We Are All Dependent on Care

WiC-Blogpost Nummer 12
(This text was first published in Swiss Church News Winter 2016/2017, p. 4f)

All humans are dependent on care. Although we have got used to speaking of „independent individuals“, mostly referring to people who earn or own money, nothing can change the fact that we are all needy, that we are part of nature and that money is not edible: From the first to the last day of our lives we need to breathe, eat, drink, shit, dwell and sleep. So it’s not only “the weak” but all who are dependent on people who care for them, producing food, cooking meals, keeping the air breathable and the water drinkable, constructing houses and streets, cleaning toilets, nursing the sick and so on.

Economy is Care

The notion “economy” is derived from two Greek words: oikos and nomos. Oikos means house or household, nomos means rule or doctrine. So, the oikonomia originally was the theory of good housekeeping. According to Aristotle who was the first to systematically define the word “economy”, economists have to answer the question how can all human needs be fulfilled, based on a reasonable division of labor.

Aristotle, however, lived in ancient Athens which was a society of slaveholders. So, he believed in a bipartited humanity consisting of “higher” spheres of independent male citizens and “lower” spheres of slaves, women, children (plus animals) whom they considered to be born to fulfill the needs of their masters. As most philosophers belonged (or wanted to belong) to the higher seemingly independent sphere they gradually began confusing the human condition with the condition of slaveholders who were permanently cared for by invisible hands. This is how the current fiction of man as “independent individual” came into being. And this is how the economy became a theory of money, markets and profits only. Gradually most economists simply forgot the fact that the fulfilling of the needs of billions of humans was their core business, and they never realized that half of the world’s work, the care-work done mainly by women in private households, was unpaid yet the basis of the oikonomia.

The Postpatriarchal Confusion

Meanwhile women, the former slaves and the “dependent” workers have unmasked the ideology that it is their “natural duty” to care for masters who, for their part, claim to be “independent”. Women found out that the God-like “invisible hand” that is supposed to mysteriously regulate markets in fact consists of billions of invisible hands doing the necessary care-work day in day out without “financial incentives”, above all bearing, raising and nursing future workers in families. Many women have already stopped doing the traditional care work at home, striving for professional careers. However, as everybody still needs care, the unpaid private work does not disappear but is, for example, delegated to migrants from ex-colonies. As many of these migrants, however, have also stopped believing in their “natural duty” to care for masters the whole biparted construction is finally collapsing. This is what I call the “postpatriarchal confusion”. Today, in ending patriarchy, we literally do not know what is above and what is below any more. Although this makes us dizzy sometimes it is a good thing as we finally realize that all humans, men and women, children and adults, ex-masters and ex-slaves are dependent on each other.

Many Ways Out

What will we do in the postpatriarchal confusion? We will stop believing in higher and lower spheres and humans will reorganize the world in a more adequate way. This is all the more urgent as nature itself, too, has begun to revolt: Climate is changing, glaciers are melting, extreme droughts and floods are becoming more and more frequent. We no longer can avoid realizing that we humans are not superior to nature but part of it, in need of all the care that nature has always given for free: water, soil, air, plants, animals… For a long time humanity has taken for granted these gifts of nature, just as slaveholders have taken for granted the services of slaves. This misperception is coming to an end as slavery has come to an end. Luckily there are already many hopeful social experiments going on around the world, reorganizing human neediness in a more gentle and equitable way. Let’s look at them, let’s join them and invent new economic systems.

Further reading: Ina Praetorius, The Care-Centered Economy. Rediscovering what has been taken for granted, Berlin (Heinrich Böll Stiftung) 2015