Increasingly, whenever I look into some creative project or other, I am immediately confronted with a collision of ideas. The two worlds, in stark opposition to each other, are those of predatory scarcity and generous, nurturing abundance. It’s increasingly clear to me that these two worlds cannot be reconciled and that they are on course to crash into each other violently.
When your society is fundamentally predatory and has a deep-rooted belief and vested interest in scarcity, the winners are the takers. They rob from others, swindling everybody else to enrich themselves. Everything is a winner-takes-all, fight-to-the-death competition and nobody cares about anybody else, for fear of being seen as weak and vulnerable. This is the world we largely inhabit. Every transaction is some sort of one-sided deal and nobody can afford to give anything away, because their very survival depends on hoarding. This world rewards ownership in preference to contribution or hard work. Rent-seeking is the winning strategy and maintenance of artificially-produced scarcity is the route to riches.
While efficiency is lauded as the virtuous result, we lose compassion, empathy, generosity and the ability to thrive, in the process. Nobody is in a position to maintain quality, because only the costs are counted; not the benefits. I can’t work at doing what I like to do most, because that might not pay and if I don’t get paid, I can’t exist, because everybody else insists I pay them. For everything. There are no free lunches, because there are no free anything. This is how we choose to live: enslaved and degraded; dishonoured and undignified. Instead of appealing to the best qualities of humanity, we wallow in the worst.
Open source software and distributed applications become an impossibility, unless you can find another way to get paid for creating and maintaining them. Those other ways are usually advertising (manipulating others into buying things they don’t really want or need), selling users’ private data (stripping them of their very identity) and crowd funding (also known as begging). You can try to hide rent charges, in the form of fees to access any gate you can establish and control, but somebody is always looking for a way to let people use their bypassing gate, more cheaply.
The logical conclusion of a world of predatory scarcity is that people – the vast majority of people – are harmed. If not physically, then their psyches are indelibly scarred. Eventually, all the wealth concentrates into too few hands and everybody else is syphoned dry, until they are no longer able to pay their way any more and hence cease to exist. Meanwhile, the prime hoarders can’t think of anything ridiculous and obscene enough to fritter away their disposable incomes on fast enough. Maybe you could build an indoor ski slope, with real snow, in the middle of an arid desert, or send your prototype roadster into space. For a lark. For shits and giggles. Ultimately, their corporations become worthless, for want of customers with money to spend and their piles of money are rendered valueless, for want of anybody to exchange their labour, attention or property, to give these paper or digital “promises to pay” any actual, tangible meaning in reality.
If the virtual slaves are working for next to nothing, how do you motivate them to work at all, other than through the application of extreme violence? Eventually, even the torturers and punishers give up, for want of any meaningful reward for doing so. That’s when they turn on their privileged masters. Even dogs turn on their masters, if mistreated for long enough.
If we lived in the other possible universe, of generous, nurturing abundance, you could make and do things of the utmost value and quality and simply donate them to humanity, because doing so would not jeopardise your very existence in any way. If you could know that your basic needs would be met unconditionally, then why wouldn’t you work your way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to the pinnacle – self transcendence? This could be accomplished by the simple expedient of issuing new money to people directly, without debt obligations attached. Some call it a universal basic income, but the idea is that everybody has value and that in recognising this unarguable fact with trading tokens, it enables everybody to do their best work, to the best of their abilities and interests, in the service of humanity.
There is no need to hoard and no need to cut anybody else’s throat. In fact, in the alternative universe, your purpose becomes one of adding to the richness and beauty, to the utility and comfort, to the stock of these things that humanity begins to accumulate. Sustainability begins to be viable. There are fewer economic externalities, because we aren’t fixated on creating them. Being all in it together, we seek to ensure that what we previously saw as an advantage over others, or the ecosystem, is correctly accounted for and taken into consideration. We clean up our own messes.
Without the necessity of competition, we’d seldom need to resort to violence, manipulation or subterfuge, because we’d have different aims – to spread well-being and create abundance, rather than deplete scarcity. Yes, there are resources that are non-renewable, but now there would be a genuine incentive to use renewables, instead. If I’m not a dog eating other dogs and there are no rats to race, then I can focus on higher achievements. It’s worth my while to help others achieve their highest potential, too. I’m not trying to milk them for tuition fees, clock up hours as a consultant or sell them expensive self-help and training, because I will continue to thrive without those tributes to my genius. Our politicians would tend not to be corrupted by money, because they won’t need any, to live in a fine-feathered nest. Excess is not useful.
Offered the choice of idle, opulent indolence, or a meaningful, purposeful life, spent challenging myself, learning, achieving and accomplishing something that contributes to the general good, the life of the virtual invalid begins to pale. I would have to hate humanity to opt out, like that. There certainly wouldn’t be handsome rewards for holding such misanthropic views.
The ridiculous aspect to this collision of two world views is that the entire catastrophe hinges on ideas that people hold in their heads. If, like the students finally drawing a line under the inaction of politicians that refuse to protect them from assault-weapon-wielding malcontents, we all decided to live in the nurturing, generous, abundant, sustainable world instead, we could do it in a very short time, simply by ceasing to believe in predatory scarcity. It’s really that simple. We just have to choose.
However, while some of humanity clings obstinately to the old, evidently discredited ideas, nobody else can make a move toward the positive. You can’t act generously in a world that acts selfishly. Eventually, they consume you. We’re therefore stuck in a mire of inaction. Either we all change, or none of us can.
To my way of thinking, choosing the alternative universe is not a very difficult choice. We only refuse to make it, because we are propagandised into doubting its viability, by people who mistakenly believe the current mind set and world order is beneficial to them. It isn’t. Their refusal to give up on that set of ideas is going to bring everything crashing down around their ears. They won’t survive it, whether or not they think they can flee to New Zealand or Mars. Today, their refusal to choose abundance is writing their own demise. It’s a long, drawn-out suicide, where everybody else is collateral damage. The maddening thing is this: it just doesn’t have to be this way.
Choose life instead.