Meet “the Market” – a God for the 21st century

How many times have you heard someone talking about a major policy ask: “How is the market going to respond?”

Or heard someone say that a social problem will be taken care of “if we let the market work?” Or heard that our society is in trouble because “the market lost confidence.”

These statements refer, of course, to the financial markets – but in a provocative article in the London Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty asked: if you substitute “God” for “the market” in all of these statements, doesn’t it make about as much sense?

In fact, said Chakrabortty, isn’t this a pretty good indication that “The Market” has become the Western society’s religion?

After all, we have faith in it, and in its power to perform miracles and bestow prosperity, even if we don’t really understand how.  We ask if “the market” will like something, or how “the market” will react, when we try to decide whether or not to do something. 
And, when you think about it, the market has a priestly class, temples, and orthodox doctrines, too.

Is Chakrabortt right?

We asked Alan Vaughan, a Jungian analyst and psychology faculty member in Saybrook’s PsyD program who studies both the psychology of global capitalism and the transmission of religions across cultures, to weigh in.

His response is below.

In the modern Western context, the term market derives from the Latin root, “Mercatus” to trade, and “Mecari”, market place “Merk” to seize; “Merx or Mercis”, wares, merchandise. There are a number of definitions found in the second edition of the Webster’s New World Dictionary that include: “a gathering of people for buying and selling things”; “buying and selling”; “trade in goods, stocks etc.”; and “opportunity to sell or demand goods or services.” A symbol is something that stands for or represents another thing. So, what has the market come to mean in our conscious reality and what does it symbolize in the individual and collective conscious and unconscious of the human species?

In reality the market is the central operative structure of capitalism, the field or place of exchange. It is archetypal or transpersonal in character given that most ancient and contemporary societies have markets. With the evolution of humankind the individual local markets, with currency, barter and trade, have grown into a global market of markets, through inter connective trade and advances in science, technology, and modes of commerce. We are in a single global culture. Think of global culture as a Macro-system of Microsystems that have emerged to sustain and support the evolution of the human species. These Microsystems include but are not limited to: language, health, economics, education, law, politics, arts, religion etc. They are clearly observable from the vantage point of the 21st century through the satellites in the heavens and through the optic cables lining floors of the world’s oceans. We simply have to tune in and within to be aware. What this means is that factors influencing one country or corner of the world can influence the region and the entire world. If there are economic problems in Greece or Spain, the sixteen Nation Euro-zone is adversely affected. The ripple effect flows to U.S. financial markets and onward to the Asian region. The flow is bidirectional even multidirectional. The term market can be thought of as millions of daily commercial transactions in which goods and services are exchanged for consideration or in kind capital goods or services. These transactions take place in an intricate matrix of matricies, most of which are regulated, with some unregulated by cultural institutions.

Capitalism for all of its genius, contributions and gifts has a Shadow. The Shadow is reflected in the pathology or disease of the market place, and contributes to market volatility. The common core disease is accumulation of excess capital, goods or services by all means necessary; above, beyond, and between the lines of the rule of law. We see the Shadow, thought of by Jung, to be the unconscious expression of evil, active within the human psyche. We see the Shadow of capitalism in 14hth century European Expansionism, the slave trade, colonial history and extinction of Native Americans, and in the normative activities of contemporary investment bankers on Wall Street, e.g., derivative trades, credit default swaps, and the “market maker” philosophy of Goldman Sachs, in which there is no fiduciary responsibility to the client. We see it in the current actions of the British Petroleum company now unable to stop the oil gushing into the gulf coast and decimating coastal sea life and ecology. We see the potential for self destruction in the loss in the share value of BP stock by one third and its new credit risk status. The market volatility often expresses the spirit and affect of the citizenship, commonly uncertainty, anger, fear, elation and greed.

What has the market come to symbolize today? A symbol is something that stands for or represents something else. Symbolization is a higher order cognitive process, common to the human species that develops from childhood. Much of our knowledge in the related, yet diverse fields of psychology, economics, or the sciences, is conceived, transmitted and applied in unique symbol systems that include signs and language. In the modern Western context, the market has come to symbolize or represent the barometer of the economic, political and psychological relations existing within and between interconnected sectors of nation states, principally the G-20 and indirectly the world, given the dominance capitalism. We see this in the DOW daily averages. Capitalism has taken on a religious function with economics and commerce as cannons. The market is the alter of worship where blessings are bestowed and punishments are meted out in the gain and/or loss of dollars and symbols of privilege and prestige. The psychology of capitalism with its market and political economies is complicated. The danger is the one sidedness of which Jung warned. The one sidedness of excess can cause the collapse of the world economy and any semblance of economic stability in your life and mine.

So what is there to learn from pursuing this line of thinking? I am reading the popular books Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett; and Nudge by the economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The Spirit Level advances the idea that capitalism reaches a plateau beyond which it contributes less and less to the well being of the citizenship. The degree of inequality in the distribution of capital and attendant resources is the root cause of maladies in these modern societies. This is most pronounced in highly developed countries where capitalism has excelled, like the U.S. These maladies include poverty, ill physical and mental health, poor education systems, lower employment etc. Societies that have more evenly distributed wealth have greater harmony and greater health in all Microsystems or sectors of its cultural institutions. Nudge, suggests that our views and lived experience of health, wealth and happiness are predicated on bringing the psycho-spiritual dimension to decision making processes in our individual lives, the decisions about the governance of our societies and decisions about purchasing or selling stocks in the market.

So, I think depth psychology, Analytical psychology and the Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologies are very useful in framing and facilitating the discourse on the future of capitalism in an inclusive Western civilization that must transform the Shadow of capitalism as a precondition for transforming its markets and itself into a global society; one with an equitable redistribution of planetary resources and cooperative human relations.


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