“…the power of Gods without the wisdom of Gods…”
A wise man once said that possessing the power of Gods without the wisdom of Gods is a certain recipe for disaster. Our technology is bestowing upon us the power of Gods all right, but we are wielding it with seemingly ever less wisdom.
Instead of using these technological marvels to create sustainable abundance for all, we have seen a tiny few amass extravagant fortunes while billions live in want, while at the same time watching the ever accelerating destruction of the environment.
“…perverse incentives and the distorted values they create…”
For the first time in history people are dying from starvation and disease not because there isn’t enough food or because the diseases are incurable, but because some people just simply don’t have enough money.
Our technology has allowed enough food to be produced for all while our economic system ensures that those in rich countries are throwing away the food that would feed the billions who are hungry. Automation and computerisation have led to massive increases in productivity while the economic system has channelled all that extra wealth into the hands of very few, not back into enriching the society as a whole.
Surely you do not need to be convinced of the terrible waste, inhumanity and insanity that this demonstrates?
“(our economic system) is becoming increasingly dysfunctional
at an ever accelerating rate….”
There is no longer one single life system on this planet which is thriving.
There is not one single reliable source of news left.
There isn’t a government agency remaining that hasn’t been “captured” to some degree by the industry it is supposed to be regulating.
The monetary/market economic system and the political system it now owns are clearly not fit for purpose, assuming we can agree that the purpose of an economy is to meet the needs of the society.
Wherever you care to look, things are a bloody awful mess, teetering on the edge.
You would be forgiven for thinking that none of this is anything new, that exploitation of both people and environment have been going on for thousands of years, and you would be right.
But, our exponentially increasing abilities to extract and pollute, to wage war, to poison and to destroy have now reached a point where the debate is not whether or not the human race will end, but merely how and when.
“In the same way that a tumour, by hoarding nutrients and growing out of control eventually kills the body in which it is growing and thus itself, we as a society, in the pursuit of GDP and profit growth, run the very real risk of irretrievably debasing the substrate on which we all ultimately depend.”
If we are to have any chance of rewriting this grim script, a fundamental shift will need to take place. One where the progress of society and the wellbeing of the individuals within it are not measured in terms of GDP, unemployment statistics, stock prices and growth percentages.
These are terribly crude indicators, tracking money sequences only, almost completely disconnected from the dazzling richness and complexity of the actual world.
The same actual world on which we completely and totally depend.
Even if it has proven useful in the past, in today’s world this model has been comprehensively gamed and completely taken over by monied interests, at the cost of both people and environment. It is now plain for all to see that our society is becoming increasingly dysfunctional at an ever accelerating rate.
“Where money is the only metric by which value is measured, all of those values that can’t be measured in terms of money are all too easily overlooked…”
The reality is that many of the biggest problems facing us, such as:
• environmental destruction,
• food and water shortages,
• crushing economic inequality,
• widespread exploitation and slavery,
• our brutal treatment of livestock and wildlife alike,
• social division and unrest,
• rapidly rising levels of addiction, depression and suicide (most especially among the young),
• unjust and illegal wars,
• widespread corruption and criminality throughout our political and financial structures,
• propaganda, lies and misinformation everywhere, polluting the information ecology to the point where it is impossible to discern truth from fiction,
are merely PRODUCTS of our systems, symptoms of the perverse incentives and the distorted values they create in the culture. They are forms of pollution, externalities ejected into the real world by our complicated, invented, fictional, rigid and blinkered ways of organising ourselves. And they are getting exponentially worse, pretty much across the board.
…(“Commons”)is a concept that is woefully lacking in our current economic, political and social models and its inclusion is absolutely essential.”
It is crucial to understand that the current monetary market system, driven as it is by the desire for profit above all, strongly incentivises the destruction and debasement of the “Commons”.
Before going on to give some examples, it would probably be useful at this point to introduce and define the concept of Commons for those unfamiliar with it. This is a concept that is woefully lacking in our current economic, political and social models and its inclusion is absolutely essential.
The most obvious examples of Commons are things like the atmosphere, the soil and the oceans. Things on which we all depend, from which we extract what we need to live and into which we insert our waste products. There are many “invisible” Commons too. The information Commons, the trust Commons. Language is a Commons.
“Imagine if energy grids, water treatment systems, transportation networks, information, the internet, even money, were treated as Commons….How would that change attitudes and the principles of governance?”
The internet is a Commons, at least it was in the early days. Unfortunately, as with so much of the Commons, it has been hijacked and co-opted by interests such as profit, influence, power and so on.
The disastrous effects this has had on trust, on the quality of discourse, on mental health and social cohesion in general are plain for all to see now.
Imagine if energy grids, water treatment systems, transportation networks, information, the internet, even money, were treated as Commons. Things in which everyone has a stake and from which everyone benefits, in which everyone has a direct and personal interest. How would that change attitudes and the principles of governance?
“…strong financial incentive to chop down all the forests and to hunt whales to extinction…”
It is pretty obvious that debasing the Commons is, in the long run, self destructive and that enriching or rejuvenating Commons is to the long term benefit of all.
Good governance and management of the Commons is therefore among the most important directions in which we should be orienting ourselves and yet is all too often ignored or only paid lip service to by our current systems.
If we continue to extract from and externalise unpaid costs into the world as we do, the “tragedies of the Commons” will continue on, getting worse and worse. In the same way that a tumour, by hoarding nutrients and growing out of control eventually kills the body in which it is growing and thus itself, we as a society, in the pursuit of GDP and profit growth, run the very real risk of irretrievably debasing the substrate on which we all ultimately depend.
“Measured in money terms, the most profitable activity that exists in this world, by far, is War. Is this really something we wish to incentivise so strongly?”
Here are just a few examples of this kind of thinking in action:
• Most people now understand the concept of built-in obsolescence, where instead of designing and manufacturing goods to be as reliable and durable as possible, they are instead DESIGNED to fail or become obsolete much more quickly, to increase sales. The unnecessary additional costs of this practice, both to consumer and environment, are simply mind-boggling.
• A whale that stays in the ocean or a virgin wild forest, when measured in money terms, have a zero value. Chopped up into pieces they can be sold at a significant profit. There is thus a strong financial incentive to chop down all the forests and to hunt whales to extinction, whatever the broader costs to the Commons may be.
• Any problem that society has will only ever be solved if a profit can be made in doing so. Anything unlikely to be profitable is simply a non-starter. This is one of the reasons that surplus food is destroyed rather than given to the hungry: if it were given away, the market value of the produce would be lowered. Think about that for a moment. Millions die of malnutrition to maintain margins. Does that align with your values?
• Measured in money terms, the most profitable activity that exists in this world, by far, is War. Is this really something we wish to incentivise so strongly?
This list could go on for pages and pages, but you get the point.
“…our ability to do these things (war, extraction, pollution) has now scaled to the point that we have become a threat on an existential level…”
Of course, once again none of this is anything new. Exploitation and oppression has existed for millennia, as have war and the extraction of resources from and the dumping of pollution into the natural environment. The difference between now and any time in the past is our ability to do these things has now scaled to the point that we have become a threat on an existential level, both to ourselves and much of the rest of the life on Earth.
On the bright side, the other difference between now and any time in the past is a corresponding increase in our capacities in general and in particular our ability to communicate almost anything, pretty much anywhere, with nothing more than an internet connection and the click of a mouse.
The internet allows us to collaborate and share information in a way never before seen and as such is the greatest opportunity for freedom mankind has ever known.
If we fail to make good use of this opportunity to change, and instead choose to stick to the path that we are on, we are most surely doomed.