I'm chugging right along with these flash-written pages for my book proposal! If you missed it, you can catch the explanation as well as the first six pages of this 30-page free-write here and here. These are not exact page numbers because I am trying to begin and end the excerpts in places that make sense, but they're approximate. I'm having so much fun writing out all of the disparate ideas that are coming together to form this book. I'm also currently reading Civilized to Death by Christopher Ryan and getting a lot of inspiration and clarity from the way he structures his books. It's amazing how different it is to read books now that I'm writing one.
On to the pages!
The desire for certainty (continued)
It makes sense that we are desperate to make sense of the world within which we find ourselves and to cling to the idea of what we think we know for certain, based, very unimaginatively, on what we have already experienced. Experienced? Or been told? For instance… have you noticed how often the topic of infidelity comes up in our society? In daily conversation, in movies, TV, music, the lived experiences of almost every middle-schooler in the western world where divorce is socially acceptable and infidelity a just cause for it? After 11 years of non-monogamy, I’ve noticed. In fact, I’m fucking bored. I’m so tired of watching movies or listening to stories from friends of friends about just how betrayed they were because their partner slept with someone else. Literally every person has ample evidence, ample experience, even within their own physiology of desire, that humans are not monogamous by nature. And yet… we buy the narrative that somehow, we’re supposed to be. So why in the world do we believe things that we actually know not to be true? Humans can be generous, thoughtful, kind, and cooperative, despite war, famine, inequality, Capitalism. We’ve seen it. But Utopia is impossible? Human nature is wide and varied and it is emphasized by the society within which it finds itself. What do you think would happen if we all grew up in a society that emphasized self worth, compassion, and cooperation? That provided equally for all of its members? That helped each person to find a fulfilling role to fill? That valued each of its people equally? How greedy do you think people will be? Oh of course, greed will be there. And jealousy. But can you possibly imagine that it will be much less? Manageable? Negligible even?
(A small change in my writing process. I’m occasionally just typing out vignettes and thoughts as they come to me, rather than sitting down to bang out three pages at once, so the paragraphs may not always seem directly connected.)
As a small child growing up with money and not understanding Capitalism or inequality, yet, there were certain things I just assumed I would have access to. And we have a dirty word for that: entitlement. But there’s nothing wrong with assuming we’ll have all of our needs met and that we’ll have access to whatever pleasures, comforts, etc that society can offer us. We are all entitled to that. Before agriculture, humans’ only insurance against the inconsistency of their own hunting and gathering efforts was the generosity of their community members. Someone was always going to find or kill something and sharing that with their friends was not only the best use of resources that could not be stored, but insurance for the day when their friends were the ones with the bounty. Yes, there are reasons that this shifted and it was not always sustainable to maintain egalitarianism after agriculture, but now, we have the technology to take care of the basic needs of every person. We just don’t do it. And the only thing standing in the way of that is us.
Everyone is entitled to the luxuries of modern life. But the infrastructure, economy, and values our society is based on creates inequality. Those of us who have, especially those of us who were born with it, feel guilt. Our relationship to our experience of entitlement is fraught with qualms. But inequality is not our doing. It is not our responsibility to reject our privilege and wrack ourselves with guilt. It is our responsibility to speak shamelessly about the entitlement of everyone. To use our privilege, the privilege of time, security, and mental space to discuss these questions publicly. To challenge the status quo. But I’m not going to resist abundance because some people don’t have it. I will do what I can to raise the abundance of our society and drive home the message that everyone is entitled to it.
Vilifying entitlement is one of the most destructive lies we perpetuate as a society. If people think it’s selfish and immoral to feel entitled to rights, to comfort, to luxury, even, then they won’t fight back. They won’t revolt against the power dynamics and inequality.
You are entitled to the spoils of our industry: food, shelter, clothes, any material thing we are able to manufacture in quantities enough to distribute to every person. You are entitled to work that you enjoy and that fulfills you and gives you a sense of purpose and meaning. You are entitled to express yourself through art, design, conversation, gardening, whatever. You are entitled to healthy self-awareness and interpersonal relationships and communication. You are entitled to live a life that isn’t warped by our current society’s complete disregard for what is natural to and healthy for humans. You are entitled to, not only, the most basic human needs and societal structures that were present in pre-agricultural times, but also any and all benefits of modern society without the unnecessary drawbacks and poisons of our ill-considered current setup.
What has created this power hungriness in our society? It wasn’t always present. What are the mechanisms that have led to this egregious disparity in status and the obsession that a small percentage of individuals have for their own power at the expense of others?
We should be living in a society that values and emphasizes the ultimate worthiness and deservingness of every member. “You are entitled” is not an insult. It’s a fact.
My job is to help society do its shadow work, to uncover our collective shame and transform it into empowerment. We are worthy. We are deserving. We are powerful. We are entitled. We are multi-faceted. We are, every one of us, both soft and strong. We don’t have to polarize ourselves. We need to integrate. And we need to remember, every day, that we deserve the best. That’s what we should be building. We cannot continue to be complacent. We cannot continue to be cynical. It is getting us nowhere and it’s not even true.
If money is truly just an intermediary for trading things in our current paradigm, then we should be discussing it. We should be transparent about what things are worth. We should be discussing how much we get paid and why and make sure that these exchanges are less shadowy and more transparent.
People value different things. When we love something, many of us assume that everyone loves the same things, but people have widely ranging interests and they place their values in all kinds of things, especially when they’re not being pressured to conform and project status. Of course, there may be some resources with sources that are too restricted to provide them to anyone who wants them in abundance. Caviar comes to mind. But there are ways to manage the fair distribution of limited resources, especially in a culture where every person is socialized to value sustainability.
The Cynical vs Optimistic How: Collaboration or Challenge
Often, when discussing the possibility of Utopia, people, of course, ask, “how?” How will we govern ourselves? How will we build housing? How will we incentivize and motivate people? All of these questions have varying degrees of answerability at any given time. But the thing that’s important to notice is the quality of the question. Often, cynics ask “how,” in such a way that suggests that if a satisfactory answer is not provided in this moment, there must be no solution. That’s not very scientific and it also isn’t very helpful. Many of these questions require lengthy and significant collaboration to even begin to answer and that collaboration requires open-mindedness.
If you ask me, “how,” in an open-ended way that invited discussion and collaboration, a genuine how that asks, “ok, how are we going to do this?” we can begin a discussion of what examples we currently have to work from and how we might employ what knowledge we have to a more meaningful end. But this deep, crippling unimaginativeness from people who seem to think that capitalism is the only way and whom believe narratives that have been ingrained in our society but do not have nearly the level of theoretical backing we give them credit for, stunts the possibility for meaningful and productive discussions of how to create a better society.
Yes, the transition to a better society will be difficult and no, we don’t currently have an action-plan for how to implement it. We can’t even begin to imagine how to implement a plan when we refuse to even meaningfully discuss what the end result might look like. And we can’t do that when the discussion is thrown in the garbage every time we don’t yet know the answer to the question of how.
Let’s discuss both the what and the how at length. Yes, it’s reasonable to have doubts about certain optimistic viewpoints, but we should be open to having our doubts challenged. I’ve watched so many people cling to beliefs they think are unquestionable: humans are lazy, humans are selfish, large groups can’t cooperate, humans can’t value the well-being of strangers, we can’t have innovation or progress without competition. We need to enumerate our doubts and concerns and genuinely ask ourselves: Is this true? If it’s true, how might we manage it? As I’ve stated elsewhere in my work, healthy skepticism is the most vital part of making our world a better place and inviting Utopia. Utopia does not mean what you think. We are deciding what it could mean, right now. This book about Utopia does not assume that Utopia consists of any of the imaginings of previous thinkers. Our addiction to labels and unexamined beliefs is choking us from our potential. This is the same reason why I refuse to label myself a Communist, Socialist, or any other label. We spend so much time arguing about labels, what they are, etc, we forget to discuss the question at hand: what will make society a better place?
So, what are the major concerns preventing people from embracing the possibility of, even the discussion of the possibility of Utopia?
"Throwing the baby out with the bathwater" i.e. slippery slope
Some people have expressed concern that if we make everything too equal, many people will become lazy freeloaders. That we’ll skew too far in the other direction. But how do we know that will happen? Is it worth refusing to even try? We’re already on a slippery slope on the other side of the hill, such that, because we’ve valued competition and profit, a small percentage of people are hoarding power, wealth, and success at the expense of others. Aren’t we already in the worst case scenario? So how could we want to cling to this for fear of the possibility of another, potentially less, problematic structure? And would the worst-case outcome of the world I’m proposing, a world in which some people are working harder than others, be worse than what we’re experiencing now? Would a world where everyone has their needs met but some people are carrying too much of the load be worse than a world where most people don’t have their needs met and the ones who have the most are often the ones working the least hard? Should we be clinging to the fear that we might have an inequality of effort in Utopia when what we’re currently experiencing is far far worse?
I understand that an alternative argument is to continue to work towards “reformed” Capitalism. But this has just as many potential dangers and, as I will argue later, is potentially off the table anyway as we move into post-scarcity. Plus, again, why do we want a societal structure that necessitates scarcity in order to function? No thanks. That’s not the answer.
Alright friends, thanks for reading! Once again, comments and questions on the content are always welcome <3