This morning I was woken from a dream by this line, which an actress spoke to an actor in a film I was somehow involved in:
“I cannot roll the moon because your tongue speaks kindly of Egypt.”
They were the first words I spoke to my wife upon waking. She thought I had uttered a prophecy. My Jungian hat would interpret this missive from within thus: You cannot change human emotional desires and habits just by praising the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. In other words, words are not enough, even though the pen is still mightier than the sword, more than ever perhaps. No, words are not enough because there are too many of us spewing them out. More importantly still, we are obliged to put our money where our mouths are.
We know this, and I know this too; I quit my job to change my habits of consumption, feed the beast far less than before, and find more time to be more human and more of a father/husband to my family. Yet writing is what I do by habit, by ‘nature’, by desire. I love words. I suspect that of all non-human, non-organic ‘things’, I love words the most, am happiest in their presence. That says a lot about me.
But what use is my preference to you, to others? Deeper still, what use are questions on utility? As King Lear put it, “Reason not the need!”
My wife is likewise a lover of words. As I write these, she is in another room writing hers. My eldest daughter is becoming a writer, my youngest loves to draw and write stories. We are a wordy family. Yet we need to earn ‘real’ money to pay the bills. There is next to no money to be made from writing. Not only are writers a dime a dozen, readers are diminishing, and digital content wants to be free. Dear Reader, how much would you pay me to read this rambling? And what of books by unknown authors, not promoted by some slick publisher, available across the internet; how much would you pay to read one? Old news of course, as old as art itself, and I wouldn’t trouble you with any of this if it weren’t for other social phenomena pressing on us now, demanding change hardly any of us have the desire or courage to take on. We will not roll our moons for pretty words. We all still need the beast we feed, just as we are trying to diminish it, so we must, for some while yet, reason the need.
Digital content wants to be free. Machines, more and more, do the work humans used to have to do. Forward-looking thinkers say the future is for the imaginative, the creative, since this is where machines fail and humans shine, but digital content wants to be free. I do not see how this circle can be squared (unless we all go back to farming, but what a transition that would be!).
I believe a negative interest money coupled with guaranteed income is very necessary right now, since it would free us up to offer society what most inspires us. However, how many of us would then have the time to absorb the content of billions of humans creating to be noticed, to feel they are contributing, all needing feedback of some kind? If I spend half my time creating, maybe the other half could be used to absorb (and respond to!) the output of a handful of other people (or groups of people) at a time. My own wife does not have the time to read all that I write. In an important way, a future of billions of creative people is hard to envisage, economically speaking. Perhaps the human economy of the future will have little to nothing to do with any explicit reward which has any purchasing power. Must we learn, then, not to need each other, or to need each other more? I suspect a new hybrid of the two.
As work for a wage becomes obsolete, money becomes obsolete for the vast majority of human activity. Perhaps the very idea of contribution I have dwelled on for so long becomes moot. The challenge of the future may well be learning not to care about meaning, about contribution, about success, about value, at least not as ‘objectively’ measured by money or something money-like. Isn’t that what abundance would entail, in a world where human economic work is hardly necessary at all?
The job I gave up required of me an hour’s journey to a chair, in which I then sat for about nine hours, before being allowed to go home again. Every now and then there was something to do. My colleague and I had so automated our responsibilities, the only thing we had to do was turn up, a legal requirement, not a practical one. And I hated it. It made me feel guilty. I wasn’t needed, was earning money for something I saw as stupid and pointless; 19th century regulations for 21st century realities. The vast majority of the work done at my old place of work dealt with billing. Were the company to give away for free the energy it generates, they could shed over 80% of their staff. I imagine the same applies to most other companies. Imagine that. Imagine the mayhem of billions suddenly with nothing to do. We employ people because we dare not develop another method of getting money to them. When we make that cut, when we put our feet on a path which includes such things as guaranteed income, what a slippery slope it will be.
How useful are you? How useful am I? I have no idea; it is a childish and narcissistic question. Measuring value (reasoning the need) is money’s job, and though money does it terribly, at least it does it. Remove that now vital crutch, and we enter cultural territory we have no experience of whatsoever. Negative interest currency and guaranteed income are close enough to the moneyless future which seems so inevitable to me, to bring down on us the enormous challenges I’ve outlined here. And yet for unstoppable reasons, this is the path we must choose to tread (contradiction intended).
We cannot roll the moon, no matter how sweetly we describe our visions. Thank you, dream, for bringing that to my attention.
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