A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet
Thousands apply for grueling jobs in Amazon warehouses, low-paid serfdom with only one purpose: increasing the profits of billionaires. Wouldn't it be beneficial if those people had an alternative source of paid work that served the interests of their family and community?
Many people dismiss my proposed alternative (CLIME) as too idealistic to work in the real world. Nobody says corporations are too idealistic to work in the real world, yet CLIME is a system of community owned and run corporations. The only difference between the two is the purpose and ownership.
It's always interesting when a conventional financial analyst discusses the same issues I routinely address, and reaches very similar conclusions. Deutsche Bank's Jim Reid has penned a comprehensive summary that reads like a toned-down version of my posts: On The Cusp Of A New Era Characterized By Disorder.
Reid lists eight key dynamics which he sees as self-reinforcing drivers of global disorder. The eight will likely be familiar to you.
What Reid couldn't say (given his position) is that the global economic system was unsustainable (i.e. broken) long before the pandemic revealed the fragility of this incredibly destructive and unfair arrangement--an arrangement that the vast majority of participants view as permanent.
This illusion of permanence is collapsing, and what Reid characterizes as an Age of Disorder I would call the Age of Uncertainty, because we really don't know where the disorder and unsustainability will take us, even as we know there is no way to keep the financialization - globalization - growth Titanic from sinking.
We need a fix, but nobody can fix it. All the system can do is shepherd the wealthy and powerful into the few lifeboats and distract the rest of us with a deranging circus of divisiveness and other entertainments.
The Old Normal is gone for good, and the deck is shifting ominously beneath our feet. Now is the moment to ask: what would a fairer, more sustainable system look like? How would it be better for me, humanity and the planet?
Clearly, it's time for a new arrangement that's actually sustainable on our resource-depleted planet that doesn't favor wealthy insiders.
But those gorging on inequality will never accept reforms that strip away their unearned privileges, and so the only practical way forward is a Hacker's Teleology.
What's a Hacker's Teleology? A hack is a workaround in a kludgy, broken system-- a new way of connecting the dots. Teleology means the destination we end up reaching because that's where the dots lead.
This is why the title of my new book is A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet.
In this book I connect the dots of my own life experiences to show how a sustainably fair way of organizing human activity would work. In telling my story, I'm also telling our story, because we all share our limited-resources world and the same aspirations for fairness, belonging, getting ahead and a say in our future.
Those of you who read my 2015 book A Radically Beneficial World are already familiar with my proposed alternative system, one that is voluntary and self-organizing: the community labor integrated money economy (CLIME).
This is an arrangement that would actually work for all of us--and our world--because it treats everyone equally and is designed for DeGrowth, i.e. wise, frugal use of our planet's resources, rather than the current arrangement's insane goal of endless growth of consumption and inequality (and debt to fund the consumption) on a finite planet.
Those of you who've read any of my books know that "me, the writer" rarely makes an appearance. Since humans connect to personal stories far more easily than to abstract analysis, I've given many readers little to engage their interest.
My longtime friend G.F.B. was able, after repeated efforts, to get this through my thick skull, and so in this book, for the first time, my own experiences are the threads weaving the ideas together.
My hesitation was always based on the ordinariness of my life experiences. What could possibly be of interest to readers? But G.F.B. sent me a quote which made a deep impression: "I discovered that I was the world's leading expert in one thing: my experience." (Peter Schjeldahl)
This book connects the dots between the two things I'm an expert on: my experience and the CLIME system.
The title A Hacker's Teleology came to me two decades ago, and I've been mulling the book I would write for all these years. Once I finally understood what my friend had been trying to get through my stubborn skull, I finally knew how to fulfill the promise of the title.
I've put together excerpts from each of the book's sections (PDF) which you can download for free. These are a tasting menu of the entire banquet.
Humanity desperately needs a fairer, more sustainable way of organizing human activity and my hope is this book is a small step toward that goal.
While it's natural to mourn the end of an era, no matter how unsustainable it might have been, it's energizing to enter a new era.
While we don't know the future, we do know that the previous arrangement was failing even before the global upheavals. The unearned privileges of wealthy insiders had pushed unfairness and inequality to precarious extremes, and perverse incentives pushed over-consumption and debt to equally unstable extremes. We now have an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to launch a new arrangement that works for everyone, not just the few insiders at the top of a corrupt heap.
The previous arrangement--our socio-economic system for lack of a better phrase--was not sustainable, and so its demise was inevitable. To organize all of human life around the conviction that infinite growth was possible on a planet figuratively shrinking in resources was never anything but a vain fantasy. To organize the destruction of the planet in the pursuit of infinite growth so insiders could make even more money—that scheme was disconnected from reality.
The solution will not be a grand "ism" that promises a utopian perfection that ends up enslaving us all. Nor will the solution be some version of Central Planning--by its very nature, an arrangement that favors the few at the expense of the many--under some noble-sounding slogan.
The solution will be a human-scale, messy infinity of opportunity to make incremental advances, one person and one step at a time. Not every step will be a success; many will be experiments that fail, but since we learn far more from failure than success, this pursuit of small improvements in well-being and sustainability will be a form of progress that’s open to everyone.
This will require more than a new arrangement of people, capital and governance; it will require a new set of shared values and a new definition of progress.
Stripped of niceties, the old definition of success was: we must consume more, regardless of the destructive consequences, and borrow more money to pay for consuming more, because infinite growth makes everyone happy and somebody somewhere--usually someone far away--will make fantastic amounts of money.
Infinitely increasing consumption and debt was never sustainable, and consuming more didn't deliver the promised universal happiness. The corrupt values buried in this arrangement--which we can summarize as anything goes for the rich and powerful and winner takes all-- were equally unsustainable.
These values were artfully hidden by a vision of a utopian technological wonderland where machines and computers did all the work and we luxuriated in their embrace while the few who owned the wonderland became immensely rich. This too was doomed, for it was never anything but a shinier version of winner takes all.
A more sustainable and humane definition of progress is: advancing well-being and sustainability in small, incremental steps with fewer resources, not more; relying not on ever-increasing debt but on increasing productive opportunities for the many rather than just for the few.
Everyone who benefited from the old broken arrangements will naturally try to restore the good old days of more consumption making a few insiders even more gloriously rich, even as the tide has turned irrevocably against them. As a result, attempts to reform the system from within will be watered down by the entrenched interests trying to reverse the tides of time. They will fail to reverse these tides, but they will easily crush any reforms that threaten their feeding trough.
To share the wealth of our shrinking planet, we need a Hacker's Teleology--a set of goals, tools and values that work around all the Old Guard’s broken systems to reach new solutions quickly and effectively. That's the goal of this book: to propose a new arrangement that provides a sustainable wealth of opportunities for all.
The road doesn’t always go where we think it will, but fortunately the lives we’ve led give us sufficient tools to deal with change, both in our own lives and in our global civilization. The option to not change no longer exists; the unsustainable era has reached its inevitable end. A new era beckons, and with what we already have in hand we can forge a more sustainable, healthier, fairer and more productive alternative.
Copyright 2020 Charles Hugh Smith all rights reserved in all media. No reproduction in any media in any format without written permission of the author.