It’s the Environment, Stupid!

Let’s get right into it, shall we? Since each individual is the only such individual who has experienced the entirety of her own historical timeline from her own internal perspective, she is also, obviously but critically, the only person who has been shaped by her life history’s particular unfolding—her perpetually-evolving sensory environment. Our external-sensory and internal-subjective environments (both in their own right, and combined) are the only stimuli with which our brains can interact to construct a sense of self, which is, and has always been, constantly growing and adapting mentally, physically, and neurologically. 

Each of us is the only one with direct, first-hand knowledge and memory of our own perceptual environmental influences (both internal and external), and the set of those developmental conditions represents a unique environment, perceivable only to a single subjective source. This is why everyone is unique, because “It’s the environment, stupid!”1 The individual’s unique perception of her own environment is un-shared and nobody experiences exactly the same reality. We are each continually emerging into a new understanding of ourselves and our reality through our own personal exposure to a unique concoction of environmental stimuli. This same principle is also why every animal, plant, business, pebble, idea and galaxy are also unique. 

Moreover, since the change of just a single environmental factor generates compensatory relationship adjustments among all other environmental factors, and since all environmental factors are in a constant state of transition through time, each and every passing moment is constantly, and essentially, a new system. The addition or change of a single new factor creates a new set of conditions, the interrelationships of which are unique to the time and specific to the particularities now newly present within the environment. And so when one asks, why is everything the way that it is? “It’s the environment, stupid!”1 Do you want to know why something—as trite as the flavor of a certain slice of pizza or as meaningful as why your partner feels anxious all the time—is the way that it is? Analyze its environment, now and historically. Want to know why some things—or behaviors—used to be one way, and now they are not that way? Analyze how its environment has changed. Everything is a product of its own environment. Growth in understanding necessitates an evolution of one’s own comprehension (another point for the importance of learning in the battle against simpletism) to encompass newly unfolding events through time, like those that constantly reshape the environment.   

Want to know why consumers and businesses and employees and banks behave the way they do? Take a look at the environmental and economic conditions that capitalism-as-usual has laid in place for the market or participant in question. The answers to such questions will invariably fit the material constraints imposed therein.

To further illustrate, consider the present consumer banking environment in American society. The current fractured system, dominated by large players, discriminates in how it provides different services to different people, all by design. It is only within this lifetime that social activism has opened up the provision of some access to common banking services for people who are non-white or non-male. Mehrsa Baradaran has written two excellent books detailing this present state of affairs and how it came to be so in the land of the free, How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy, and The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap. In an economy, such as our current capitalism-as-usual, where capitalists can freely choose to systematically discriminate to such an extent that it produces and maintains class divisions, wealth inequality and social unrest will be permanent features. 

Moreover still, a systematically disenfranchising banking system, which undergirds countless other elements of the economic environment, further degrades the common welfare by reinforcing pockets of segregation, an aspect of our recent history explored in depth by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in her book Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. Again, capitalism-as-usual pursues the profit maximization motive, not the racial equality motive. The way that the companies and humans that comprise the economy interrelate is by design. Why are things the way that they are?… Well, “the way things are” is literally what an environment is. What do you think the environment will be like in the future? Change the environment; change the way things are.

1 This aphorism was introduced to us by Andrew Lo in his thoroughly engaging book about integrating the natural qualities of adaptation, competition and natural selection into the behavioral “efficiency” of market behavior: Adaptive Markets: Financial Evolution at the Speed of Thought. Not ironically, the quote applies to everything. Change and uncertainty are both permanent and ubiquitous features of reality.

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