibility of making different and more meaningful choices in our lives as we realize that our focus on money and economics saps our ability to appreciate and live by values such as “nurturing human dignity regardless of someone’s economic situation.”