With almost any area of human activity these days there’s a sense of “how can this be made profitable?” Maybe that’s because tech opens the doors to vast markets and opportunities, which business models and entrepreneurs then race to capitalise on. Or maybe there’s a natural logic of turning any given activity into a business. Whatever the causes, this commercialisation seems a particular challenge in the realm of spirituality.
Whereas economic interests used to be more centrally organised, now all we do can be monetised through advertising, paywalls, online sales, contributions, crowdfunding and the like. It’s something that’s affecting our lives in countless ways, as natural behaviours often get replaced by commercial enterprise (see Notes One).
It seems a natural progression: our tools change and we seek new ways to contribute and also turn things to our advantage. With an economy largely reshaped by technology, it makes sense for money as this unit of transaction to feature largely in evolving business models. But while it may be understandable for everything to come down to money, it’s not entirely neutral.
I’ve spoken elsewhere about the influence of money over artistic work (Note Two), which is another area where this seems problematic. Art, to my mind, serves an important human purpose as this act of reflection and meaning; yet when money gets involved that may subtly change the nature of what’s offered in that timeless cultural exchange.
Similarly, money can raise its head quite fiercely in spiritual endeavours. As those inclined to offer insight, encouragement or guidance seek a place in the modern economy there’s often a degree of resistance to individuals becoming wealthy or running businesses off the innate needs of others. It’s a problem with a history running all the way back to medieval indulgences, peppered in more recent times by self-help gurus.
That’s not to say this is always a problem: many people in this field seem to have something valuable to offer in helping others improve their lives. There’s clearly a desire for self-development and a genuine call for techniques to manage modern life, whether that’s the outlook suggested by Eckhart Tolle or recent trends towards mindfulness (Notes Three). But the dynamics of the marketplace must shape what’s offered, as well as effectively making certain insights unavailable to those without money to spare.
It’s more something that intrigues me: how, as human beings, we seek meaning whether that’s through art, spiritual development, or cultural experiences. These seem to be activities that can bind us together, lift us above our everyday lives, and make those lives worth living. The extent to which it’s acceptable to charge for that or set yourself apart as some kind of leader may be a perennial question.
Ultimately, we must all find our own way with such ethical decisions. It’s an imperfect system, but if people truly mean well in what they offer and how they do so then maybe their messages can stand the test and serve to meet this demand for meaning.
Notes and References:
Note 1: The challenge of community
Note 1: Values and the economic
Note 2: Art, collaboration & commodification
Note 3: Mindfulness, antidote to life or way of being
Note 3: The ideas of Eckhart Tolle
Then there’s The motivation of money which looked more generally at money as a concept and an influence.