excerpts from the book

The Politics of Meaning

by Michael Lerner

Addison-Wesley, 1997


Don't be afraid to work for a more just and caring society


Most Americans hunger for meaning and purpose in life. Yet we are caught within a web of cynicism that makes us question whether there could be any higher purpose besides material self-interest and looking out for number one.


We hunger to be acknowledged as people who care about something higher and more important than our own self-interest. We hunger for communities of meaning that can transcend the individualism and selfishness that we see around us and that will provide an ethical and spiritual framework that gives our lives some higher purpose.


We [find] thousands of Americans - from every walk of life, ethnic and religious background, political persuasion and lifestyle - filled with lives of pain and self-blame, and turning to the political Right because the Right [speaks] about the collapse of families, the difficulty of teaching good values to children, the fear of crime, and the absence of spirituality in their lives. The Right [seems] to understand their hunger for community and connection.


... a seeming indifference or hostility or anger. ... produced by the frustration of a deep yearning for connection with others, a pessimism about one's ability to ever get one's needs met, and a deep shame about one's own imagined failures. The same frustration accounts for most of the violence, destructiveness, and other irrational behavior we see in daily life.


In advanced industrial societies today, the circle of people for whom we are willing to make sacrifices or whose interests really concern us has narrowed in recent years.


Because most of us doubt the possibility of people standing strongly in solidarity with one another, we rarely think we can change much about the big picture of the economy or the realities of social or political life... And because everyone is thinking this way, there is no social force to stand up to corporations as they reduce the number of people they employ, globalize their investments, and use their political clout to oppose environmental sanity.


Elites of wealth and power have managed to convince many middle-income Americans that they ought to identify with the interests of the wealthy and powerful instead of with those of the less fortunate.


The ethos of selfishness and materialism has allowed many people to accept cuts in social service programs as the price for cutting their own taxes and those of the rich... the very same selfishness that allows [people] to shut their ears to the needs of the poor, or to the impact of American economic policies on the well-being of many people in the Third World, is what allows their wives or husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends, children or neighbors, to act on selfish or insensitive ways.


The Right has mobilized [anger] against various minority groups in the United States. Historically, the role of the demeaned Other-blamed for disruptions of safety, security, and morality-has been assigned first and foremost to African-Americans, and subsequently to feminists ("uppity women"), homosexuals, communists (and more recently, liberals), Jews, various immigrants, and other minorities. By deflecting onto these demeaned Others the anger that people might reasonably have expressed toward an economic and social system that rewards selfishness, the Right has managed to play both sides of the street. On the one side, it defends the economic and social system that proudly proclaims its commitment to me-firstism and promises that if everyone just looks out for himself or herself, the result will be a good world for all. On the other side, it articulates the pain that people feel when this ethos of selfishness permeates private life, and finds other groups to blame for this pain.


... many people are attracted to the Right's vision of a community in which all divisiveness is subordinated to the authority of family or nation.


... the most important reason that the Right has been so successful in recent American politics is that it makes people feel better about themselves and their lives. It addresses some of the central manifestations of the crisis of meaning-as reflected in family problems, rising crime, and the general decline of values and community-and it tells people that these are not caused by their own personal failures, but because there is something deeply wrong in the larger culture. This kind of analysis reduces self-blame; it allows people to stop punishing themselves for what is wrong in their lives. People respond with deep gratitude for this message, which the Right has effectively translated into political support for a legislative and social agenda that few of its adherents have ever thought out nor care about very much. People vote for the Right because they feel understood and cared for by it. They trust the Right-but not because it has managed to win the national policy debate, of which, in most cases, its adherents know very little.

These dynamics are evident in the powerful success of right-wing radio talk-show hosts who reframe people's personal pain in racist, sexist, or homophobic directions. The radio hosts provide a simple and powerful answer: "The reason you are being denied recognition, love, and meaning is that the liberals have given these scarce commodities to someone else, and they've set up society in such a way that these others will get what you badly need. It's only if we can dismantle government and the programs that they've created to benefit these special interests that you, the American majority, have any chance of getting the caring you deserve but which these liberals and their various client groups are withholding from you."

This message resonates deeply with many Americans because it captures a real truth: people do not receive the recognition they deserve or the meaning that they need in order to build satisfying lives. The Right unfairly blames this lack on liberal programs, on feminism, or on allegedly selfish groups pursuing their narrow self-interest. Affirmative action, for example, is now popularly cast as a selfishness program that unfairly favors groups who, in any event, are too focused on their own needs and not adequately sensitive to the needs of the larger community. The Right will continue to get away with this kind of distortion until liberals and progressives can understand that the resentment people feel is legitimate: they really are in pain, they really do not get recognized in this society, and they have a right to be angry. Until the Left can validate this anger and articulate this pain by speaking the language of a progressive politics of meaning, liberals will surely continue to decline in popularity.


In most Western societies, productivity or efficiency is measured by the degree to which any individual or institution or legislation or social practice increases wealth or power. To pay attention to the bottom line is thus defined as paying attention to the degree to which the person or the project in question succeeds in maximizing wealth and power. Other goals are ancillary-acceptable only if they help accomplish (or, at least, do not thwart) the material goal.

A progressive politics of meaning posits a new bottom line. An institution or social practice is to be considered efficient or productive to the extent that it fosters ethically, spiritually, ecologically, and psychologically sensitive and caring human beings who can maintain long-term, loving personal and social relationships. While this new definition of productivity does not reject the importance of material well-being, it subsumes that concern within an expanded view of "the good life": one that insists on the primacy of spiritual harmony, loving relationships, mutual recognition, and work that | contributes to the common good.


...millions of people .... were ethically engaged with the social change movements of the 1960s and 1970s, but ...today live private lives in part because they can see no political organization that plausibly speaks to their sensibilities. The political struggles of this generation of baby boomers awakened millions of Americans to an ethos of caring for others that was manifested in the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the women's movement, and the social justice and environmental movements.

Conservatives have correctly pointed out the ways in which these groups sometimes flirted with a counter-cultural ethos of individual fulfillment and unchecked self-indulgence that often undermined the moral content of the social change movements. There were moments when "liberation" was construed to mean freedom to do whatever one wanted to do, without regard for the consequences to others. To the extent that counter-cultural and political movements fell into this way of thinking or acting, they were quintessentially mainstream, providing yet another way for the dominant ethos of the market to permeate and shape mass consciousness.

... even in the 1960s and 1970s, there was within these social change movements a counter-tendency, often explicitly challenging counter-cultural indulgence, that emphasized social solidarity and caring for others, that rejected moral relativism, and that articulated a powerful moral critique of the alienation and injustice of the contemporary world. | Millions of people who went through that experience remain deeply committed to social justice and to building a more humane and loving society. Many of them have despaired that it ever would be possible to achieve those ends, and have become involved in lifestyles that on the surface seem superficially unconcerned about larger issues. Yet, like so many people in the religious world and in the labor movement, they could be mobilized to a new politics of love and caring were they to learn about it and come to believe that it was possible. Having been burnt by past failures, these former activists will not quickly jump into new political movements. Yet, as a meaning-oriented movement gains momentum. many of them will feel a homecoming that reconnects to their deepest hopes.

These are some of the groups from whom the movement for a politics of meaning will draw its initial support. They will become the transformative agents who move these ideas into the mainstream of American society. These people respond out of a real inner need, not from a commitment to an abstract idea, nor out of a sense that someone else ought to be treated differently. These people know that they cannot secure the kind of life they deeply desire, unless much changes in our society-its structure of values, its relationship to spiritual values, and its opportunities for mutual recognition. These are radical needs. Unlike needs for economic well-being or political rights, these cannot be fulfilled inside our society as it currently is constructed. Nor can these be fulfilled by buying off any one group. In that sense, the condition for the fulfillment of our needs for meaning is the condition for the liberation of our entire society from a materialist and individualist ethos.


No wonder that the typically secular, rational, liberal intellectual often has trouble getting the juices flowing for constituencies that have found some life energy being expressed in the world of right-wing religious experience. It is not that these people have been brainwashed into right-wing ideas. Rather, they have experienced a touch of meaning and purpose, while those who challenge the ideas put forward by right-wing churches articulate their critique in a technocratic and deadening style.




America's enormous interest in spectator sports is not accompanied by a widespread participation in sports. People love sports as fans - as people who do not engage in the physical contact of the game but who vicariously participate in an imagined community of meaning and purpose, in which "we" are fighting against some "them." The sense of participation in a community-especially a community that is outside the normal constraints-that acts out its enthusiasm in somewhat outrageous fashion, and that permits people to be irrational, to yell and scream for their team, and to behave in ways that are not controlled is what makes sports so energetically exciting.

Though the form of these "pseudo-communities" (in Peter Gabel's phrase) replicates the competitiveness of the larger market, it is not the competition of "all against all" that Hobbes described, but rather of "a we against a we," in which our "we" gives us a sense of home and place. It is a pseudo-community because the connections last only as long as the game and the victory party, but do not extend to the rest of our lives. Those in our pseudo-community do not worry about us when we are sick or when we have family problems or when we may be out of work. Our momentary high disappears; our life situation remains unchanged and just as alienating as ever. Yet, like every momentary "high," it feels good while it lasts. The hungrier that people are for some form of connection that permits them to experience being part of a "we," the more frenetic is their connection to "the team." With this attachment, people begin to see their own lives as being validated or negated depending on how well their team is doing-hence the fantasy that "we" are winning (or losing) and that "we" are "the best" (or not).

Moreover, sports is the one arena which most closely approximates what the rest of the society claims to be: an arena in which reward is allocated according to merit. How well an athlete's capabilities are developed actually shapes his or her chances for success. By emotionally investing in sports, spectators can covertly (and as it happens, ineffectively and therefore safely) rebel against the lies of the larger competitive market. With this surge of energy, we transcend the emotional deadness of the world of work. For that very reason, sports (along with sex) becomes a major topic of discussion whenever workers are allowed to communicate, and provides important confirmation that they are still alive and have not lost touch with the life energy of the planet,



Many of those engaged in shaping today's mass culture are disillusioned liberals and former idealists who, as part of the process of reconciling themselves to a life aimed at maximizing their own individual well-being, have come to believe that their own youthful commitment to social change was silly or potentially destructive. So they have become willing participants in the media assassination of any life energy that cannot be reduced to simplistic formulas that teach us to contain our desires for loving connection. Having bought into Hollywood wisdom about what the audience "really" wants, they use their often considerable creative talents to find innovative ways to present television shows and movies that, in the final analysis repeat the standard cynicism and despair of the age.

The media works with other cultural forces as an idealism-quasher, particularly when it redefines in reductionist terms those moments in which a community has experienced transcendence and optimism. A classic case is the media's systematic lies and distortions about the meaning of the 1960s in general and the movement to end the Vietnam War in particular.

The repression of collective memory of the Vietnam War, the continuing refusal to acknowledge the millions of deaths caused by American intervention, and the inability to seriously confront the idealism of those millions of young people who protested at the time, have helped shape our current period and its despair. This enforced historical amnesia has made it impossible for anyone who lived through that period to integrate his or her own life with some larger sense of its historical meaning. Instead, the image-shapers have attempted to sidestep their own youthful idealism by allowing both sides (those who protested and those who perpetrated crimes) to come together in the empty image of "generational" solidarity and Woodstock nostalgia.

The media has developed a "master narrative" that focuses on momentary youthful enthusiasm and idealism, mixed with a distorting dose of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Retrospectives define a generation's memories of itself, and how that generation quickly "grew up," recognized that it was on the wrong path, and except for a few dropouts and many drug-scarred casualties, went on to become a yuppified success story. Whenever a story is told about someone from the 1960s, that person is assimilated into the master narrative, and the parts that do not fit are ignored or denied. Measured against this media version, anyone who has remained committed to social change (and there are literally millions of baby boomers who are) must see herself or himself as an oddball who has no likely set of allies should she or he move from memory and fantasy to contemporary political action.



It is only when a society shares caring values, that its people can feel secure.


The cost of being presented as "a responsible and serious candidate" by the media [is] usually to show fundamental agreement with the existing distribution of wealth and power.



Governmental officials who originally entered public service precisely because they desired to care for others soon discover that they are not rewarded for the degree of caring they show to the public. On the contrary, such concerned behavior is seen as soft and foolishly idealistic. The task of government workers is to administer people and things, to provide benefits or services that are often underfunded-and hence, incapable of achieving the goals for which they were created. Overextended in demand and greeted with suspicion or outright hostility by some recipients of the services that they provide, government officials soon develop a protective emotional shell that makes it difficult for them to act in a way that conveys genuine caring to the public. At best, what the public receives is objective caring (namely, some service or economic benefit is really being given to them) in a way that does not feel subjectively, genuinely caring.

As a result, even though we continually benefit from government services that may objectively represent our mutual generosity and willingness to care for others, it is very rare for us to feel that

we directly experience that generosity and caring. Even services that are provided efficiently and at relatively low cost, such as the U.S. Mail, rarely feel like a manifestation of collective caring. Our actual benevolence is rendered invisible, and hence fails to create in us the sense that we belong to a world that benefits from mutual goodness and generosity of spirit, as manifested through the mechanisms of government.



People's reluctance to pay taxes is far stronger in class-dominated societies ... In those societies, [where] taxpayers began to suspect that he wealth ' appropriated from them [is] not being used for the common good, but for the benefit of a particular class or group.



Tax revolts and growing support for cuts in government services have spread through much of the Western world in the closing decades of the twentieth century. These are products of a popular conception that government is not working-that it has not been solving societal problems, has ignored the plight of middle-income people, and has become captive to "special interests."

The perception that "government isn't working" has resulted partially from a powerful conservative campaign to debunk all government spending in order to reduce the tax load on the rich and the corporations and to undermine the government's ability to implement environmental, health-and-safety, and other societally oriented regulations of the economy. To be successful, conservatives have had to focus people's attention away from popular programs like the G.I. Bill, Social Security, and other middle-class entitlements, and away from the important impact that Great Society programs have had in helping to create a black middle class. Instead, conservative critics have emphasized the persistence of poverty and crime, which government has failed to end.

The willingness of many Americans to accept this conservative redefinition of reality is connected to a deepening understanding by the electorate that liberal reforms have not eliminated social problems, but have only tried to soften their worst impact. After decades of funding "poverty" programs, poverty has persisted. Of course, the liberal programs have never actually been oriented toward a systematic restructuring of the economy in ways that would wipe out poverty (such as serious income redistribution, coupled with guaranteed full employment at respectable wages for every person who wishes to work). In fact, left-wing radicals have always criticized liberal programs precisely because these have been too timid. Liberals who have justified on pragmatic grounds their tinkering with the system, rather than adopting more far-reaching measures, must now face the reality that it might have been more pragmatic in the long run to fight for larger social transformations that might have produced more dramatic and popular outcomes.

People certainly have been correct to perceive that the programs they have funded have not eliminated the problems. Looking ahead to decades of paying for programs that do not seem to make a dent in the basic problems of the poor and that ignore the crises of meaning in their own lives, many people conclude that they would rather keep their money in their own pockets rather than pay higher taxes.



All systems of inequality and oppression require some type of justificatory belief system, precisely because they contradict our more fundamental recognition of others as having the same legitimate claim to be valued as we do ourselves.

Racism, sexism, and the like are forms of selfishness that have been institutionalized in a system that gives us alleged reasons why / we should have more of the world's goods than others do (be those goods material or spiritual). No wonder, then, that our current system-which has universalized the principle of selfishness-has produced a world abounding in racism and its brother, xenophobic nationalism. These behaviors are no more than the principle of selfishness acting itself out in national, ethnic, or racial terms.



Liberals have important ideas to contribute to American politics. But without a politics-of-meaning framework, liberal ideas often foster a way of thinking that creates a society very different from what many liberals hope for.

Most liberals in America actually oppose the triumph of the market. Yet their political philosophy seems so congruent with the ethos of selfishness and individualism that it is easy for conservatives to blame all of societal dissolution on liberal political ideas. The Right is then able to turn people against what is good in liberalism, because most Americans are fed up with a world that seems to continually frustrate their desires for connection, caring, and idealism. The Right convinces people that it is the liberals' fault that there have been declines in ethical and spiritual sensitivity, in solidarity, and in mutual trust.

The great irony here is that the Right manages to resent the Left for fomenting the individualism and selfishness that is in fact generated by the economic system that the Right extols. Liberals take the rap for the capitalist market! Liberalism does not have an adequate response, because it cannot claim commitment to a particular vision of a good society without violating its prior commitment to have no commitments-except to a political procedure that guarantees individuals the right to go for whatever they want. This hands-off approach to a substantive vision of the good simply will not work anymore.

Some liberals believe that there is a danger in my argument. If liberalism adopts a specific vision in politics, they warn, they will be unable to ensure that the Right will not also introduce its vision, and maybe the latter will be the one that wins out. So, they conclude, liberals are better off trying to fight for a state that has no substantive commitments.

This concern is legitimate, but out of date. The Right's political vision already is prevailing-precisely because liberals offer nothing more than a promise of individual rights, economic entitlements, and inclusion that inadequately speaks to the fundamental needs of the American people. When liberals fight to keep values and spiritual visions out of the public arena, they only manage to succeed in keeping out their own values and visions. And this absence has left a clear path for the Right to put forward its vision and to win popular support.

Some liberal groups have protested the political role assumed by the Christian Coalition, the Moral Majority, or other religion-based political organizations. Religion, they argue, should be kept out of public life. Such liberals face a losing battle, both because the first amendment does not prohibit religious groups from advocating their political vision, and because most people actually want a meaning-based political framework.

The problem with the religious Right is not that it is advocating politics, but that the content of its politics is based on a perversion of religious values. Instead of building on the Bible's injunctions to love our neighbor, thus bringing glory to God by showing that a theological view of the universe would maximize our caring and compassion for others, these people build on isolated biblical passages that reflect fear and anger. In my book, Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, I present in some detail a reading of the Bible that could form the basis of a full-bodied alternative to these right-wing distortions. But my point here for liberals is that they must combat the Right's vision with a better and more engaging one that goes far beyond their traditional principles of freedom, economic security, and inclusion.

As a final note, I should add that I have learned a lot from liberals and the Left. While I find little to admire in the corporate liberals who have shaped congressional policies to their own interests, I have a great deal of respect for the hundreds of thousands of liberal activists who gave their life energies to build the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement, the women's movement, the gay and lesbian movements, the environmental movement, and the movements for civil liberties and human rights.

Through generations of struggle, these people have held high a vision of hope and possibility against seemingly overwhelming odds. Their accomplishments are impressive, including the winning of basic protections and rights for working people, eliminating segregation, decreasing discrimination against women and minorities, weakening the hold of patriarchal assumptions throughout the society, protecting us from repressive interventions of the state, and providing a modicum of dignity for the aging and the disabled. It would be a terrible mistake to ignore this record of accomplishments.

And yet, liberalism is on the decline.

To the extent that liberals are trapped within a worldview that excludes human spiritual and ethical needs, they misunderstand what it is to be a human being, and hence are unable to acknowledge the ways in which our society frustrates the natural hunger for recognition and meaning. Consequently, they develop political strategies which are one-dimensional and increasingly unpopular. Revamping the "old-time religion" with a better spokesperson or a new party will not change this situation. Liberalism needs to be transcended-and the way to do so without losing the important insights and contributions of liberalism is to create a progressive movement for a politics of meaning. Otherwise, liberals will continue to feel the pressure of public disaffection and continue to misinterpret their decline in popularity as a mandate to buy into conservative assumptions. Thus, if by chance public revulsion at the extremism of the Gingrich Congress produces a Democratic victory in 1996 and the reelection of President Clinton, these Democrats will be unlikely to return to a visionary liberalism that extends and renews the most progressive aspects of liberal philosophy. Rather, having positioned themselves increasingly as people who share conservative assumptions about the budget, the immediate need to eliminate the deficit, and the need to dramatically limit the power of government in many spheres, we can expect that the Democrats will present our country with politics that in many ways resembles the liberal wing of Republican President George Bush's administration.

Yet, public disaffection with liberalism does not mean that people want a more centrist politics or some elusive mush that the press refers to as "the moderate center." The failures of liberalism call not for a move to the Right, nor for a move to the Left (that is, a militant revival of the old one-dimensional assumptions of an economistic and rights-oriented liberalism), but rather for a move to transcend the old ways of thinking and begin to acknowledge the meaning-needs that liberalism cannot fully grasp within the limits of its existing categories. Because liberals do not understand this, they find themselves trapped in a fruitless debate between those who imagine that they will be more popular by moving to the Right and those who advocate a return to a pure version of the old-time liberal or Left politics. Both views are mistaken for reasons I've explained in this chapter.


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A Social Audit

A politics of meaning aims to shift the bottom line from a focus on profit or other material values to a focus on ethical, spiritual, social, and ecological values. Accordingly, the productivity or efficiency or rationality of any given program is to be judged by these criteria.

To ensure for ourselves that we are on this path, people in a meaning-oriented society will institute a "social audit"-a social and environmental impact report to accompany every annual investment plan, every project, and every proposed piece of legislation, regulation, or budget item. A social audit will be sought from every corporation; civic institution; community project; and local, state or federal agency and legislative body.

The underlying notion here is that every institution, and every proposed policy or piece of legislation, has a group of stake-holders. These are all the people who will be affected by the operations of the institution or the outcome of the policy or legislation, and who therefore have a stake in knowing and shaping these outcomes. For example, for a company producing infant formula, the stake-holders would include not only the shareholders, employees, and management of the firm, but all the families whose children consume the product, as well as the community in which the plant is located. Not everyone will be a stockholder in every venture. But for stake-holders, the social audit will be an important tool of empowerment, and one for which a politics of meaning will fight.

The goal of the audit will be to determine the likely consequences of an institution or a policy or a piece of legislation on the psychological, spiritual, and ethical well-being of our society and of individuals within it. Requiring ourselves to think about these goals will help us renew on a daily basis the connection between our specific projects and our sense of the common good.

Liberal reforms have tended to focus largely on predictable, "objective" outcomes. A politics-of-meaning approach, by contrast, questions the predictable subjective outcomes as well: for example, whether the prevailing emotional climate that then takes hold throughout society makes it more or less likely that people will feel safe to trust one another more, and to act in mutually caring or morally sensitive ways. Over the course of the past thirty years, liberals have passed some fine pieces of legislation, but they rarely have challenged the prevailing emotional climate of our society- one that has become, under the influence of right-wing movements and ideologues, increasingly mean-spirited. Liberal reforms are now being undermined or rolled back by the conservative beneficiaries of that mean-spirited climate, swept to electoral victory on a tide of anger at liberals who have failed to address the crisis of meaning in the lives of middle-income Americans.



The Goal of the Economy

It is easy to have utopian fantasies, but who is going to pay for all these wonderful ideas, and how can an economy function that is committed to such "unrealistic" ideals?

Let's start by asking ourselves, in the instructive words of James Fallows, "What's an economy for?" It is easy here to fall back into the thought patterns of the old paradigm, to imagine that the only way to judge an economy is in terms of the degree to which it produces "hard" or externally measurable, material goods. However, there is nothing self-evident about this conceptualization.

From a politics-of-meaning standpoint, the goal of an economy is to reproduce what the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein called "a particularly human form of life." An economy must have mechanisms for producing food and other essential goods, such as clothing and housing. But an economy must also sustain human beings, both physically and socially, with all our complexities and desires. One of the component elements in reproducing "a particularly human form of life" is that the process of doing this must itself be a part of the life that we seek to reproduce. Therefore, the way that we reproduce human life-both in terms of creating food and essential goods, and in terms of sustaining human beings physically and socially-is part of our evaluation of an economy's success. If there were an economy that could produce more food and more essential goods, by harnessing human labor in such a way that each of us died at age seventeen after years of painful forced labor, we probably would not judge that economy to be a powerful success, despite its greater "productivity" according to one narrow standard.

The goal of the economy should be to help produce and sustain humans who are capable of realizing their highest capacities for love; creativity; intelligence; mutual recognition; solidarity; productive work; freedom; caring and nurturing; intimacy; commitment; trust; vitality; and aesthetic, ethical, spiritual, and ecological sensitivity. The materialist conception that promoting these capacities is difficult when people face material deprivation is correct, but needs to be qualified. There are, and have been throughout human history, societies that more successfully actualize these capacities than some of our contemporary advanced industrial societies, even though these others produce less, materially speaking. In my view, these societies have had a stronger economy-one that we ought to deem more productive and generating a higher standard of living.

The way we organize the production and distribution of goods and services is linked intrinsically to the way we reproduce the human species, both physically and socially. For example, how we arrange for the care and nurturing of children is as much an economic question as how we arrange for the planting of seeds in the earth, O£ for the resulting harvest. However, the economic import of child-rearing appears to be invisible, which is a consequence of the success of patriarchy in having assigned this work to women, not paid for it, and then defined it as "not real work." Those same patriarchal assumptions have held throughout our economy, so that wherever we have work associated with caring and nurturing, it typically is devalued and underpaid, when paid for at all. Similarly, how we organize the world of work, and the consequences for human relationships, is as much an economic question as the consequences for the production of goods. Separating these issues only seems reasonable once we have adopted the materialist and individualist account of human reality that this book seeks to challenge.


The politics-of-meaning bottom line - creating and sustaining ethically, spiritually, and environmentally sensitive human beings who are capable of sustaining long-term, loving, committed relationships.


Go for your highest vision of how you could serve the common good if the bottom line in your profession were caring.


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Ethical Impact Reports (Social Audits)

This demand is straightforward: every major piece of legislation by a city council, state legislature, or Congress; every policy decision by the White House; every annual stockholders' report on the activities of major corporations, both for profit and nonprofit- each of these should be accompanied by an ethical impact report...

Nevertheless, we will need to watch out for a high level of obfuscation. Some corporations or government agencies might hire new grant writers ("ethical impact specialists") whose job would be to add words like "caring" or "ethically sensitive" without any corresponding change in what people actually were doing. There will have to be vigilant monitoring by self-constituted groups of citizens who are serious about a politics of meaning, and who challenge government and corporate entities to actually live up to their fine words and to reorganize themselves in ways that are sensitive to the ethical impact of their actions. This struggle can be part of the process of the transition to a different society. When public debate focuses on whether a policy really produces moral and spiritual awareness, rather than on whether it yields the biggest bang for the buck, we already will have made a start toward developing the consciousness necessary for building a very different kind of society.



Hazel Henderson, a policy analyst, has pioneered a standard called Country Futures Indicators (CFI) that may point us in the right direction. Some of its measures include purchasing-power parity and income distribution (whether the poverty gap is widening or narrowing), informal household-sector production (measuring both paid and unpaid work done at home), depletion of nonrenewable resources, military-civilian budget ratio (measuring how military production depletes a country's wealth), and capital-asset account (measuring the value of public roads and other infrastructural resources)


Henderson also includes the following significant factors: birth and infant-mortality rates, population density, age distribution, health and nutrition (including calories consumed per day and protein-carbohydrate ratio), availability and quality of shelter (including degree of homelessness), crime rates, literacy rates, level of political participation and status of democratic processes (including impact of money on elections), status of minority and ethnic populations and of women (including protection of minority rights), levels of air and water quality and environmental pollution, degree of biodiversity and species loss, and level of cultural and recreational resources available.

Authors and Books

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