into the 21st
Types of Group Karma
for the Modern Era
Group and individual Karma has always
been around and still is. This has all been well documented in traditional
Theosophical literature. What has changed since the time of H P Blavatsky and
Annie Besant is the level of awareness that the average person has in the
information age and the groups and institutions which have a Karmic hold over
Annie Besant focuses principally on
three sources of group Karma, The Family, The Nation
and The Race. One hundred years ago these factors were regarded a central to a
personís identity in Western Society whereas today anyone putting too great an
emphasis on them would be dysfunctional. These factors have become less
important and have given way to new forms of group Karma which, although they
have always existed, now exert a greater Karmic hold over us and are still
I postulate three modern forms of Group
The Karma of the Consumer Society
A consumer society has existed for
several hundred years but the hold of consumerism is now greater than ever. We
are locked into an economic system which will collapse if people donít consume
enough. Itís not easy to opt out and the big difference today, from earlier
times, is the extent to which the system keeps itself going by selling us stuff
we never knew we needed. There has probably never been a more exciting time to
go shopping, if you can afford it.
We also define ourselves by the goods we
buy and fashion plus the need to keep up appearances can be just as coercive as
traditional family values and the old time religions.
Products are designed and marketed for
consumers so you are buying more than just the physical product. Modern
advertising categorizes people into target consumer groups. If you ever buy
anything then you are a member of one or more of these groups and consequently
will be buying a bit of the appropriate group Karma along with the
Earning more in order to spend more is a
great lifestyle option if you can stay with it, but not everyone benefits from the
prevailing economic regime. There are losers and casualties as there are under
any economic system. The information age makes us more aware of the downside
but if it doesnít touch us directly, we can keep it out of our minds.
What part are you playing in the global
Does your standard of living rely on
someone elseís poverty?
Do we negate our responsibility?
Before the industrial age, we acquired
national wealth from abroad by blatant exploitation, e.g. plantations and
slavery. The Karmic Debt built up by this is obvious and the legacy still
We changed the economic rules two
hundred years ago by abolishing slavery and making everyone theoretically a
consumer. We created the notion that people in what we now call the third world
have the opportunity to come up to our standard.
The idea of the carrot of opportunity
for all, both within our society and globally, has always been up for
discussion. The Karmic debt has become a bit more obscure but it is virtually
impossible to function without contributing to the economic order and thus
generate economic Karma either individually or as a category of consumer.
Annie Besant never spoke in global
economic terms and believed the British Empire to be a force for good in the
world. George Orwell contrasted with this by calling the Empire a ďracketĒ and
regarding it as a system of economic exploitation.
Clearly the British Empire did bring
some benefits and there were winners but expansionist wars and the assumption
that everyone should live in economic subservience to us built up a pile of bad
Karma both group and individual.
The colonial age has gone, we have seen
the decline of the nation state, the rise of the multinational company and
economic co-operation zones (EEC, NAFTA). There are more players in the
economic game and some new outfits are on the up. Sadly in the midst of all
this, there are still losers and casualties. Progress offers neither economic
Utopia nor room for complacency during a period of affluence.
Movements such as Fair Trade,
Intermediate Technology and Voluntary Service Overseas try to even up the
economic playing field and also provide opportunities to generate a bit of good
The Karma of the Aspirational Society
It may be your Karma to do well in life
or to be given high expectations and you may ultimately pay for not taking the
opportunities that your life has offered you. During the late industrial age,
the chance to do well was not readily offered to everyone but it was possible
for many to enter a reasonable manufacturing job at age 15 and stay in it until
age 65, sometimes with a pension. Some clerical disciplines despite lacking
many prospects also offered a job for life with a pension. Sadly this created a
formal static system that was not responding to inevitable change.
All this security has gone and the
breakdown of the system was not a pretty sight leaving many with the choice
between being marginalized or becoming a high powered go getter. Sermons on
seizing opportunity became commonplace and lack of ambition became a heresy.
Some adapted well to the new economic order but far more never really got their
lives back on track.
The old social class system based on three
main socio-economic groupings, with limited movement between them, has evolved
into something far more complex. Our society now consists of many fluid
competing groups of varying status with constant promotion and relegation
between them. Even the groups themselves move up and down the league table.
Improvement or upward mobility within
the social structure has become mandatory for whole sections of society and
some consider it essential for basic survival. Economic activity is far more
dynamic, with a lot more going on, and this has made everything more
competitive at all levels of society, e.g. Healthcare was considered outside
the commercial world thirty years ago.
Annie Besant was a leading social
reformer at a time when 70% of the population lived below the poverty line with
no prospect of improvement. Her concern was with conditions and security rather
than creating upward social mobility in a system that couldnít really offer it.
Although Annie Besant never introduces the concept, any social Karma at that
time would be limited to the Karma of oneís social class.
Considering the Karma you will generate
as you engage with this new social order is something you may simply not have
time to worry about. You will certainly be aware that easy options with regard
to career, housing and education are not available and that you have to compete
hard just to stand still. In relation to the economic system, the price of
being a loser is greater than it used to be. Also the strains caused by the
competitive nature of society, rather than draw people together as the two
world wars did, has made people more isolated with less community and family
Everyone around at the time remembers
that the collapse of our industrial base produced mass unemployment and society
often congratulates itself that unemployment is now much lower with numerically
more people in work. The current economic regime has twice a many people unable
to work through illness than are actually unemployed. This downside of the new
competitive social and economic order is generally swept under the carpet.
The Karma of Consumption
Not considered in H P Blavatskyís and
Annie Besantís day but it certainly looks like weíre going to get a big Karmic
bill for this one.
Socio-economic aspirations and global
consumerism contribute to Environmental Karma but the problem has clearly been
building up for centuries. The difference now is that we can see an end to
resources and can measure the effects we are having on the environment. The
Romans were good at slash and burn and it is now believed that their forest
fires burnt a hole in the ozone layer. They had crops to plant and people to
feed and were only exploiting the available resources as we do now.
It is easy to point the finger, for
environmental damage, at the last three hundred years of ever increasing
industrialization but the modern world simply inherited a tradition handed down
through the ages that success in life and status were characterized by high
levels of consumption. If youíve got it, why not flaunt it and if someone else
has it, you might want it yourself.
Up to about 50 years ago, we were
probably more or less getting away with it but, the demand for, and
availability of technological products such as cars and household consumer
goods on an unprecedented scale may have broken our planet. Mending it will be
the task of the next two hundred years.
into the 21st
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