Externalising Things

I was reading through a blog called The Archdruid Report recently. Whilst doing so, I happened across a post that described the principle of “Externalisation”. Now in brief, the idea is that when doing business, you can push some of the cost of what you’re doing off onto someone else. The Archdruid gives the example of a factory pushing effluent into a local river, thus pushing the cost of waste disposal onto the environment and the people downstream. Of course, our civilisation can’t afford to keep on doing that, too many birds coming home to roost; but that’s a discussion for another post.

As I thought about it, the sheer scope of externalisation became clearer and I realised that I’d touched on the subject before; albeit from a spiritual slant and I’d not known the formal name for it at the time. We do this with more than just the environment; we use insurance in many avenues of life and what is that but externalising liability? If we have an accident the insurer gets the huge bill, not us. It’s the same with the Cloud and IT outsourcing, we externalise responsibility for dealing with the complexities of various IT and business systems. But in this case, by passing the buck outwards, we hand over a large degree of power and control. We no longer control our own systems,  and in time the skillset to do so will be lost. We also expose ourselves to legal frameworks we’re not familiar with. For example, US based cloud systems are subject to US law; a thing which people in Europe or Asia might not have taken into account when signing up. In some circumstances, this could lead to difficulties! I already have the understanding that some European companies will not have their data hosted in US Cloud systems for just this reason.

We externalise many things in our lives and thinking of places we do this is an interesting exercise. But I’d like to return now to old ground, the spiritual. The externalising of our spiritual lives is, in my eyes, the chief purpose of organised religion. During the spiritual journey, we’re all faced with difficult questions, things that we must resolve. The organised religions offer pre-packaged answers to these questions, “all” they require for their price is obedience and the transfer of your power over your spiritual life to them. The problem then is similar to the problem I mentioned above with IT systems. The loss of relevant skills (critical thought), the loss of power and control. The inability to go your own way.

I can’t help but think of the Kalama Sutra and that the Buddha’s last words were that his followers should be a light unto themselves. That seems to pretty much rule out this sort of Externalisation. I recall a recorded Dharma Talk by the late Rev. Jiyu Kennett, founder of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. She said quite bluntly that “Buddhism is not a religion for spiritual children”, as I reflect on her words I’m convinced that this is what she meant.

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