By Diego Isabel Moneda, Economy for the Common Good
“I am you” and the Common good!
How can we achieve such a deep and universal change that allows the transformation of our society into a better world? The formula is quite simple and because of that simplicity it is also magical and powerful. This magic formula is to recognise ourselves in others and recognise the universal Unity of all beings. That feeling of Unity may seem ambitious. However, it has been embedded into every human being who inhabits this planet and also within each of us. We just need to calm our minds and listen to our hearts. That way, we will realise that our individual existence makes sense only through recognition of ourselves in others, in the collective!
The history of humanity has been marked by the need to strike a balance between the individual and the collective, between “I” and “we”. Different tribes of humans who lived in different places and moments of human existence were aware of their unity both with other beings and with nature and they developed different symbols and customs to keep this consciousness alive. One of the most powerful symbols which influence on our behaviour and our awareness is language. For that reason, these tribes kept this feeling of unity through the greeting.
For example, when Mayas used the word “In Lak ́ech”, which means “I am you”, to say “hello”, the other person replied by saying Hala Ken” which means “And I recognise myself in yourself”. The language was also used by various African tribes in the same way. Koshas greeted each other with the word – well known today – “Ubuntu” which means “I am because we are”.
Nowadays we live in an individualist society in which the balance between “I” and “we” has been broken and people do not even know and greet they neighbours. We are not living the values of the message “I am you”. Capitalism system promotes, by definition, capital accumulation and money turns into a goal rather than a means for the exchange of products and services. Furthermore, it is not strange that success is measured in terms of financial success instead of quality of life, happiness or the blossoming of human relationships.
Therefore, indicators of success are financial indicators of success and governments focus on their gross domestic product, companies assess their profit and even people measure their life success in terms of economic incomes. Moreover, in order to achieve financial success the method encouraged by the system is competition among governments, companies and people which results in promoting negative values such as greed, selfishness, envy and even different types of violence.
The concept of the Common good
In this scenario, more than ever it is necessary to recover the meaning of “I am you” through the concept of common good. In this way we will be able to find the balance between individualism and community life. First it is important to properly define the Common good. Everyone understands the term “good” when used. However, understanding varies from person to person. The meaning of “good food”, “a good profession” or a “good conversation” differs depending on each person’s opinion. Things get even more complicated when the concept “common good” is used, since an agreement on what is good for the individual (“I”) and what is good for the community (“we”) is hard to achieve.!
The concept of “common good” and its links with politics have been studied throughout history from a metaphysical approach. Aristotle considered the good life as the chief end, both for the community as a whole and for each individual; and, in the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas stated that law is intended by its nature to the common good (Aquinas). Since the eighteenth century, the common good has been widely accepted as the main objective of politics and government because “the pursuit of the common good would enable the state to act as a moral community” (Rousseau 1973).
Although the concept has been broadly used in modern politics, not many authors have dared to give a definition of the common good. Indeed his “Theory of Justice”, Rawls (1972) defines the common good as “certain general conditions that are in an appropriate sense equally to everyone ́s advantage” incorporating the principles of equality and justice to the meaning of common good. According to this school of thought, Christian Felber – founder of the movement of the “Economy for the Common Good” – has listed the principles of human dignity, solidarity, sustainability, social justice, transparency and democratic participation as inherent to policies aimed at the common good (Felber, 2015). However, since the eighteenth century, the time when economic thinking starts to move away from philosophical thought, new interpretations of the concept of the Common good have been widely spread in Western political thought with an opposite approach to the vision of Aristotle, Aquinas or Rousseau. These new interpretations define the common good under the framework of capitalism and the worship of capital. For instance, under the scope of utilitarianism the Common good is understood as the greatest good for the greatest number and this vision has been used to justify wars or the violation of human rights through torture. Moreover, the greatest good does not tell us anything about social justice, it excludes minority groups, it uses to be linked to high inequality and does not care about the ecological sustainability and the future generations.
New definition for the Common good
A definition of the Common good should contain the philosophy of “I am you” in order to promote the feeling of unity and to find the balance between the individual and the collective, between the satisfaction of the personal aims and the harmonious life in community.
To this end, I provide a new definition of the common good with a metaphysical approach that is based on both the roots of the philosophy of “I am you” and wisdom provided by the natural sciences. This definition is also useful to guide not only the behaviour of individuals but also to guide the role of governments, businesses and other organisations.
My definition of the Common good : “The Common good is an ideal ecosystem in which coincide and coexist the conditions under which each and every human being – regardless of his/her individual characteristics and capabilities -, in a freely and self-determined way, has full capacity to develop and reach his/her highest potential as an individual and as a social being”
Let’s see in detail some aspects of the definition:
Whole society (citizens and their different forms of organisation) should aim at building this ideal ecosystem. However, limitations and mistakes as human beings and as society should be accepted. Consequently, “…the conditions under which each and every human being…. reach his/ her highest potential…” will not exist simultaneously. That is why governments should design procedures to monitor the performance of policies and the achievement of the common objectives.
“Regardless of his/her individual characteristics and capabilities”: This phrase emphasises that anyone can achieve their individual good within the dedicated ecosystem.
“Freely and self-determined”: Freedom of each individual is respected and people are able and free to decide about their own life. The ecosystem provides the conditions that make it possible that everybody achieves his/her individual good at the same time that contributes to the good of the other citizens.
“Full capacity to develop and reach his/her highest potential as an individual and as a social being”. Within the metaphysical vision of the common good, each person is able to reach its maximum potential as an individual (“I”) as well as a social being (“we”). In the ecosystem of the Common good, people can evolve individually and collectively and they can live meaningful lives. Different roles that a Person can have in his/her life are included within the concept of “highest potential as an individual and as a social being”. A person can aim at his/her highest potential as a friend, as a member of a family (father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter), as a professional, as a neighbour and as a member of any other group. Thus, people can find his/her highest potential in each role and, consequently, in his/her life.
The definition promotes and protects the principles of equality, justice and freedom and strikes the balance between “I” and “we” in order to achieve the individual good and the common good. Under this definition, companies, other organisations and governments are instruments which serve people. All of them should aim at contributing to the common good of each of its stakeholders and money should only be a mean to serve that goal. Similarly, the economy, financial markets or trade will never be goals by themselves and they will be mechanisms to create the ecosystem of the Common good. Finally, the definition will also pave the way to strengthen participation and democracy as it promotes interaction among citizens and foster the blossoming of positive relationships.
By understanding the meaning of the words “I am you” and recovering the common good as the main objective of our society we might be able to address our main problems and co-create a better world.
Diego Isabel – Coordinator of the Global Expansion of the movement of the “Economy for the Common Good » – is author of “Yo soy Tú: Propuesta para una Nueva Sociedad”. Octaedro 2013 and co-author of “Dentro de 15 años”, LID 2014.
Aristotle, The politics of Aristotle. Ernest Barker, Oxford University Press, Book III, 1946.
Christian Felber, 2015. Change Everything. Creating an Economy for the Common Good. Zed Books.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The social contract; and, Discourses. Translation [from the French] and introduction by G.D.H. Cole, revised and augmented by J.H. Brumfitt and John C. Hall. London Dent, 1973.
John Rawls, 1972. A theory of justice. Oxford University Press, Chapter Four. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica.
Timothy McDermott, Allen Texas, Christians Classics, 1991.