Thursday, April 12, 2012

To Strive is Human, to Laze Divine

I have struggled with the concept of work in previous posts, but failed both to drag up the right words to convey my thoughts clearly, and to arouse the subsequent discussion I was hoping for. I’m making another attempt here, aided and abetted by Ralph Boes.

Boes is a passionate supporter of guaranteed income. To demand it, he says, is to also demand the Right to Laziness. If we give all people an income sufficient for a dignified life just because they can fog a mirror, it cannot be said they have ‘earned’ that income. Indeed, should we manage, somewhere on Earth, to furnish all a nation’s citizens with a guaranteed income, we will not only be freeing people to contribute to society as they see fit, but also to laze, to not contribute. For if some choose to do ‘nothing’, they are certainly enabled to do so.

Who are we to stand in their way? There can be no punishment from a guaranteed income system for doing nothing; the income would not be guaranteed were there strings attached.

How bad is this? What are your reactions to this great bogey man, MoneyForNothing?

Goetz Werner is another passionate supporter of guaranteed income (GI), and a very successful businessman too. For years, he has been campaigning full time for the introduction of GI in Germany, and I have gladly given him precious Econosophy inches here before. When confronted by a prominent German (Thilo Sarrazin) at a conference on work some years ago, Sarrazin wanted to know what the hell Werner was doing with all this GI nonsense. Hadn’t it occurred to Werner that a couple could hook up, squeeze out ten rug rats, and lead the life of Riley on the fruits of other people’s hard work? Werner simply asked him if he had ever had to raise ten children.

So, fellow musers, what is work?

Imagine there were no money. It’s not easy, but, um, give it a try. Now try to define work.

Am I at work while asleep? If I don’t sleep, I go mad. So it’s necessary, is an activity my body needs to stay healthy, to process stuff in a particular way.

When I eat, am I at work? I would say yes, for the same reason as above.

When I am having fun with my friends, is that work? I believe so.

When I am having fun vacuuming my house?

When I am not having fun on holiday because my passport was stolen. When I am having fun with colleagues building a bridge, when I am acting a part on stage, when I am in the zone as an athlete, when I am breastfeeding my child, comforting my ailing mother, daydreaming, shitting, breathing, dying, decaying…

Whatever is done must involve energy-transfer and must therefore be work.

Boes makes good use of the happy etymological fact that laziness, in German, is “Faulheit”. “Faul” is lazy. “Verfaulen” is to rot. He reminds us that an apple rots to release its seeds for germination and growth. Laziness is work, is preparation. When we laze, we visit our muse. Hold that thought.

In money, we have a measure of value fused to a price-system informing us—so the myth—about what is valuable work, and what is not. This system had practical utility value some decades ago, when there was sufficient economically valuable work for sufficient numbers of humans. Today there is not, even if we killed off billions of ‘useless’ people; we have massive over-production already, with towards 20 million empty housing units in the US, a similarly obscene number in Spain, and millions of unsold cars and other consumer goods scattered across the planet. 

True, we are not so far along that we can ditch money overnight, but we are in a very different place, technically, than we were a century ago. On the other hand, our ideas of work are still back in the good old days. They must be adapted to today’s circumstances if we are to find a reasonable path out of our multi-faceted predicament. The thinking we’ve grown up with doesn’t work any more. You cannot fix a problem with the thinking which created it.

Even without money, when we have to work, we have to work. Work is what we do to get to something we want or need. What we want or need is mostly separated from us by money, so we work at almost any job to ‘earn’ money to get those things. Without money, work would be between us and what we want, not money. If I want a clean house, I do the necessary work. If I want to be healthy and fit, I do the necessary work. If I want to dance, I do the necessary work. And so on.

Now we take an important detour into what I call ‘value assignment’ (a working term on my part). First though, we draw a distinction between explicit and implicit value assignment, before blurring that distinction later on. As I see it, explicit value assignments are effected by money, such as, the value of one pint of milk is equal to $1. That we all understand this kind of equation is an historical achievement, precisely because value is totally subjective; public consensus strong enough to enable bother-free buying and selling is one hell of an accomplishment, even if orthodox economics grossly misrepresents the evolution of this social technology (see Graeber’s “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”). Implicit value is what we engage in all the time when we judge things, like films, poems, friends, or blog posts.

So, in money we have an explicit, consensus measure of value, yet we still assign value implicitly, constantly. We have best friends whom we know well, who have strengths and weaknesses in our eyes. As children we have favourite parents, siblings, cousins, teachers, songs, rhymes, and so on. We make subtle, non-monetary value judgements all the time, often without realising it. Value judgments are inescapable, without or without money. The question then is how explicitly must we measure value? Put another way, are explicit (monetary) value assignments a permanent human, or social, requirement? The answer is obviously, no.

Let’s look at this in the context of work. When we perform work for the public domain—work which we value—, the value assigned by others to what we do—that is, by society—is revealed to us through interactions with and feedback from others. Value thus assigned need only be explicit, mathematical and somehow recorded (monetary), when other factors make explicit value assignment a necessity. Such factors include, little to no automation, scarcity of resources and labour, and a very large population of people living together in some way, e.g., as a nation. Not all of these factors apply today, hence neither explicit value assignment nor paid work (one corollary thereof) are required as before. That is, the enforced division of work into economic and non-economic is no longer helpful. This distinction is now somewhere between misleading and dangerously counterproductive. If we are not to collapse into war, we must leap into very new territory, blur value assignment into more subjective processes.

Because almost all repetitive grunt work can now be automated, what is left for us humans to do for one other is, more and more, imagination- or friendship-based. Both areas are as narrow or broad as we allow ourselves to believe. To be creative, we must laze, visit our muse, rot from old to grow into new inspiration, even if nothing of immediate and explicit social value emerges from our work. GI requires us to trust each other—even in the abstract—, to not be concerned that John is ‘wasting’ his life while Patricia goes from strength to strength. We must let John be, let him laze. And if he ‘fails’, his ‘failure’, his need for help, gives others an opportunity to use their creativity if they so choose.

To stick with old thinking a while longer; you cannot be in society without contributing, and even ‘negative’ contributions lead to work for others. As Boes puts it, as soon as some so-called ‘good for nothing’—leading a life, say, of surfing the net and tossing off to porn 24/7—gets hungry and visits a baker, s/he gives meaning to that baker. The simple fact of our biology compels us to interaction at some level, which, with GI and money in operation, means buying stuff, causing money to flow, ‘contributing’ to the economy in that way; as a paying consumer. Consumerism without consumers does not work.

This is not to say ‘contribution = good’ and ‘non-contribution = bad’. I’m making a broader point than that. GI is an enabler of laziness, which is essential, is work; GI is the destroyer of money’s monopoly on value-assessment, breaker of its death grip on work; GI makes all work societally valid, blurs the distinction we looked at above, because it reminds us that everything we do is and always has been work, always has social significance in some way. (Even a totally unknown hermit living ‘alone’ in a cave ‘contributes’ to (‘effects’) his society of trees, berries and other animals with his mere presence, with the natural rhythms of his biology.) We have to trust each other, have faith that humans do not, as Hobbes asserted, wanted nothing more than total and permanent war.

It was once helpful to distinguish between economically and non-economically valuable work; conditions required it, so we evolved a market system to make that distinction clear and practical. But socioeconomic mechanics have changed. Not only is there powerful automation at our fingertips ready to take almost all repetitive grunt labour from humans and hand it over to machines, Perpetual Growth is impossible, ever-ballooning consumerism is impossible. We can no longer afford to allow money-based value assignments tell us what to value and what not to value. In some ways we are already there: What is more socially valuable, a good parent or a good hedge fund manager? Can it be anything other than misleading to answer that question in dollar amounts?

Guaranteed income challenges much of our cherished, millennia-old ‘instinct’ on work, but, perhaps above all, it compels us to renew the way we value each other and ourselves. I can’t emphasise this point enough. Measuring our utility to each other with money is profoundly limited and divisive, increasingly so as we need each other’s labour less and less. Why do we Just Know economic or money-based work is more ‘valuable’ than friendship, motherhood, fatherhood, sleeping, breathing, dreaming? The answer is a tautology; because we ‘need’ money to live. Think about how profoundly simple that is, and how caught up in its web we are. Why is Perpetual Growth Consumerism the economic model we simply must prop up at all costs? Because money needs it. And money is the most important thing in the world, right? I hardly need remind you that air has a price of zero.

Money needs money. We no longer do; at least, not as we did. This simple fact presents us with an enormous challenge. Speaking personally, I’m finding it very hard indeed to value myself highly, having willingly given up my job and leapt, with my family on my back, into the unknown. Trying to find what it is about me society needs, is like a poison I cannot get out of my veins, even though I am busier than ever. Money is not flowing to me like it did (wages), therefore I am not as ‘valuable’ as I was. And I’m a guy pushing for deep change in this very area, one happiest when writing, who therefore knows how to keep himself busy. So how will ‘uselessness’ hit those emotionally invested in some paid job society no longer needs? Guaranteed income will ravage accountancy, complex tax codes, job contracts, state education, and much else besides.

Just as nothing is, GI is no panacea. It just makes sense—when coupled with a new money system and other deep changes to the broader system—as one strand of dealing intelligently with today’s socioeconomic reality. In my next post I will look at the two main proposals for financing guaranteed income.


Debra said...

Reading this post, I am reminded of the session that I had with a Parisian psychoanalyst who finagled me into her office after I proposed having lunch with her, and said that I was not interested in sessions.
And when I said (like Ralph Boes ?) that I saw no reason to pay her to listen to me say things that other people found fascinating, and would perhaps pay ME to listen to..
she remarked "but if you don't pay me, how will I live ?" in a heart wrenching cry...
That said, a few comments about what money has been traditionally good for, with the proverbial worm in the apple.
A hundred years ago, if you were out in the boondocks in your Landrover in Turkey and unfortunately managed to run over a stupid, unsuspecting sheep (sheep are DUMB DUMB DUMB...) you could get killed in reprisal, because shepherds didn't like having their sheep killed, and probably had no use for any kind of monetary compensation for them at the time.
So.. sticking a price tag on that piece of meat on legs (irony there...) managed to keep people from committing hapless violence on each other.
Putting a price tag on the piece of meat on legs which, to the person in the Landrover looks like all the other pieces of meat on legs in the flock, but not to the shepherd, incidentally, introduces the worm into the apple.
The sheep is as irreplaceable as we are, as unique.
But... in order for the world to go on, we have to find some way out of this predicament, and money seemed the best way.
Not an absolutely perfect way, but an ok way, as long as the unique, irreplaceable dimension of what was being compensated for was/is recognized on another plane, so that idolatry of money does not take over.
Yesterday, I got to thinking about what the Catholic Church opened up in the usury question.
It opened up... A NEW SPACE.
It opened up, to a certain extent, a certain BANKING space that it excluded from its domain, and handed over to the Jews, who practiced usury in the ghetto.
It is probably THIS SPACE, which the Church opened up by excluding it, that is currently giving us so many problems.
But I am very ignorant of the history of banking. Probably you know much much more.
By the way, pretty soon I will not be able to prove that I'm not a robot, because the words are so... blurred, and limit recognizable that it is becoming more and more difficult all the time.
Ironic. Very ironic...

Игры рынка said...

Guessing about the background of Debra, that is what I get thinking about this topic - dissociative identity disorder.

Toby said...

Yes, guy and gal, this is a deeply challenging issue, but I feel our socioeconomic circumstances compel us towards this solution, or towards war. But after the destruction of war leaves behind the usual rubble and the need to rebuild, I suspect strongly even that would not create the percentage of jobs per population our current money system requires. War cannot destroy automation and cybernetics, and it cannot restore global fossil fuel supplies, nor replenish soil fertility. War is no longer that type of phoenix-option, even though I believe it will come (though hope it won't, and would love to be proved wrong on this point).

Money emerged in response to particular conditions, one of which is scarcity, another private property (the need for which arises from scarcity). Co-emerging, very slowly, with property, money and market processes, was paid work (labour). Without meaning to, and certainly in ignorance of the long term ramifications, we have developed (or brewed) a cultural association between paid labour and self-worth that will take an enormous effort to unwind and redefine.

Change is hard, profound change profoundly so, but change is also the only constant. We adapt to that which we have helped bring upon us, or we perish.

Игры рынка said...

Toby, but in suggesting this change which half of me supports wholeheartedly, you surely understand that we need to stand up against our whole nature. That is of subordination, dominance, power and control. It is not us who invented and ingrained into our minds any of those. Money is just a mechanism to subordinate people to one another. It is probably a more civilized one since noone kills anybody (at least on the ground) to get money. Money is a tool to organize us and for the best of us.

The other half of me which hates this idea tells me that to the extent that we are collective beings we are also individuals. Each of us can for all practical purposes live in any hypostasis and tends to that one which s/he finds more comfortable or is steered into by external events. There can be no trust by definition in such a world. Instead all of us are chimeras by definition.

Really, my mind starts crying when I am thinking about this topic. I find it amazing that you can not only think but even write on it :)

Toby said...

Thank you, Sergei, for your kind words.

Happily I can disagree with you that money is inevitable due to our nature, because only money can organise power relationships neatly enough while getting things done. There is far more to us than power relationships, and your warm response to our dilemma is part of the proof.

The anthropology I have read in works by Graeber, Eisenstein, Scott, Sahlins, Boehm and others tells me again and again that what you describe is 'our nature' only in certain circumstances (above all scarcity). Our genes do not control our behaviour as popular culture believes. Genes suggest or tend towards multiple outcomes, but what actually emerges as behaviour (and then culture) is the ongoing result of highly (perhaps infinitely) complex interactions between genetic and environment factors, where the boundaries between these 'elements' are very blurred indeed. Really there are no discreet objects as our five senses suggest, only relationships and endless reactions to reactions, but it takes a lot of time immersed in systems and information theory to begin seeing reality this way. The Newtonian-Cartesian worldview of discreet physical objects bumping into each other, of linear causal chains from the big bang forwards, with human consciousness now somehow along for the ride, is out of date. Change, as I keep in saying, is the only constant. Reality emerges via perception; world and mind arise together. To me it seems like your thinking and analysis is still too Newtonian-Cartesian, and this is why you perceive a harsh universe, merciless, power and force-based, red in tooth and claw. (If you have time, check out Peter Kropotkin's "Mutual Aid", if you haven't already, that is.)


Toby said...


On to the proof I mentioned. Why does your mind cry? Because you are empathic, because you want a more beautiful world, as the vast majority of us do. But why? To what end? Well, there are no ends, only ever changing emergent nature, part of which is human empathy, which nature evolved, gave rise to; we are of nature, not outside it looking on. Empathy and cooperation are therefore as much of nature as anything else, even power and competition.

Buckminster Fuller introduced me to the following analogy: Hundreds of humans are sitting together in a theatre, laughing, clapping, enjoying together in peace and harmony the play being performed. Then a fire breaks out. There is panic, a stampede for the exits, women, children and the weak are crushed to death. Which is our true nature? The happy peaceful laughing, or the panicked selfish stampeding? Both and neither: the circumstances determine the behaviour in cooperation or interaction with our biology. If we were exclusively concerned with power and competition (an impossibility, since power requires cooperation; try establishing a power-relationship with a brick, or a spider, or an ant), that theater could never have been built, the play never put on, and an audience to peacefully enjoy it never brought together. But without competition and fear of death, none of that would have been possible either. Both competition and cooperation are central to nature and evolution, and I assert that cooperation is the soil which makes competition fruitful and productive. Life is first cooperation (how else can a cell come to be without sub-compenents co-operating, how can multi-cell life work without co-operation?), then the struggle for survival, which includes pleasure, empathy, joy, misery and anything else you care to mention.

Look at the change we know of; once there were no humans, once there was no life on Earth, once there was no sun. Money has been shaping human culture for the tiniest fraction of our existence. It seems impossible in the frantic buzz of modern life, but money will change (yet again), with or without a global conflagration. Circumstances demand it, not my arguing, not these words. The facts are as they are, regardless of our ability or inability to deal with them wisely and maturely. We will be forced to confront reality as always, the only area for choice we have is how wisely we respond, and that is up to all of us.

Debra said...

Sergei, at the risk of sounding hopelessly repetitive, and boring, I don't use the words "dissociative identity disorder"...
When our civilization is caught in the deadly throes of reductive Cartesian dualism, without the function of God/transcendance to keep us.. SANE, well, dissociation is... normal, should I say ??
If normal is a question of numbers, and the majority, well, dissociation is looking more normal all the time.
There is a dimension of work that money does not exhaust : occupying our time in a way which is meaningful for us.
Perhaps we have been telling ourselves stories about how attached we are to money in the work problem...
Perhaps the possibility of all that FREE TIME really terrifies us, Toby ?
What are we going to do with ourselves to know who we are, and to feel... "useful" ? (I'm not sure that telling people they don't need to be useful to exist really convinces them. Thus far, on my loony forum, nobody follows me down this path.)
To laze is divine ?
Only on... the Shabbath.
The rest of the time, God was busy.. creating.
What a coincidence... just like we think we are doing...

Toby said...

"Perhaps the possibility of all that FREE TIME really terrifies us, Toby ?"

I could not agree more. This is an enormous challenge I only hope we can overcome. I am far from certain we are going to manage it, and this uncertainty makes me very sympathetic to the 'stupid' continuation of the broken system the status quo puts so much effort into. Keeping the lights burning is now perhaps more important than ever, since the new unifying vision humanity can sign up to is still very far away. "More important than ever" while being simultaneously more damaging than ever. Of course, if there were truly humane and forward thinking people in positions of 'power', they might be talking about alternatives in the mainstream media, using all that slick propaganda machinery to usher in the new, talking about guaranteed income and flowing money. But our leaders too are scared, and don't know what to do. They have no faith that all that looming free time can lead to anything other than chaos and dreaded 'anarchy'.

Игры рынка said...

Toby, I did not want to imply that money is required or inevitable. I tried to say that money is a better alternative than the one we had before and that one was a better than the one before it and so on. And instead of killing each other for a piece of meat with four legs or ... for a night with another one of us who smells differently we came up with a more "human" mechanism which puts everything and objectively measurable in its "natural" places. And it implies that there can be another step in the evolution of our own self-coordination.

I have not read the book of Kropotkin (maybe I should) but I know that even until recently (say until the 70ies) there were places in Siberia which did not know money. Maybe it was in the Graeber book or maybe not but there are enough scientific studies and documents on that.

I come from a cultural environment with a clear "village" mentality. Things have changed a lot recently but I was lucky to grow up in that good old world. And one of my standing principles in life is that a friend is clearly worth 100 euros. That is I will always help without any back thoughts but one - help should be mutual in *quality* and not quantity. Exactly what Graeber discussed in his book. His book was like reading a life story of kids from the next street in my childhood.

However, we need to remember that as our society gets more and more and mindbogglingly complex we can hardly assume that complex solutions will be able to drive us into an ever better future. Complex solutions will fail to solve the complex coordination problem. What we face is a choice between either an even more simple solution than money. Or we need to simplify our organization. For instance by drastically reducing its scale from 6bn or 7bn to say 6mn or even less.

So far the evolution of human race has been along to the former path. Surely it is just one path. But maybe it is still better than the alternative?

Debra said...

Here, here, Sergei, I agree with your simplification plan.
Jacques Barzun, an expatriot French man living in the States wrote a magnum opus called "From Dawn to Decadence, 500 years of Western cultural Life".
While Toby is unimpressed with this book, I, on the other hand, very much like Jacques' sophisticated style, and analysis, and his generalist history of ideas approach which is unusual in a civilization of experts busy scrambling to work harder and harder to be experts and put meat and pototoes on the table.
Jacques's insight leads him to observe that the technological race, coupled with the scientific... race, has led to.. the money explosion and race, with more and more of everything, and faster and faster, being the name of the game. (But by now, everybody has noticed that the quality keeps going systematically down, as the sums, and quantities explode.)
This dates back at least 500 years, so the guys and gals with the crew cuts who are amnesiac before the 1980's or have not bothered acquiring the rudiments of a LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION in history, well, they are not getting the (more) total picture of where we are heading, and why.
I'm pretty sure villages have their advantages... and disadvantages, too, but I wistfully daydream about living in Siberia in a log cabin...
Given my survival skills, I would last two days, maybe, but, maybe that will motivate me to get up off my ass in front of the computer and start moving ?
Let's hope...

Debra said...

Just a little quibble with your last comment, Sergei, if you don't mind..
I think that blockbuster American films based on social darwinism have convinced us that our ancestors killed each other off for any and all reasons.
I am not so sure that our ancestors were as mindless as WE think they were, really.
What if... we are now more mindless than our ancestors were ?
Admit it is an interesting possibility.
But how many of us could survive two days in Siberia ?
OUR jungle certainly is not as pretty as the Amazon.
In my opinion...
And "civilization" ?
A question of perspective.

Malagodi said...

Until you are no longer pre-occupied with money, you will never be free of it.

"Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately rise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair. ATTRIBUTION:Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)
"There is another kind of justice than the justice of number, which can neither forgive nor be forgiven. There is another kind of mercy than the mercy of Law which knows no absolution. There is a justice of newborn worlds which cannot be counted. There is a mercy of individual things that spring Into being without reason. They are just without reason, and their mercy is without explanation. They have received rewards beyond description because they themselves refuse to be described. They are virtuous in the sight of God because their names do not identify them. Every plant that stands in the light of the sun is a saint and an outlaw. Every tree that brings forth blossoms without the command of man is powerful in the sight of God. Every star that man has not counted is a world of sanity and perfection. Every blade of grass is an angel singing in a shower of glory.
These are worlds of themselves. No man can use or destroy them. Theirs is the life that moves without being seen and cannot be understood. It is useless to look for what is everywhere. It is hopeless to hope for what cannot be gained because you already have it. The fire of a wild white sun has eaten up the distance between hope and despair. Dance in this sun you tepid idiot. Wake up and dance in the clarity of perfect contradiction." ~Thomas Merton

"Give to Caesar [the State], that which is Caesar's" ~This is not about taxes. In the end, all you own belongs to Caesar.

Why are you jeopardizing your family for your preoccupation? What you are seeking cannot be understood by studying money.

Toby said...

What I gleaned from Graeber's "Debt", Sergei, was that money did not evolve to solve the problems you (and Debbie) hint at. There is more criminality and corruption with money than without (see Kropotkin). Money evolved haphazardly (justice generating equivalences; property, slaves and the right of disposal; war and markets) and brought with it new problems with which culture is still wrestling, now more than ever IMO. As for progress, I feel that is like beauty and value, thus lies in the eye of the beholder.

Wonderful and highly pertinent quotes, Stephen. To answer your question (if it is not rhetorical), a change of career at the age of 46 is risky, and hence I get worried. Too worried. But that worry causes me to work, as per your first quote. I think it would be too much to go into all the details of what my wife and I are doing to change our lives, to leave the rat race a little bit behind etc., but one part of it is my studying money. That said, studying almost anything deeply enough leads everywhere, a little like the Merton quote. Hence my studies are extremely broad, challenging and enjoyable, money is now only their pivot.

I am seeking this simplicity; "Dance in this sun you tepid idiot." But part of that seeking is providing, on multiple levels, for my family. I find that those practicalities, which are rooted in value and well captured by your last quote (your comment?), make dancing in the sun a difficult abandon. Dancing "in the clarity of perfect contradiction" seems to require a pure type of commitment which dissolves commitment, and I'm not very good at that at all.

For all the poetry and wisdom we can muster, change trundles on anyway. There are battles to be fought and I, for a hundred reasons noble and ignoble, want to do my part as my wisdom dictates. As ever and as always, such involves risk, as inescapable as Caesar.

Toby said...

I like the book, Debbie, and dip into it from time to time, but would suggest his perspective is too rooted in dualism; Hence,

"Jacques's insight leads him to observe that the technological race, coupled with the scientific... race, has led to.. the money explosion and race, with more and more of everything, and faster and faster, being the name of the game. (But by now, everybody has noticed that the quality keeps going systematically down, as the sums, and quantities explode.)"

-- while true, overlooks that nature is technology, that change generates wisdom because 'life' or 'perception' or 'intelligence' 'guides' change. Change is not chaotic, it is self-guiding. Partly, the generated wisdom becomes obsolete, requiring new invention and creativity, or even leading to collapse. Partly it builds on itself and hence accelerates. With or without humans there is the technology of evolution, periods of explosive change, perdiods of relative stability, and so on. Taking a linear view, change has been accelerating, albeit fitfully, since life began on earth. Nature 'created' humans somewhere along the line, who are now part of her palette as it were, so now her artistry includes ours, come hell or high water.

Ego does not want to be a 'mere' cog in the wheels, but it cannot be otherwise.

"Give to Caesar [the State], that which is Caesar's" ~This is not about taxes. In the end, all you own belongs to Caesar.

For me, Caeser, State, Market, Nature, Reality, God, Universe, are all interchangable in this context. We cannot not belong.

Игры рынка said...

Debra, blockbusters movies have nothing to do with it :) The reason that people did not kill each other in droves for a piece of meat with four legs is precisely because of the established hierarchies. Generally there was no need to kill the whole hierarchy if you want to eat. Though sometimes we practiced that skill as well.

Surviving in Siberia? Well, how many of us know how, say, butter is produced? Btw I do and even could produce it if needed :)

Debra said...

Agree with you Sergei, on hierarchy.
Although blockbuster movies may have more to do with it than you think... ;-) They make wonderful colonization tools, with no manpower loss, to boot.
The fraternity game bares its teeth at hierarchy. The endless egalitarian itch tends to abolish privilege wherever it pops up, forcing it to recreate elsewhere.

Toby, you know this is a glass half full/half empty dilemma, how we fit into nature's plan, and you know where I stand on that one. ;-)
I love your Merton quotes, Stephen, but beg to differ about Caesar.
Depending on the world you live in you might also say... God, rather than Caesar.
If you choose to harken back to the Jewish side of our civilization's.. schiz, and not the Roman side.
Dualism ? Not exactly.
We have other ancestors too, but Judea and Rome made very very uncomfortable bedfellows.
Ever since Rome razed the Temple in 70 A.D....
As for Toby putting his family in jeopardy, I think that our families are already in jeopardy, as far as the future of employment is concerned...
I occasionally pinch myself, wondering about the prospect of a life without money...
It could be very very...difficult, and is definitely not designed to allow one to NOT think about money and/or not count.
Yes, this is a form of enslavement.
But given that our entire culture is obsessed with money right now, can we wriggle out of this existential problem, and still live in society ?
Freud would say that we must find the ways to elaborate our dilemmas that we can, like "bricolage", to use a French word.
Inventing our own solutions.

Toby, I maintain the most ancient reasons for money as being valid ones, mainly because what is true for money is also true for what is behind it, and that is the Word...
We may circumvent money, but we are not going to circumvent.. the Word.
Not in the near future.
Do we want to ?

Toby said...

Quickly on hierarchy:

It's just a mode of social organization suitable to some circumstances, not to others. Egalitarianism also ensures cohesion and adherance to group 'law', very clear not only from Kropotkin, but also in Boem's "Hierarchy in the Jungle", and anthropology generally. Humans appear to have been pretty much exclusively egalitarian for the vast majority of their time on earth. It seems property, scarcity and social complexity, new to homo sapiens sapiens zoologically speaking, require hierarchy, although I doubt even this relationship is set in stone. Besides, hierarchy and anarchy bleed into each other in every day life, each enabling the other in subtle ways. Graeber is very good on this, especially in talks you can find on YouTube.

Debra said...

My take on hierarchy, Toby, is that it can be understood along the lines of how the Oedipal complex structures society : on one hand, consanguine relationships that are intergenerational, on the other, alliance relationships that are horizontal, and logically more egalitarian.
Society is founded on the existence of both, because transmission of anything does not get done without intergenerational relationships, and we need transmission in order to survive as animals, even.
Hierarchy and authority go together, hand in hand.
Once again, authority is NOT authoritarianism.
It is based on a mutual recognization of competence, and the master/disciple relationship is not... a master/slave one.
We are currently confusing authority with authoritarianism. Not good.
On scarcity...this, Toby, is one of our misconceptions about capitalism.
Assigning more value to that which is rare is part of our ANIMAL nature, because the animals do it too.
In my book, that means that there is no sense coupling scarcity and capitalism if the animals react this way too.
And on social complexity, have you seen Werner Herzog's 3D film on the Chauvet cave ?
Our Paleolithic ancestors were doing artwork which is more sophisticated than what most "artists" are churning out now for the market.
I believe that it takes a very sophisticated society to make beautiful art, Toby.

Toby said...

Hi Debbie,

I agree with your take on hierarchy and egalitarianism.

I'm not sure I'm getting this sentence though:

"In my book, that means that there is no sense coupling scarcity and capitalism if the animals react this way too."

Do you mean that coupling capitalism with scarcity (I would say capitalism is about conduits creating scarcity at the economic level for profit maximasation) is unhelpful or a 'badly balanced' cocktail, something like that?

I'd like to mention again that there is the uniqueness of everything on the one hand, then there is economically perceived and created scarcity which leads to property, profit-seeking and too much social stratification on the other. There always will be stratification for reasons of necessarily varied value-attribution, as you point out, but circumstances change, requiring continual adaption.

No, sadly I have not seen that film.

On complexity, it is interesting that our concrete jungles are far less complex than rain forests, such that e.g., our 'primitive' cousins see more colours that we do, learn new tasks faster than we do, and live what I think of as richer lives than we do, even though they are not differentiated like we are. Again, I do not advocate a return to 'primitivism', just want to remind us that complexity is complex, so to speak, just as defining what society is is a challenging and complex task.

Debra said...

For me, scarcity is linked to the idea that something which is rare, stands out, and thus sollicts our attention better than something which does not stand out.
The less stuff there is, the better we can see individual, discriminate objects (which cease to be stuff).
Seeing things that stand out contributes to whetting our appetite for them.
What also contributes is seeing our neighbor holding them (mimetism effect).
The two above statements are paradox. WE love paradoxes...
What you say about property could also be an effect of territoriality. Fencing oneself in is also fencing the other out, and establishing territorial boundaries.
I told a friend just recently that boundaries may not be such a bad thing, SO LONG AS THEY ARE PERMEABLE.
That means... hedges rather than barbed wire fences.

Toby said...

Scarcity is all-pervasive, as is perception distinguishing the wanted from the unwanted. But, in economics, scarcity is a particular problem best solved with money, a measure of value which also happens to 'store' value. I believe this view was effectively true (in a practical, functional way), but is now far less true, and quickly becoming wrong.

Furthermore, alongside scarcity there is abundance, more than enough. Every snowflake is unique, and one could invest time into somehow capturing them, studying them, and finding the most beautiful, then owning it. And yet at the same time there is more than enough snow, so to speak. Economics as we have had it for centuries is about focusing the mind on scarcity and using that focus to buy and sell stuff for profit. Property is bound up with that, and does in some way arise from territoriality, but is not territoriality per se, far from it. As I said, slavery begat private property law of the Roman variety (which we inherited), the most important part of which is the right to disposal. You can do with your property whatever the hell you want, including destroying it, removing it from the world completely. And of course, there is a feedback loop with scarcity and profit here.

Switching focus to abundance does not vanquish scarcity, rather it turns scarcity into a different kind of problem (or boon), which requires different socioeconomic processes to address, or enhance, or be creative with.

My two cents.

Debra said...

Toby, I think that the precarity of the system is much less tied up with our desire to own stuff than it is with the meat and potatoes game, or at least that property coupled with the NECESSITY to work in order to put meat and potatoes on the table is a particularly toxic equation.
Constantly criticizing our desire to own things stems from secularized Christian moralizing.
Look at how Jesus lived... a hand to mouth existence. Jesus talked a lot about money, but in the Gospel you (almost) never see him touching it.. (once, I think, in the "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's..) And you never hear anything about how those idealistic free spirits were putting THEIR meat and potatoes on the table, now, do you ?
That was Judas's role, to handle the money...
Jesus's desire to keep his hands clean ? went a long way towards diabolizing money in our eyes, even now.
On the role of money as STORING value, well... that role has been really hard hit recently as it enters into conflict with the constant promotion of immediacy, and instant gratification, the which "values" depend on an entirely different temporality from.. SAVING (love that word...).

Toby said...

I can't keep up with you on the biblical stuff, Debbie, but would add that a perfectly human (and other animal) desire to 'own' need not result in private property accumulation. Furthermore, it is not my intention to denigrate acquisitional urges, but rather to contemplate alternatives to rampant consumerism and mindless accumulation, as both arise from scarcity-based thinking and our deeply flawed relationship with money. Hence, e.g., open access instead of private property. This would not exclude ownership, but it would dampen the flames of consumerism-based accumulation for its own sake. Considerably dampen, actually. Of course, if this change were aligned with multiple other changes, all being slowly accumulated in my growing book. ;-)

Frank Powers said...

I'm not sure that telling people they don't need to be useful to exist really convinces them. Thus far, on my loony forum, nobody follows me down this path.

I'm right there with you. No-one more useless than I (up until now), and yet, existing. Things could be worse.
Cheers! :)

(Btw, that word verification og Blogger/Google really sucks of late. I had to verify my humanity four times. Can't they at least use legible words?!)

Toby said...

Hi FP, long time no see!

Yes, usefulness is the big bugbear, and we must confront what it means whether we want to or not. We cannot escape automation (not until energy becomes insolubly scarce—that may happen, but I don't believe so), hence our economic usefulness is on the decline, and the evidence of this is everywhere. New economic domains for usefulness should emerge, because humans need to feel useful; it's part of being a highly intelligent social animal; that biosocial pressure is as inescapable as automation. The challenge is that up till now the economic sphere has had an almost total grip on public interaction and work as they relate to value assignment via money and Growth. Public interaction and value assignment stemming therefrom cannot disappear, not while we have society of any size, but the money system we have can be changed, and must be, for ecological and technological reasons.

In short, the arguments are important, but not as important as the circumstances. And it's not that one system is 'closer to utopia' than the other, it's that one outlives its applicability or appropriateness, thus forcing us to adapt or die. As we struggle to come to consensus on how to adapt, we present arguments. Meanwhile, the situation worsens and the pressure to change increases. And yet convincing people stays as hard as ever. Change is hard, profound change profoundly so.

(As site admin I don't have to battle against that word verification thing. I'm tempted to open it up, but wouldn't want to have to deal with too many postings. Maybe that's an unfounded fear though. Perhaps an experiment is in order...)

Debra said...

Well, Frank, I raise my glass to you.
Toby, I quibble with your adaptation ideology.
Do we have to adapt ?
Not adapting is a form of resistance.
It is what I am practicing right now.
From time to time, I tell people the many things I am doing to not adapt.
As Keynes said, this position is extremely uncomfortable, but at this point, I don't want another one.
Have you ever thought that if there exist in nature INDIVIDUALS that do not, and will not adapt, they must be of some.. USE to the system itself ?
They must have some purpose...
I like to tell myself that, in any case.
Yes word verification sucks.
It may soon render posting impossible...
Word verification is a conspiracy between the members of the establishment who run glasses for us... ;-)

Toby said...

OK, apologies; perhaps I was too black and white there. However, I still maintain that adaptation—and this is far from bold or controversial or even interesting—is an ongoing part of life, the universe and everything.

Otherwise I agree, Debbie. Glorious resistance; or even stubborn, pointless resistance for its own sake; or even for no other reason than one knows nothing else, all have 'utility'. Sometimes its appropriate, sometimes not, but whatever our interpretation, beauty-value lies in the eye of the interpreter.

So, I raise my glass to it all. And to Zen generally.

To your good health in these interesting times!

Toby said...

Word verification is off. It's just a simple change to blogger's settings. Apologies for not doing so sooner.

Now we'll see how much spam turns up.

Rupert Russell said...

Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam....

Debra said...

Maps, Maps, Maps, Maps, Maps, Maps, Maps, Maps, Maps.........

Toby said...

Such happy spasms!

Lovely spaaAAAAAAAMMM!