What is just?
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look and say: “This is not just.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all… The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands – the ownership and control of their livelihoods – are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease. – Helen Keller
Humans are the only species which requires its members to earn their living, to collect enough tokens so as to be able to eat, have shelter, raise young. Some – the small remnant – have managed to get others to work for them and so live off their labor, often for their entire lives.
While other social species like ants, bees and termites may have genetically prescribed roles, they do not exploit each other but work together for the good of the whole. We tend to project our own power structures on them – describing queens and workers in anthropomorphic terms, romantisizing the competition between drones to mate with the queen as a nuptial flight – perhaps in an effort to justify our own inequitable hierachies. We uphold carnivorous predators as models of the survival of the fittest, rather than recognizing a cooperative balance whereby one species is fed, the other kept fit, while the aged and sick members of the group are removed. Some species of ants herd aphids and live in mutualism with them, bacteria and fungi; insects are fed while flowers get pollinated; species exchange their parasitic infestations for grooming.
Billions of bacteria in our microbiome defend us against infection, produce enzymes, and convert and regulate substances, while we provide them food and a home. In fact, they may have evolved us much as developers creating properties for habitation (Margulis, 1986). Different species inhabit different areas of the body, according to their lifestyle and accommodation preferences. Zooming in to an even smaller holonic level, our cells are powered by mitochondria, alien bacteria species which early joined forces with eukaryotic cells to produce energy. Chloroplasts, derived from cyanobacteria, fill a similar role in plant cells.
All are connected in a network of mutuality. In none of these relationships is there any obligation, payment, debt or coercion. Payment and debt are peculiar to humans, self-imposed afflictions. Only humans enslave, by debt or wage slavery, admittedly less reprehensible than chattel slavery or serfdom, but which nevertheless deprive people of free agency and full humanity. We have misused our superior brain power to contrive a gimmick that permits and propagates predation on generations of humans, with a small remnant, the 1% and their progeny, becoming top predator.
The modern educational system, patterned after the industrial assembly line, prepares young humans, not for a fulfilling life, but as fodder for a job market whose sole purpose is to keep the nefarious profit and growth machine going. College students in the US are saddled with crippling debt before they even graduate, yoking them for life in a shrinking job market.
It is to be expected that unrest and resistance would have arisen first among workers who have tried to overturn the system which oppressed them. Their lack of success is due to complicit acceptance of their labor as commodity by withholding it for higher prices; and to mistaking the target as ownership, and not the monetary mechanism which makes that ownership possible and entrenched. Even if the ownership is changed, the oppressive system remains. Investing wealth and power in tangible units which can be manipulated, sequestered and exploited, plays right into the hands of those adept at the game, and gives further advantage to those already advantaged.1 This guarantees there will always be inequity, blatant wealth disparity and grinding poverty, not to mention a trashed planet.
The unpredictable, whimsical, unprogrammable desires for love and creativity have no place in a system where all must go to the market-place to active humanity. Not till our whole commercial system, with its barter and sale of human labour and human love for gain, is done away with, and not till a whole new code of ideals and customs of life has come in, will women really be free… their cause is also the cause of the oppressed labourer over the whole earth, and the labourer has to remember that his cause is theirs. – Edward Carpenter (1896)
Socialist and social reformer, Edward Carpenter, as many others before him and since, have correctly described the symptoms of an inherently unjust system. None have produced a solution. The error made by Marxists and socialists alike is reductionist and materialist, limiting the economy to a struggle between classes for ownership of resources. They had not the benefit of systems thinking (Meadows, 2008). They would have come to know the economy as a process, the result of multiple, and often unseen, interactions within and between intricately interdependent networks, whereby “commanding heights” cannot be controlled, nor resources owned. Participants in the economy at whatever level have access to resources they need to function, an inherent part of the process. The Occupy and Indignado movements have made the right call for more just, human-centered economics but seem to miss the forest the trees. Without restoration of systemic homeostasis that supports life, equity and justice are mere notions that will be extinct along with those that hold them.
Figure 5. Consumption by population size.
Buckminster Fuller (1981) gave much thought to the destructive cycle of continual growth, greed, and appropriation of the earth’s bounty by the few, leading him to conclude, “There can be no planetary equity until all the sovereign nations are abolished and we have but one accounting system [i.e. electrical energy].”2 A one-world government is impractical, and difficult, if not impossible, to set up. The experts on globalization are less than sanguine this will happen any time soon.3 We have only to look at the tensions within the European Union whose member-nations include the most “advanced” societies. Perhaps one day when we have overcome our immediate existential problems, evolved past tribal, internecine and nationalist memes, and fully embraced our humanity, it may emerge. It certainly cannot be imposed from above.
One accounting system has a better chance of bringing diverse elements together in the service of survival and sustainability, equity and justice, particularly in the window of time available. This is what this proposal hopes to bring about by studiously avoiding any form of currency, electrical units included, that gives a pre-advantage to those who produce them.
1 Emmanuel Saez. Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States, 2013. http://eml.berkeley.edu//~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2012.pdf
2 Critical Path, p. 202
3 If we want to push globalization further, we have to give up either the nation state or democratic politics. If we want to maintain and deepen democracy, we have to choose between the nation state and international economic integration. And if we want to keep the nation state and self-determination. we have to choose between deepening democracy and deepening globalization… Even though it is possible to advance both democracy and globalization, the trilemma suggests this requires the creation of a global political community that is vastly more ambitious than anything we have seen to date or are likely to experience soon. – Dani Rodrik (2012)