The sharing economy became popular with the development of online platforms, in large part due to the consequences of the great financial crisis of 2007 and in response to the environmental crisis. The sharing of bicycles, cars, apartments, office spaces, gardens, household appliances, and other things spread rapidly with the help of internet technology. From initially good and promising initiatives, sharing ideas soon became commercialised (e.g. Uber, Airbnb) and became just another instrument of profit-making. So we should ask ourselves, is this a real sharing economy that addresses the fundamental problems of the world – poverty, hunger, social conflicts, a degraded environment and climate change? If we want to find out what the real sharing economy means, we need to think more deeply on this matter and Mohammed Sofiane Mesbahi's new book The sharing economy: Inaugurating an age of the heart (December 2021) can be of tremendous help.
The author divides the book into five chapters, the titles of which are by themselves very illuminating: What does it mean to 'share', From the inner to the outer sharing economy, A spiritual education for the Art of Being, The esoteric significance of the United Nations, The problem of modern technology, and an appendix on The gift economy and barter. Thus, we can see that this is not a usually dull discussion of economic theory but rather a more contemplative discussion that goes beyond economics to consider the inner aspects of our beings and society.
What does it mean to 'share'?
The sharing economy is not something new that began with internet technologies. “We have always shared within our homes and peer groups without the need for smartphones and high technology,” writes Mohammed Mesbahi. But if we want to know the deeper meaning of the principle of sharing, we must first recognise its opposite - commercialisation which “is manipulative, amoral and harmful towards both man and the lower kingdoms of nature”. In contrast, the principle of sharing is “predicated on fairness, harmlessness, awareness and the will-to-good.”
Commercialisation converts natural and social resources, human activities and relationships, and even man himself into commercial and thus profitable opportunities at any costs. Therefore, a true sharing economy primarily applies to the poor - because poor people are the biggest victims of an economic system that is dictated by the forces of commercialisation. Commercialisation is not performing for the needs of all people and the environment but only for the profits and benefits of a small percentage of powerful and affluent human beings.
From the inner to the outer sharing economy
If we limit human life in modern society only to the material or outer aspect and neglect that part of our being that can be named the inner self or soul, then this is inevitably reflected in the everyday life of humanity. Greed, selfishness, competition, and the desire for wealth belong to our outer or material aspects, especially when we neglect or suppress our inner, spiritual qualities. Unfortunately, our society, particularly the economic system, encourages and glorifies these selfish material aspects.
Yet compassion, care for others, harmlessness, and goodwill express man's inherently spiritual qualities or the qualities of the heart. For thousands of years, we express such qualities within our families and small communities, while they are almost entirely unexpressed on a broader societal or international level. So we cannot say that we are compassionate and care about others, while at the same time, our commercial business practices and our consumerist ways of life deprive millions of even the most basic goods.
Deep down, we are aware of our connection with all other people. We are capable of compassion, “to be with” and “not to harm”, but we must learn to express these inner qualities externally and integrate them into our social systems, mainly economic - for the sharing economy represents man's inner qualities in the external environment.
A spiritual education for the Art of Being
Today's education system educates us for life in a competitive and selfish world, where only wealth, power and success count. But we are not taught "to share with those less fortunate than ourselves." Young people acquire a lot of knowledge in the natural and social sciences, economics and other fields of education, but they know little or nothing about the meaning and purpose of life itself. They may learn something about the arts, but they don't see that life itself can also be Art. What's more, the Art of living is an external expression of the Art of Being or Self-realisation.
We need to learn about one's divine nature (the Art of Being) and express it through right human relationships (the Art of Living). However, a new education alone is not enough - as Mohammed Mesbahi already emphasised in the book Heralding Article 25: A people's strategy for world transformation. He also pointed out in this earlier book that it is necessary to engage a broad popular movement to demand the implementation of a sharing economy through continuous and peaceful demonstrations. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is, therefore, at the core of our efforts for achieving a fairer and peaceful world:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
In The Sharing Economy, the author emphasises the vital evolutionary role of this basic economic and social right: "Article 25 is one of the outer expressions of the principle of sharing, and spiritual evolution is the inner expression of that very principle."
The esoteric significance of the United Nations
The unique position of the United Nations is irreplaceable, as it is the only international institution representing the entire human family - one humanity. Sharing goods within the family unit is an obviously natural and necessary practice today, but what about sharing goods in our global human family? The United Nations is the appropriate organisation to coordinate this significant task – pooling together each countries' surplus resources and sending them to where they are most needed. Something similar we already do at a lower level within developed countries. We collect taxes and reallocate them where required - for education, healthcare, public infrastructure, etc. We can do the same globally through a sophisticated sharing system via the United nations.
The United Nations, therefore, has an immense role to play in enabling our natural, inner human qualities to be expressed on a global scale. "Do we dare to dream, one day, of a United Nations that upholds a new civilisation based on a sharing economy, thus expressing right human relationship for the first time in millennia - and thus guiding each nation to realise its unique spiritual destiny?" The United Nations, together with the support of the masses and cutting-edge modern technology, has the potential to change our world, to create a "new civilisation" literally.
The problem of modern technology
At first glance, the rapid development of modern technologies seems like a good prospect for a better future for humanity. Still, one must ask if technology is "truly used for the common good of all, instead of being co-opted by private interests and steered in an increasingly commercial direction." Thus, with the help of online platforms and smartphones, the sharing economy has become just another profitable business model, which may benefit small groups of already wealthy people and, to a lesser extent, the environment. But, at the same time, it means nothing to the poor world majority who fail to benefit from technological advancements.
But "when the evolution of technology finally moves in line with an awareness of the Divine Plan for humanity's spiritual evolution, we may also witness how technology provides the complex logistical solutions required for an advanced system of bartering and exchange to be facilitated worldwide." Like money, technology is not harmful by itself; the problem is invariably the motive driving its usage and distribution - whether we want its benefits only for ourselves or for the common good.
The gift economy and barter
Although economic theories teach us that the modern market economy emerged from barter, many anthropologists have discovered that early human societies were based on a gift economy - giving without expecting anything in return. The gift economy connected communities, strengthened relationships and eliminated scarcity. The sharing economy includes - on a higher turn of the spiral - both the concept of gift and barter. We should give and receive with an altruistic spiritual motivation, and without demanding (immediate) reciprocation. By always considering other people's needs, we may consequently create a peaceful and safe social and political environment in mutual trust.
On the final page of this inspiring book, the author concludes with an evocative quote: "At the end of the day, there is no such thing as a sharing economy, a gift economy or a barter economy, but only a common sense loving economy." If we add to this discussion of the sharing economy Mesbahi's books The commons of humanity and the previously mentioned Heralding Article 25: A people's strategy for world transformation, then we get a comprehensive insight that stimulates our intuition and also spurs us to become active players for changes that the world so urgently needs today.
"We have tried everything else over thousands of years, throughout all the epochs and civilisations that have proudly arisen and long since disappeared; all we have left is love and the heart!" The true meaning of sharing is therefore to bring love and the heart to the world stage, in which sense the implementation of a sharing economy will mark the inauguration of an Age of the Heart.
Photo credit: Biggles1067, flickr creative commons