Introduction Editorial

The Evolutionary Potential of Wealth

True Wealth | What Matters Most?

We have crossed a threshold, and life just a few months ago feels like the distant past. What matters most now?

When we started working on this edition, fires were raging in Australia, new alarms were being raised by indigenous leaders to protect our waters from dangerous fracking and pipelines, and ‘regenerative agriculture’ was finally gaining some currency in the mainstream. Surely, we decided, our forests and animals, clean water, and rich soil are all true wealth!

And now…wellness. Our health and the wellbeing of our loved ones has suddenly come into laser focus, the freedom to simply take a deep clear breath. Take one now and send loving gratitude to your lungs, your body. Yes, it is true wealth just to breathe. The ability to breathe unites us all.

So, where is ‘money’ in all of this? Is money wealth? We know that the race to accumulate monetary wealth has played a historically destructive role extracting, commodifying and exploiting Nature’s abundance and living beings. And, as the dual forces of the stock market – greed and fear – play a tug-of-war with the economy, millions are losing their small savings, needed retirement funds, future dreams. For those with no savings at all, not having enough money to provide for hungry families is a very deep form of suffering.

So, I’m hesitant to uplift other forms of ‘capital’ right now – intellectual, spiritual, relational…or to speak of the pandemic as a unifying force for good. I’m reminded instead of a gatha one of my teachers recently shared. ‘Breathing in, my mind is clear; breathing out, I don’t know.’ We don’t know where things are heading, whether the virus will unify or divide. Mental clarity though, is more precious than gold – awareness of the body, of the breath, appreciation for the sky and the trees, helpfulness toward our neighbors, compassion for our communities.

Still, I find myself wondering, what is the evolutionary purpose of material wealth? What role could and should money play at this time?

We may think that economic disparity is the inevitable result of human economic activity. I’m not an economist, but what I understand from the study of cultures is that for about 99% of our time on Earth, it wasn’t the case. Only with the rise of agriculture and sedentism, living in one place for a long time, did ‘surplus’ emerge. Prior to that, and even to this day, humans bartered. But barter was never necessarily a direct trade, ‘this for that’. Instead, in most pre-agricultural communities, complex systems of reciprocal exchange, based on kinship, communal memory, and trust were the norm. I might give you a basket of fruit today, and you will recall that my cousin helped you build your home last season – and so when my mother becomes ill next winter, you will send your daughter with healing medicines to help care for her. These agreements were mostly unspoken and mediated by the entire community.

Today however, greed is the norm. It is easy to vilify the ‘one percent’, to blame ‘them’ for the entire mess of greedy modernism. But, looking deeper, we can acknowledge that the seed of greed lives in each of us and is baked in the cake of the consumerist mindset. And to be fair, wealth and generosity can go hand-in-hand.

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. – Matthew 19:24

What do we make of ‘the wealthy’? Some people say Matthew’s pronouncement about the “eye of the needle” may have referred to a literal small gate in the old city of Jerusalem that a camel could pass through only once it shed the belongings strapped to its sides. True or not, we have all heard the phrase, ‘you can’t take it with you’. Then why do we live in a world where the richest 1% own half the world’s money? Could this extraordinary disparity have an evolutionary purpose?

Source | Congressional Budget Office

Let’s consider the argument that many of modernity’s increasingly complex problems will require vast sums of concentrated wealth to ‘fix’, or at least address. New viruses need new vaccines. Worldwide carbon sequestration, forest conservation, soil regeneration, wildlife protection, water purification, and global education all require investment and charitable giving on massive scales. That ‘spike’ on the right-hand side of the wealth chart? Could it be the evolutionary sword that helps us break through to the next planetary era? Wicked wealth to solve wicked problems?

Brian Swimme reminds us that all accumulated wealth is comprised of surplus photons from the Sun. If we are looking for a model of supreme cosmological generosity, we can find it at the center of our solar system, he says. The Sun sacrifices more than 4 billion tons of its body into energy every second, radiating freely in all directions, with no discrimination. Swimme likens this to the evolutionary urge in the human heart to give freely to others – our time, attention, and care – to our children and loved ones, our communities, and beings in distress.

Right now, the greatest generational wealth transfer in human history is underway. Over the next 25 years, 45 million U.S. households will pass a mind-boggling $68 trillion to their children. Can Swimme’s cosmological model point young inheritors toward a new vision for giving during this pivotal evolutionary moment? To learn more I convened with millennials at Family Office and Family Foundation events, and at the NEXUS USA Summit in Washington, D.C. NEXUS serves ‘the next generation of influential families around the world”.

What I learned was encouraging, and even inspiring. There is a growing cohort of young inheritors of great wealth who are waking up to the evolutionary potential of their money.

This cohort wants to do the right thing, but just like us, they need help overcoming their fear, and in some cases, shame about money and the historic trauma attached to it. They need to unravel complex family dynamics and archaic family investments. They need wise guidance and initiation experiences to help them understand the unique role they can play when they align their values with highest Purpose. Let us not disparage their aspiration. We need them, and they need us. Much good can, and has been done by philanthropy and social-impact investment when it is driven by compassion and fairness. Innovation, guided by spirit, transforms.

Sixty thousand years ago, a cascading series of events diminished the entire human population to about ten thousand freezing, scared, resilient members of Homo sapiens. These are our common grandmothers and grandfathers, the evolutionary portal through which each of us has passed. This is our tribe. The human family may be greatly diminished some day again, if not by this pandemic then by some other series of events. Or maybe this is the beginning of the great unraveling. ‘Sole’ survival should not be our focus. ‘Soul’ survival should.

Whatever happens, we have the capacity right now to breathe, to regard the sky in awe, to still hear birdsong, to smile to a child, and embrace a loved one. Let us unite our hearts and bring forward the best ideas, the best blueprints, the best stories and songs, humanity’s best efforts for those generations yet to come. Let us model the planetary era we wish to usher in, giving, receiving, sharing freely. We need everyone’s gifts, and we need to be able to offer our own, in all directions, like the Sun.

Please look to the wisdom of the writers and artists in this edition to inspire and guide you. Kosmos is a refuge and a wellspring of hope in troubled times. A new world and a new human is evolving, and you can track and participate in this unfolding through Kosmos.

May all beings be well.

About Rhonda Fabian

Rhonda Fabian is Editor of Kosmos Quarterly. She is an ordained member in the Order of Interbeing, an international Buddhist community founded by her teacher, Thích Nhất Hạnh. Rhonda is also a founding partner of Immediacy Learning, an educational media company that has impacted millions of learners worldwide.

Read more