Torn and twisted bark of a tree

If life’s a sum, are our choices calculations?

Thinking of all the ways our lives can be boiled down to figures, everything reduced to money and the decisions we’re most likely to make given the resources we have to hand, isn’t it almost true that life is a sum? One where we’re forever trying to get ahead, make the most of things and shift to better positions. Much, of course, already being determined by the outset and by the systems surrounding us.

It’s interesting to imagine how “our lives” intersect with the world of belongings and money: the cards we’re each dealt, insight with which we might play them, and question of whether other values might ever stand against economic thinking (Notes One). “Life” can certainly be looked at and broken down using those terms – everything seen in the light of financial worth and all that can buy.

Sometimes it seems like “the most important thing”, the defining element in how our lives are going to be, how we’ll be viewed by others and the opportunities we’ll have. As if our lives really are a sum. But one where those starting high are almost guaranteed to go higher while those coming in low stand little chance of progressing much beyond that. How did we get to that point? Where birth determines so much.

Beyond that, though, isn’t there a sense in which seeing life “this way” makes us predictable? Each person viewing their assets in relation to this system we’ve created, it seems the choices any of us might make become rather foreseeable: we’ll act for our own enhancement or the protection of our existing situation. Calculations we’ve already made for our future becoming the lines we’ll defend when questions are asked.

Won’t we tend to maintain our own interests? As if society’s been carved up – assets allocated, chances determined, people profiled – and “how we’re likely to act” is essentially a calculation based on where we’re each known to stand. This sense in which democratic choices can be designed to appeal to certain segments: offering people some advantage that’s sure to buy their vote and secure their support. (Notes Two)

Almost as if the world’s been divided, power placed in certain hands and systems created to protect those interests, so calculations “can” be done to ensure the paths taken are those seen as desirable. If we’re all acting based on our personal – often, economic – concerns, can’t it all be predicted from the start? What to offer each person, the carrots and sticks that can shift things in directions of someone’s choosing.

Aren’t there values capable of standing against that? Other ways we might view our situations and collectively chart a course that works better for everyone? This sense in which we might step out of ourselves to see how things work from all angles, making decisions on behalf of the whole – whether that’s society, environment or whatever other concerns we might hold dear. (Notes Three)

How much might life change if we started looking at it all differently?

Notes and References:

Note 1: The self within society
Note 1: Does it all come down to money?
Note 1: Humans, tangled in these systems
Note 1: Making ends meet
Note 2: How are we supposed to choose?
Note 2: Appealing to human nature or the human spirit
Note 2: How much is in the hands of the market
Note 2: Those who are leading us
Note 3: What should be leading us?
Note 3: Understanding what we’re all part of
Note 3: Integrity and integration
Note 3: Value and meaning in our lives

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