The true sharing economy represents the end of the old ways defined by the pursuit of profit and competitive self-interest, while a new age of intergovernmental sharing and cooperation can only begin through the channel of ending hunger in a world that has such an abundance of financial capital and available resources. That is where the spiritual and transformative vision of sharing is to be found, with far-reaching implications beyond what most of us can presently imagine, writes Mohammed Mesbahi.
“Any act that tries to contribute towards ending the prevalent suffering caused by absolute poverty is, in itself, the purest expression of a sharing economy via the heart, via our maturity and via common sense, especially if that act is focused on trying to persuade our political representatives to commit to sharing the resources of the world.”
What is the sharing economy, and what is its meaning and significance for the world we live in today? If you try and investigate this question through the internet, there are many debates and misleading definitions that you will soon come across. The sharing economy is commonly understood as a rising phenomenon of the new millennium that leverages information technology through peer-to-peer platforms, empowering individuals to share goods and services through bartering, leasing or the swapping of private assets. There is also a revival of non-monetised initiatives under this broad umbrella which enable communities to share more in their daily lives, whether it’s through informal groups that come together with a common aim and purpose, or cooperative endeavours that provide shared access to skills, time, knowledge and productive spaces. Despite some controversies that have dogged the most popular initiatives in recent years, many of their leading advocates continue to have an idealistic vision of how the sharing economy can help to catalyse a social transition towards a more egalitarian, participatory and environmentally sustainable world.
But are these technology-driven innovations and primarily market-mediated forms of exchange really the sum total of what it means to ‘share’ in modern societies? And is it true that the sharing economy is still in its infancy today, as is so often stated by those who comment on this fast expanding trend? The fact is that sharing has always been with us as a distinctly human characteristic, and even applies to the sub-human kingdoms of nature as well as the higher spiritual realms that are much hypothesised in esoteric philosophy. We have always shared within our homes and families without the need for smartphones and high technology, which would include the sharing of food, heating and the other basic necessities of life, as well as the living space, conviviality and mutual support that is fundamental to our health and prosperity. We share the common lands with our neighbours and communities; we share the roads, the public transport, the air and nature that surrounds us. Humanity would never have survived since the arrival of the earliest hominin unless we practised sharing on an interpersonal and communal basis, which is an evolutionary trait that behavioural scientists and anthropologists have long recognised as intrinsic to our essential nature.
It is also a trait that is necessarily expressed, however incipiently or insufficiently, on both national and global levels through appropriate government activity on behalf of the common good. The Roman Empire is renowned for institutionalising many forms of economic sharing, for example, while the contemporary welfare state has its roots in the social insurance schemes introduced by Bismarck in Germany during the 1880s. The National Health Service created by the United Kingdom in the 1940s is perhaps a foremost example in modern history of a domestic sharing economy that exists to protect all citizens from the insecurities of life, as replicated across Western Europe and other industrialised nations in its various semblances. Of the many different levels and modes of sharing within nations, the ideal of universality in social service provision and social protection through redistributive policies is, arguably, the most practical expression of economic sharing that humanity has yet realised.
Of course, not everyone would agree with this simple observation, considering that the founding principles of such publicly-funded systems—concerning equality of opportunity, the equitable distribution of wealth, and the collective responsibility for securing everyone’s basic human rights—are now being jeopardised by the increasing market orientation of our societies. Indeed for reasons that we shall broadly elucidate, the worldwide implementation of these principles through intergovernmental cooperation is far from a reality in the early 21st century, despite the rapid process of international integration over recent decades in terms of cross-border trade, migration flows, foreign investment and other dimensions of globalisation.
Nonetheless, it remains a fact that the sharing economy has always been with us in one form or another, thus it is mistaken to believe that the economic practise of sharing is still in its infancy today. It should be obvious that sharing has forever played its part in our everyday lives, regardless of how long we have managed to avoid its crucial manifestation as a principle that underpins our global economic system. Only now it appears that we’ve suddenly become aware of the importance of sharing and cooperation as the keystone of economic life, even if that understanding has been largely limited to the emerging forms of collaboration and co-production in commercial spheres. To be sure, these activities based on mutualised access to products and services are certainly in their infancy, although they are really the revival of ancient practices of social interrelationship that are now being facilitated by modern business methods and advanced computer technologies. The underlying mode of interaction is comparable to much earlier human civilisations, except that everything is now happening so much faster than before, and through such innovative and sophisticated techniques, that it gives rise to the illusion of being completely original.
There is also a curious relationship between the advancing technologies of recent decades and the seemingly rapid passing of time, which has further given rise to the sense that society is evolving very quickly, and that we are even approaching a new era in which sharing could become the defining modus operandi in global economic and social affairs. That impression may well be proven true, but have we properly understood what sharing means for the world as a whole, however earnestly we may be responding to this visionary thoughtform that is everywhere pervading human consciousness?
Before we add the word ‘economy’ to the word ‘sharing’, we should first of all ponder the human value of sharing per se in the context of this unfortunate planet in which the forces of commercialisation are creating such havoc and devastation. If we are seriously interested in investigating what sharing means in relation to world problems, we must begin with an awareness that rampant commercialisation is the greatest danger facing humanity today, based as it is on the opposite propensities to sharing in both its theoretical and literal meaning. This may sound like another very basic observation, but how can you have a viable sharing economy in a world that is so unequal as a result of centuries of colonialism, imperialism and laissez-faire globalisation, leading to such discrepancies in living standards within and between different countries? Yet few sharing economy advocates appear to begin from this fundamental standpoint, which is to perceive the urgent necessity of sharing the world’s resources as an antidote to the enduring crime of widespread penury amidst plenty.
Perhaps you believe that the prevalence of poverty is steadily improving, and as such it is an issue that can be left to our governments to resolve. After all, most leading politicians and business executives continue to propagate such a message during high-profile conferences, like the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. Even some aid and development organisations have fallen into the trap of believing the myth that rising prosperity for the few will eventually benefit the majority, notwithstanding the visible evidence of widening inequalities of wealth and income on an unprecedented scale—including the ongoing destabilisation of Europe due to an unstoppable influx of poor refugees and migrants.
Heads of state may have vowed to end all forms of poverty by 2030, as recently enshrined in the United Nation’s Post-2015 Development Agenda, but it’s not difficult to perceive the fallacy of such promises while governments remain subject to the ‘commercialisation paradigm’, as we have discussed elsewhere. That is to say, a prevailing political context in which the excessive influence of major corporations over government policymaking decisions makes it almost impossible to conceive of states committing to the international arrangements necessary to respect, protect and fulfil every individual’s established socio-economic rights. The moment there is another global financial crisis, as widely anticipated, do we really believe that the dire hardships of the poorest citizens will be immediately prioritised by our existing government administrations? And do we believe that the noble elites who gather in Davos will make any less profits in their business dealings, even if the extreme poverty rate drastically surges?
One might presume that these are the kind of political and moral questions to begin asking oneself, if we are truly concerned about seeing the principle of sharing implemented as a global process that can meet the common needs of all people in all countries. But unfortunately, the sharing economy as presently understood is not remotely born of the awareness that humanity must share its resources more equitably in response to multiple converging crises, and on the basis of a civilisational emergency. It seems the sharing economy today is predominantly related to commercial activity, to a vaguely collectivistic notion of accessing pre-owned goods or commoditised services, but not to the awareness that we must share the bounteous produce of this Earth if humanity is to survive. It is certainly not related to the idea of helping the world’s hungry and destitute, the two billion people or more who suffer from undernourishment and other severe poverty-related deprivations.
Even those who espouse the sharing economy’s environmental benefits are not rightly concerned with the meaning of sharing in relation to the critical world situation, as evidenced by such arguments that car sharing will mean there are less cars on the road, or that tool sharing libraries will mean less new products are purchased by individuals in affluent communities. Such a case may be empirically validated, but if that is the extent of our thinking on sharing then we are still trapped within the conditioning or ‘ism’ of consumerism, and limiting our awareness to the idea of ‘consuming less’, which has nothing to do with the sharing economy as properly envisioned and universally expressed. We should be very careful to perceive how commercialisation hides in those new technologies, and how it makes us blind to the forces that condition us to buy and endlessly consume expensive merchandise, while we remain indifferent to the greater environmental and social problems of the world around us.
Possibly 90 percent of the supposed sharing economy is associated with commercial profit-making and self-interest to some degree, regardless of any positive social effects that may result from the usage of these cooperative internet platforms. Are we really convinced that this is where the true meaning of sharing is to be found, in accordance with its deepest philosophical and spiritual implications? What we have really created is a new method for comfortable living, although that method is so constrained by money-making incentives that it is better described as a gentler form of commercialisation. The human mind loves to create new methods and ‘isms’, like the priest who believes in a particular conception of God, and then goes to study in a seminary that God which his own thinking has created. Without being aware of our mental conditioning and social conformity, the sharing economy advocate is sadly the same in promoting a more convenient and enjoyable way of life within an unsustainable, grossly unjust and increasingly unequal society that has no meaningful connection to the inner spiritual reality of our interdependent lives.
Thus instead of directing our sharing economy idea towards an emancipatory conception of justice and human rights, we continue to lower ourselves to the same level of consciousness as the corporate marketer who convinces us to ‘buy one and get one for free’. There may be nothing wrong with promoting the ideas of collaborative consumption or shared ownership for budding entrepreneurs, but let’s not pretend that we have reinvented the principle of sharing for the greatest good of the greatest number. In psychological terms it should be understood, at best, as a less stressed mode of living for the more privileged.
To look at the nature of sharing in its profoundest philosophical and spiritual aspects, it may be discerned that the above-mentioned forms of interpersonal sharing are associated with the personality or lower self, which is a meagre reflection of the higher level of soul awareness that is conscious of the inherent unity and interconnectedness of humanity as a whole. We are all capable of realising this higher awareness that lies dormant and ever-present within us, however much it is suppressed in these materialistic times by solely focusing our energies on what makes us feel comfortable and emotionally undisturbed within the little boxes of our social lives.
This means that if you try and talk to someone whose energies are preoccupied with the lower personal forms of sharing and collaboration, they will not be interested in listening to your case for sharing resources between the governments of all nations to irrevocably end poverty, conflict and environmental destruction. Despite that deeper awareness of what sharing means lying quiescently within them, they will refuse to look at it and automatically reject its transformative implications, because they feel more comfortable with the easy idea of sharing personal belongings within a local community. Yet the implementation of the principle of sharing in world affairs is unlikely to be a comfortable experience at first, for there is so much work to be done, and so many oppositional forces that must be confronted in business and political spheres. Without doubt, those accumulated forces will eventually disturb us in our self-absorbed lives and well-intentioned endeavours, and it will not be long until we are pushed to awaken to the necessity of social transformation as the world’s many crises prolong and climax in coming years.
The true sharing economy represents the end of the old ways defined by the pursuit of profit and competitive self-interest, while a new age of global sharing and cooperation can only begin through the channel of ending hunger in a world with such an abundance of financial capital and available resources. For now, the true sharing economy begins with the poor, belongs to the poor, and remains beholden to the poor from any moral or real-world perspective. It will never begin from a petty notion of enhancing the convenience of our everyday lives, and so long as the idea of sharing is reduced to such a complacent and self-referential understanding, it will inevitably collapse and become redundant in the longer term. In the meantime, however, there may be lots of opportunities for making money under the commercialised banner of sharing, if that is our primary concern. How convenient indeed!
There is nothing to stop us from capitalising on the new sharing technologies and so-called disruptive business models, but we should at least try to be aware of and honest about our underlying motives and psychological attitudes. Are we really thinking about others and the state of the world as we carry on with our consumer-driven sharing behaviours, or is it all about ourselves once again? Please look very closely at the sharing economy initiatives that have so far arisen throughout the Western world, and ask yourself if they have anything to do with the inner faculties of spiritual awareness that exemplify love, right relationship and the highest intelligence of man.
Most of the sharing advocates of today are pursuing the easiest and least stressful mode of human relations in affluent society, compared to the millions of marginalised people who are fighting for justice in poorer countries by giving of their blood, their freedom, their families and often of their lives. That is the hard-core way of sharing, the real and toilsome path that is witnessed through the struggles of dispossessed indigenous peoples in India, the Palestinians in Gaza, the landless labourers in South America, the shack-dwellers and smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, the exploited garment workers in special economic zones across Asia, and so many others—all of whom are implicitly demanding from their governments a sharing economy that can fulfil their most basic human rights.
Many popular uprisings are also indirectly calling for a sharing economy to be instituted through more inclusive and redistributive government policies, which would include the Arab Spring wave of demonstrations that aimed at deposing corrupt political regimes, as well as the anti-austerity demonstrations and Occupy movements that have mobilised in the name of increased social and economic equality. We can perceive for ourselves how all these diverse protest activities are the manifestation of a growing call for sharing, even if that call is unconsciously expressed through a raw response to the injustice that stems from the imposition of an unfair economic system. To stand up for justice in a world that is characterised by growing inequalities and economic precariousness for the majority is inevitably a stressful undertaking, hence it is understandable that the word ‘sharing’ is not on the lips of those activists who oppose the major corporations with their exploitative and profit-seeking activities, along with the governments who uphold the interests of those powerful bastions of privilege and wealth.
Observe also the frontline servers of humanity within groups like the Red Cross or Médecins Sans Frontières, who together demonstrate the truest expression of the terms ‘sharing’ and ‘economy’ by working ceaselessly to assist neglected citizens in war-torn and impoverished regions, irrespective of caste, creed or race. There are many architects of the inchoate and unsung sharing economy, in this respect, who inadvertently define the true meaning of sharing in their advocacy work and plans for world reconstruction. The list is long and familiar, comprising as it does the myriad progressive scholars, civil society organisations and political campaigning networks who seek a more just and ecologically sustainable form of development, central to which is the policy and institutional changes needed to bring about a fairer distribution of world resources. These fervent thinkers and coalitions of activists may not overtly recognise the interrelation of their fight for justice with a call for implementing the principle of sharing worldwide, but the connection is palpable and real for anyone who perceives the problem of our dysfunctional societies on the basis of a compassionate awareness of the whole.
So how closely do we believe that the commercialised sharing initiatives of today are aligned with these great social struggles and citizens’ movements that point the way towards a true sharing economy, one that is realised through a transformation in government priorities on behalf of the subjugated poor? None of the sharing economy practitioners in community-level movements appear to be interested in dedicating their efforts towards urging our political leaders to share the nation’s surplus wealth and resources, if only to prevent the deaths of circa 18 million people who die prematurely each year from poverty-related causes, often from malnutrition and childhood diseases that are barely witnessed in more affluent countries. If that is our heartfelt and motivating concern, and not the comfort or convenience of our privileged lives within our local communities, then perhaps we can rightfully identify ourselves as a founding sharer and an ambassador to humanity. But if our idea of sharing remains limited to the confines of our own neighbourhood or social peer group, then we clearly have no idea what sharing can achieve as the royal road towards environmental sustainability, peace and justice.
There are innumerable communities around the world that have attempted to share among themselves and achieve a more harmonious and sustainable way of life, however it is time to ask ourselves what such communities can achieve when the world’s ecological crises are rapidly reaching the point of no return. Manifold spiritual communities and eco-villages have long emerged and then disbanded in the fullness of time, although the intensifying trends of commercialisation over recent decades may eventually end all possibilities of achieving a self-sustaining community idyll, so long as these trends are left unchecked in a world that is becoming irremediably divided and environmentally degraded. This is not to decry the countless grassroots initiatives that aim to reduce individual carbon footprints within modern societies by conserving the Earth’s natural resources, many of which provide invaluable models for how to shift towards sustainable modes of food production, housing, transport, energy generation and so on. The ethics of sharing and sufficiency on a small and local scale may soon become the watchwords of our time, as long recognised by sustainability practitioners in various fields, although even these pioneers of community resilience often fail to mention the words ‘poverty’ or ‘hunger’ in their literature and ideas.
Does this mean they are empowered with an awareness of the whole, and immersed in the human reality of the critical world situation? To believe we can find peace by retreating to a remote community is still a fantasy, no matter how frugal or self-sustaining our lifestyles, considering that the civilisational crisis we face is spiritual in its origins and the outcome of millennia of destructive human behaviours—leading to the repetition of gross injustices and divisions that we have all played a part in throughout our many past incarnations. The underlying intention of leading a peaceful, secluded and sustainable way of life amidst all the suffering and turmoil of these troubled times is actually to divide oneself from the inherent unity of the human race, unless we also contribute our energies towards creating a more equal world in which everyone has their basic needs permanently secured. That spiritual understanding, that inner realisation, and that motivating ideal is the only real peace we can experience within ourselves at this perilous juncture in history, as realised through the knowledge that we are not alone in the struggle for a world that ‘shares’ in any meaningful sense of that term.
What then of the modern evangelists for sharing whose intentions remain knowingly or unknowingly overshadowed by commercialisation, those who have already undignified the principle of sharing with their mental blindness and concern for moneymaking? To be interested in the sharing economy without any concern for the dire suffering of others means that your ideas are merely created by habitual thoughts, without connecting to the inner awareness of the heart. Hence you will only succeed in reducing a profoundly human and spiritual conception into another ‘ism’ that has no relationship whatsoever with the real nature of justice, balance or the oneness of humanity. Out of your desire to create and enjoy a new method for comfortable living, you will inadvertently abduct the principle of sharing for your own self-interested pursuits, until 'shareism' becomes the norm.
Is that not already the case, and should not the proponents of sharing in its many commercialised forms thus be ashamed of themselves? With the obvious knowledge that extreme poverty is still rampant on this Earth, how is it possible that the idea of sharing is not directed towards saving our brothers and sisters who are incessantly dying from preventable diseases or starvation, if not as a result of wars or climate change? What makes man so blind, so poor within and indifferent to the One Life that surrounds him? Why does he limit his awareness to his community, to his new innovations and his fragmented way of life by continuously being attached to his indifference—an indifference that dismisses the wisdom and the many silent cries of his heart? What makes man so small, so trapped and confused within the mechanism of his vain ideations, when he is so free, so great within the very presence of his own soul—a soul with a divine purpose that says LOVE ALL and SACRIFICE FOR ALL THAT LIVES…?
To pursue the idea and praxis of sharing within the paradigm of commercialisation is futile in the end, for these two distinct processes are antithetical in both their inner and outer expression. As we have previously observed, one is divisive in its complexity, while the other is unifying in its simplicity. One is manipulative, amoral and harmful towards both man and the lower kingdoms of nature, while the other is predicated on fairness, harmlessness, awareness, respect and the will-to-good—even love and the profoundest understanding of compassion which our present-day culture has again degraded into its lowermost and often sentimental meaning. Surely the thoughtform of a sharing economy will evolve into a more moral and inclusive idea over time, but as long as it is not grounded in the political meaning of justice for the world’s poor, then it is certain that the transformative vision of sharing resources among governments will remain in its infancy for many, many years to come.
There are an increasing number of intellectuals who are now beginning to engage with the authentic meaning of sharing as a new economic and political paradigm, but even these inspired analyses and proposals generally omit the fact that millions of innocent lives could be saved each year from avoidable poverty-related causes, if only the plentiful resources of this world were fairly shared. While it is an encouraging sign that many able thinkers are examining the concepts of sharing, solidarity and the commons through an academic lens, let us also ask ourselves what our scholarly definitions will achieve for the poorest citizens who are desperately asking their governments to share a measly portion of the nation’s wealth, just so they and their family can eat a square meal each day.
That modest plea from an impoverished person is really the embodiment of the sharing economy in all its purity and essence, so how does the well-fed theoretician of economic sharing somehow ignore this simple truth? The call for sharing in its manifold forms is invariably an expression of common sense, although it is possible to respond to common sense in an overly cerebral manner that can exclude the less educated citizens and eventually confuse us, misguide us and entangle us in endless hypothetical debates about the right path forwards. For this reason, any investigation into the meaning of a sharing economy must begin with a preliminary understanding that chronic undernourishment must be effaced from this Earth as a leading societal and political priority, from which position our many plans and proposals for implementing the principle of sharing into world affairs cannot go too far astray.
Consider an analogy with the physicians who work for Médecins Sans Frontières and would like to see an end to the insanity of war, but first they must deal with the reality that thousands of people in conflict zones are being neglected by their governments, and are thus in need of life-saving medical attention that is sorely lacking in this sorrowful world. In a parallel sense, the intellectual idea of sharing within modern societies is important to debate and hypothesise, but first we must redirect our attention to the millions of people in poorer countries who continue to suffer from severe deprivations without any form of government welfare or public support.
Try to contemplate the inner relationship you may have between your own daily concerns in a relatively privileged and comfortable household, and the reality of life for a person who is at this moment dying from a preventable disease or malnutrition. Your heartfelt awareness about the lives of those who are less fortunate than yourself, and your private intention to do something to help end this spiritual blasphemy in our midst—that awareness is, in itself, an awareness of the need for a sharing economy to be instituted across the world. Any act that tries to contribute towards ending the prevalent suffering caused by absolute poverty is, in itself, the purest expression of a sharing economy via the heart, via our maturity and via common sense, especially if that act is focused on trying to persuade our political representatives to commit to sharing the resources of the world.
Have you ever held someone in your arms who is dying from malnutrition in a poor region such as sub-Saharan Africa, knowing that back home your family and friends are able to access adequate food, healthcare, shelter and sanitation as a basic human right? From that profound and tragic experience, it is assured that your understanding of the sharing economy will assume a different resonance and meaning within your heart and mind, and it is unlikely to be directed solely towards oneself and one’s more advantaged social peer group.
Consider also the person who loses a dearly beloved family member from an incurable disease or tragedy, who then transforms their life purpose by dedicating their time and energies to preventing others from befalling a similar fate, such as by creating a charitable organisation or campaigning for social change. Clearly as the result of a sad event in that person’s life, their inner awareness and empathy has been markedly expanded and redirected, while their erstwhile complacency in regards to that issue has completely vanished. Such is the hope for the sharing economy idea, and on a scale that is inconceivable, if the millions of people who enjoy an adequate standard of living can together expand their empathic awareness to include the needless deprivations experienced by the poorer two-thirds majority of the world population.
We are not trying to contemplate the deeper philosophical meaning of compassion in these sparse analogies, but simply trying to observe, in straightforward human terms, the need for greater awareness in our societies through the common sense that arises from an engaged heart. It not only concerns the need to end the appalling reality of hunger and life-threatening poverty; it is also about love in the most general and pragmatic sense, as expressed in a civilised and moral attitude to life that cares about the needless suffering of others. The present author has discussed before the meaning of love from a basically spiritual and psychological perspective, which is a motivating energy that can bring about the total reorientation of a person’s life pursuits once an awareness of the heart determines one’s inner attitudes and behaviours.
We can observe the psychological and spiritual transformation of an individual via the awakening of the heart in almost every department of human activity, and the misguided advocates of a commercialised or personalised form of economic sharing are certainly no exception to this rule. All we can hope is that the self-proclaimed sharers of today will become aware of how they are degrading the higher meanings of this misapplied principle, and thence change their ways by joining with the millions of others who are valiantly fighting for a just world that permits no-one to suffer or die from a lack of access to life’s essentials.
Now let us turn our attention towards the inner meaning of a sharing economy, bearing in mind that we cannot propose a glossary definition from a spiritual or psychological perspective, for the meaning of sharing stems from the heart and not from intellectual activity alone. Even at the lowest understanding of sharing on a personal and local level as briefly discussed heretofore, we are unlikely to comprehend the real significance of its potential until our thoughts are directed by the heart at all times.
Let the heart be the architect of our sharing economy that we build with awareness and love, otherwise it will never bring about the better world we yearn for. We have tried everything else over millions of years, throughout all the epochs and civilisations that have proudly arisen and long since disappeared; all we have left is love and the heart! But how will we know when humanity is embracing the inner meaning of a sharing economy through the awareness of an engaged heart? Let us affirm, it will not be until a huge swathe of the world population comes together and somehow passionately declares their heartfelt determination to see an end to all forms of poverty everywhere, for once and for all.
Such words are easy to express but far more difficult to conceive of as a reality in the everyday awareness of countless millions of ordinary people. How then can we perceive the inwardly transformative aspects of the sharing economy, when it requires us to have a holistic view of the world that is seldom evidenced in our present-day social and cultural ideations? We may begin by contemplating the discussion above and then going within ourselves to quietly reflect on the deeper meaning of sharing in our divided world, and through our intuition perhaps we will both perceive and feel the emotional significance of what the author is trying to convey.
Compassion in the highest spiritual sense means an awareness of the good of the whole, not only the particular; hence there is no absolute compassion in an awareness that is limited to the good of any single person, family, community or nation. It is by no means a wrongdoing if our awareness is generally preoccupied with the good of our own particular neighbourhood or society, but if we want to perceive the holistic meaning of a sharing economy then we must also expand our empathetic concerns to the needs of the world in its entirety, which requires us to embrace a vision of the One Humanity with sincerity, honesty and maturity. We may care for our own communities first, although we must also turn our attention outwards—as if, for example, I am called to feed my own neighbour who is hungry, before I look towards the world to see that everyone else has their basic needs secured.
A spiritual and holistic understanding of the sharing economy therefore means that we are no longer dividing ourselves from the rest of humanity, either inwardly or outwardly. In this sense, the inner meaning of sharing is far removed from any systematic method of exchanging commoditised goods or services; it means ‘to be with the other’ in all respects—compassionately, morally, ethically and lovingly. It means to have awareness of the existence of the soul and its purpose, which is an esoteric reality that we have yet to comprehend with all its immense implications for our materialistic and commercialised cultures. It also means ‘not to harm’, for there is invariably harmfulness in the opposite propensities to sharing that result in social division and conflict, as principally defined by our greed, selfishness, hatred, and above all our complacency and indifference.
But most of us are so conditioned by the cultural norms of our dysfunctional societies that we are completely blind to these higher significances of sharing, leaving us with no understanding whatever of its extraordinary versatility and import for our spiritual evolution. Hence the universal idea of a sharing economy is far, far greater than most of us can presently envision. If we employ a metaphor of a craftsman who builds forms with material substance, the true innovators of a sharing economy are tasked with building forms through the energy of love; for the primary connotation of sharing in human and spiritual terms is its evidence of the existence of love—a love that means you give and want nothing back in return. Now imagine that the craftsman in our metaphor wants his business to be recognised worldwide, we can likewise see ourselves working for the business of love through selfless service to mankind—and the only way to import and export that love to every country is by universalising our demand for an irrevocable end to poverty-induced hunger.
Reflecting on the above thoughts may help us to better grasp how the sharing economy has almost no relation to the social activities and market transactions that currently define its meaning, as it should rather be rooted in an awareness of the reality of the inner Self, from which understanding it signifies the spark of something new on this Earth that presages a psychological revolution within the consciousness of humanity on a group level. It can also be construed that the moral or spiritual idea of a sharing economy has been with us for millennia, as embodied within many esoteric and religious doctrines and reflected in a symbolic interpretation of the Christ Principle. To borrow from the Christian phraseology, such an interpretation of the inner meaning of sharing among individuals leads to an awareness of the Christ within you, in contradistinction to the simplistic view of sharing in a modern commercialised society that leads to nowhere and nothing except for one’s own comfort, convenience and temporary emotional satisfaction.
This lends a spiritual justification to our assertion that the principle of sharing belongs firstly to the poor and thus resides in the inner heart awareness that dwells within each individual, as variously expressed in all the ancient scriptures and teachings on right human relations. Certainly, the spiritual idea of sharing has never belonged to a self-regarding notion of social wellbeing that is pursued today as if the millions of hungry people across the world did not exist; as if the huge surpluses of food stocks and other essential commodities did not exist; as if the technology and manpower did not exist to transport these indispensable resources to where they are most critically needed.
So there is a marked difference between the meaning of sharing as an accustomed practice between people in their everyday lives, and the divine principle of sharing that can only be understood through the intelligence of an awakened heart and mind. If we were able to raise our consciousness in meditation and properly tune with the principle of sharing as a divine conception, all we would see upon opening our eyes to the world is injustice in every direction, and an unfathomable indifference that allows millions of people to die like flies from hunger while food is left rotting elsewhere and wasted in colossal amounts.
Yet we cannot save these defenceless victims of our indifference unless our governments implement the principle of sharing through a massive international relief effort to provide for adequate housing, health and medical care, sanitation, financial transfers and everything else the poor in less developed countries need to live with dignity and economic security. Only then can we talk about the true beginnings of a sharing economy as the guiding light of global social policy and international development, and we should refer to the Brandt Commission Report of 1980 to garner a broad indication of what it means to share the world’s resources through a comprehensive multilateral plan of action.
That is where the loving, compassionate and mature vision of the sharing economy is to be found, via the concept of an emergency programme of poverty eradication and economic reform that must be structured through the United Nations, since the United Nations is the best hope we have for administering a global system of resource sharing on a permanent and structural basis. Just as governments see the United Nations as an appropriate international body to decide whether or not they should go to war, however ignoble their political motives, it is also the only global institution in existence that can viably represent the common interests of all its member states in reshaping worldwide North-South relations. After all, it was the founding of the United Nations that created both the possibility and hope for a more equitable world order after the Second World War. And despite the need for considerable reform and democratisation of the United Nations System, there is still no gainsaying its potential for coordinating the immense process of redistributing aid and surplus resources to foreseeably end extreme human deprivation within a short span of years.
In sum, we can conclude that the idea of a sharing economy must be universal in its application; it must be predicated on the concern for right distribution as opposed to maximum profitmaking through economic competition; and it must incorporate the principle of giving without seeking anything in return—all of which must be envisioned in terms of a free circulation of essential commodities between nations under a democratised system of global governance. None of this bears much relation to our existing theories and practices of international aid, which is grossly inadequate in its present form and often transferred with conditionalities that primarily benefit multinational corporations or the competitive interests of donor nations. Only secondarily (and often very selectively) does overseas development assistance provide the means for less developed countries to redistribute wealth and improve the lives of their poor majority of citizens, which any political campaigning group will be able to corroborate in painstaking detail.
Can we hereby stretch our imaginations sufficiently to envision a world in which governments fulfil their responsibilities to guarantee all citizens an adequate standard of living, as long enshrined in international human rights law? A world in which the role of NGOs and charities in relieving human suffering is eventually surpassed by the actions of our coordinated governments working through the United Nations, whether in response to life-threatening poverty, conflict, natural disasters or forced migration in any form? A world in which Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is finally guaranteed for every man, woman and child without exception, thus signifying the merest beginnings of a sharing economy that moves in the right direction towards the common good at long last?
The prospect of consummating this vision may not actually seem too radical or utopian, when we also consider the sheer amount of financial capital and wealth that is circulating around the world, and the comparatively negligible sums that are needed to lift everyone out of poverty. Yet no such vision can be realised until a majority of the global public is dedicated to this epochal cause, thence continually pressing every leading politician to put an end to poverty-related suffering as their first and last concern. Can we otherwise expect a sharing economy to be established by political elites taking action at their own behest, when the forces of commercialisation are still dictating the agenda of any politician who comes to power, and ever more so by the day? Or do we believe that billionaire corporate philanthropists can solve the world’s problems on our behalf, without the need for ordinary people to get involved in transforming society by engaging with the attributes of their hearts?
Observe very carefully the actions and intentions of major donors to charities and non-governmental organisations, who often purport to be the heroic saviours of the poor by committing large sums of money to their chosen cause. Even if the outcome of their contribution is to achieve some relative good for those fortunate recipients, it still has no relation to either the inner meaning of a sharing economy in terms of spiritual unity and interrelatedness, or the outer meaning of sharing world resources that must be structured by governments through new economic arrangements and a significantly reformed and re-empowered United Nations system.
Henceforth, if a philanthropist becomes infused with a compassionate awareness of the need to end the existence of poverty altogether as if it were a great civilisational emergency, perhaps they would no longer be driven to make excessive profits from their commercial pursuits, instead committing their time and personal wealth to the cause of realising a cooperative sharing economy among the community of nations. Perhaps they would help build a global network of impassioned and peaceful activists, once recognising that this is the necessary means for persuading our governments to reorder their priorities and bring a measure of peace and justice to the world.
May this thought spark our imagination about what a worldwide show of support for a sharing economy might look like, as built upon an alliance of every conceivable civil society organisation, and backed by the concerted will of innumerable people from every walk of life. Thus shall be the real social movement for sharing in all its consummated glory, as characterised and animated by an explosion of joy across the world, and as recognised by its service to the most disempowered and neglected citizens. Thus shall it be, and thus shall we know that divinity has manifested again in a physical form, when millions upon millions of people uphold Article 25 as a shining beacon for the rehabilitation of our world.
There is much more to discuss and consider as we postulate what a sharing economy signifies in the broadest terms, and it is important to recognise that our awareness of its meaning will gradually change and evolve as the whole architecture of the global economic system is restructured. We have contemplated how a first stage involves an enormous number of people worldwide calling on their governments to redistribute resources towards the hungry and the extremely poor, those who have insufficient access to the basic necessities of life, which can be considered the most primal expression of sharing as a global process that is gradually systematised through the construction of a just economic order. And that is when the true sharing economy will begin to reveal itself through new modes of democratic global governance and transformed modes of trade and finance, well beyond the recommendations proposed by the Brandt Commission in 1980 or the Stiglitz Report in 2009, for example.
Yet we cannot delineate an alternative global economic system that incorporates a process of resource sharing as its basic operating principle, while we continue to suffer from the effects of a corrupt, divisive and unbalanced system that functions in an opposing direction. As much as the Security Council has to be decommissioned before we can envision the great future destiny of the Assembly of Nations, the current economic system must be effectively dismantled before we can envision the anticipated structures based on genuine cooperation and sharing. The theories and blueprints may well exist, as evidenced in the proposals of many forward-looking policy thinkers and civil society groups, but no-one can predict with exactitude the eventual appearance of a commons-based system of global resource distribution in four or five decades time.
Suffice to say that over the past two thousand years, the highest aspiration of governments concerned the need to organise and advance the individuality of each nation on the competitive world stage, as encapsulated in conventional notions of state sovereignty. But as humanity comes of age, the community of nations are tasked with expanding that overly pronounced individuality to the international level in support of the good of the whole, through the sharing of essential resources and a cultural orientation towards ideals of selfless service.
Hence the importance of the United Nations as a new mode of global economic governance is realised on the basis of trust and consensus, with each nation ultimately contributing their surplus resources to some form of global pool that is equitably redistributed on the basis of need and the common good, as opposed to purely commercial considerations or strategic national interests. Such is the quintessential vision of a sharing economy that can promote the interdependency of all nations as one village, while respecting and preserving the distinct identities of diverse populations with all their manifold cultures, racial groups, and religious and political persuasions.
For the reader who finds this vision too vague or lacking in technical details, the main point to reflect upon is that the outer meaning of a sharing economy will go through many stages of understanding in our awareness, since its development is intertwined with and dependent upon the gradual expansion of human consciousness. Again we must return to the inner dimensions of sharing in this light, as the outer or systemic expression of the sharing economy is extremely vast and endlessly evolving over time, and its origins lie not in thoughts or policy prescriptions, but in the latent human faculty of spiritual awareness.
As we earlier intimated, the outer expression of the sharing economy in its final universal form is a reflection of our inner spiritual unity that is a basic truth on higher planes of being or consciousness, namely that reality which is referred to in the Ageless Wisdom teachings as the Kingdom of Souls. If we can accept this premise even as a working hypothesis, then the preceding thoughts may become much clearer in our minds and further inspire us to enquire deeper into this subject for ourselves.
Hearken to the prospect of millions of people worldwide calling on governments to immediately prevent the shameless reality of needless poverty-related deaths; that unprecedented occurrence will represent the first major recognition of our inner spiritual unity on the outer physical plane, as represented by huge numbers of ordinary people uniting in peaceful protest on behalf of the good of the whole—the One Humanity. That magnificent spectacle will also demonstrate the fact that a preliminary consensus exists among a significant proportion of the global public who demand a fairer sharing of planetary resources, those who realise this is our last hope of averting further social, economic and environmental catastrophe. While many shall disagree, no doubt, and while many shall remain impassive or unmoved by the worsening trends of world crises, the fact of a consensus will be known as soon as governments are compelled to organise an emergency redistribution of essential resources to save the dying poor in their many hundreds of thousands as the jubilant months pass by.
The hearts of men and women everywhere are unconsciously ready for this consensus to reveal itself through the combined activities of those who unite on a single issue; the oppressed and neglected poor, likewise, have always been ready to lend their voice when the time comes. Then, and only then, will the true sharing movement be recognised as a peaceful and implacable phenomenon with the power to determine the policies of the world’s governments. Then everyone who participates in this cause of all causes, this movement of all movements, will know exactly what actions they should take as a subjectively unified group that is motivated by its unwavering concern for the critical needs of others.
What should be clear from these prognostications is that a reformed and justly redistributive economic system cannot be structured without the awareness of ordinary people to firstly embrace, and thereafter sustain its enduring implementation. This compels us to look at ourselves inwardly with an honest mind if we want to perceive an answer to the question that vexes every forward-looking political thinker—which is how we can bring about a definitive sharing economy that operates at the international level and fulfils the basic needs of all, while respecting planetary environmental boundaries.
For there can be no sharing economy that exists throughout the entire world, benefiting every family and individual in equal measure, until we have established a more joyful, participatory and trusting way of life in our respective societies. And there can be no evolving paradigm of sharing that exists within a less resource-constrained and overpopulated planet, until every person has the economic security and freedom that is needed to explore their inborn creative potential. And there can be no sharing economy idea that persists into the long distant future, without the aforesaid ability of the majority populace to embrace an awareness of the whole, as well as the particular. An awareness that understands how urgent it is for humanity to live together with a sense of unity and oneness, free from the bane of penury and conflict. An awareness that guides each individual towards a simpler and more equitable standard of living, considering the severity of climate change and environmental degradation that is currently far from the preoccupations of most people in over-consuming societies.
And if we ourselves can detect the first intimations of this new awareness beginning to develop within the vanguard of progressive thought and experimentation, then we may also begin to perceive the final destination where this expanding awareness is taking us—which is towards new modes of economic exchange and social relationships based on barter. Already, the true nature of the sharing economy on a local level is intrinsically linked to contemporary notions of a gift economy, whereby the role of money as a medium of exchange is deprioritised in favour of the intrinsic social tendency towards voluntary giving and receiving. Therefore, allow your mind to intuitively grasp the social and cultural ramifications of implementing the principle of sharing on a worldwide basis, as encapsulated in the holistic reasoning we have stressed above:
- Firstly, through an emergency programme organised by governments working cooperatively through relevant international agencies to redistribute essential resources and ameliorate the prevalence of hunger and life-threatening poverty.
- And secondly, through a restructured global economy that incorporates a systemic process of sharing natural resources and essential commodities as its fundamental operating principle, divorced from the profit motive and monopolistic private interests.
What do we foresee as the outcome of such intergovernmental economic arrangements that progressively develop over many decades, where the predominant power of big banks and other financial institutions is transferred to a democratically reformed and entrusted United Nations system? Logically, the idea and existence of a sharing economy will evolve into something much different over time that is conceivable as an advanced system of global bartering and exchange, for which we may need a new lexicon of the political economy to describe. This will not be barter as we think of it now, as a primitive form of reciprocal trade once characteristic of archaic societies. Try to visualise, instead, a complex system of global resource management that is administered with the use of massive information technologies and complex transportation networks, maintaining both a sufficient and sustainable circulation of commonly-owned goods and resources between all nations.
Our concern here is not with the specific details of how these future economic arrangements may function, as there are endless hypothetical questions to be answered about how we can achieve the universal and free distribution of essential resources, especially in relation to the great public utilities like energy and water. What is more important to consider at this time are the inner changes that humanity must undergo if these outer economic changes are to become a feasible reality, from which line of enquiry we can perceive that the human propensity to express goodwill, joy, creativity and frugality are embedded within any new global economic system that integrates the principle of barter into its foundational mechanisms and institutional framework.
We can begin by thinking for ourselves in simple terms about how bartering among individuals on a widespread scale, if there is absolutely no money or profit involved, will lead to the simplification of wants and needs, a lessening of stress and greed, and the unleashing of greater freedom and inner creativity. Thence we can grasp a faint precognition of how this newfound expression of trust and goodwill on an interpersonal basis will, automatically, facilitate the introduction of bartering as an economic system within different nations, according to the particular approaches suited to each nation’s circumstances, culture and traditions. And it is that process of bartering within nations that will facilitate and sustain the introduction of a global system of bartering among the world’s governments, as if humanity had reached a stage where it resembles a great colony of ants that cooperate for the good of the whole, with the United Nations representing our metaphorical queen.
Such an outcome would not have to signal a return to pre-capitalist models of trade and consumption; on the contrary, it is an economy guided by the forces of commercialisation through unbridled market competition that is holding us back in our evolution, and predisposing the youth towards the pursuit of materialistic goals and self-centred ambitions. There is no reason why we cannot envisage an enduringly peaceful, equitable and sustainable world order that absorbs all the good of humanity’s previous advancements in technology and science, yet also encompasses a process of free exchange of essential commodities as the bedrock of socio-economic relations. And there is no reason to suppose that such a civilisation may not include a much relegated role for private enterprise and market competition in those areas of life that are unrelated to either the fulfilment of basic human needs, or the sustainable distribution of non-renewable resources.
If we can accept these general propositions, then we may agree that the way of sharing and voluntary simplicity is inseparably connected with the eventual introduction of an advanced system of bartering and exchange among the community of nations. The actions of governments cooperating to institute these new economic processes on an international basis for the benefit of all concerned will, necessarily, go hand-in-hand with similar processes being instituted across nations and within municipalities, communities and neighbourhoods. And through the confluence of these changes enacted by both citizens and states on their own volition, we may finally witness the proof that humanity can live more simply and equally within the means of this bountiful Earth.
Thus the greater symbolic meaning of the sharing economy can be summarised in the following terms: it will represent an imminent end to an era defined by the dominance of material and commercial values, and it will signify the resurrection of barter as the principle mode of economic exchange for the first time in modern history, albeit on a higher turn of the spiral that vouchsafes the continued spiritual evolution of our race.
Yet here again we must return to the original premise of our enquiry, for none of these future transformations are foreseeable without the large-scale release of compassion and awareness throughout the human population, which must be nurtured and inspired by a new education based on more spiritual values. However ardently we embrace the idea of implementing a sharing economy in its most universal form for the coming age, we are left with the reality of a modern era that is characterised by the greed and indifference of countless millions of individuals, and the systemic injustice of a corrupt world order that can hardly be ignored in any vision of a sustainable future.
This presents us with a challenge that requires much more than just a conventional education taught in a formal sense through schools and universities. For there is an urgent need of education in terms of becoming more spiritually aware of ourselves, an awareness that must somehow encompass our own divisive thinking that impedes the engagement of our hearts, and our unobserved social conditioning that serves to reproduce the separative ways of the past. The prevailing notion of a sharing economy is a notable case in point, in this regard, for is it not all about ourselves once again and our self-regarding attitudes, as if humanity in its entirety is not a part of our everyday thinking and philosophies?
The lack of right education in our societies therefore highlights our underlying dilemma, in that the sharing economy is a viable idea, a potentially colossal and planetary idea, if it is accomplished in a wholly inclusive and moral way by firstly concentrating all our attention on the needs of the world’s struggling poor majority. As we have forcefully argued, that is the only hope that a sharing economy can be properly sustained and steadily bourgeon over time, although we can merely bear witness to the global refugee crisis to see how far our education has strayed from a simple understanding of right human relationship.
We have not been educated to share with those less fortunate than ourselves, even in the most advanced democratic societies of Western Europe; for surely, if everyone was imbued with the values of sharing and cooperation from cradle to grave, then the crisis of mass human displacement and insecurity that is caused by senseless regional conflicts—and largely contributed to by Western foreign policies—would never have reached this critical stage. But since it has manifested like a stark illustration of our unequal world, there can be no resolution to its deep-seated causes without the implementation of the principle of sharing into world affairs, thus returning us once again to our central premise.
We have so much yet to discover anent the need for a more holistic or spiritual education to sustain a sharing economy, that for our present purposes we can only give a passing overview of its eventual form and transformative implications. Without doubt, the new education must eventually be seen in the form of school lessons for young children, who can be taught the meaning of sharing in basic social, economic and political terms, and explained why this simple principle is so important to our planetary wellbeing and survival.
But we have also stressed how the principle of sharing is spiritual in its nature, and therefore requires teachings of a higher calibre that can inculcate an awareness of the inner Self in any child or adult, leading the individual to perceive for themselves (through both a conscious understanding and an intuitive recognition) that humanity is one interdependent entity, inherently equal and potentially divine in its myriad of personality expressions.
Henceforth to study the inner meaning of a sharing economy is, in the end, to arrive at an understanding of what many religious and spiritual thinkers refer to as the Art of Living. Yet unfortunately, a clear explanation of this term is difficult to convey at our current stage of human and spiritual development, when we are apparently so far away from the kind of education and social circumstances that will permit an understanding of life as a form of art. We also need to bear in mind that a deeper comprehension of this subject cannot be achieved without adequate knowledge of the spiritual constitution of man, for which the reader will need to refer to relevant authorities that provide more detailed information about the new educational methods and goals of the future, such as the writings of Alice Bailey.
However, we can still discover much for ourselves independently, through self-contemplation and logical reasoning, about how a new economic system based on the principle of sharing must go hand in hand with formidable changes in the inner life of mankind, leading to an unforetold expansion of human consciousness and the rapid speeding up of our collective spiritual evolution.
To go further in such an enquiry, it is beneficial to think of the social and cultural expression of a sharing economy in terms of the Art of Being, which is directly related to the Art of Living but far different in its meaning and implications. You cannot have one without the other, as the Art of Being relates to the inner side of life which is expressed outwardly in the world through our human relationships and varying modes of social organisation. We might simplify by saying that the Art of Being concerns the inner, whereas the Art of Living concerns the outer. Indeed it is a spiritual platitude that man has to change from within if the world is to change, which is what the Art of Being principally refers to—namely, the unfoldment of the inherent divinity that exists within every individual and seeks expression through right human relations.
Therefore, the Art of Being should most engross our attention at this time, and not the Art of Living as oft described, for it is the former that will largely define the new age education in its successive phases of evolvement. What that higher level of spiritual education may look like is beyond the scope of our present remit, although we can summarise by saying that it concerns an awareness of the soul and its purpose through meditation, spiritual disciplines, and service activity that is oriented to the upliftment of mankind. Such are the eternal means by which we are ultimately to led to Self-realisation (or the Art of Being), as attested to in the Ageless Wisdom teachings that have been released to humanity in diverse traditions throughout the millennia. But even here we must acknowledge our present difficulty, because you cannot practise or realise the Art of Being through a conditioned mind, or try to understand its meaning only intellectually. In fact, it is the very process of seeking the meaning of the Art of Being that will lead us to be gradually deconditioned, and therefore more consciously aware and inwardly free.
The previous statement alone may give us much to deliberate and cognise, simple though it may sound. For as long as we lack even an inchoate understanding of what the Art of Being means and represents along these lines, it is impossible to express the Art of Living on either an individual or group basis, especially within our inequitable societies that are failing to provide enough education or inner space for the average person to explore, apprehend and demonstrate their soul’s purpose.
At most, we can merely engage in those social practices and altruistic behaviours that are the palest reflection of the Art of Living in our frenetic, distracted lives of today—such as environmental recycling activities, charitable endeavours, and indeed the less commercialised aspects of the sharing economy in its localised forms. As worthwhile and often vital as these activities may be, they in no way represent a prevailing social awareness of what it means to live in harmlessness, simplicity and right relationship with respect to nature and all sentient beings. By definition, there is no ‘art’ to living unless we go inwards to investigate the reality of the inner Self, and seek to manifest that awareness in our day-to-day life expression.
Notwithstanding the difficulties of verbal elucidation that compromise this discussion, it is still helpful to reflect upon the Art of Living as we enquire into the spiritual or inner meaning of a sharing economy. For this purpose, the Art of Living can be generally defined as the intuitive understanding and awareness of right human relationship among the overall global population, and its individual and societal means of being established in perpetuity. But in any such definition again lies our problem, for how can we talk with clarity about a new way of living on this Earth based on the correct orientation of man towards himself, his society and his natural environment, when we have yet to implement the principle of sharing into world affairs?
It may take many generations before the common practice of the Art of Living is the hallmark of our societies, with all its associated inner qualities of humility, honesty, sincerity, detachment and harmlessness. Moreover, there can be no Art of Living that is sustained without the flourishing of compassion throughout the world, for that is a precondition of humanity becoming more gradually aware of the need for the Art of Being to guide our planetary evolution. In short, we are incapable of talking with precision or persuasive meaning on this subject, since it is the new civilisation that will exhibit the prevalent awareness of the Art of Being or Self-realisation, and thus be defined in its outer modes of social organisation.
In further contemplating this problem of awareness in sustaining a sharing economy, we may also discover the spiritual or esoteric significance of the United Nations, and the indistinct connection that exists between the future advancement of this great international organisation and the corresponding advancement of a new education. This may be self-evident if we accept that the United Nations must one day express the fact of right relationship among its member states with their differing cultures and varying levels of material development, which must firstly be achieved through its future supervisory function in overseeing the redistribution of resources to achieve a more balanced global economic system.
If we rightly speak of the true and global sharing economy as being in its infancy today, then the United Nations is also in its most embryonic stage of demonstrating its potential as the highest international authority that represents world goodwill. But how will the United Nations achieve this exalted role, in which it becomes much more meaningful for humanity, symbolically speaking, than just an intergovernmental institution with its assortment of bureaucratic offices and specialised agencies?
We are further compelled to engage with our spiritual intelligence and intuition to answer this question, for right human relationship is clearly associated with the interaction of diverse groups of people, which we generally understand in terms of sovereign nations, distinct cultures and races. And it is the very presence and energy of a reconstituted United Nations that can indirectly educate all those groups to raise their consciousness beyond a national, cultural or racial identity, thus to recognise our subjective inter-relationship and supra-identity as the One Humanity.
Alas, most people have no idea about the future spiritual significance of the United Nations, and hence these observations are liable to sound like an indulgent flight of the imagination. For the time being, there are few who hold the United Nations in high esteem due to its many shortcomings and compromises, but we should be wary of dismissing its relevance out of hand before we have tried to grasp what its existence represents from the inner side of life.
To begin with, it is necessary to perceive how a fully operational sharing economy provides, in effect, a global structure or outer vehicle for the oversoul to carry out its purpose through groups in service to humanity. From this esoteric perspective, the spiritual purpose of the United Nations is to carry the energy that is embedded within the movement of a sharing economy, and to navigate that energy—with its associated soul qualities—to all groups of peoples and nations. This leads us to a new interpretation of an emergency programme of resource redistribution and global economic reform, which doesn’t just concern the right distribution of goods and services to prevent the ongoing tragedy of mass starvation or widespread human deprivation. Moreover, it signifies the beginning phase of the release of soul energy across the world, with repercussions that will eventually give new resonances and factual meaning to such words as ‘freedom’, ‘peace’, ‘trust’, ‘love’ and ‘justice’.
Does this help us to tentatively grasp how the United Nations can express the true meaning of education, again not specifically in a formal sense through schooling or institutional agendas, but through the changes that will be brought about in human consciousness from its predestined future role and evolving spiritual purpose? As much as the soul has a spiritual purpose which is to serve humanity in line with the evolutionary plan, the United Nations has a potential spiritual purpose which is ultimately to affirm and express the reality of the Kingdom of Souls as a visible fact on Earth. The implementation of an emergency redistribution programme will therefore signify that humanity is finally beginning to express an awareness of itself as an interdependent body of incarnate souls, as it were, and in this sense we can view such a program as the inauguration of a new age, or what is more appropriately understood as an Age of the Heart.
Let us put it this way: an unsurpassed mobilisation of international effort to remedy our escalating crises will symbolise the hearts of humanity putting the meaning of a ‘sharing economy’ in its right place, while also symbolising the first stage of putting the United Nations in its right place through the dynamic manifestation of world goodwill. And that initial worldwide outpouring of goodwill may guide humanity to realise the greater meaning of soul purpose and right relationship which, as we have intimated, is to advance the Divine Plan in conscious cooperation with the spiritual Hierarchy of our planet as it externalises outwardly on the physical plane.
So there are several ways in which the United Nations can uphold the expression of right human relations and, by this means, serve to educate humanity:
- By overseeing the implementation of the principle of sharing in world affairs, bringing about justice and balance in the distribution of resources between nations.
- By providing a global structure or outer vehicle that can enable the spiritual Hierarchy to carry out the Divine Plan in conscious cooperation with humanity for the first time in untold millennia, and hence with unparalleled speed in our planetary evolution.
- By affirming the reality of the Kingdom of Souls on Earth through the demonstration of its spiritual purpose. This can be understood symbolically in terms of the Christ Principle constituting the heart centre of humanity, whereas the head centre is represented by the United Nations’ future activity in all its dimensions.
For all these reasons, however far-fetched or abstruse they may seem at the present time, it is hopefully at least clear that any genuine conception of a sharing economy should be directed from hereon towards the relationship of the United Nations vis-à-vis the rest of the world, with an open mind towards its higher spiritual possibilities as an empowered international organisation.
A simple metaphor that may help us in this regard is to think of the energy of Love as being fragmented across this Earth, almost like an immense jigsaw puzzle of universal proportions. And it is up to every nation to solve this planetary puzzle that is as old as humanity itself, for all the nations of the world represent an equally vital and unique piece. The means of putting those pieces back together again are verily simple, involving as it must the cooperative pooling of all the available finances, capacity and surplus resources of the community of nations, in order to address the culminating crises that threaten our continued evolution as a race.
As the wealthiest countries begin to genuinely share their resources with the less developed countries and vice versa, and as the idea of an emergency redistribution programme begins to be supported by ordinary citizens in massive and continual demonstrations, then the puzzle that we call Love will be gradually reassembled, step by step and piece by piece. In this manner, perhaps we can envisage the unanticipated importance of the United Nations to this historic transitional period we are undergoing, which will always be remembered as the time when humanity first applied the divine principle of sharing to our most urgent global priorities.
Upon returning our attention to the current world situation, one is liable to question the use of these reflections on the meaning of a new spiritual education, before humanity has experienced anything close to real peace or justice throughout the world. For what kind of all-inclusive education is it possible to achieve about the nature of the One Life that permeates the phenomenal universe, on a planet that allows millions of people to die in squalor without sufficient help from governments or the public at large?
We may well accept, in a theoretical sense, that the implementation of the principle of sharing in world affairs is directly connected to the need for a revitalised United Nations Assembly and, eventually, new educational methods that can enable the Art of Living to unfold. But where do these speculative musings lead us today, if not back to a fundamental realisation that the true education must begin with every privileged person attending to the needs of the vulnerable, the weak and the dispossessed?
Always we must return to this central understanding, for if we want to rebuild our house then we must begin from its foundations, and the foundation of our misery in the 21st century is the fact that the shameful reality of avoidable human deprivation is still permitted to endure. Spiritual education per se also means to think clearly for oneself from the heart, so how else can we educate ourselves through the awareness of love at this time, if not to take action to stop the neglect and exploitation of the poor, and finally end this age-old injustice?
There is a remaining question that may occur to some readers concerning the potential of new technologies in changing the world, as the rapid growth of the internet and open source movements can be seen as a sign of humanity’s readiness to share. But let us ask ourselves once more if our modern technological innovations are the true reflection of sharing as a divine principle, if they are not also directed towards improving the lives of everyone who lacks the essentials needed for a dignified and healthy life.
We are not suggesting there is anything wrong with the creative impetus towards innovation and progress, except to ask: can we not work on our cutting-edge projects in conjunction with the awareness of love? Given the fact that love, as expressed through a universal and spiritual understanding, is summarised by the underlying question ‘what about the others?’ Seemingly everyone today is preoccupied with the new digital discoveries and endless gadgets, most especially among the younger generations, but we are far from preoccupied with the injustice of poverty that is definitely worsening in most countries (no matter what is reported in the constantly revised and approximated global statistics).
Rest assured that humanity will always be fascinated by its scientific and technological breakthroughs, which will continue whether or not there is rampant injustice throughout the world. Scientific investigation and creative innovation is a natural extension of man’s innate predisposition to explore his own constitution and the environing conditions of the Earth, and gladly shall it ever remain. But a more revelatory line of enquiry involves the question of how technology will change its overall form and direction once the principle of sharing is implemented as an economic process in world affairs, in accordance with our preceding discussion. What will happen if a significant number of humanity embrace the awareness that we are all one in creation, inherently equal and interdependent as a fact of nature, which means we cannot remain psychologically separated as a race any longer?
Surely the whole debate about whether new technology is beneficial or damaging for society will gradually dissolve over time, to be replaced with a prevailing concern for the right sharing of technologies in relation to mankind’s social, economic and spiritual development. The present dilemmas about technology are only relevant to a world in which the hearts of humanity are generally suppressed through complacency, ignorance or indifference, while material desires are dominating the cultural norms and attitudes of the day. It could be said that superficial wants and needs are going through a social revolution throughout our consumer-driven world, which is manifestly an unsustainable and insanely self-destructive world in which a spiritual revolution of the heart is yet to be witnessed, or even conceived of by most ordinary people.
Therefore some people enthusiastically welcome the increasing digitalisation of our economies and the relentless manufacture of high-tech goods that purportedly improve the quality of our lives, assuming we have the disposable income to afford them. Meanwhile, others decry the pernicious side-effects of those technologies that entrench the commercialisation of everyday life, and often go hand-in-hand with the erosion of civil liberties and basic human rights. But if the hearts of millions of people were awakened to the critical needs of others, and if the purpose of new technology was reconceived within a world that provides for the basic material and educational needs of everyone, would such a polarised debate last for very long?
The unfortunate victims of present trends are the world’s children and unwary youth, who are an easy target for commercialised forms of technology that can limit an individual’s consciousness to an obsession with the material form, thereby impeding the growth of Self-awareness. Of course, the problem lies not with the existence of modern technology as a medium for social progress, which overall has improved the living standards of the average family in economically advanced nations to a degree that would have been unimaginable before the industrial revolution. The problem, as ever, lies with the consciousness of man who accepts the benefits of those advances for a minority of the world population, sparing little thought for the millions of others whose lives remain untouched by any social improvements through whatever technological means.
So let us query the significance of technology if it is truly used for the common good of all, instead of being co-opted by private interests and steered in an increasingly commercial direction. This may require a considerable leap of the imagination, considering how the problem originates with the interior awareness and motives of any individual who discovers a new technological marvel, and then identifies with the object of their creation. As a result, the lower self or ‘me’ typically overshadows the process of innovation, which causes a new technology to be exploited for personal or material gain instead of being freely shared for the benefit of all. And by extension, the multinational corporation with its concern for profit maximisation ultimately prevents any possibility of sharing the world’s technology for the uplift and betterment of the entire race.
The ability to innovate may have come to humanity as a natural outgrowth of our urge to understand and grow, but it is an instinctive aptitude that was never meant to be monopolised by only the few, or else used as a tool for domination and control. Thus one has to ask: what is the relationship that exists between the evolution of technology and the universal meaning of compassion? For if the right forms of technology were shared with the neediest people across the world, surely it would help so much to restore the health and wellbeing of the impoverished multitudes. Let’s not forget that medicines for AIDS and the many diseases of poverty are part of what we call technology too. Yet the pharmaceutical industries that develop these patented drugs are obviously not driven by a spirit of sharing and the common good, despite their wealth being based on the herbs and plants that are given freely by the earth for everyone to use. Hence if one begins to look at these issues with a compassionate attitude to life, we are led to ask why every medicine and healthcare advance has not been given freely to humanity too—with implications that go to the heart of all that is wrong with our profit-driven civilisation.
These are some of the most preliminary considerations before trying to understand the future role of technology in a world that has long established a viable sharing economy, enabling all people to enjoy the same equal rights, opportunities and fundamental freedoms. At such a time and not before, we may begin to foresee the higher purpose of technology that advances in synchronicity with the spiritual evolution of mankind, whereby the rapid unfoldment of scientific knowledge is intrinsically linked to the rapid expansion of human consciousness. We are currently witnessing the merest intimations of these future possibilities with the rise of robots and automation, leading to much anxiety about the prospect of pervasive unemployment and spiralling inequalities when the fruits of machine-produced wealth are not equitably shared. Hence the difficulty in contemplating a more egalitarian and peaceful world in the approaching time, when an age of super-machines serves to liberate mankind to contemplate and study the reality of the inner Self, and ultimately give every individual the space and freedom to pursue the Art of Being or Self-realisation.
Here we must return to ourdiscussion on the necessity of introducing a new type of education, which will progressively call for the introduction of spiritually-oriented schools that are geared towards studying the Ageless Wisdom teachings and the Science of the Soul. Much more has been written on this subject in the aforementioned writings of Alice Bailey and others, and it lies outside the scope of our present remit, except to note a further link between the new education and future technologies that is rooted in the awakening of man’s spiritual nature. The fact is that as new forces and energies flood the world, technology has a great role to play in speeding up the evolution of human consciousness. Yet most contemporary writers on this subject are unaware of the deeper spiritual meaning and import of technological progress, which can never be comprehended, in all simplicity, through a concrete analysis of the transitory material forms.
The esoteric significance of technology is denoted by the phrase ‘mind over matter’, which concerns the ability of man to control his environment and unlock the hidden potentialities of nature by working in harmony with presently unseen and scientifically unknown evolutionary forces. Our partial unravelling of the mystery of electricity, for example, is a small indication of the undreamt of powers inherent in the universe that man can utilise when his attitudes are oriented towards the service of the race, and his motives are predominantly defined by an inclusiveness that is unhindered by commercial, nationalistic or self-seeking objectives. The reader may already know that the invention of the telephone symbolises man’s innate ability to telepathise; correspondingly, the invention of the internet symbolises the awareness of the One World or omniscient consciousness that is the due inheritance of the Self-realised Adept.
Our future technological developments will accelerate beyond all measure when man discovers his latent capacity to control the outer life of form through the inner faculties of his directed mind, which may one day result in the scientific discovery of the existence of the soul. When the evolution of technology finally moves in line with an awareness of the Plan for humanity’s spiritual evolution, we may also witness how technology provides the complex logistical solutions required for an advanced system of barter to be facilitated worldwide, as per our earlier reflections. Overall, these comments are merely intended to help us grasp how our conceptualisations are severely limited by our present lack of understanding of divine purpose and the higher laws which condition all phenomena. For the expansion of technology is forever intertwined with the expansion of human consciousness—and neither can proceed in its correct path until the entrenched social, political, economic, psychological and spiritual divisions of the modern world are on course to being reversed.
Whether or not we are able to tune with these introductory reflections about the inner and holistic meaning of a sharing economy, it is hoped that the reader is at least convinced of the paramount importance of implementing the principle of sharing into world affairs. The more that technology is shared, for example, the more our understanding can grow of what technology can achieve as a beneficent tool for mankind’s spiritual evolution. And the more that humanity calls for the sharing of global resources to end the economic insecurity and exploitation of the mass population, the more our awareness will grow of what the sharing economy means in its most far-reaching forms and modes of expression.
What is most important of all to realise for those who promote a sharing economy in its presently limited forms, is that we are putting the cart before the horse if we believe that a community vision of sharing is a lasting solution to humanity’s problems, before millions of people have arisen in peaceful protest for governments to share the world’s resources along the lines indicated above. Are we yet convinced that the localised methods of sharing will only burgeon and become all-inclusive, once a sharing economy is at the definitive stage of being implemented as a global process?
When the richest nations are genuinely sharing their wealth and resources with the least developed world regions, and when the wider public is directing the idea of economic sharing from the heart to where it most belongs—that is when the practice of sharing on a community-led basis will blossom beyond our wildest dreams. For then the whole world will be involved, including the several billion people whose basic rights to life and liberty were unfulfilled beforehand. And then the energy that we call love will be awakened and released among a vast swathe of ordinary global citizens, leading to results that we have never witnessed on this Earth with all their inwardly and outwardly transformative implications—an outpouring of joy and goodwill, a perceivable lessening of stress and tension worldwide, a newfound sense of trust and hope among the rich and poor alike…
Put simply, the climaxing world situation is impelling us to place the needs of the world and the poor first, not our pockets or our self-centred personal interests. Otherwise, our idea of sharing on a community level will inevitably flounder in the wake of mounting trends towards an ever more divided, commercialised and indifferent world. We will be like the politician who promises a better society to a largely passive electorate, which may indeed seem real and honest at the time, until those promises evaporate within a newly elected government that is bound by the dictates of corporate hegemony. In the same way, what can come of a sharing economy vision that is confined in its expression to the relatively few affluent people in a wholly profit-oriented and materialistic culture? And when the only significant kind of sharing that is enacted on a global and political level among allied governments—relative to the constraints of realpolitik—is the sharing of armaments, information and covert intelligence?
We have emphasised how the sharing economy concerns the navigation of energy to its right place, from the physical essentials of food, finance and other basic material resources, to the intangible qualities of empathy and awareness that must be expanded to encompass the good of the whole if we are to successfully inaugurate a sustainable civilisation. And we have reasoned that the rampant energies (or rather, the combined and malefic forces) of commercialisation work against this hoped-for eventuality, where the sharing economy idea is understood inclusively and holistically as the means to create balance on this Earth and right human relations. Hence even the phrase ‘sharing economy’ has been misunderstood and misplaced, and it has inevitably fallen into the wrong hands. Even many of those sharing proponents with the best intentions have failed to realise the devious power of the forces of commercialisation, which on this issue is like a cat who plays with a mouse it has caught, before slowly devouring it bit by bit.
A transformative vision of the sharing economy can therefore go nowhere without the engaged heart to sustain it and the intelligent mind to structure its expression in society. In the absence of which, we see how quickly the idea of sharing can be degraded into profitmaking and business activity. But when the heart centre of humanity is visibly awakened, when we together call for a just redistribution of resources to save our needlessly dying brethren, then we will see how the true sharing economy will suddenly begin to speak for itself, and for the very first time.
Can you recall how happy people were the world over when President Obama was initially elected to office, at least in those early days of expectation that American foreign policies would be redirected from the pursuit of imperial domination? Then be assured that the day governments commit to sharing the world’s resources will bring about a joy amongst humanity that will be many, many times more powerful and real. For there is another tsunami that we have yet to experience in its fullest measure, one that is beneficent and not malefic as a physical force—and that is a tsunami of love. A force so great that when it hits you, it will bring you down upon your knees. A force that will lift you up in your varied endeavours with a new kind of energy, a new kind of clarity, a new kind of creativity and strength. It is a force that all the sharing economy advocates should look towards and embrace, for it will be backed by millions upon millions of other adherents within every country, from the wealthiest suburbs to the poorest shantytowns that contain a wellspring of hope for transforming our world.
Perhaps the serious reader still seeks some pragmatic words of advice in these closing remarks, for whose purpose the following sentiments are offered. The present author acknowledges the immense difficulty in creating a worldwide movement for a true sharing economy, as long as the word ‘sharing’ has not entered the vocabulary or imaginations of the bulk of progressive activists. So for the time being, we must do what we can by joining the existing movements for freedom and justice in their various expressions, many of which stem from the problem of unequal wealth and resource distribution as we acknowledged before.
At the same time, we should also dig deeper into our understanding of sharing and cooperation in holistic terms, and contemplate the transformative potential of these universal principles when applied to the interconnecting crises facing humanity. Let not the political idea of sharing remain an intellectual concept, when the world needs this principle to be implemented as an economic process between nations if humanity is to survive, for the growing gap between the haves and have-nots contains within it the seeds of our own destruction. Thus it is critical that the sharing economy idea is expanded globally in our thinking and endeavours, most especially towards the marginalised and underprivileged—as per the oft recurring premise of our enquiry above.
We may repeat until we are hoarse that the true meaning of a sharing economy is only to be found in relation to the world’s impoverished majority, although it means little unless that awareness is translated into lively discussions and actions that are focused on ending extreme deprivation within an immediate timeframe. There is nothing to stop us from getting engaged in those ongoing debates, or to form groups of sharing economy advocates that are concerned with expanding this creative concept into a new frontier. We have already spelled out what must be done, which is to press our governments to share their surplus resources through the United Nations and its relevant agencies, in order to finally bring about that long-held aspiration of world leaders to achieve freedom from want for all peoples everywhere.
So by all means, let’s carry on with our community-oriented activities that embody the principle of sharing in some measure. But can we not also reverse the direction of those activities at least once a week, and urge our political representatives to employ a sharing economy for the hungry and destitute, both at home and further abroad? Consider the number of people who are already engaged with the various sharing economy ideas and initiatives, as generally understood and applied within the predominantly affluent parts of Western society. What is to stop those well-meaning groups from uniting with a single demand on a weekly basis, and petitioning their governments to redistribute the nation’s surplus produce towards this honourable and uplifting cause of irrevocably ending hunger and absolute poverty?
The longer we fail to pursue such a simple course of action, the more our idea of sharing will reveal itself to have no soul, no purpose, and no future with any meaning. What purpose is it all for, anyway, if we only attach our ideas of prosperity and sharing to our own particular community, culture or nation? In a world that is increasingly divided in two between those who have more than enough and those who have nothing at all, our ideas will eventually become inhuman and destined to collapse, unless we think about the needs of others too!
It may be misconstrued that saving the poor and starving masses is the only reason for implementing the principle of sharing into world affairs, which is actually far from the case. What we are most concerned with is the need to bring awareness, love and common sense to our everyday thinking and actions, and it happens that our prevalent lack of thinking about the welfare of others is what most overtly demonstrates the absence of these suppressed human attributes. We need to ask ourselves why we are interested in saving those who are needlessly dying from poverty-related causes, if we don’t consider them equal to ourselves with a divine right to spiritually evolve. Is that not the reason, above all reasons, why we can no longer allow any person to die as a result of our collective indifference, when there is more than enough food and other resources available for everyone in the world?
By the same token, it is erroneous to believe that the United Nations is ultimately the greatest hope we have for healing, repairing and transforming the world, when the only real hope lies in awakening the spiritual heart centre of humanity as a whole. How else are the necessary changes going to be brought about, without the awareness and compassion that leads to the correct motivations for navigating energy to its rightful place? Please meditate and reflect over this last rhetorical question, and it may reveal much about how we can personally be of use to the great work of planetary renewal that lies ahead.
 cf. Mohammed Mesbahi, Heralding Article 25: A People’s Strategy for World Transformation, Matador books, 2016, see Part 1: The failure of governments.
 For example, see: Adam Parsons, The intersection of politics and spirituality in addressing the climate crisis: An interview with Mohammed Mesbahi, Share The World's Resources, June 2016, see Part II: The inner and outer CO2.
 Article 25 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
 See in particular: Education in the New Age, Lucis Press Ltd, 1954; Letters on Occult Meditation, Letter IX, Lucis Publishing Company, 1922; The Unfinished Autobiography, Appendixes, Lucis Publishing Company, 1951.
 Editor’s note: In this context, the author’s conception of ‘inner space’ can be understood in terms of the time and economic means, as well as the social support and cultivated interest that is necessary for the average person to dedicate themselves to serious practice of the Art of Living. This has immense implications for our present modes of education and public systems of social service provision and social protection, as alluded to throughout the present study.
 The spiritual Heirarchy is the aggregate of those members of humanity who have, through self-mastery, achieved mastery within the whole field of human evolution. Known as the Masters of the Wisdom, the senior members of the Heirarchy are the custodians of the Divine Plan for this planet, working from behind the scenes through their disciples in every major field of world work: political, religious, educational, scientific, philosophical, psychological and economic. The outstanding and dramatic feature of Hierarchical action in the present era is the preparation now under way for its return to outer plane activity. The emergence of a new kingdom in nature, the fifth kingdom or Kingdom of Souls, is precipitating on Earth at this time, and will distinguish a new age for humanity as various Ashrams of the Masters are externalised and become publicly known. To learn more about the nature and work of our planetary Hierarchy, see in particular the following works by the Master D.K. written through Alice Bailey and published by the Lucis Trust: Initiation, Human and Solar, 1922; The Reappearance of the Christ, 1948; The Externalisation of the Hierarchy, 1957.
Mohammed Mesbahi is STWR's founder.
Editorial assistance: Adam Parsons.
Photo credit: Biggles1067, flickr creative commons