By Chet Gaines
With the exponential growth of information technology continuing on its incredible trajectory, and given that we comprehend the emergent nature of our understanding of the natural world, it seems logical that we must adopt a position of rapid and constant re-evaluation of our philosophical assumptions and tactics. We live in a world where labor is increasingly being automated and an abundance of goods and services are being generated, far more than we can physically consume, but through lack of planning and poor distribution systems we find that a billion or more fellow human beings do not have sufficient access to food and even more are lacking access to the most basic of necessities that allow one to be a productive member of society.
Though it’s often thought that scarcity is a natural condition that we find ourselves in, several thinkers have pointed out that scarcity is contextually relative, that our intelligence and technology applied to the issue of scarce resources can often create situations of abundance. This is precisely what we must do in order to liberate ourselves, our fellow humans, and the rest of the biosphere from the destructive tendencies of our modern socioeconomic order. We find ourselves practically drowning in possibilities of renewable energies, efficient design techniques, and abundant productive capacities, and yet the vast majority of humans on this planet struggle on a daily basis to keep food in their bellies, clothing on their backs, and shelter over their heads. It is the socioeconomic order itself that takes our current condition of abundance and manufactures artificial scarcity. It is a tactic of control and domination, and it is not acceptable.
In the earlier days of the development of our species, we lived in conditions of relative abundance. Through direct access to a variety of food sources, many humans enjoyed quality nourishment with approximately half the hours of labor that we engage in today. Gathering and the occasional hunt sustained our egalitarian populations as we expanded around the globe. Eventually though, with the advent of the agricultural revolution, our society became radically stratified. In spite of the fact that we had intentionally created an even greater abundance of food than we already had, we rendered this stockpile artificially scarce as a hierarchy of resource management developed. This shift in social organization initiated the powerful and dangerous growth paradigm that threatens the wellbeing of our biosphere this very day. It also changed the way we viewed production. States arose, markets emerged, and technological advancement, which had been a process slowly unfolding over tens or even hundreds of thousands of years, began compounding upon itself. The development of accounting and the written word greatly altered our consciousness and social narratives.
One social narrative that was strongly influenced by this paradigm shift was that of resource control. Most “primitive” societies naturally have a communal approach to resource access, but with social stratification came ill distribution of resources and the “invention of poverty” to borrow the words of Robert Sapolsky. We shifted away from need-based access to private acquisition for the sake of power and advantage. If we wish to create a world of abundance, we have to re-examine the strategy of ownership, which is an attempt at the defense of conditions of scarcity that ends up only exacerbating the problem. We must recognize that the legitimate goal of ownership is access itself, and the negative effects of ownership actually lead to less access overall. As we once did, we have to strategize around access itself, not questions of ownership and enforcement. We have to create a system of access for all, so that needs are universally met and sanity on individual and social levels can finally be established. Given the tools we have at our disposal today, this can be done.
The main obstacle between us and this desirable goal is not actually technological capacity, as one might suspect. Rather, it is the sociocultural conditioning that we have been subjected to over thousands of years of artificial scarcity. Our unsustainable, cutthroat cultural patterns have become so ingrained in us, so “natural” that we actually mistake modern economic behavior for our very nature as humans. However, it is known that there is no “human nature” outside of environmental context—that human behavior manifests in many ways, and always in reaction to the environment. To think there is some intrinsic biological drive that causes us to generate artificial scarcity which results in the disaster that is modern economics is to misunderstand who we really are. The only answer to this issue of cultural failure is a direct response: to generate within ourselves and our fellow human beings the very values required to sustain ourselves on this one and only planet of ours; our home.
The post-scarcity era is upon us, we need only to manifest it. We must uninstall the outmoded cognitive software of competitive acquisition and endless growth and discover that within ourselves lies a history of collaborative and sustainable social operation. We must take a direct and technical approach to our problems and realize that rhetoric, while it may have a place psychologically, is not going to fill our bellies, clothe our backs, or shelter our bodies. We must transcend the limits of traditional notions of market economics and find our true technological capacity for problem-solving. If we do this, we will undoubtedly reach the post scarcity era, where there is no use for competitive acquisition or illegitimate resource management, as the underlying mechanisms of these issues will have been resolved. We will be free to participate in society according to our own individual terms. We will not be forced to labor just to survive. We will have direct access to the needed resources that will allow us to pursue our intrinsic interests. Possibly greatest of all, we will not have to raise our children in a manner that prepares them to deal with the imposed and artificial scarcity of today’s society. The first generation to develop in these described conditions of abundance will be something truly different than we will ever be, and they will look back in horror of “the good old days” of artificial scarcity.
A specter really is haunting the world these days. It is beginning to possess each of our brains. That specter is the undeniable recognition of abundance. It is taking hold in the minds of the young and old all around the planet, and it is only a matter of time before our cultural zeitgeist catches up with our technical reality. The implications are huge.