In our economic system corporations are never profitable enough and people never consume enough. It’s a circular process in which we all participate, whether as workers, employers, consumers, investors, or pensioners, but we have little or no personal sense of moral responsibility for what happens. Awareness has been diffused so completely that it is lost in the impersonal anonymity of the corporate economic system.
Institutionalized ill will
In Buddhist terms, much of the world’s suffering has been a result of our way of thinking about good and evil. The basic problem with a simplistic good-versus-evil way of understanding conflict is that, because it tends to preclude further thought, it keeps us from looking deeper. Once something has been identified as evil, there is no more need to explain it; it is time to focus on fighting against it. The best example of institutionalized ill will is, of course, collective aggression: the institutionalization of militarism. After world War II, the U.S. did not demilitarize, but decided to maintain a permanent war-economy to fight communism. The collapse of communism at the end of the 1980s created a problem for the military-industrial complex, but now a never-ending “war against terrorism” has taken place.
The most fundamental delusion, both individually and collectively, is our sense of a self/other duality - that “I” am inside and the rest of the world is outside. Nationalism is a powerful institutional version of such a group wego. For that matter, so is the basic species duality between Homo sapiens and the rest of the biosphere, which is why we feel free to abuse nature technologically, with almost no regard for the consequences.
If we understand this third problem as institutionalized ignorance, it helps to see that modern life in all developed nations is organized in a way to conceal the dukkha it causes. The system inflicts dukkha on all of us, but most of all on people whom we do not see and therefore do not need to think about. Thanks to clever advertising and peer pressure, my son can learn to crave Nike shoes and Gap shirts without ever wondering about how they are made. I can satisfy my coffee and chocolate cravings without any awareness of the social conditions of the farmers who grow these commodities. My son and I are encouraged to live in a self-enclosed cocoon of hedonistic consumption.
Realizing the nature of these institutional poisons is just as spiritual and just as important as any personal realization one might have as a result of Buddhist (or any other) practice. In fact, any individual awakening we may have on our meditation cushions remains incomplete until it is supplemented by such a “social awakening.” In both cases, what is needed is a greater awareness that goes beyond the limitations of ego- and wego-consciousness. Usually we think of expanded consciousness in individual terms, but today we must penetrate through the veils of social delusion to attain greater understanding of dualistic social, economic, and ecological realities.’
- David Loy, The Suffering System, from the March 2005 issue of the Shambhala Sun.