By Marc Gafni
There is a parallel between the emergence of business and the emergence of self is both fascinating and highly instructive in understanding the narrative of conscious capitalism. Both the evolution of self and the evolution of business go through five core stages, which in large measure parallel each other. These five stages unfold in the historical emergence of the self and business even as they may also unfold in the life of the individual person or business. This highly conceptual account is necessarily quite simplified. Nevertheless, this framework is offered as a way of looking at conscious capitalism that adds to the discussion.
At the first level, both the self and business begin in what we might call a pre–personal stage. At this stage, both form their identity in relation to the large context that holds them. In the pre-modern period, the idea of an independent business which served it’s own prosperity did not exist. Nor was there a notion of self as a self-justifying unit. For example the king (or queen) or the church formed the corporation in the Middle Ages. The corporation served the interests of the king and church. It did not have independent capital or will. Rather, it was defined in relationship to state or church. The individual was in the same situation. He was a subject of the king and vassal of the church.
The word self did not yet exist in the dictionary. A person’s definition was first and primarily as a loyal subject of king or obedient adherent of the church. The profits of the corporation enriched the king’s coffers. The king and state had the arbitrary right to seize the wealth of the corporation. New initiatives were capitalized by church and not by the investment banking firms. The modern notion of private capital did not yet exist. In the same vein, the assets and even the life of the individual are owned by the king (or queen). The subject is actually obligated to give up their life for church and crown.
At Level Two both the self and business emerge from the shadow of king and church and evolve into their own independent identity. Self emerges from the pre-personal to the personal stage. As the Renaissance dawns on Europe, the word ‘self’ appears in the dictionary. The separate independent self has emerged as a self- justifying unit. Self fulfillment begins to makes sense as a term. The self seeks to fulfill not the will of the crown or the dictates of the religion, but rather to fulfill itself. In the Renaissance and in the Romantic Movement that follows it, the rule-based Neo-Classicism of church and monarchy are replaced by intoxication with the individual. The individual’s destiny, journey and life become self-evidently valuable in the eyes of society and of the individual himself.
At the same time, business emerges as a self-justifying activity, which seeks its own fulfillment. As the post-Renaissance and Romantic writers are extolling the virtues of the independent individual guided by his own voice, Adam Smith is writing about the invisible hand of the market which self-regulates and guides the market place towards its own fulfillment. The corporation’s charter is no longer to profit the Crown or Church. The corporation serves itself, which is constituted by its owners or shareholders. The healthy corporation serves the financial interest of the shareholders. The healthy ego of the self serves the productivity and happiness of the individual self. The self –interest of the individual is to promote the survival and flourishing of the individual. The independent separate self and the independent separate business have emerged and their creative force is unleashed in the world.
At the third level, shadow elements of the individual and business emerge and give legitimate cause for concern. The self of the individual person and the individual business show signs of pathology. Instead of realizing the healthy differentiation with the larger defining environments of Church and King, self and business begin to disassociate from the their larger contexts. Self begins to slide into a selfish obsession with self. Healthy self-interest becomes narcissistic as the person fixates at an ego-centric stage of development and is only able to feel genuine empathy for himself or those necessary for his survival or flourishing. All others become objects to his subjects. He sees the others as a means to his end. Filling the ego’s greed becomes the primary human need. The individual begins to worship at the altar of his own self-gratification, and the things that gratify him are only the ego enhancers, which support the reification of the individual.
A similar process takes place in business. The healthy business becomes greedy. The robbers barons of the American expansion become the new archetype of business. Corporate greed emerges as a motive force in the public sector. Along with this, the narrative of the ‘evil corporation’ is born, which indicts the idea of business itself. Both the individual and business begin to be defined in terms of their shadow. Both are seen as only serving the financial enrichment of shareholders or separate self. Both are seen as being willing to oppress and exploit other for the sake of self. The selfish individual and the selfish business become fixed givens in the mental furniture and life worlds of modernity.
At level four various strategies are developed to deconstruct the ego of the individual person and the individual business. As a result of the excesses of both produced by greed as described above, the self validating person and business are demonized as the sources of personal and social evil. Theories are introduced, old and new, which support the complete undermining of the personal self and shareholder driven business.
Two well-known phenomena which give example to this level, but which is rarely seen from this vantage would be socialism and classical enlightenment. Both demonize the self, of business and the person, as being lost in a dangerous delusion of separation and independence. The independent business is said ignores the larger context of stakeholders in its actions and moves only to satisfy it’s own most pressing needs for gratification. The separate self becomes lost in the grasping of the ego for transitory fulfillment. It seeks to fill the shallowest needs for power and status, which are disconnected from genuine realization or achievement. Classical enlightenment sees liberation from the suffering inflicted by the go in the realization of no self. No- Self in most enlightenment teaching is the new consciousness of reality which involves the letting go of the illusion of being a separate self and realizing that one is an inextricable part of the whole. In no self you realize that you are not separate, either from god, nature, or any of the larger contexts of society. This is the movement from what we have called separate self to what we will now term True Self. The total number of true selves in the world is One. This is a clear movement beyond the limited experience of separate self into a larger field of consciousness in which the separate self is effectively deconstructed.
In a different expression of this same movement religions and governments enact rigorous regulations, which serve to at least curtail the greedy excesses of separate self and direct the energy of the separate self to what are seen to be more noble and exalted ends. In the world of economic exchanges and business the separate self-business, which serves its own ends and the ends of its shareholders, is targeted by Marxism as the core source of evil. Marx suggests that only the introduction of some form of socialism, which is business’s version of no self, will save the world from the evils of the corporation.
The evolutionary emergence of level five is form pathology to mythology. At the fifth level the movement is from the pathology of the self, both of business and the person, to the mythology of the individual person and business. At this level of consciousness we witness the evolutionary emergence of the Unique Self and the unique business.
At the level of true self one self-experience is as being an inextricable part of the seamless coat of the universe. At the level of Unique Self you realize that the coat of the universe in which you are a part is seamless but not featureless. You are a unique feature of essence even as you are not separate from essence in any way. You life in a deep realization of your larger context in the larger schema of reality. You are not apart but a part of all that is. However you realize that you are a unique part of all that is. You are a unique expression of essence. You are the personal face of essence. This is not the personal at the level of separate self. Separate self does not have a felt experience of being an indivisible part of essence.
Unique Self is obviously part of essence and just an obviously an utterly irreducible and unique expression of essence. Unique Self realizes that she has Unique Gifts to live and give that are not merely creative forms of expression but are sorely needed by all that is. Unique Self is true self-seeing through a unique set of eyes. Unique Self has a unique perspective on the world, which creates a new space of insight, which creates new possibilities and new knowing. In fact one might accurately say that True Self plus perspective = Unique Self. The same is true of the unique business.
The Unique Business has a unique perspective on the world, which creates its ability to give Unique Gifts. The Unique business does not superficially imitate competitors but rather turns inwards and outwards to self understand its own unique gifts of service or goods to the market places. The sense of that Unique Gift is the essential energy that guides and directs the business. The Unique business cultivates it’s particular set of eyes to gain unique insight into the market place and the customer which yield new opportunities to give is unique gifts in ways which serves the highest interests of all parties involved. The marketplaces feel the signature uniqueness of the business and reward it with the kind of attention and loyalty, which creates prosperity.
Just like Unique Self naturally realizes his or her larger context so does Unique Business.
For that reason precisely the unique business moves from a shareholder model to a stakeholder model. Unique Business understands that it is naturally constituted not only by investor shareholders but also by a host of other essential stakeholders, which are part of the larger eco system of the business. These stakeholders include employees, vendors and suppliers, families of employees, vendors and suppliers, communities that hold and interface with the business, and even include the environment and future generations. All are part of the true context in which the business needs to both survive and thrive.
Unique Self and Unique Business are each evolutionary emergents, which are just now being recognized. Each are aligned with the unique evolutionary impulse that lives in them as them and through them. Each are sources of iconic evolutionary creativity which creates greater and greater depths of compassion, love and value.