Alright friends, so, I've adapted the format a bit by separating things into sections as I begin new thoughts. I'm keeping a running list of thoughts, questions, and topics that I want to expand on and circle back to, but I let myself run with topics that come up as long as feels natural in the moment. Again, I'm not editing anything. I'm about 14 pages into this now. So, almost halfway! If you missed the first three pages, you can find them here. Now, onto pages 3-6:
Well… once upon a time it meant survival. There was a time when getting as much as you could in exchange for your goods meant the difference between hunger pangs all winter or the strength to rebuild your roof against the storm. But as this value system has progressed, it has warped into something even more detestable than the life or death contest from which it originated. Now, millions starve while others ride in private jets and buy things that are expensive just to be expensive, to satisfy the egos of those who’ve won the game of Capitalism. I’m one of them. I come from financial privilege. I buy expensive versions of things, not, like some, simply because they are expensive, but also because this perverted and lost system requires that sustainably made, quality items also be expensive. And, not only that, but I want luxury. What’s so deeply perverse about this, though, is that luxury does not have to be scarce. Everyone could have it. We just have to change the conditions of production. And that, well, that is an undertaking. This is where we start to enter the void. Where we start to break down the assumptions that line our everyday lives like an invisible grid plan we’ve inhabited since birth, keeping us restricted, keeping us in line. This is where things start to get weird, so buckle up.
Changing the core, driving value
Imagine you took a magic mushroom, or a red pill (a reference I’m decisively tearing from the lotion-slick hands of the incel community and re-tasking to its original purpose: the representation of skepticism.) Imagine you entered a world much different from the one you currently inhabit, one in which positive impact and benefit to humanity were the primary drivers of innovation. But, “how would we motivate people to work if we can’t ply them with status and the knowledge that they’ve won? That they’re better than the rest? If there’s no money, won’t they just laze around? Hardly. We’ve all heard that “money can’t buy happiness.” So… what is it buying us?
You know the statistics. People are fucking miserable. What is it buying us? Yes, there’s Maslo’s hierarchy of needs. Up to a point, it buys survival. Necessary comfort. A freedom from hunger pangs. A roof. Shoes. Beyond that, I can attest that having enough money to express myself creatively through fashion and interior design, to be able to explore new restaurants with my friends and see experimental theater performances in the notoriously expensive but culture rich environment of NYC brings me actual, tangible happiness. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’m sure the absolute financial freedom of the upper echelon, the freedom to never have to ask yourself whether you can afford something, also brings its own happiness. But, as many have observed, it’s a phenomenon of diminishing returns. So, what’s motivating us to work? Money? Happiness? What drives us? Well… luckily we have advanced enough as a society to have enough science, philosophy, and social science research to have a reasonable understanding of what actually motivates people. And before we get into the details of that, let’s lay out there, that it isn't money, in the abstract. Money is a metaphor. It is a placeholder. For something else. A feeling. Money is a pinch. The ouch is a feeling that fills the void of emptiness we experience in a society that is prioritizing the wrong things. And it’s not our fault. We didn’t know what was important when we were developing this system. We didn’t have the tools. But now we do. So, let’s dive in. If not money, what matters?
Much research has been done on what makes people happy. We know many of the answers. Community is a big one. But we’ll get back to that. First… is happiness the goal we should be striving for? I definitely think it is a worthwhile endeavor. But it isn’t the whole picture. The word I’ll put forth as an all-encompassing goal is fulfillment. Humans want to be happy, but they also want their lives to have meaning. They want to be fulfilled. We don’t want to simply have all of our needs met. It’s possible that this was enough for prehistoric humans. But life is more complicated now, as I’ve previously mentioned. We’ve written books. We’ve constructed governments. We’ve waged wars. We’ve invented philosophy and science. Our relationship to our place in the universe has expanded and we need a society that not only meets our most basic biological needs, but also our most complex and expansive psychological, philosophical, and spiritual ones as well. Which brings me back to how we motivate people. People are not lazy. We don’t want to sit around all day doing nothing. We actually want to work. The difference between the status quo and utopia, in this respect, is that we want to work less and we want to do work we enjoy and that brings us meaning. So, why are we working so much and doing work we don’t love? Xxx. We are currently in the middle of a big paradigm shift: the information revolution. But there have been two such shifts before: the agricultural and industrial revolutions. These two events have shaped the modern age and the nature of work. They have instilled and perpetuated the beliefs upon which our economy and work structure are based. So let’s explore the intricacies of this belief system and its consequences.
Why are we working so hard?
Xxx. The work of anthropologists like Christopher Ryan has suggested that, before the agricultural revolution, human beings only worked for a couple of hours a day. The rest of the time they spent relaxing and socializing, which reinforced the intricate social structures necessary for survival. But when agriculture was invented, the workload increased significantly. This shift was so extreme that we even have things like daylight savings time, designed to extend the workday in order to get everything done. Farmers work all day. Suddenly, spending the entirety of daylight hours working was the norm.
XXX re: why we are still working so hard even with technology
It’s important to note that the shift to agriculture happened in pre-history. We’d already gone through major shifts in our lifestyle before we began writing things down and ancient humans did not have the science available to make meaningful observations about pre-historic life. We’ve been living, since then, with the assumption that there is no alternative to the norms introduced by agriculture. We hardly ever bothered to question them. This was the beginning of the narrative that relegated utopianists to the crack-pot pile. Everyone knows that idealists are crazy and that this is just how the world works.
Certainty and Skepticism
Certainty. It is a plague. At best, we bicker and squabble over it. At worst, we wage global wars. So much misery is perpetuated by a toxic and unfounded illusion of certainty. The problem is that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do. If we’re going to evolve, it is imperative that we learn to uphold a healthy degree of skepticism about what it means to know something. The greeks understood this. It’s not clear to me where, along the way, we lost it.
In my vision of Utopia, Epistemology will be a standard course of study for every young student. Understanding and exploring the nature of knowledge and of critical thought will be at the core of Utopian education. It is the only way to analyze information. The only way to teach the practice of genuine, lifelong learning. What do we know? How do we know that we know it? I promised to unpack the belief system upon which our existing society is based, but in order to do that, we must unpack the nature of belief itself. We must come to understand how we have clung so relentlessly to a single world view and reacted with utter scorn in the face of every opposing postulation.
We all know the story. Scientists burned or beheaded for defending some new scientific discovery that opposed the existing paradigm. It’s nothing new. But why do we do that? Oh sure, we can absolutely point to the power grabs of organized religion. The desperate need to maintain control in order to seize as much capital as possible (hello there, again, Capitalism, you wily rascal). But even every random finance bro I meet in the sauna at the gym, every over-eager Uber driver, even most of the hipster Brooklinites sitting next to me at the bar, believe that Utopia is a pipe dream. That humans are inherently selfish. That we must earn our living. That inequality is inevitable. That life has always been a struggle. So why is certainty, and especially pessimistic certainty so pervasive? Why aren’t we more humble in the face of such a complex universe? And why is this specific belief system so universal?
** Personal note here to anyone reading this that flash-writing 30 pages of this with no existing structure to work from is hard if I’m trying to maintain a logical flow and make sure to finish making every point I start. I’m not going to try to do that. I hope you’ll forgive me if I just randomly tangentialize in all directions to get words on the page.**
So, the questions I’ve posed are: how did we come to believe what we do about the way society has to function? I’ve broken this down into how these beliefs developed and why, as a species, we cling to them so tightly and closed-mindedly.
Xxx. Human beings have a really hard time being wrong. I’m not sure why, evolutionarily. That will require some research. But, these last few months as I’ve dived deeper into my own self-worth journey and noted the massive transformations in how I interact with the world and with other people, as well as observed the many intricacies of short-comings we are currently embodying as a species, I’ve become more and more convinced that one of the best ways to improve our society is to focus on making the understanding and cultivation of self-worth an intrinsic part of our society and, by extension, the way we socialize ourselves. People who feel worthy do not tie their worth up in their own correctness. They are resilient, curious, and open-minded. Later in this text I’ll address that resilience is another quality it is imperative we cultivate in our society and our people. But for now, I’ll elaborate on worth and certainty.
The desire for certainty
There’s something in us, in this complicated world, lost in this culture that has alienated our nature to the degree of cruelty… something in us that longs to make sense of life and our experience on earth. Of course, mythology demonstrates that this impulse to make sense of the chaos has existed since long before antidepressants, and yet, modern society has dragged us so far from our nature, so far from the things that gave us fulfillment in the time before centralized air-conditioning, when discomfort and the whims of nature were our primary challenge, that we are utterly adrift on a sea of nonsense with our roots completely ripped from the earth. We evolved in that natural chaos. Our bodies were attuned to it.
In the deep recesses of the functional movement community, far beyond the purview of the deadlifters and rock-climbers, a few voices shout reason into the void. On the fringes of minimalism, while researching the possibility of not buying a bed for my new apartment, I discovered a Youtuber, under the channel name Movementum, and his explanation of his furniture-free apartment. I lived and continue to live, in varying degrees, independent from furniture, which is another rabbit hole into human evolution, but what struck me even more was a video he made claiming that the ankle should be resistant to rolling. The fitness community, even the functional fitness community, put extensive emphasis on the proper way to lift things, but Movementum explains that objects and nature are not designed to be lifted. Our bodies evolved to run barefoot over uneven surfaces, to lift unwieldy animal carcasses, to climb up and over things, not just pull ourselves up and let ourselves down again. And you were so proud of your pullups, I know! Studies have shown the untold benefits of cold exposure. The musculo-skeletal benefits of indigenous postures and diets. We evolved to be physically uncomfortable. We did not evolve to work eight hour days in jobs that don’t fulfill us, with meager pay, under the tyranny of institutions such as Capitalism and monogamy that go against our very nature.
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