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Three Types of Group Karma

for the Modern Era

Posted 15/12/06

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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 us.


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 gathering momentum.


I postulate three modern forms of Group Karma


1)    Economic Karma


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 product.


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 economic paradigm?


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 haunts us.


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 economic Karma.


2)    Social Karma


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 support.


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.


3)    Environmental Karma


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.


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