Brownies Are Our Future
“Brownies are said to inhabit houses and aid in tasks around the house. However, they do not like to be seen and will only work at night, traditionally in exchange for small gifts of food…They usually abandon the house if their gifts are called payments, or if the owners of the house misuse them.”
We should start with an acknowledgement that we really have a pretty wonderful living world that deserves our support and protection. We also need to acknowledge that for every jerk on this planet, there are many more genuinely kindhearted people in all shapes and sizes. We are simply poorly trained in fully recognising these people. Humanity is also in need of our support and protection.
We as humans are facing two interrelated crises: one to do with the environment, the other to do with our increasing poverty in both goods and political power. In actual fact these are the same crisis. Poverty is an environmental problem. Among other things it is brought about by environmental disaster and it generates more environmental disaster. It finds its roots in a culture that uses people and all living things as fuel for a vast power making machine that is inevitably destroying us all.
Greater numbers of people are having a difficult time accessing what they need to survive — much less live meaningful lives. This is happening at four levels: the unemployed, the underemployed, the overworked and underpaid, and the volunteers.
• The unemployed
Unemployment is set to increase at a phenomenal rate. We have already lost numerous clerical jobs to ATMs, grocery check out machines, and the robotisation of many industries such as car manufacture. 3D printers are ready to take over the production of many plastic and wood items. Self-driving cars in particular will wipe out the employment of a whole segment of our populations.
Honestly, we want to eliminate boring and dangerous work. We want to change how things are made in order to reduce waste and pollution. But who is taking care of the human casualties of these changes? Who is being made responsible for their well-being?
When people are left without support they migrate to where they can get help and jobs. If they are all congregating to the same places without relief, you start seeing civil unrest. Civil unrest frequently leads to civil war. We have seen this in Syria and Burundi. We are seeing it in the US with the mass shootings. This is guerilla warfare and is carefully not being named as such. I may be wrong, but I’m afraid we have more of this in the future.
Underemployment is how government and business are masking unemployment and preventing outright social dissolution. You only have to work thirty minutes a week for the Australian government to count a person as employed. In this way they can fiddle the numbers to show how “successful” their jobs policies are.
In Australia anyone having difficulty finding employment is required to take assigned work for the dole positions. These jobs are not paid to industry standard, in fact the wages are below the poverty line, nor are they held to the same health and safety requirements. This is not work, this is government managed slavery. In the US people are thrown into private prisons and required to work — another carefully disguised form of slavery.
At this level of employment people do not receive various benefits such as medical insurance and superannuation. Whole nationally based businesses have laid people off, then rehired part-time and casual workers in order to reap the savings from not paying worker benefits. This leads to seeking multiple part-time jobs, and yet still making less than government payments. Of course governments have made access to social support intentionally degrading, so that working in poverty is better than coping with government bullying. Governments are in no way offering social security these days — they are offering destitution and abuse. No one at any level has a safety net, and those who can’t imagine losing all they have still sense it, and succumb to the pressure to “behave”.
• Overworked and underpaid
We covered some of this with the people who are taking multiple part-time jobs. Many sense the precariousness of their position. They are willing to work longer hours for less money to make sure they are the ones who are indisposable to their companies. Insecurity leads to fierce competition and a downward spiral in lifestyle and life balance. People are no longer working to live, but living to work.
This can lead to resentment toward those who are “freer”: the poor and the artists. If these people are really living such easy lives — surely people would be leaving jobs en masse and demanding better treatement. Of course that is what large employers are afraid of. With freedom comes empowerment. With empowerment comes the ability to set terms of employment — wealth would have to be shared. If people gave the poor and the artists the freedom they imagine they have, we would all be better off.
In the meantime we have engineers at Boeing who are terrified of striking due to unusually low industry wages, because they do not wish to lose jobs they love. We have authors and creators accepting lower and lower percentages of the profits from their works, just for the privilege of public notoriety. I remember when every university graduate was given a copy of the book Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow. Its real title should be Do What you Love and Expect To Be Exploited. Work is seen as something which you need to be coerced into doing through money. Otherwise, if various companies can get you to pay them in order to do the work you enjoy, they will.
Volunteerism is a good thing — it represents the future. Currently, volunteerism is being grossly abused. Traditionally volunteers filled the few gaps in public services that government could not supply. The volunteers were often home workers such as mothers and the retired. Young people would join these efforts as part of their education in cooperation, community building, and civic responsibility. The unemployed would upon occasion use volunteerism as a way to network and find their way to paid employment.
During the US Great Depression the Works Progress Administration (WPA) turned many essential services that were done voluntarily into paid careers. Writers, artists, actors, architects and more were given the opportunity to enrich their communities with original works that created bonding and a community identity. Their creations became a legacy gifted from their generation to ours.
Volunteerism did not begin to wane due to lack of interest (at least not at first). Volunteers disappeared as more of their lives became taken up with simple survival. Mothers, fathers, the elderly all need to take up long hours and long years of work to get by. Volunteerism is also abused by the government.
Shasta County California has a history of problems with providing sufficient funding for public libraries. When a number of years ago they closed the Redding public library, the local branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) stepped in as volunteers to keep it running, in particular for the benefit of nearby public schools. The local government was so pleased with the cost savings from these women providing free services that they decided to cut all funding for library employment.
The AAUW had not put themselves forward to be a free source of work but to ensure people, especially young students, had access to critical information. The project was stopped in order to make certain the government did the right thing by its community. In Australia the Federal Government decided to cut the staffing of their unemployment services and replace them with Salvation Army volunteers — thereby creating more jobless. Why is the government leaning on a religious group? Why Salvation Army and not some other religious group? Why were the Salvation Army willing to use their own people in this way? Both of these are examples of gross abuse of public goodwill.
We now have governments who are leaving it up to non-profits and individuals to ensure everyone has essential services, that the environmental commonwealth is cared for, and medical research can go forward. Each person has to decide which of hundreds of charities to give funding and/or personal time. Lots of work is duplicated, as are the facilities to perform the work. The highest duty of a government is to ensure the well-being of the citizens under its care: that’s why we give them the tax dollars. These organisations shouldn’t need to exist. Where are our governments?
The End of Work
As people have less money to spend corporations are beginning to feel the pinch. Our current economic system is a pyramid scheme that is nearly tapped out. People can’t spend money they don’t have.
• Community currencies
One solution to this problem are community currencies — only they are barely a fix. I was the founder of the Eastern Area Group Local Economic Trading System (EAGLETS) in Melbourne. I was excited by the idea of self-supporting communities. I still am. We immediately faced a number of problems.
The first problem was that the only thing we could realistically trade was work and/or skills. Any type of growing or manufacture ultimately needed cash flow for items such as fabric, shovels, electrical gear, etc. Not having to pay for labour certainly reduced costs for the poor, but for those who were working and on the financial edge — they couldn’t take the time out to do barter work, even if it meant they could get services in return.
Worse was the community pressure from a transparent system of credits and debits. No matter how many times we told people that being in debit was okay in this system, people still felt guilty when in debit and resentful of those who were in ever more debit. “Who were these people who were using up our community resources?” To make the group look more successful than perhaps it was, I kept underpaying myself to keep the whole thing running — a sure recipe for burnout.
I noticed one LETS started having people apply for entrance, not based on their character, but on what skills and labour they were bringing to the group. So the old, the young, and the disabled were locked out as unproductive community members. Redundancy of skills also kept people locked out. So much for mutual support.
• Universal Basic Income
The new solution people are talking about is a Universal Basic Income (UBI). I prefer when it is described as a Guaranteed Living Income (GLI). With this system everyone is paid a living wage without consideration of deserving or neediness. This reduces bureaucracy, the humiliation and bullying of the poor, and helps return the vigorous circulation of wealth.
The two concerns that come up with this system are: 1) how is this paid for, and 2) how do you convince people to continue working? To a degree both of these questions are furphies disguising deeper fears of the establishment.
UBI has been found to largely pay for itself due to the economies of reducing a system of deserving and punishment. What no one has dared suggest is…tax the rich. We are in this crisis because more and more wealth is concentrating into fewer hands, then not re-entering the system. Instead the world is being gripped by the power that comes with holding wealth hostage. Traditionally the wealthy have contributed more to their country. This is when they saw themselves as citizens and community members. They believed they had a certain amount of civic responsibility. We see this in the Batman stories. It was also expected of them.
Now “greed is good”, competition as to who is at the top of the most wealthy list is ferocious, and the wealthy live in stratospheric multinational fantasy worlds where they are completely cut off from the rest of humanity. We are all encouraged to live in that world through gated communities and home shopping, such that we too are disconnected from those in need and our own capacity for compassion. What we see on TV and film is portrayed as “normal”, and we are living such isolated lives, no one dares admit if this normal is true or not.
The wealthy have screamed blue bloody murder at any suggestion of their taxation. They try to make it sound through news and advertising that to tax them is to tax everyone. “The sky will fall!” they cry.
The argument that people will stop working if not forced to it by necessity has also been repeatedly proven false. People don’t generally like sitting on their hands. If given half a chance, they don’t while away the hours eating chips and watching TV. Ethologists, those who study animal behaviour, speak of a concept called “funktionlust”. Funktionlust is the desire of a creature to do what they do well, because it brings with it a sense of pleasure or satisfaction. Doing such things are important for a creature’s ability to maintain emotional and physical well-being. We are creatures: this concept equally applies to humans.
I’ve heard people ask, “How do you get people to do the yucky jobs if they aren’t forced to do it?” This view of work sees human activity as motivated largely through punishment. Without threat of poverty, no one is expected to do anything. So, how is it possible that so many people volunteer to pick up rubbish at public parks? How is it possible that anyone changes nappies or cleans toilets? I also wonder, if these jobs are so horrible why aren’t we attempting to entice people with greater pay?
The question isn’t really how do we keep people working with UBI. The question is: how do we keep people working under abusive circumstances? With UBI people could leave jobs where their safety is at risk, they are overworked, underpaid, and subject to bullying.
Even so, things have gotten sufficiently bad that the elite are beginning to consider UBI. Unemployment is set to skyrocket with the uptake of self-driving cars, and they don’t want to lose their positions through some form of uprising. People need just enough hope to accept a grinding lifestyle. The oddest thing is hearing people in the upper classes talking about “the end of work”.
Whereas thinkers of the industrial era spoke of the working, middle, and upper classes, privileged thinkers are now dividing the world into an upper working class and a lower consuming class. The only work they can see for the consuming class is art — as if that involves no skill or genuine interest. This is a palliative sop: many people like to imagine themselves rich and the centre of attention through some form of creative activity. However, they do not see themselves as taking up years of training, working through years of anonymity, and living with numerous rejections until the zeitgeist is just right and they get noticed by a broad audience. Are these thinkers jobs so facile that anyone off the street could wear the suit, take the money, and become a wealthy social pedant? Why do they think the work of creators is any less difficult than their own job?
• Reasonable employment
We have all been brainwashed into thinking that work is that activity which attracts payment. If you aren’t paid a living wage for an activity, it’s believed not to be actual work. This means companies alone define what is and is not work. Anything they can’t control or is of no monetary interest to them is struck from the list of things that are considered “reasonable employment”. They have also convinced governments to sell off or close down public services for the good of the “economy”, but not for the good of the public. Closing government services means companies can offer the same services for a price. They can also withhold services as they see fit. Think about those AIDS medicines that have exorbitant price tags attached to them. Desperate people are easy to manipulate…up to a point.
So for what are our tax dollars being used: to bail out banks but not the homeless, to clean up environmental disasters which corporations take little to no responsibility for causing, to make sure investors in the military industrial complex get their pockets nicely lined? Our governments may be printing the money, but corporations are making themselves the nexuses through which all money flows. As such they hold undue sway over our lives. Big business is by no means democratic, and through threat of poverty have the power to dictate people’s behaviour.
What would people do if their lives were secure? We have no work shortage whatsoever. We have a lack of security shortage. We need people building sufficient housing for all. We need plastics cleaned from the oceans. We need food grown in environmentally responsible ways that is distributed such that everyone is fed. We need people working to conceive of and build a world where carbon emissions are reduced to safe levels. The list goes on. Universal Basic Income is a good starting place to get these things happening, but it can’t sustain these critical activities.
Science fiction has proposed a number of ways in which humanity could get its act together and rescue itself from self destruction. I am more inspired by these works than the limited thinking of many economists.
First, we need to do away with money and money-like systems of accounting. Money is used to facilitate trade, but it is mostly about consolidating power. When you owe a big company even a skerrick, they can use the debt to legally take considerably more than they have been inconvenienced by the imbalance. Our society has been convinced that such punitive measures are reasonable deterrents for those acting in bad faith. However, deterrence is impossible if the debt was accrued due to hardship. The company now owns you. However, when a large company owes you a large sum of money which you are relying on for a living — they equally own you. This was the premise of the film Rosalie Goes Shopping. I’ve also experienced this first hand as a small business owner. You have to learn early how to quickly cut off bad debts and move on. Big companies will take your things, then smile like Cheshire cats knowing they have deep pockets to keep you from suing for the return of or payment for your goods. They make sure that even trying is likely to ruin you.
We have have all been fooled into thinking that specie is necessary to function. Specie is necessary to control masses of people. Certainly people can use it in a generally neutral manner, but it is designed to be open to abuse.
The world is not an infinite resource. Excessive consumption damages the environment and puts all our lives at risk. What we need to do is ration goods and resources at local, state, and international levels. It’s not good enough letting one country use up the water of a river, then dump waste products into what is left as it flows onto other countries. The river belongs to everyone up and down stream, and must be respectfully shared by all. The same goes for all other resources we collectively need. Rationing, though not well loved, worked well in the UK during World War II. Everyone was fed, everyone had all they needed to participate in the war effort. Suddenly each person was seen as a critical resource in themselves.
With modern software it is a trivial matter to create a program that records resources and goods, has parameters for how much can be used at what rate, then allocate these goods and resources. This would be done with democratic community input. People would simply ask for what they wanted and needed. If their request is readily available — it would be delivered to them. If many people ask for the same thing, say apples, then perhaps enough is available to give everyone one apple, so this is done. With what apples are left for those who want two, there might also be enough, they all receive a second apple. Now we don’t have enough apples left for those who want three. The community may now become involved in deciding who and why some people will receive more than others. If all needs are met and the community has a surplus, they may also decide upon what to do with the excess: preservation, manufacturing, trade…
This level of involvement in community affairs means part of everyone’s work is civic engagement. Honestly, this should have always been the case in order to vouchsafe our democracies. With our increasing workload, even when the work is searching for paid employment or begging for food, we have all been disempowered.
When we ration things, rather than trading in abstractions, it’s much easier to stay connected to what the real human consequences are from our decisions. If a government cuts food delivery to a rural community, it’s perfectly clear why those people are suffering. The people making these decisions no longer have numbers behind which to hide.
The next proposed solution has to do with work. Work is ennobling, but not just any work. Otherwise, as I have heard it said, working as a hitman would be noble. When work serves the well-being of a community, nation, and/or the world, as well as yourself, then it is ennobling. Any work that serves needs to be respected, not just work that confers status. Work needs to engender self-respect and respect for the world around you. Children need to be taught this from a very young age. In fact school children in Japan are expected to clean up their own classrooms as a form of respect toward their educational institution. There is no shame and everything to honour when people contribute to their homes and communities through cleaning toilets. Such efforts protect our health. Anyone who feels any sort of work is beneath them, and cunningly finds ways to avoid the hard or icky stuff, has serious attitude problems.
Again software could help with creating bulletin boards of things that need doing, indicating which activities are of highest priority at any time. People could volunteer to do things, or simply make their skills available — recording when they have provided goods and/or services. The main reward for doing these things is simply having a functioning society. Part of the reward for doing certain communal employment, like building a house, would also be the social activities associated with it, such as partying together Friday evenings. Small communities and nomadic peoples have functioned in this manner for thousands of years. Ursula K. LeGuin posited this sort of world in The Lathe of Heaven. She also posited that if someone was not socially engaging, then they were assigned a social worker to help (not punish) by finding them some place to fit in.
This world would not look so different from our present world, but given people would choose activities out of their own volition, they would all be a lot happier and feel more at peace. I remember being the editor for a literary magazine. Because I knew everyone well in the group, when people first raised their hands to take certain roles for creating the magazine, I recognised that not everyone was being honest. Some people were offering to do some jobs because they gave them prominence. Others offered to do jobs they felt no one else wanted. When I then had everyone secretly put their names in for the jobs they most wanted to do: like magic every role was filled evenly. Everyone was able to do what interested them most. I teach a unit on collaborative creation in my course on storytelling for digital media. Usually, things fall into place when everyone is honest about what they want to do in their groups. Whenever there is a shortfall, either through interest or skill, one group is usually able to solicit another group to help them. This is all so much easier than people are willing to believe.
Our biggest stumbling block to creating a peaceful and sustainable world is simply our attitudes toward one another and the rest of life. If we let go of felt needs for dominance and control, we wouldn’t waste so much time imprisoning ourselves in the process. Like those fairy creatures the brownies, we need to be working for the pleasure of it, accepting gifts and refusing the ensnarement of wages. Goodwill and friendship should be the principles upon which our culture holds together. Serving the well-being of life makes a person feel good about themselves and others. We should all try it!
Peace and kindness,