I think the argument I get the most against a resource based economy is the ‘human nature’ argument.
“A resource based economy won’t work because of our innate human nature”.
Implied is that our so-called human nature is greedy and competitive, thus a system based on sharing and collaboration won’t work.
Now, IS our human nature only greedy and competitive? Of course not. I think we can safely say that it is just as much generous and collaborative as it is greedy and competitive. If it were only greedy and competitive our society would have crumbled a long time ago. Human nature is not ‘this’ or ‘that’. If anything, human nature is changeable and adaptable.
Sure, we have competitiveness in us by nature, BUT, we are also just as much collaborative. Maybe even more so on a global scale. Every day all across the planet people are collaborating to get things done and to make society work. If it was only fierce competition all the time, society would grind to a halt pretty quick. We have to work together to build houses, roads and hospitals. We have to collaborate to develop new technology, fly to the moon or run a farm. We have to play together in harmony to make a rock band rock or a symphonic orchestra sound good.
We are without doubt born with certain qualities, like different talents and personalities. Some become good singers or piano players, while others have a hard time achieving that and become maybe good doctors or farmers instead. Some have a few talents, while some have many. Of course, what we become good at also have to do with our environment and the possibilities we are given. Still, even if you are stimulated even from a fetus to become a piano player, that might not lie for you and you might end up a mathematician instead. If this is from the genes or through your souls experiences as previous incarnations (if you believe in that stuff), I don’t know. It doesn’t matter though, as my point is to show that certain things are inborn, while other things are learned. And our totality as persons consists of a combination of these two elements.
All of us are also born with an ego, but we also have a just as big non-ego, altruistic part within us. If we were ALL ego, the kids in a kindergarden would do nothing but fight all the time. I have worked in a kindergarden and, sure, sometimes there is fighting, while most of the time there is harmonious play. This varies of course, but I think we can say that kids are just as much, if not more, collaborative and altruistic, than competitive and egoistic.
So, how is our human nature made up? Are we all ingrained selfish egotistical competitive bastards that think of non but ourselves? No. Absolutely not. Then, are we all generous unselfish sharing and compassionate beings? No. Absolutely not. Then, what are we?
We are both
We are both egotistical and altruistic, compassionate and indifferent, collaborative and competitive. We are not one or the other. I would argue, though, that in general we are more compassionate than indifferent, more collaborative than competitive, and more altruistic than egotistical. We have in total more peace and collaboration than war at any given time on the planet (even though the media constantly try to show a different picture). Think about it, for the world to work, we have to collaborate. Even in a war, there’s a huge element of collaboration on both sides to win the war, paradoxically enough.
Now, since we are both egotistical and altruistic, how come we have a predatory monetary system like the one we have?
This is due to one more thing about the human nature:
The human nature is not set. We are not greedy from birth, just as much as we are not altruistic. Sure, just like we are born with a tendency to different talents, we are born with a tendency to more egoism or more altruism, but in general, we are not one or the other. We are malleable. Formable. Changeable. We can go one way or the other, and which way we go is largely determined by our environment.
If you grow up in a materialistic and selfish environment, you will most likely be materialistic and selfish too since your selfish part will be boosted. If, on the other hand, you grow up in a compassionate and altruistic environment, you will most likely be compassionate and altruistic too since your altruistic part will be boosted. Of course, sometimes this can have an opposite effect. You can take a stand against your parents and become the opposite of them. But that period usually only last a short time before you fall back on your upbringing.
Values and Norms
But our malleability doesn’t only effect our egotistical and altruistic side. It’s not only black or white. There is a large specter of norms and values that shape our minds, and thus, our society. How we dress, how we drive, our music, our food, how we share or how we hoard. All of these norms and values and more are what make up our cultures. And money and property is nothing more, but one of these cultures.
The notion of money and private property 1 is a norm, a mindset so ingrained in our minds that we don’t even think about it or know it’s there. You could say that it is a norm produced out of our egotistical and selfish side. The ego is the force of separation and fear, while our altruistic side is one of unity and trust. And money is in a large degree a symbol of mistrust and segregation produced by the fear of the ego.
These forces are definitely produced from a part of our human nature. Still, since there is more peace on the planet than war, and more collaboration than competition, how come all of us succumb to the devastating use of money? And why do we let a few people on the planet own most of the planet?
The answer is influences and habit. When we are born we have both egoism and altruism in us, and we are shaped by our surroundings. And of course, when our surroundings are constantly focussed on money and property, so will we be. Even though all we want to be is a piano player, we grow up learning that we have to pay the rent, have to earn money, have to pay for groceries, have to pay for kindergarden, school, books, PCs, fuel, travel and of course, the piano, not to speak of piano lessons. We learn that money is necessary. We learn that trading is the norm. And since our human nature is malleable, we pick up on these norms and internalize them.
Now, if we grew up in an environment where everything was given, and everyone contributed to society with no servitude, but from free will, did what they wanted and what was necessary, shared their skills, time, personal and planetary natural resources, wouldn’t you think that this is what you would do to if you grew up in a society like that?
If you grew up in a society where the prevailing norm is to give and receive freely, with no money or private property, but with full trust in that you would get what you need, you would follow those norms, you would play your part and you would follow the values of that society. Just like you today are following the norms of money, ownership and trading and the other norms and values that goes with the society we have today.
The Prevailing Norm
Our human nature is not fixed in a place where we have to constantly sell each other stuff, trade for everything or constantly hoard. It is not fixed in a place where we have to use money to divide resources. This is only a prevailing norm in our society. We DO have the norms of altruism, giving, sharing and compassion as well. This is obvious when you look at our world wich actually is filled with much giving and sharing. Take Wikipedia, for example.
The problem is that even the most ‘spiritual’ of us, the most compassionate and the most sharing and caring, does not see the elephant in the room, the forest for the trees, the glass ceiling keeping all of us from soaring and truly prosper. They don’t see the norm that money is. Even they see money as something necessary. Something that we can’t live without, like air or water. Even the founders of Wikipedia has never advocated (at least not openly) a moneyless world.
Still, there are more and more people who see money for what it is: A norm. A culture.
In some societies, more southern than northern in my experience, the norm is to be generous and hospitable rather than stingy and hostile. The norm is to give rather than to get. I have met many people whom, if they have the money or resources, go out of their way to give to me almost to the point of embarrassment. ‘No, no, I don’t want money for gas’. Or they buy beer or drinks to everyone without question.
Why do they do that? Of course, it is a norm with them. You are supposed to do that when you are out with friends. But it also have the social function of bonding and showing the others that you are a nice person. Of course, these examples include money.
We could just as well say that helping cook dinner, help someone move, or paint their apartment, also are examples of altruistic behavior with social functions. You do it for several reasons. To be liked. That it feels good to do something with others. That you might get help when you need it. Because they are friends. Or maybe even strangers. Or maybe you simply do it completely altruistically.
I have helped strangers, and friends, move or with others things. I bet you who read this have too. Whether it is helping an old lady with her groceries or over the street or to work as a volunteer on a project in Uganda, write code in Linux, an article for Wikipedia or improving on a design for the Open Source Ecology.
Money as a Culture
Money is a culture. It is nothing but a global norm that constitutes a culture controlling the minds and lives of the people on this planet. It is nothing that is necessary because of our human nature. Money, trading, ownership and property are nothing but norms that can be changed. They constitute nothing more than a mindset, a way of thinking. They are like the constant buzz of the refrigerator that you don’t notice before it is gone.
They are the manifestation of the egotistical half of us. Or maybe it’s not even half. How much of us is ego, and how much is ‘oneness’, anyway? In general, I would argue that the ego part is far less than half. Maybe not even 10%. Maybe only 1%…. And paradoxically, it is that 1% that is controlling the world at the moment. Still, 1%, 10%, 50%. It doesn’t really matter. In any case, we have an at least an equal chance of an altruistic society as an egoistic one.
Money perpetuates selfish and egoistical thinking, there is no doubt about that. Still, it is only a norm, not ‘human nature’. How to get out of it is another question which I will not try to answer in this article. I will only say that there are tendencies towards more altruism in the world and a larger understanding of money as a changeable norm. Of course, mainstream media doesn’t reflect that as they are controlled by the huge ego that want to preserve itself for eternity.
Our human nature is not fixed. We are not born greedy and egoistic any more than generous and altruistic. Human nature is malleable and adaptable and is changing according to its environment. That is our human nature.
We do have inborn qualities, like different personalities and talents, but how these are developed is largely dependent on the environment. Thus, if we change the conditions that people live under, people will also change.
Human nature is largely defined by the culture we live in, and the norms of trading and hoarding is a culture that could just as well be replaced by the culture of giving and sharing.
When more and more people really get their eyes up for the extreme possibilities that lies in improved lives for everyone without money, but with free sharing instead, it will be like Victor Hugo says:
“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
- With ‘Private Property’ I mean, as defined by Wikipedia, ‘property owned by legal persons or business entities’, distinguishable from ‘Personal Property’ defined by Wikipedia as ‘physical possessions belonging to a person’, thus clarifying that we will have possessions, as in ‘Personal Property’, in RBE. I will discuss the general notion of property and ownership in a later post. ↩