It pains me to write this post and I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s mainly because I sense a yawning vacuum, but don’t have a robust proposal to fill it – just some vague, sketchy pointers to a possibility. The story that fills the vacuum beautifully hasn’t been told. It hasn’t even been outlined, in full. It’s an untold story.
More than that, because there is a vacuum, there is no common, consensus framework of understanding, or accepted, untainted vocabulary, to even describe the key elements of the solution I’m hinting at. Everything about it is open to knee-jerk misinterpretation and grotesque distortion.
Much of what my sketchy proposal rests on are unthinkable ideas, in the current paradigm. The problem is that those objections are largely due to dogmatic adherence to failed ideas, yet those failed ideas are all that people have to cling to, so they’d rather shore them up, through a series of Byzantine rationalisations, than face the void. This makes it difficult to examine other possibilities. They’re stuck in one of two opposing ideologies, both of which were not the answer, but which they are inclined to defend to the death.
I guess my reluctance to write this is the certain knowledge that hardly anybody will “get it” and given its potential for causing extreme cognitive dissonance, it may result in pushback I’m not prepared to resist. I’m not the conservative-thinker whisperer.
Those caveats made, there are individuals who are espousing fragments of what I believe point to a viable solution, but they intermingle those with elements that are definitely part of the problem, in my view. You cannot rightly conclude that people are enslaved, but propose a different form of enslavement as the solution, for example, yet even articulate, wise thinkers frequently do. Similarly, you can’t say that economic growth is killing the planet, but propose a system of engineered economic growth as a remedy. There’s something wrong with your assumptions. If you demonstrate that capitalism is structurally broken, by design, then a shiny, new version of it, that shares the same fundamental flaws, won’t work.
I’ve not heard a coherent solution that combines all the pieces I think are necessary, to solve the puzzle. I’m not even sure that all the pieces fit together.
What’s the Problem?
The world is in a huge mess, posing imminent existential threats for all life. Economic theories, which were supposed to lead to the best possible outcomes are discredited and failing, leaving a vacuum in the frameworks of understanding necessary to maintain hope and believe in human progress. If anything, we seem to be going backward at an alarmingly accelerating rate.
Journalist, musician and activist, George Monbiot, characterises the mess with the following litany (which i have taken the liberty of embellishing). He notes these afflict practically all humankind:- The cruelty and indifference of governments, exacerbated by the disarray of opposition parties.
– The apparently inexorable slide towards terminal climate breakdown.
– Wholesale environmental destruction in the name of unsustainable growth.
– Gross inequality, leading to concentration of ownership and hence influence, increasingly dynastic wealth and disenfranchisement of the majority.
– The renewed threat of annihilation through thermonuclear war, contingent on the whims of unstable narcissists.
To this dismal list, I (also a musician, writer and artist) would add the following:
– A monopolistic, manipulative, indifferent, insensitive, arrogant and cavalier high-tech industry behaving like a rapacious, bad citizen.- Breaches of private, personal data with unknown consequences (e.g. the Equifax breach, to name but one of the most recent and extensive).
– The deteriorating state of general mental health, due in large part to the pressures and stresses of living in such a mess and being fully aware of it, but feeling utterly powerless to change it (constrained, of course, by what we believe are the only available courses of action).
Economist, musician and writer, Umair Haque, lists these massive existential threats facing humanity:
– Climate change
What is indisputable is that, while we are much wealthier than five hundred years ago, we’re little happier. Good lives are unevenly distributed and the detrimental aspects of creating wealth (“illth”) has offset any gains. For all our much-vaunted progress, we’re going backward. It’s difficult to thrive and virtually impossible, if you live in poverty.
Money changes everything. It distorts rewards and incentives for human activities in perverse ways, leading to inhumane, destructive outcomes. We’re so fixated with perpetually playing the money game that it changes who we are and how we behave, frequently requiring us to jettison our values and our very personality, to wear the requisite masks and facades.
“Our problems look intractable, our leaders dangerous, while voters are cowed and baffled. Despair looks like the only rational response.”, says Monbiot.
“The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present,” philosopher and psychologist William James wrote, “and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose.”
The root of the problem is that the leading human narratives of recent decades have been stories we tell ourselves about what would be our version of a better world to live in. They’re fictions that share a common structure. They’re redemption stories.
What are redemption stories and how and why do we buy into them? Structurally, a redemption story is one in which a hero saves us all from peril. At the eleventh hour, when all seems lost, a superior man, more virtuous than his peers, steps up to take decisive action to save the day and avert disaster. All of the stories we tell ourselves about the world we live in share this risibly unrealistic expectation. Santa Claus, all the comic book superheroes, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy will surely rescue us, just in the nick of time.
We believe in the redemption fiction so fervently, as a population, that we pretend the deeply flawed individuals we elect to high office magically take on the virtues of their position. It’s why we vote for bogus strong-men and confidence tricksters. Anybody fraudulent enough to claim they are the saviour, with a straight face, gains a significant following and constituency.
To understand the extent to which our minds have become diseased and addled by our adherence to our own fictitious stories, a CNN reporter commenting live-on-air on the devastation of Puerto Rico by category-five hurricane “Maria”, recently, was not able to process how the country could be rebuilt, when it is already seventy billion dollars in debt. To her mind, it was as if the entire country had been wiped clean by a terrible force of nature, leaving nothing whatsoever standing, save the debt ledgers, which were miraculously spared. The obvious answer – that the prior debt would have to be forgiven and written off, in order to allow lives to be rebuilt – didn’t occur to her. It was beyond her framework of understanding.
That debts could be expunged by an irresistible “act of God” was not a thinkable thought, so complete was her lifelong brainwashing. Even while thousands of human beings were imperilled, cold, destitute, traumatised, hungry and homeless, her primary concern was that financiers would be repaid. This insane commentary was broadcast to millions, with the full backing and authority of an august news reporting organisation, as if factual.
There is ample evidence that we do not think rationally about the mental model we hold of the world. Our political and economic beliefs are not formed on the basis of facts and evidence, as we might like to think. Instead, they’re adopted by each and every one of us on gut feel, intuition and by trusting other people who share their views with us. As social creatures, we have a deep need (a survival instinct, if you will) to fit in and be liked, so we bend ourselves to fit other people’s expectations of us. We give in to groupthink.
We buy into our ideas primarily by invoking what Daniel Kahneman called Type 1 thinking. This kind of thinking is quick and dirty; based on impressions, prior prejudices and our faith in beliefs, rather than cold, careful, analytic, fact-based reasoning. In other words, stories are more powerful and compelling than appeals to facts and logic. We base what we think and how we act on the stories we tell ourselves. It should be noted that stories are constructs – they need not bear even a passing resemblance to reality for vast swathes of the population to buy into them fervently and sincerely.
The two prevailing redemption stories of the previous century, which have become like a religion to their respective devotees, can be roughly described as Socialism (and its more extreme cousin, Communism) versus Neoliberalism (also known as unfettered free-market Capitalism). Under both of these systems, ordinary people need only put their faith in the government, in the case of Socialism or corporations, in the case of Neoliberalism and all will be well. Every desire and need will be met, without anybody else needing to concern themselves with how. A good life can be had (indeed good lives are maximised), if only a pure version of each of these redemption stories is allowed to do what it may.
The conflict between the two stories arises because both stories promise the same optimal outcomes, but by diametrically opposite means. In one, economic planning and wealth redistribution is achieved by elite committee. In the other, it’s by the operation of self-interested, greedy, private elites. Both assume that the route to a thriving, good life for all is by economic optimisation, forsaking all other aspects of existence that human beings recognise as being necessary for a good life. As such, both stories share the same blinkered view of what makes for happiness and satisfaction. It all revolves around money and who has it.
There is a popular fallacy that holds, “If you’re not a Capitalist, you must be a Communist”. It is perhaps because of their similarities that people gravitate to these being the only two possibilities. This is an example of a false dichotomy, though. Both systems of governance are, in fact, forms of Capitalism – one is private Capitalism and the other is state Capitalism. Both consume Earth’s resources without limit, in the name of progress. They differ principally in their hierarchies of control and distribution of wealth.
They’re not even pure. When a supposed free-market enshrining capitalist government bails out failing private banks with public funds, risk has been socialised, even while profits are privatised. Similarly, when a nominally communist government, such as China, becomes a partner in private enterprise, with the profits bypassing the general population, to what degree does it remain socialist?
We’re strangely blind to any solution that doesn’t fit the Socialism or Neoliberalism paradigms, as if only these two stories are possible. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that other stories are indeed available.
What is most problematic about both Socialism and Neoliberalism is that neither has delivered a good life to all. Under both, there are multitudes existing in abject misery, constrained in their social mobility and unable to resource their self-development. They don’t work, no matter how much they’re tweaked, purified and perfected. The more dogmatic their implementation; the greater the misery they inflict. They’re failures, resulting in economies that have severe weaknesses and structural problems. Both are utterly discredited, yet nearly everybody clings to a version of one or the other. We have an economic muddle rather than an economic model.
Both of the prevailing, competing ideologies inflict a multi-level hierarchy of increasingly parasitic elites on the populace, to the general detriment of the well-being of the majority, despite their propaganda to the contrary. Both spread the lie that we need the ruling class, when the truth is that they need the obedience, compliance and subservience of all of us.
Perhaps the worst aspect of this exclusive two-story existence is that studies have shown that loneliness faithfully tracks the degree of polarisation between the two views. The more extremely we believe in one or the other, the more isolated we become as human beings from other people. We also know that loneliness kills. It’s more effective at ending lives prematurely than other more obvious vices, such as smoking.
Under both regimes of thought, we all end up wearing masks and acting out roles to conform with the ideals delineated by the prevailing story, taking us further and further away from our instinctual values and true nature, thereby causing us deep internal stress and discomfort; ultimately adversely affecting our mental and physical health. We’re not really the people the stories dictate we must be, in order to succeed within the boundaries of the dominant narrative. We are neither purely, selflessly altruistic, nor are we monstrously, psychopathically rapacious. We’re not like that at all.
The observations on the deleterious effects of isolation and inauthenticity are unsurprising, as both redemption stories are presented as predatory zero-sum games, with the benefits shared extremely unevenly. Neither one is about expanding the overall stock of beauty and providing the necessities of good living (thriving), nor about sharing it equitably. They are stories about winners and losers (i.e. somebody takes from somebody else, by force, conquest, domination and violence), not win-win scenarios.
Redemption is promised, but not for everyone. Only the most worthy are deemed deserving. Casualties and shameless exploitation are not only tolerated, they’re fully expected – by design.
An Alternative Redemption Story
With both narratives so badly flawed and ineffective, there is a pressing need for an alternative story of redemption. Under both of the existing narratives, there never seems to be enough money and wealth to go around, despite the depletion of every available natural resource. Neither system addresses how to increase the stock of genuine wealth, or defines it in terms other than purely materialistic ones. There is much more to living a good life than having more stuff and we all intuitively know it. Clearly, we need a new way of thinking about and conducting human affairs that results in better outcomes than either of the existing stories can ever hope to deliver. What are the elements of a redemption story as yet untold? What pieces of the new narrative come close to describing a system of living that promotes universal human well-being?
Umair Haque has thought deeply on the subject and proposes an alternative framework of thought and action to economics, called Eudaimonics. Eudaimonia is the art of realising genuinely good lives for all. That’s a much better goal than realising genuinely good lives for only the chosen few (which is all that socialism and neoliberalism offer), don’t you think?
Some of the aspects/properties of this new redemption story are named and described below:
* Mu – Don’t overthink things. Accept some things as presented, at face value.
* Pu – Being effortlessly, naturally one’s truest self.
* Ziran – Natural self-transformation.
* Arete – Virtue as a lived, everyday experience.
* Ren – Compassionate wisdom, or benevolent humanity.
* Wu-wei – Natural, instinctive flow, which frees human potential.
* Sunyata – Feeling part of a boundless, joyous, whole.
* Ahimsa – To not wish or intend any harm. The very opposite of harm.
* Anubhava – Intuitive, direct knowing . First-hand experience of a thing.
* Summum bonum – Achieving the highest good for all.
In order to realise eudaimonia, Haque further proposes that organisations of all complexions need to act in ways that enhance the lives of everybody. There’s an old saw that states you get what you measure, so he suggest that we characterise human organisations by these metrics:
* Omega – An organisation’s ability to create immediate eudaimonia.
* Theta – An organisation’s ability to create long-term eudaimonia.
* Lambda – An organisation’s ability to realise human potential/possibility.
* Kappa – An organisation’s net effect on well-being.
* Epsilon – An organisation’s equality of well-being.
To my way of thinking, these are good, worthy ideas which should be included in a future redemption story, but I don’t think economic activity will wholly cease. Given that some form of economic activity takes place, the key is to do it in as benign a way as possible, consistent with maintaining good lives. Nevertheless, eudaimonia is an interesting and very necessary paradigm shift. It begins to examine the problem of enhancing human existence from a non-economic perspective. That’s important.
I’ve been thinking about this problem for a long time, too and I think I have stumbled upon some of the necessary ingredients for good lives to thrive universally. My starting assumption is that people are mainly born good. Criminality is a result of corruption of an initial state of being (due to the distorting power of money, adverse childhood events, the application of violence). I start from an axiomatic belief in the goodness, trustworthiness and honesty of most people. If this isn’t true, we’re all screwed anyway. The entire exercise would be futile.
How to Thrive
This is where I make bald, unproven statements, with insufficient explanation or justification, in the interests of brevity and exposing the ideas in as simple a way as I can. Yes, that leaves them open to misinterpretation and attack, but better this way than to write a detailed essay on each one, which each probably deserves and requires. It is my assertion that focusing on these elements provides a viable framework within which humanity can live good lives, without destroying our life-sustaining habitat, the living world, in the process. Here they are:
– Redeem yourself – Saving the world is more about self-transformation than politics and economics. There are no mythical, magical, peerless, unreproachable leaders. One isn’t going to emerge to save us all. Our redemption stories are myths. Haque has said,”it isn’t the gods who write the book of destiny — it’s us. It’s up to us to create tomorrow.” In other words, unless each and every one of us participates in saving the world, nothing is going to change. The downward spiral will continue. In all likelihood, that means we’re going to have to change ourselves, every one of us, first.
This is the key to it all. Unless we give up redemption stories where somebody else saves us, we’re sunk. Redemption will only come from our own collective actions. We have to transform ourselves at the same time as everybody else does, or it doesn’t make any difference. There are no saviours.
The fundamentalist religious redemption stories, where a God of your choice saves humanity, also have to be abandoned. God, Allah, whichever God you care to name hasn’t saved us all so far and therefore isn’t likely to in the future. If you believe that redemption will only take place in the afterlife, then please leave this life to those that don’t happen to believe that. You’re taken care of in the afterlife. Many others of us are of the opinion that stories of redemption in the afterlife are human creations, designed to make us accept a lack of redemption in this life. In other words, they’re another species of predatory propaganda propagated by a powerful elite trying to maintain their illegitimate privilege – the clerical hierarchy.
– Evolving ideas – We’re all a work in progress. So is changing our redemption story to one that promotes good lives. The solution to the world’s problems lies in first raising the quality of our own ideas and actions. We should be aware that this won’t happen overnight, in one blinding flash of lucid insight, shared universally, but we should also note that we don’t have much time. The doomsday clock is ticking.
– Flattened hierarchies – The more I study the root causes of conflict and stupid decisions, the more I am drawn to the idea that hierarchy plays a large part. It’s amazing how little power it takes to corrupt a person utterly. Once an individual or group of individuals concludes that it is their divine right to sit astride the rest of humanity, to control them, farm them or interfere in their lives and decisions, the inevitable miseries and gross injustices follow. It doesn’t seem to matter what scale of organisation you care to name – from a dictatorship attempting imperial global hegemony to a small business or the local PTA. There is no natural order of things that installs particular humans in positions of authority. It’s always usurped and insinuated. No leader has legitimacy to rule, because they’re all fallible humans. The longer I study this issue, the fewer people I see are genuine heroes, capable of saving us all and with unfailing wisdom. They just don’t exist.
The irresistible conclusion is that the only way to avoid the problems caused by corrupt and inept leaders is to gravitate toward anarchism, in the sense that there are no rulers ruling over other people. That inevitably leads to the idea that in order to maintain the smooth working of human affairs, government by voluntary participation and consensus is the only viable option. We all share this small planet. Cooperative “running of things” by mutual agreement is the only way that life can thrive and lives can be universally good.
The end of hierarchy further leads to the end of unearned income and illegitimate, unaccountable privilege. The opulent class will have to make a new life on a level playing field, with no special claim to wealth or resources. The rest of us and the planet can’t sustain supporting the rich as a class of idle people, producing nothing of eudaimonic value and frequently destroying the chances of a good life for millions of others. That means there can be no rentier culture and scarcity-creating gatekeepers. Abundance should never be restricted into austere scarcity, to suit the interests of a tiny, privileged minority. This is especially true of human knowledge.
– Blockchain – This is an important technology because of its potential to democratise trust and identity, to protect private data and to allow fair trading and monetary systems to emerge. It can also be subverted and there are agents attempting exactly this, at present, largely to protect existing hierarchies of privilege, power and wealth. Unfortunately, the most popular blockchain technologies have flaws built into them, which separate Bitcoin miners from users (granting them differential privileges, power and wealth) and severe scalability problems. Solutions to both problems, however, exist, though are not widely adopted. My bet is that if Algorand were to displace Bitcoin and Blockstack be constructed on top of Algorand, to displace Ethereum based on Bitcoin, we’d have something with legs.
A blockchain applied to distributed applications, because it flattens hierarchy and removes privilege, is a technology that can be particularly life enhancing. There are many human transactions that can be made more equitable and secure with this technology. For example, issuance of cryptocurrency at the point of eudaimonic value creation would lead to less inequality of wealth and opportunity. Many more kinds of work could be properly valued according to how much it helps us all thrive.
Blockchain also has the potential to allow individuals to take control of their own data, instead of handing it over in its entirety to government agencies or private interests (or both) in exchange for access to useful services (such as a search engine, for example). Blockchain is a technology that can establish transparent trust, without a trusted authority. The authority is all of us – the community. Data is encrypted in transit and at rest and attacker transactions are traceable (bugs excepted). Data transactions are trusted and logged in an immutable ledger and all accessors are known. Revocation of data access also becomes possible. Today, it’s very hard to get your data back or prevent somebody who previously had to access to your data from accessing it in the future. You can’t change your mother’s maiden name.
If you study the design of monetary systems, blockchain is also a better form of currency that can be engineered to enhance eudaimony. Blockchain can be publicly-owned technology in which we can all participate as first class digital citizens. Encryption is fundamentally necessary for eudaimonic life and it either exists or it doesn’t. If the NSA can crack it, then anyone else can too. They’re not special, as an organisation, other than being obscenely well funded. This is a hierarchy that needs flattening quickly.
– Doughnut economics – Author and economist, Kate Raworth, has proposed a remarkable set of ideas as an antidote to the shortcomings of traditional economics. If we accept that people are going to need to trade goods and services and use resources, then working out how to do that while minimising the harm is a worthwhile pursuit.
The unique thing about doughnut economics is that it seeks to balance human needs with the planet’s capacity to provide them. Somewhere between human well-being and planetary capacity is the sweet spot in which all transactions of an economic kind must exist. Today, we frequently see the economy failing to meet human necessities (because it does so very unevenly), while simultaneously destroying the environment, as if it were infinite and easily replenishable. Neither is the case.
Doughnut economics makes the case for less inequality, for cooperatively owned innovation created through open collaboration, and for economic circularity, whereby firms bear responsibility for cradle to grave product lifecycles, recycling, repairing, reusing, repurposing and renovating the products of human ingenuity, instead of wasting and needlessly discarding them.
– Universal basic income – That stress and anxiety you feel over your job and finances? That’s been a key ideological political policy goal since the 1970s. It was no accident. You voted for it. That’s one of the reasons why real wages have barely risen in decades. The situation was motivated by baseless, bigoted beliefs, carefully contrived and mercilessly engineered.
A universal basic income would tend to end underemployment. If governments can engage in years of quantitative easing, where money is pumped into the banking system, then it can just as easily pump that money into the pockets of the population. The precarity that has been deliberately engineered, far from motivating everybody to become more entrepreneurial, has instead merely resulted in a massive transference of wealth from those less well equipped to aggregate it, to those that are. The rich got richer.
The result has been widespread impoverishment of particular groups in society, including the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the poor, the old, the ill and the disabled, but also the young. The older generation has tacitly declared war on the young, depriving them of the earnings and opportunities previous generations took for granted. A universal basic income could end the economic war of the old on the young. In line with the use of Blockchain, discussed above, we could do it with cryptocurrencies.
Incidentally, the whole idea of a universal basic income is still presented as a risky experiment with uncertain outcomes, which might be terrible. In fact, the experiments were done in the 1970s, in the US and Canada, no less and the data proved it was an unmitigated success. Further, the data shows that the longer the delay in introducing it, the more it costs society. In other words, we’re crazy if we don’t introduce it immediately. This is hard, experimental data, not conjecture.
– Voluntary taxation – You’re kidding me, right? Who’d pay tax if it was voluntary? The answer I am going to offer is: anybody that wants to live in a civilised society that has infrastructure, health care and education, independent of your ability to pay for it piecemeal, at a particular crisis moment of need. In other words, if you want to live in the modern world, you’re going to have to pony up.
Isn’t that theft? Not if it’s voluntary. If it’s voluntary, you’re asking people to gift it to the community. I’d like taxation to be relative to the amount of eudaimonic consumption you take from the community. If what your actions result in is a depletion of other people’s good lives, then you really ought to pay your share. That means the extent to which you use water, electricity or wear out the roads with lorries. Similarly, if your activities are regenerative, improving the lot of the community, the community should reward you. You done your bit. Working out your contribution to your community on the basis of whether you increase or deplete eudaimony seems to be more equitable than on pure economic consumption or income, both of which are imperfect proxies. If you do a lot of damage, you ought to pay more. If you make everything better for everyone, it should be less.
Tax avoidance and tax evasion might seem clever and rebellious, striking a blow against oppression and for freedom, when taxation is compulsory, but refusing to invest in your community and the infrastructure you depend on to live in a civilisation is stupid, free-loading vandalism, when it’s voluntary. The mythical fiction is that, if not compelled to pay, life is good when nobody pays. It isn’t. Life degenerates to barbarism, if nobody pays. Privileged people like to believe in exceptionalism and special pleading. They contend that their contribution is already so wonderful that to tax them would be egregious. Their contribution to eudaimony ought to be measured.
– Connection – Time and again, study after study provides solid data to confirm what we all intuitively knew. Human beings flourish when they have good relationships. That puts a premium on communities, compassion, empathy and altruism. Today, we destroy communities with abandon and we look down on compassion, empathy and altruism with derision, as character flaws and weaknesses. It’s open season to prey on those that work to increase human connectedness. This behaviour is the opposite of what we require for well-being. The quality of our relationships matters crucially to our collective happiness. Our current freedoms have isolated us, as relationships have disintegrated. We cannot ignore this important ingredient in living a good life any longer.
– Immigration is a red herring – Nations exist to exclude. They consist of a group of people who, usually by conquest, have appropriated the wealth and resources of other people and places for themselves and don’t want to have to share it out. It all starts with that heist. If you don’t plunder other regions, there is nothing you need to fear, when its inhabitants swarm all over your borders, trying to share in the spoils of the theft, which they assert an arguably just claim on.
If everywhere is as good a place to live as everywhere else and resources are pooled in a common wealth, why would you need borders or squabbling nations? What would you go to war over? The maintenance of illegitimate privilege plundered from others is the real root cause of nations and their violence toward immigrants. Make everywhere a good place to thrive and nobody will want to leave where they are. As the child of immigrants, I know well of which I speak. Nobody wants to leave their home, if you don’t turn it into some kind of wasteland for them.
The other half of this equation is that if everywhere is a good place to thrive, why shouldn’t people move around? The usual arguments are down to disagreements about beliefs. The root cause of this dispute is the quality of thought that underlies these beliefs. Usually, the beliefs in conflict are some kind of religious redemption story and people are content to live their lives according to this fantasy or that, rather than working together to make the world they actually inhabit fit for well-being. Instead of waiting for an imaginary saviour who somehow never actually comes, they could abandon their particular fervently-held redemption story and start redeeming themselves.
– Deep peace – Put your guns and punishment away. There is ample evidence that force is a failure. It doesn’t lead to people changing their minds or their behaviour. It just spills blood. A world which fosters thriving has no violent enforcement or coercion of any kind, as far as possible. Also, it doesn’t tolerate manipulation of minds for corporate gain.
Shoving any idea down anybody else’s throat by force is no way to win hearts and minds. Punishment isn’t a deterent and it isn’t corrective or rehabilitative, as the recidivism rates demonstrate. It just destroys lives. There is also no limit to the extent of an arms race. The other guy can always come up with a weapon more terrifying than yours. This spiral is infinite. Owning a gun simply increases your odds of having that gun used to kill you or of harming innocent bystanders and killing innocents you mistakenly characterise as threats. The data shows that as a means for self-protection, guns simply don’t work.
You’re much better off addressing why somebody would need to be coerced by force in the first place. Usually, it’s because they don’t have a way to live well.
– Protected childhood – We now know that adverse childhood events are at the root of much criminality and bad health (both physical and mental) in later life. They are reliable predictors of adult difficulties. Therefore, the avoidance of adverse childhood events has to be a prime concern of a community dedicated to creating an environment for universal well-being.
To accomplish this will take a large change in mindset. We are taught to compete, conquer, vanquish and dominate and reward those that exhibit these characteristics most strongly the best. This has to change. People in power are usually dominators. I advocate the removal from positions of power of dominators. Don’t prey on the children. Make sure their childhoods are protected from adverse childhood events. It’s important.
– Truth and reconciliation – There are deep, multi-generational wounds that will never heal unless we address and own up to them. Slavery happened. Imperialism happened. Genocide was real. The result of those acts was terrible harm and injustice. They were nothing short of murderous. Generations of lives were scarred and blighted as a consequence. We need to find some frank honesty about our long, bloody history of conquest to bring an end to the conquest mind set. Without owning up to the dreadful wrongs of the past, we can’t hope to reconcile and build a future together.
– Planned product durability – Capitalism, especially, takes the raw materials of the planet, turns them temporarily into products, which swiftly thereafter are thrown away, in landfill. Effectively, capitalism succeeds in turning raw materials into refuse. We then litter the planet with decaying, toxic garbage. So, we convert nature’s beauty and bounty into unsightly rubbish, polluting and despoiling the environment into which it is discarded.
This is clearly unsustainable. You can turn everything into garbage, in the end. In the meantime, though, some products are legitimately life-enhancing and have real purpose. The key is to make those products last much longer, before they become waste. Planned product durability, in opposition to planned obsolescence, is the way forward.
Engineers and designers can just as easily devote themselves to producing good products, made to be fixed. This also affords them dignity and purpose in their work. We can create products that are necessary, that are a good deal, designed to fit humans as they are, with affordances for our many differences. They can be a joy to maker and user, with emotional appeal, quality aesthetics, elegance, sophistication, and embody cultural values. IN short, the things we make can be a better fit for a finite earth. We’ll have to give up our infinite growth hallucination, though. Our redemption stories (neoliberalism and socialism) share this growth hoax. No planet in the real universe can support this crazy idea.
– Food – The purpose of food production has been subverted to making short term profits for shareholders. This is not what food is for. Food is to sustain and enhance life. Therefore, we should focus food production on providing sustainable nutritional value, not on providing low prices and high margins. Stop subsidising the production of excess simple carbohydrates. They’re literally killing us. Antisocial behaviour in prisons, including violence, are reduced by vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids with similar implications for those eating poor diets in the community. Why would you produce food that hasn’t got this nutritional value?
A push toward producing nutritious food probably implies large scale reform of land ownership and stewardship. The present owners of farmland haven’t looked after it well. They don’t care to, or when they do, feel constrained not to by the prevailing economic redemption stories.
The way we exhaust soils today, saturate landscapes in needless pesticides and accelerate water run-off, causing erosion and exacerbating flooding, by denuding the agricultural landscape of trees, is sheer lunacy. At some point, the soil just gives up and then we starve. Urban landscapes could sustain food production, increasing food security, but currently don’t. We’d rather have lawns.
We do almost nothing to reduce food miles, by growing more food local to its consumption, resulting in increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. Research shows that vegetables grown in carbon dioxide rich environments turn to junk food, as they grow quickly and with excessive starches and sugars, at the expense of vitamins and minerals.
Similarly, tortured, abused, maltreated, suffering animals do not produce nutritious foods. They produce diseased, depleted food stuffs. Animal welfare is tremendously important to the nutritional value of what we eat.
– Choice and agency – When your democratic vote actually doesn’t count, because the legislative process has been bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists with special interests, you don’t feel you have much choice or agency. When your government has you on lock down control, via blanket surveillance and CIA-funded information dissemination (via Google and Hollywood, among other channels), it’s hard to maintain freedom of thought and action as anything other than an imaginary concept. Public discourse ought to be a process of refining and clarifying our true societal and personal preferences and goals – it’s time well spent. Choice and agency should be protected and perpetuated. Freedom of thought and expression are actually humanity’s survival skills.
Only a privileged elite would object and only on the grounds that they think their current arrangements are best for them. It can be easily argued, though, that better, more fulfilling, life-enhancing lives are possible even for the elite, if they relinquish their control over the rest of us. The maintenance of their paranoid systems of manufacturing consent is self-defeating. It denies the most pampered and opulent people an existence much more conducive to living well than their current money-fuelled lifestyles of waste and indolence currently do.
– Quality of thought – We’re never taught about our intellectual blind spots and cognitive biases, so we spend most of our lives blissfully unaware of them. We think we’re making rational, informed, logical, independent decisions when nothing could be further from the truth. This leads to poor choices and the belief in ridiculous redemption stories. It also allows those that understand how the mind works to maintain absolute, manipulative control over those that don’t.
Ultimately, this has a very bad effect on our ability to thrive. Education to make us aware of and to minimise our cognitive biases and to counter mysticism and baseless religious extremism, can improve the quality of thought and bring us out of the dark ages. Believing in wrong-headed, shitty, imaginary ideas does more harm to us all than we acknowledge. Being able to think critically and clearly is something that has been denied to many, to maintain hierarchies and power structures. We can’t afford to entertain this any longer. There’s too much at stake.
– Conflict and deadlock management – When we get into arguments and disputes, we always feel a compelling need to prove we were right. It becomes the thing we care about most, in the heat of the moment. In actual fact, the higher order outcome most people desire is for goals to be met. Conversations are supposed to lead to a positive, desirable action, not just prove you were correct. We can learn to conduct conversations this way.
Training in conducting crucial conversations, so that mutually desirable outcomes are achieved, is available. We would make more progress toward making good lives for all, if we were shown how to conduct non-violent communication. That way, we could enrich our shared pool of meaning and reach mutually workable outcomes, rather than defending our own honour.
– Public interest research – In science, medicine and academia, there is a pressing need for community-funded research into questions that have no obvious, immediate route to commercial profitability. We can’t remain ignorant, as a society, about important questions, today ignored, because they aren’t likely to yield an acceptable return to private interests. We also cannot allow distorted or cherry-picked research outcomes to be the only ones published, so that they favour private interests.
In much of the body of science published today, these are the biases. Meanwhile, there are crucial questions that science could provide answers to, but which are never studied. We just don’t know the answers. An example is that, when medicines are released, doctors must report related adverse events encountered in the community. Pesticides released into the environment don’t have this requirement and there is no maximum exposure known or determined. Why should this be?
Science, in allowing itself to be subverted for profit, has a lot to answer for.
– Crimes against eudaimony? – Sanctions against those that destroy eudaimonic value might mostly consist of community exclusion (admittedly a form of violence), but preferably a rehabilitation of their bad ideas through enlightenment. I think that anyone that deliberately, systematically and maliciously destroys the prospects of a thriving, good life for others, or impairs their well-being, needs to be reined in by the community. It should be seen as grossly unacceptable behaviour.
Under the two prevailing, orthodox, redemption stories, we don’t even note when eudaimony is destroyed. Often, the destroyers are rewarded. The current situation is no damn good.
This is not an exhaustive list, I grant you, but also not a bad start, I think.
Refining Our Story
The story isn’t and should never be set in stone. Part of the reason our world is in the grip of sclerotic ideas that bind us all into inaction is that we don’t allow our redemption stories to evolve, as our understanding of our situation and our humanity changes. That’s a terrible mistake.
It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. We can’t know what leads to good outcomes for all lives unless we are prepared to conduct experiments and refine our ideas as we learn more.
Social scientist, Joe Edelman, writes:
“When we choose, we do so based on a rough guess of what our true interests are, and we are always looking to improve that guess by finding better goals and values. Change comes through participation in a process — of reflection and discovery and clarification — leading to a better understanding of which goals and preferences we’ll stick with and which we’ll discard.”
“What is even more important to a person than their current goals or preferences? The process of refining, discovering, and clarifying those goals and preferences.”
“This vision (of constantly refining our search for better goals and values) — and these principles — are inspiring and practical. They compare well against the drab future-visions we’ve been fed. Visions like
– Fully Automated Luxury Communism
– A Return to Liberal Ideals
– Economic Nationalism
– Green Technocratic Management
– Blockchain Crypto-collectivism.”
Who Tells the Story?
I’m going to assert that artists and writers are well-equipped to tell the new redemption story of personal redemption. They have the tools and skills to articulate the ideas clearly.
Artists and writers are arguably the best story tellers. It’s what they do. For a new redemption story to take root, it has to be lucid, powerful and compelling. That’s going to take a lot of work.
People who are artists and writers already have a grip on what’s required to achieve self-actualisation, to be self-motivated and to move things forward voluntarily. They are also well-versed in aesthetics and seeing differently. These are excellent qualifications to steward a fragile, nascent set of ideas like the ones proposed above.
It could be said that the life of an artist is a close proto-precursor to a highly eudaimonic life. As a model of living a good life, creative people already have a taste of it.
I recognise that some may see this proposal for a better world as horrifying and admittedly aspects of it may inadvertently be so, which is why we should approach the solution as a process of exploration, discovery and refinement to clarify our real human goals; not blindly and traditionally adhere to notions force-fed to us by the two most prevalent existing redemption stories, both of which required a wholesale abrogation of our true human characteristics and desires.
Is The New Story Credible?
“Whether they are as big as countries or as small as startups, what organisations really have in common today is this: their economics work, but their eudaimonics don’t.”, writes Haque. “The old paradigm led us into an age where life itself is the price of success. But that kind of success, we’re discovering the hard way, isn’t just empty — it’s lethal.”
You may dismiss the alternative narrative as unrealistic or hopelessly idealistic, so bound to fail, but are the current neoliberal and socialist stories any more rational. If we judge by their results, what legitimate claims can they make for being any good?
Is the new story credible? In the frame of reference of older stories, obviously not (because those stories are reality distortion fields), but as a coherent, new paradigm, it’s feasible enough, provided enough people want to believe in it.
Why shouldn’t we believe in it?
References and Background Reading
My site statistics tell me that nobody clicks on links I reference, but all of these are well worth your time to read.