On Altruism and Compassion in Economic Systems
Next year's Mind and Life Conference is called "Altruism and Compassion in Economic Systems: A Dialogue Between Economics, Neuroscience and Contemplative Sciences." Here's a quote from the homepage of the conference's site, CompassionEconomics.org:
"The ongoing global financial crisis shows clearly just how vulnerable economic systems are to human behavior, particularly to corruption and greed. This strongly suggests that other qualities, such as empathy, pro-social motivation, altruism and compassion may play an essential role in our increasingly competitive global economic system.
But can we really imagine an economic system that delivers prosperity and welfare, or is competition an unavoidable consequence of the human race? How can we, as individuals, help form a society that is both productive and resolves actual societal and environmental problems? What have the sciences to contribute – if anything at all?"
As an atheist as well as one who once considered herself a quasi-Buddhist, but found Buddhism to be not the un-religion it is touted to be, I find Mind and Life to be helpful because their dialogue has largely been about something I know to be true, yet something that many atheists scoff at: the benefits of meditation.
I don't appreciate when meditation is lumped in with New Age and "spiritual" practices and rituals and retreats with a goal of "bliss" or "enlightenment" or "total consciousness" (whatever that is). What I do appreciate, and what Mind and Life does, is when meditation is discussed in relation to actual emotional, physical and mental benefits. This has nothing to do with god or transcending spiritually; it's about calming and clearing the mind and the emotions so that you're less crazy. There . . . I said it.
As for altruism and compassion in economic systems, I'd rather see a basis in social justice. But maybe that's just semantics for the folks at CompassionEconomics and maybe that's the direction they're going.
I look forward to hearing about the findings of the conference, and what, if any, solutions the group develops to what they believe are the ills of the global economy.