Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Global Suckishness Index

I guess it's just coincidence, but there's been a bit of a trend in some of the recent blog posts I've been following. For example (and ignoring the many blogs dedicated entirely to rants about the state of the world) there's Sam's and Lettucehead's sad experiences in today's employment market, and David talking about the perils of the New York subway.

Anyway, it sparked some thoughts about the general suckishness of the world at large, and why this might be so.

And I came to a startling realisation.

There's a lot of natural danger and hardship out there, and disasters regularly hit the headlines - hurricanes, floods, droughts. But in reality those are minor blips and there is more than enough wealth and resourcefulness in the world to deal with them. Nature really accounts for only a tiny proportion of hardship.

The only logical conclusion is that the vast proportion (I'd guess maybe 95%) of human misery is entirely man-made!

Worse, much of the man-made misery is deliberate, and all of it is avoidable.

Some of it is down to religion - "my belief is better than your belief, and you'd better believe it!" - but most is caused by people wanting to get more out of the system than they are willing to put in.

And that's almost always expressed in terms of money.

Money is the root of all evil?

Here's a little thought experiment.

What if I suggested that money is unnecessary?

What would happen if we all woke up tomorrow in a world without money?

Chaos! Mayhem! Everyone suddenly penniless and starving!

But wait. Why should that be? Did the sun fail to rise on this penniless world? Did crops stop growing?

Stop and think for a moment. What if everyone simply carried on as they did yesterday? You got up, went in to work and did whatever you do. You went to the store and took from the shelves exactly what you would have done before. The shelves are still stocked because the people who stock them turned up as normal. The delivery trucks arrived, fully loaded, as normal because all the factories and warehouses kept working.

It gets better. You walk out of the store a lot quicker because you didn't have to line up to pay. OK, spare a thought for all those cashiers who suddenly don't have anything to do. Aren't they in trouble? Out of a job? But why would they be in trouble? In a world without money they don't need a job. Every other part of their life could carry on as normal. But then they could pitch in and help unload the trucks and stack the shelves and then everyone could go home early.

And think of all those millions of people working in banks across the globe. A whole industry, suddenly redundant. But nobody need go hungry because nothing important has stopped happening. And all those spare pairs of hands that could be turned to doing something genuinely productive.

When you look at it like that, the whole concept of money is nothing more than a vast and unnecessary drain on the planet.

OK, there's one glaring hole in this scenario. Everyone wouldn't just carry on as before. How many milliseconds would we be into the new day before somebody, somewhere, said to themselves "why should he get fillet steak while I'm making do with a Kraft dinner?" Human nature would kick in PDQ, and we'd all start taking more out of the system than it can sustain. That is why everything would descend into chaos and mayhem.

The truth is that there is more than enough food and water, space and energy for us all to live comfortable lives. But human nature compels us to want more, and to take it unless something stops us. Money may have its problems, but it's the most effective mechanism we have for putting a throttle on what we take from the world.

For me, the most frightening thing that global capitalism has unleashed on the world is a new and insidious form of life, and this is where the endemic global suckishness comes from. All the big corporations and financial institutions have taken on a life of their own and they are out of control. They've become self-serving and self-perpetuating, all-powerful, and utterly divorced from any moral or social conscience.

I don't think we're going to change human nature in a hurry, we probably can't do without money as a means of regulating access to resources, so as far as I see it the answer must lie in changing how we manage the flow of money. What we need are financial and corporate mechanisms that put the welfare of the general population back into the frame as the most important shareholder.

I don't pretend to have answers, this is only a rant after all, but I'm happy to accept any suggestions...written on the back of $20 bills.


  1. It's true, money really is the root of all evil in this world. It corrupts everything. I think your hypothesis is valid, Ian. It might seem like a stretch at first, but when you think about it . . . if you go back far enough (follow the links in the chain, as it were) you'd find that the capitalist engine this world runs on is really an empty mechanism of useless paper. Even all the nations' gold reserves are based on mutually agreeable values pre-chosen in some forgotten corner of history, simply appreciating (or, sometimes, depreciating) over the centuries at the whim of global market trends.

    It's a scary realization, just how much of our economy is based on shadow puppetry.

    Good rant, Ian. :)

  2. You know I ponder this (or something like it) a lot lately. I just cannot understand why two capable intelligent people ready to work and contribute cannot find the means or the opportunity to do so-when there are so many with so much that they don't need and couldn't possibly ever use. I'm ashamed to say my step-father is one such individual-he owns a million dollar company and has everything he could possibly ever need or want but he becomes infuriated at the concept that he should pay more taxes than poor folk like myself-he is incapable of putting himself in someone elses cheaper shoes-and seems to believe whole-heartedly that he does well because God made it so and the rest of us-well the rest of us just aren't trying hard enough. In fact he would rather his three daughters go without healthcare then have to put a penny towards universal healthcare. Too bad communism doesn't work in practise huh?

  3. This is definitely food for thought. My Amish father always claimed money was the root of all evil, but I've revised that to be "greed is the root of all evil." For me greed is defined by wanting more than we need, or will ever need and is based on the scarcity principle. If we always compare what we have with what others have, whether it be money, success, food, talent... you name it... and want what the other person has, then we are being greedy and not appreciating what we do have. What if everyone got up tomorrow morning and began to fully appreciate everything -- including the beauty of the birds singing outside our windows? What if this gratitude for everything we have sparked a desire to give back to the community... do for others... care for the planet that sustains our lives? To believe in and be grateful for the bounty and plenty in our lives would bring more bounty. It is all about being happy with what we have, and if it's more than we'll need, then we'll share with others. Perhaps everyone can then have their cups running over... unless we looked at our neighbors and would rather have the cups they are holding. Then we land right back where we are...

    Thank you very much for this thought-provoking post.

  4. Well, this post has given rise to some wonderfully thought out comments in return. That makes me happy.

    David, the shadow-puppetry is indeed a scary thing, but what frightens me more is that I think the puppet has come alive and no longer bows to any human puppet master. The whole global engine has gotten so complex in the last century that no-one is really in charge any more. I think it is an emergent phenomenon that we barely recognise let alone understand.

    Sam, that is another sad story, and a telling example of the human nature I referred to. Yeah, communism has never worked and never will while human nature is how it is. All communism ever did was exchange one corrupt ruling elite for another. This phenomenon can be summed up quite simply in two words: shit floats.

    Saloma, you have wise words indeed. Greed has been with us throughout recorded history, as have freeloaders, two facets of human nature that keep conspiring to ruin things for us all. If we could only divert human nature as you suggest then we would be on a better course.

  5. Americans get kinda freaky at the thought of true socialism - it'll never work here.

  6. I don't think I'm advocating any kind of "ism", or at least I'm reluctant to label it with words like "socialism" with all the unwanted baggage that brings.

    But, no, I guess nothing much will work until enough people wake up to what unfettered self-interest has led us to...


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