The Economist’s Prima: Resolving the Order Vs Freedom Dilemma
‘Chaos Vs Order’
“The mind is an ocean
Where chaos coincides with strict order
Sinking in a spiral the lowest
The lowest abyss/
An infernal dominion
Built on annihilation
Look towards the future but not so far
Is that you can’t see today/
Look towards the future, stand above all
And set your spirit free”
Sung by Darken, Written by Peter Karl & Christofer Erik Einar
When I first thought about Prima, the concept awakened an old dream of mine. Putting economics aside for a moment, the central problem of any political system is the dilemma between order and freedom: too much order guarantees stability, but leads to tyranny and repression, which snuffs out innovation and therefore progressive change. Too much freedom guarantees democracy and innovation, but leads to dissent, chaos and, ultimately, the dissolution of any organised political system and a decent into anarchy – what today we would called a ‘failed state’. This is also a central dilemma within economics; ‘free markets’ versus ‘state regulation’, ‘individual responsibility’ versus ‘the Welfare state’, etc …
Is some sort of reconciliation of these dilemmas possible? What is it about Prima that invokes such a dream? In essence, it is the simple idea that both order and freedom are characteristic of, and necessary for human life, but at different stages of the life-cycle! Infants, young children and their mothers, the sick, disabled and elderly need order, safety and protection; a nurturing and supportive environment and physical and psychological comfort. Adolescents, healthy adults and innovators of all kinds (artists, inventors, entrepreneurs) need freedom; the absence of constraint and regulation, competitive access to resources and the right to exercise personal power and responsibility.
The genius of Prima is that it recognises these differential developmental needs; the new-born and the pregnant woman need the close, ‘nesting’ embrace of what zoologists call ‘eusociality’. While the health young adult needs to escape the tribe, in order to explore the furthest reaches and possibilities of human culture and society. For thousands of years, traditional political systems concentrated on ensuring order, although frequently interrupted by violent wars and rebellions. But, for the last 300 years, Western capitalism has lurched over to the freedom side of the dilemma: (crudely put) these political systems have tried to ensure more and more individual freedom. The result has been the unprecedented productivity of modern capitalism, combined with an utterly disastrous performance when it comes to the psychological aspects of birth and child-rearing.
In the headlong rush to maximise profit and economic efficiency, birth and child-rearing have been left to the meagre resources of individuals. The vast forces of society’s macro-structures (governmental, organisational, political and cultural) have been mobilised in the name of economic production, but when it comes to the biological reproduction of the species, individuals have to find their own solutions, in whatever gaps and spaces they can find amidst the gargantuan machinery of late capitalist production and consumption. And the machinery always takes precedence: the ‘labour market’ allocates people chronologically, socially and geographically, according to the demands of the machinery, irrespective of exigencies of birth and child-rearing, or the destruction of communities and social networks.
Unsurprisingly, the result is a sub-optimal outcome when it comes to birth and child-rearing. Up until recently, most of the ‘negative externalities’, in terms of neuroses, addictions and other forms of human misery, were generally mopped up by the spontaneous welfare provisions of traditional, organic communities. But, as above, the advance of capitalism is increasingly decimating such communities: the ‘disutility’ now falls on the wider civic society, and the cost of cleaning it up falls on the state – in so far as it’s willing and able to pay for it.
I believe that Prima could be the answer to this and the other dilemmas above, because it addresses differential life-cycle needs. It can provide much needed ‘eusocial enclaves’, within an advanced, free-market, mass-culture society. Safe, nurturing spaces, where human infants can be born and develop in something close to the optimal, ‘nesting’ environment for which evolution ‘designed’ them. Infinitely preferable to the Do-It-Yourself, child-rearing nooks and crannies that parents are forced to carve out among the chaos of their pressurised working-lives. And, I believe that the time may be right: capitalism does not spontaneously respond to such basic human needs – until the negative externalities become seriously dysfunctional for the entire system. I believe that we are now fast approaching this point. Without Prima, the vast material wealth and almost infinite life-chances created by advanced capitalism, may be jeopardised by a collapse of the system as we know it.