towards a moral economy

The mad kitten…I should just stop there and let your imagination fill in the rest but no, I want to share.


On day 5 of being without power (6 days total, I have it back now) the mad kitten was bored with being in the dark. And so was her latest mouse friend. She woke me up by dropping the mouse on my chest while I was sleeping and then the two of them chased each other around the bed. I sprang up (silently, but damn fast) took one look at the two of them running around and decided that it was a fine time to go down to the gas station and get coffee.

It is strange how she doesn’t like the dark. I didn’t realize how much she was bothered by it until I turned on a flashlight and every time I pointed the beam at the floor, she would run over and lay down in the light. It was strange how stressful and depressing being without power was. The cave only has one window and it was not enough, even in daytime, to let in light. I was deeply envious of my next door neighbors who have what is called a “Craftsman” house – these are houses that were designed to let in the outdoor light as much as possible.

The act of being without all the various electronic goodies I have become dependent on removed a great deal of the functionality of my life. It is often heard that it is a good thing to “simplify” or to retain vestiges of more hands on living, but the reality is that we live in a highly energy dependent society. Without energy, our ability to participate is hampered. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that when we choose to simplify or take a vacation from power that it is by choice and includes the surety of being able to return to the powered life at will. When that choice is taken away, when no preparation or few options exist – life can become difficult.

One of the concepts I have been turning over in my mind this past month is the idea of what a “moral economy” would look like. It is something of which we have very few models. Our economies tend to lack the flexibility of morality. Which are two words you rarely see in a sentence together – flexibility and morality; and you hardly ever see the word flexibility and economy together either.

But most of our economies are suffering from a lack of flexibility and most definitely, a lack of morality. Morality, in this instance, holds the meaning of having a standard as to what the health of a community and the individuals in it would be. A moral economy recognizes that it only functions well when all of its members have a level of confidence and security that translates into both trade and innovation. It retains flexibility in ordering priorities because it defines that at no given time will everyone be perfectly provided for but makes allowances to provide for those in need until they are no longer in need and are back to contributing to the whole. A moral economy sees both the “person” of the community and the “person” of the individual and recognizes that one is not more important than the other but that both are of equal necessity to the health of each.

It is that standard and understanding that guides the economy and allows for fluctuation without panic or recession.

In America, we have grown a highly immoral and inflexible economy. We perceive need as something outside of growth and health and create a separate and static payment system for providing care that does not allow for the people involved to move fluidly to another status within the system. Economic health and growth is defined by very limited criteria that cannot accommodate fluctuation. Black and white thinking, either/or and this or that logic creates community boundaries without care for seeing the potential for how a community’s boundaries may grow and shift over time.

There are two camps about success in America – both view monetary success as something that separates a person or business from being an integral part of the community. One group would penalize success by demanding they pay more to support the unsuccessful and the other would penalize the community by demanding that success be kept isolated from its potential to contribute. Both are immoral positions because they do not allow for standard that is flexible enough to respond to the needs of life – individual and communal.

Our economy is also hampered by our limited definition/understanding of what makes up an “economy.” It is a definition based in monetary values and ignorant that these are only tools of an economy and not the definition of it. An economy is a system of resources that are used by a community to sustain its population. It is not limited to labor, land and capital but is inclusive of all the elements of society (education, religion, class, quality of life etc.). The definition of what makes up a society is also the definition of what that society’s economy is.

To begin to move toward a moral economy we need to start changing our definition of what constitutes an economy and that change begins with each individual. To begin to see your household budget as inclusive of not only money going out and money coming in but also time spent in activities or committed to family will begin to change how we perceive the potential for use for our various resources. Removing the lines of separation we have placed between the factors in our life (this is my work life/this is my weekend life) will begin to bring more unity and cohesiveness into our ability to plan and act within our total lives. Doing this within the micro-economy of our individual lives will help to give us an understanding to what changes need to occur in our larger community economy. In a way, we need to attend the business school of our lives in order to be able to graduate with a degree that will let us understand the changes that need to occur in our national economy.

Enough of that. Coffee now. Well…more coffee now. I ended this week beautifully. Not only did the power come back on but also I underwent a kind of change too and stepped forward again into the life I want to be living. All well and good, but damn I hope it is a long time before I have a week like this again.

The funniest thing is that over the course of the week I got a chance to see and participate in something that was all about revealing the levels of wrongly placed intolerance. I say wrongly placed because there is rightly placed intolerance. I surfaced with a finer definition of my own morality and it has made me absolutely intolerant of certain behaviors and attitudes. And with that lesson written on my soul – I begin to clean my house again.

I will be posting details about the upcoming performance in Mexico City soon. Right now, I am enjoying turning my lights on and off and on and off again.

c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.


About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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3 Responses to towards a moral economy

  1. Lee Munro says:

    Well said. I always thought that capitalism and communism were two extremes, both unmanageable and immoral. Capitalism venerates the moneymaker, communism the bureaucrat. Neither is very preoccupied with the average citizen. I used to think socialism was a halfway point, but it’s only a taxing machine.

    What I’m not sure of is, is the present problem of people who just don’t care a product of our economic system, or a cause? Is it human nature to only care about yourself? Sure, all the major religions talk about caring about your fellow human being, but it’s all noise and mostly ignored.

    Now I’m off to the bog for a good think about this. All your fault. Thanks. I need to think more 🙂

  2. Glad to give you a headache 🙂 religion has evolved into its own limited model of economy as well which is why the “main message” is so empty and ineffective. One of the things I am learning is that it is human nature to learn and to live, however, in all forms of limited economy their success is dependent on a society that prevents life and therefore, human nature. Fromm posited that our society was becoming one of necrophiliacs (global society) and I think that is true. Everything has evolved to discourage living. Yet people can never also lose their inherent desire to live – hence the duality of selfishness/necrophilia and despair.

  3. Lee Munro says:

    I’m not as eloquent as you, my dear, but I understand what you’re saying here. Life has always been a struggle to survive. Instead of giant dinosaurs eating us, we now have to struggle against the media telling us we aren’t thin enough, beautiful enough, or have enough shiny things, We have the church telling us we are never good enough (I won’t even get into parents). We are never healthy enough, or sane enough, or happy enough; don’t worry, Big Pharma has a pill for that. Most of all, we are ruled by a government/class that really doesn’t care whether we live or die.

    If life was a cakewalk, we would all die of boredom. Better to go out fighting, I think. Isn’t the human spirit an amazing thing, to have survived the onslaughts of history. We will survive this, evolve, ascend.

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