Enclosure and Depletion of Spiritual Capital

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An excerpt from Charles Eisenstein book on Sacred Economics, chapter 5


An excerpt from the book, Sacred Economics, by Charles Eistenstein:

“Spiritual capital is more subtle. It refers to our mental and sensuous capacities, for example, the ability to concentrate, to create worlds of the imagination, and to derive pleasure from experiencing life. When I was young, in the very last days before television and video games came to dominate American childhood, we created our own worlds with intricate story lines, practicing the psychic technologies that adults can use to fashion their lives and their collective reality: forming a vision, telling a story around that vision that assigns meanings and roles, playing out those roles, and so on. Today, those worlds of the imagination come prefabricated from TV studios and software companies, and children wander through cheap, gaudy, often violent worlds created by distant strangers. These come with prefabricated images as well, and the ability to form their own images (we call this ability imagination) atrophies. Unable to envision a new world, the child grows up accustomed to accepting whatever reality is handed her.6 Could this, perhaps, be contributing to the political passivity of the American public?

Another depletion of spiritual capital comes via the intense sensory stimulation of electronic media. Modern action films, for instance, are so fast-paced, so loud, so grossly stimulating, that older movies seem boring in comparison, not to mention books or the world of nature. Despite my best efforts to limit their exposure to modern excesses, my children can barely stand to watch any film made before 1975.

Once habituated to intense stimulation, in its absence we get the withdrawal symptom we call boredom. We become dependent, and therefore must pay to acquire something that was once available simply by virtue of being alive. A baby or a hunter-gatherer will be fascinated by the slow processes of nature: a twig floating on the water, a bee visiting a flower, and other things that are beyond the anemic attentiveness of modern adults. Just as the Roman coloni had to pay to use the land they needed to survive, so also must most people today pay the owners of the processes, media, and capital necessary to create the extreme sensory stimulation that they need to feel alive.

It may not be readily apparent that spiritual capital constitutes a commons. What has really been appropriated here is a locus of attention. The capabilities of the human mind that I call spiritual capital do not exist in isolation; it is our upbringing, our nurture, our cultural surroundings that foster and direct them. Our ability to imagine and to obtain sensory fulfillment is to a great degree a collective ability, one today that we can no longer exercise from the freely available sources of mind and nature, but must purchase from their new owners.

The collective attention of the human race is a commons like the land or the air. Like them, it is a raw material of human creativity. To make a tool, to do any work, to do anything at all requires that one place attention on that task rather than on some other. The ubiquity of advertising and media in our society is a co-optation of the collective human attention, and a depletion of our divine bequest. On the road, everywhere my eyes turn, there is a billboard. On the subway, on the internet, on the street, commercial messages reach out to “capture” our attention. They infiltrate our very thoughts, our narratives, our inner dialog, and via these, our emotions, desires, and beliefs, turning all toward the making of product and profit. Our attention is hardly our own anymore, so easily do the powers of politics and commerce manipulate it.

After it has been so long manipulated, chopped up, habituated to intense stimuli, and jerked around from one lurid but empty object to another, our attention is so fragmented we cannot sustain it long enough to create anything independent of the programs that surround us. We lose our capacity to sustain thought, understand nuance, and put ourselves in another person’s shoes. Susceptible to any simplistic narrative with immediate emotional appeal, we are easy targets not just for advertising, but for propaganda, demagoguery, and fascism. In various ways, all of these serve the money power.” (http://www.realitysandwich.com/sacred_economics_ch_5_corpse_commons)