I enjoy looking up the origin of words in etymology dictionaries. Did you know that the word “mystic” comes from “secret”? And the origin of “sex” may have a relation to “seco”, meaning “cut in half”. Meanings of these words have shifted over the years. The same has happened with the word “economy”. It comes from “oikos”, house and “nomos”, management. How did house management turn into the imperative of growth of states, so closely associated with its modern definition? Can we blame the neighbour?
If we would transpose the original meaning of the word economy onto contemporary society, we would probably end up with a definition such as “global gardening”. After all, managing our highly advanced household nowadays means working to ways of sustainable use of our collective limited resources. It seems, though, that the human mind has trouble taking the concept of limited resources seriously. I think the reason for that is that we somehow fail to care for whatever we don’t feel belongs to us yet.
We are facing a problem that is hard to describe. In the 17th century, when economy received its state bound definition, western humans collectively stepped out of their limited, state bound existence and literally discovered that there is more behind the horizon. In my experience, the turn from heaving the attention on a limited, defined set of “own” surroundings towards an area of the “unknown” not only requires guts, but also a form of blindness. Whenever I leave my safe, managed territory, I enter a place where I don’t know the rules.
In that sense I totally get the way things currently are. We humans are constantly struggling with the “mine” versus “not mine” aspects of our lives. If it is in our control, in our familiar domain, we know the rules and probably accept them. If it is not, if it transcends the limits of our day to day experience and understanding, our known code of conduct does not apply anymore and we are forced to break our known rules. Consequently we allow ourselves to do stupid things. In the unknown, we don’t know the limits because nobody we trust ever taught them to us. Humans lose part of their ethics if they are in unknown territory. This is what happened in the imperial age, and it is happening still.
So far, the global scale has been far too big and complex for a human mind to think in. As a species, we weren’t evil, just too small and simple to see our physical and ethical limits. But they are upon us now, so it’s time to revalue the rules.