In the United States and many of the developed and developing nations, we are creating a worldwide culture that aims as its measure of success to provide ever-expanding creature comforts and conveniences to as many of its members as it can or bust. And bust it may because the unspoken way of achieving this goal requires that it do so without including everyone in the pampering. We seek to balloon the pampered class as large as we can make it but recognize only vaguely that our way of doing so cannot include everyone. It is only our way of doing so that prevents us from succeeding in including everyone.
The flaw in our plan is the incentive aspect of our way of achieving a pampered class. We mistakenly seek to pamper as many of us as we can by measuring all achievements by the money we have to spend to acquire pampering and by setting up comparative scales of pampering that indulge our ego’s tendency to seek to have more than others to prove our greater self-worth. Our egos would have us prove our greater self-worth by climbing higher on ladders of our preferred ways of self-pampering. So long as we indulge our egos’ envy, greed and lust for comparatively “more and more without end,” our way of pampering ourselves will not achieve universal pampering because our egos need to have disparities to prove their success in achieving comparatively more than others have achieved. Our standards of comparison may differ among our egos but they invariably translate into the relative cost of each achievement in greater pampering. The incentive to participate in this competitive way of life translates into increasing the money that flows to us so that we can spend more of it to increase our self-pampering – and to thereby mistakenly try to prove our self-worth, when the very system of incentives implies that we have little natural self-worth.
We establish incentive plans because the ego initially comes into being to cover up our mistaken sense of low self-worth and by circuitous rationalization convinces us that no one will participate as a productive member of society without being essentially bribed to do so. We think so little of ourselves (and by projection of others) that we believe we’ll all slack off and indulge in sloth if we were to receive a share of pampering without tying that share to earning it. The possibility of everyone’s being willing to share in both the work and the rewards simply because it’s our nature to want to be productive, responsible members of our families and communities and to celebrate life together escapes most people. It seems too idealistic. And given how our society has been functioning on the ego’s basis for many generations, our skepticism seems firmly supported by evidence. When we see how many people initially act once incentives to produce are reduced or removed, we point to their behaviors as “proof” that sloth is a part of human nature and will take over in the absence of an incentive program sufficient to overcome the predictable entropy of sloth. We refuse to recognize as fact that the very incentive programs we insist on putting in place themselves cause the reaction of lower productivity when incentives seem inadequate or are removed entirely. We are trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy by the very social training by which we establish the social norm of productivity tied to economic incentives.
Can we ever transition to a culture in which productivity is entirely voluntary and pampering shared with at least less regard and perhaps with no regard for levels of productivity? Might this idea be worth trying experimentally? I suggest that some people may not be socially oriented to be included in this experiment at the outset due to their prior social programming that has caused them to feel extremely low self-worth. But some people who have a sense of their value as human beings regardless of how much they may be compensated for their productivity could band together to co-create a subculture in which the group’s collective productivity is shared among the members of the group equitably without regard to any one individual’s measure of productivity. I suggest that such an alternative subculture would be by its nature non-competitive, non-comparative and egalitarian in its values. It would be based on trust in the natural tendency of people to want to maximize the development of their gifts and talents and to invest them in ways beneficial to the greatest good of the greatest number.
Suppose the “incentive” for participating in this alternative subculture were defined not in terms of disparities in pampering (economic power, social status, etc.) but in generously and equitably available, expansive opportunities for self-development and expressions of creativity and curiosity lightly monitored by a nurturing leadership who is concerned about the development of every member of the subculture and who arranges for resources to be available to encourage self-development. Might some people realize that this “incentive” appeals to their deepest inner natures (their very souls) and allows for and encourages the most enriching lives possible? Infinite opportunities to participate as a responsible member of a self-nurturing culture might draw together the most creative, socially responsible people to collectively “make it happen.” That it has not yet happened does not mean that it cannot be created today. Perhaps the time has come for this experiment to be explored and placed in motion by those drawn to its promise to defuse the ego’s tendency to progressively escalate problems out of control and cause all things of any significant value to humans to be disparaged as irrelevant and subordinated to the ego’s relentless pursuit of power, wealth and pampering as indications of its ascension up ladders of success by which monetarily incentivized economies operate.
In essence, I’m wondering out loud whether the time has come to recognize the error multiple generations have committed in worshipping money as their cultural god and putting their trust not in each other’s responsible, trustworthy nature but instead replacing trust with bribery that insults our true nature and corrupts the very fabric of our society. What if the very system by which we currently expect to achieve success as measured by money’s power to purchase pampering has itself corrupted many of us into being less willing to act responsibly for the good of the whole when opportunities to do so are available? What if the idealism older folks once held dear when we were younger were to resurrect itself to throw off the chains of economic incentives and guide us forward not into some form of godless communism as the only possible alternative to godless capitalism but into a third, now largely invisible alternative that will become visible as it is co-created by those who dare to believe in its vision for humanity’s long-range benefit? What if the faded idealism of members of older generations were revived and joined forces with the idealism of members of the younger generations to create the most powerful blend of idealism known on Earth? What if multi-generational idealism took root, connected with and drew strength from the Eternal Optimist and bore fruit for the healing of the nations?
© Art Nicol 2017