One of the sources of inspiration for Beautiful Economy is the Alhambra in Granada. Last October we visited this 1000-years old marvel of Islamic architecture, and almost every day I remember being inside its walls, surrounded by art, science and spirituality. Feeling at ease, at peace, and with a strong sense that this place has something to teach us.
The Alhambra was designed to reflect the beauty of Paradise. And indeed, the gardens, palaces and waterways all breathe heavenly quality. In spite of receiving thousands of visitors each day, the place has maintained a serenity. It allows you to slow down while drifting along the endless patterns of arabesque, woodwork and tile tessellations. To be taken away by the detail and by the entirety.
Titus Burckhardt explains that ‘the islamic designs do not imprison the gaze and direct it to some imaginary world, but rather free it from all the impediments of thought and imagination. They produce in us no fixed idea, but an existential condition, a feeling of tranquility combined with an inner sense of vitality.’
It made me wonder: ‘If a physical structure can evoke the experience of peace and vitality, what about a social structure, the economy?
Ever since its first stage performance in 1673, ‘le Malade imaginaire’ (the imaginary invalid) has been one of the most popular plays in Paris’ Comédie Française. In Molière’s classic, the hypochondriac Argan lives his life surrounded by doctors and apothecaries, summoning them to examine and treat his imaginary illnesses, while at the same time getting consumed by worries about the mounting bills for medications.
For the last three hundred years, ‘le Malade imaginaire’ has been played and re-played in theaters around the world. The story has retained its popularity across cultures and generations, as it shares an essential ingredient with all other good stories: ‘le Malade’ contains a life lesson, a snippet of wisdom intricately woven into the story, inviting the audience to listen carefully and reflect on its meaning in their own daily life. Good stories mirror us, offer an insight into our own behaviour, and strengthen our inner compass.
So what can Molière and his story on physical and mental health teach us about today’s economic environment?
All revolutions need a Spring. A season in which all that is alive under the surface finds its way out into the open. A season in which that what is dormantly present finds form and becomes visible, tangible, sensible. A season in which pioneers raise their heads and voices, risking the death of returning frost. A season of birth, flowering, buzz and pollination. All revolutions need a Spring, a season of metamorphosis of potential into material reality.
Two years ago I happened to live in Sweden, a country with a long, dark Winter. For months on end, the bay in front of our cottage had been frozen and covered with a thick layer of snow. The nights seemed never-ending, while the days were grey and passed in the wink of an eye. Our bodies were craving kanel-bulle to keep themselves warm, while our social life had gone into hibernation.
At the end of the dark season, a friend lent me the book Animate Earth in which Stephan Harding explains James Lovelock’s famous Gaia Theory; the planet as a living and self-regulating system. A day after I finished the book the sun was out. Continue reading
A first post seems to ask for some sort of introduction, a getting-to-know-each-other, a testing the water rather than diving in at the deep end. But the inquiry called Beautiful Economy has no clear beginning. Or rather, it has many.
So why don’t I start with a memory. A very vivid memory of a moment in which reality shifted. A tiny yet radical turning point between ‘life before’ and ‘life after’ the penny dropped. This particular penny had been in free-fall for a while, and it was Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher with his article Self-realization: An ecological approach to being in the world, who secured its landing.
An economist by trade, I had been searching for models of moral philosophy in line with the realities of the earth and human nature. Alternative economic theories that respect the dynamics of the ecosystems we depend on, that view people as relational beings, and theories that take a qualitative approach to well-being. Continue reading