Root cause of global crisis is human nature, not economics


OPINION:OUR CULTURE takes hope for granted. Since so much of what happens in the public square seems concerned with satisfying human desires for pleasure and happiness, this insight is not immediately available. But increasingly our culture seems to regard such satisfactions as add-on benefits to human existence, which is assumed to be automatic, writes John Waters

Embedded deep in our collective conversation is a delusional notion that human life continues in the manner of the machine, requiring only the correct physical conditions for maximum efficiency and the fuel to drive it. But human beings are delicate entities, depending for their survival and propulsion on some deep-set sense of meaning.

The great artists once understood this, but nowadays great art has been compartmentalised in our cultures, housed in an annex that is removed from the main thoroughfares and accessible only to an elite that insists on interpreting it as the creation of elevated human sophistication.

When someone kills himself, we respond with a strange duality of ostensibly contradictory thoughts. One the one hand, we are shocked at this deviation from what we think of as normal behaviour; on the other, we readily settle on a proffered explanation: he was depressed, he lost everything, his wife left him.

The other day, the newspapers reported the death of the German billionaire Adolf Merckle, who threw himself in front of a train after the failure of talks with creditors designed to save his businesses from collapsing. He was said to have been "broken" by the collapse of his business empire. This makes sense. But should it?

It appears Merckle made some unwise investments in Volkswagen shares. But, before this, in common with many of us, he may have invested in something else: the idea that a life can be sustained by material conditions and considerations. This bogus idea is now rendered axiomatic as a result of the separation of public thought into discrete ideologies, leading to the promulgation of misplaced ideas about happiness and freedom.

Human life needs more to sustain it than what mankind is capable of imagining, proposing or generating. Ultimately, all we can create for ourselves are false hopes that sustain us for an instant and then dissolve, leaving us grasping for the next.

What gets us out of bed on any given morning may be identifiable as the promise of progress, the lure of money, the call of duty, the prospect of love, the imminence of spring, the sight of a new sunrise, the thought of a fix. But ultimately all these will lose their power.

Because we have dismantled the heavens and replaced them with a low-slung ceiling of our own clumsy construction, this disillusion is inevitable. No human life can fully blossom without a hope that is transcendent.

For related reasons, we see the present moment of economic disintegration as an aberration, when in truth it, too, is inevitable. All human systems are prone to failure, because man is flawed and doomed to misuse his freedom.

We are beginning to perceive that existing words, like "downturn" and "recession", are inadequate in conveying the precise nature of present events.

For what is emerging seems not so much a periodic dip in economic fortunes as a self-inflicted wound arising from the fear and insecurity of human beings. Because we could not trust ourselves to the future, we have destroyed even the present. This, then, at its roots, is a human crisis rather than a merely economic one, and it flows directly from a collapse in our understanding of our own natures.

In a rather simplistic sense, this arises from the loss of what used to be conveyed, however clumsily and ineffectively, by religion. Because of the corruption of our public thought, the very phrase "return to God" conveys merely the idea of rushing to a spurious form of consolation because reality has started to collapse. What is collapsing, however, is not reality, but the flimsy construct that man engineered out of his own desire to replace God on the throne.

What we need, then, apart from fixing the broken systems, is to become conscious again of the essential nature of humanity: mortal, dependent and primed with desire that nothing on earth can satisfy.

Tonight, in the Kelly Theatre at the National College of Ireland, in the heart of the Financial Services Centre in Dublin, I will have the privilege of introducing a discussion on these very topics, in the company of the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, and Fr Julián Carrón, president of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. The title of the discussion, which begins at 6.30pm, is: Beyond Optimism, Hope.