Friday, 23 June 2017

The Lentils Economy

In my earlier blog posts, I wrote about capitalism being a system that is ecologically unsustainable and dependent on socially harmful wealth inequality. A common response to this by pro-capitalists is that capitalism may not be perfect, but it's the best system we can have. They then point to communism as being a dismal failure. I would agree that communism is a failure, because it has the same ideological underpinning as capitalism, which is that the earth and life on it ought to be transformed from a into a set of commodities. Capitalism and communism both agree that the accumulation of material possessions is most important. The fact that they disagree on how to go about maximizing material possessions is only a secondary characteristic of the systems.

Beyond capitalism and communism, dozens of other economic systems have been proposed, yet they all tend to focus on a standard of living measured by the accumulation of material possessions. Factors such as social cohesion, quality of relations, quality of life, and mental and physical health are secondary considerations if considered at all.

I would like to propose an economic system founded on the principle of the maximization of leisure time. To clarify, I mean leisure time in the strict sense of 'time' rather than how one spends that time or what one does during that time. I call this economic system the Lentils Economy.

In the Lentils Economy, maximizing leisure time requires the minimization of work time; work time being defined as time spent on producing or accumulating material possessions. For this to occur, work time must only be spent on producing the essential commodities, as given in the list below:

-Food, such as unprocessed easy to produce and easy to store natural foods such as nutritious dried lentils
-Shelter, durable shelter made of sustainable materials
-Clothing, again must be durable and made of sustainably grown natural fibres such as cotton or linen
-Basic personal items such as soap and toothbrushes

Once decent surpluses are built-up of the above items, people would then have no shortage of leisure time. I would also propose that social systems and living arrangements, such as nearby soup kitchens where volunteers take turn making meals for a large group, would be integrated with the Lentils Economy to further reduce time spent on secondary work. I define secondary work as laborious tasks not directly tied to accumulating commodities, such as shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

To contrast the Lentils Economy with the capitalist system, in the Lentils Economy the following items would be completely absent:

-Marketing (no one needs to have someone create a commercial telling people they ought to eat lentils if they want to be happy)
-Cars (not needed to grow food, build shelter, or produce clothing. The manufacture and resource extraction involved is nothing but a ton of unnecessary work)
-Electricity (The building and running of power plants and the building and maintenance of transmission lines is tedious. Humanity lived for hundreds of thousands of years without electricity, and it in the recorded history it is not found that the lack of electricity made people depressed)
-Large amounts of metal (the smelting of metals is laborious and releases much fumes. Items typically made of metal, such as utensils could easily be made of would instead. Metal farming implements such as shovels and axes would be useful, but they could be salvaged from the wreck of the capitalist ecomony as the Lentils Economy would follow or replace the capitalist system rather than arise ex nihilo)
-Plastic (again, wood or other natural plant fibres would be used instead and the trees replanted)
-Toxic waste (there would be virtually no manufacturing outside of basic cottage industries, so no toxic waste would be created. Fish would not contain methylmercury)

In the new system, some things are lost, and some are gained (clean air, water, and soil, and much more leisure time). The question to ask is, what things really matter? What things don't really matter so much? Reflect on that a bit, and maybe some aspects of the Lentils Economy will appeal to you.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

One path to wealth equality

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." -Archbishop Hélder Câmara

The answer to why the poor are poor is that the poor are a critical ingredient for a capitalist society to exist. There must a large pool of unemployed labourers who haven't the means to provide for themselves willing to sell their labour to capitalists. The capitalists in turn derive surplus value (profit) through paying the workers less than the value of labour that the workers provide. The capitalists (from their perspective) would ideally pay the workers the bare minimum needed to survive. Fortunately for the workers, the government intervenes with policies such as the minimum wage and employment insurance. The capitalists certain appreciate it then, when groups such as the church provide money for the poor, because it gets the capitalists off the hook for providing welfare through their taxes, so they can get away more easily with hiding their money in offshore tax havens.

To keep the pool of unemployed large, capitalist countries must have either a positive population growth rate, or very limited upward mobility for the poor. Upward mobility is a negative issue for the system and the capitalists, because if the children of the those who precariously lived in the labour pool go on to become rentiers, then they need to be replaced by more landless labourers (or they cannot easily collect rents). The system is happy for people to be downwardly mobile, such as in the case of the middle class getting crushed down into the lower class.

Here is a way, in theory, of how to restore some balance by arranging that the process of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer at least be temporarily halted by a reset. The first method is to reset everyone's bank account to the same value (could be zero, but $1000 each would allow for spending on basic necessities). The second is to redistribute the land more equitably, and to resolve the socially parasitic drain of absentee land owners. This could be done by reassigning any second properties to a government agency, who would expropriate the properties and redistribute them. In the case that those second properties are rented out to tenants, it might make sense to simply assign those current renters as the new owners. Because both the accounts and the land registry are saved in computers, two algorithms, which could be used to insert codes at the appropriate places (all banks and all land registries) would look this:

A) Bank Account Reset Algorithm (Set everyone's balance to $1000).

While (AccountNumber <= TotalAccounts) {
    AccountNumber.setBalanceValue (1000);

B) Land Registry Reset Algorithm (Assigns ownership to government agency, or current tenants if it's rented).

Flag RegistryNumber.Owner(multiple properties);

While (FlaggedRegistryNumber <= TotalFlaggedRegistries) {
    if FlaggedRegistryNumber = rented
          FlaggedRegistryNumber.setOwner (CurrentTenants);
    FlaggedRegistryNumber.setOwner (GovernmentAgency);

The purpose of the above code samples is merely to show that there are ways to bring about more equality, that the fundamental systems can indeed be changed. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

What is the news?

Due to my aversion to exposing myself advertisements, I listen to an ad-free government funded public music radio station. Despite the lack of ads, the station (CBC Radio 2), always stops on the hour every hour to deliver the news, in exactly the same manner as a private radio station never fails to stop for a commercial break.

While listening to the news, I noticed an intriguing trend. I noticed that whenever something happens in a country, the action or comment by the head of state of that country is always given. For instance, if a plane crash ever happens is Russia, the CBC News never fails to report how Vladimir Putin expressed in condolences, and possibly how Putin himself personally ordered an investigation. It is likewise for other countries. If there is a terrorist attack, the CBC News always reports how the head of state of whatever country it happened in made a speech condemning the attack. It just about never occurs that the head-of-state-commentary-free factual event alone is reported.

So why must we always know what the heads of states have to say about everything? And what is the universal message of these heads of state? Whether the message is from your own head of state of another state, the message is the same, just as an advertisement for one particular brand of car is still an ad for the overall lifestyle of car driving and road paving. The message given time and time again is that these heads of state are paternally caring for us, as though we are endangered children, who are dependent on them. The head of state is the representation of the state and of the embodiment of the concept of the state. We must keep hearing this same message over and over again because it is how the states justify themselves. The states keeps us in a system of increasing wealth inequality, and ensures through their enforcement of capitalist relations (carried on with the unspoken threat of police action in case of any serious dissent) that the rentiers become richer and the workers poorer. We must hear about the state this, and the state that, so that we gradually cease to imagine a world without these capitalist states intervening in everything. 

When we allow ourselves to constantly be informed of frightening things such as daily mass shootings, and then be consoled by the state, we become like a patient who is covertly made sick by his doctor, and then always looking for his doctor to cure him. Avoiding the news altogether is the best way to avoid being sucked in to such a stultifying cycle.

A quote from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, from The General Idea of the Revolution (1851):

“To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality."

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Living on the commons

In my earlier blog posts, I have demonstrated the problems with the consumer capitalist system. Namely, that everyone in it must enter into monetary relations where one alienatingly functions alternately as a john or a prostitute, where wealth inequality increases as the rentiers get richer and the renters get poorer, and where the planet gets wrecked - all in a wash of pro-consumer propaganda that leaves little room for imagination. In this blog, I'll work through a thought experiment to investigate alternative ways of being.

in the book the Republic by Plato, Socrates asks some people he meets to give a definition of justice. Socrates in turn finds weaknesses in the various definitions and refutes them. Next, Thrasymachus provides a definition of justice as "Justice is what the powerful say justice is, so as to advantage themselves". Socrates stumbles and can't refute this. Socrates also can't come up with a better alternative definition, so he spends the rest of the Republic describing an ideal society that is just to its core on the basis of its design.

So while today, the exorbitantly wealthy neoliberal proponents with their ability to influence governments may be taking Thrasymachus' definition of justice to heart and molding a society that suits them, let's see through their unequal consumer-capitalist world to a truly a just society. Let's look at society where collaboration rather than competition determines relations, the obsession with jobs dropped, the delusion of exponential growth on a finite planet given up, and where equality and harmony with nature are highly valued.

When examining societies, a key feature to look for is the technologies used. Technologies in our modern neoliberal have two key features: They are on a scale that is outside the control of an individual or small group and require massive bureaucratic organization requiring a rigid division of labour to produce, and they are unsustainable and deleterious to the planet. A just and harmonious society cannot have such technologies. All technologies in the new society must be able to be created, repaired, and run by the individual members of the society or in small groups or guilds, the way cottage industries were at the start of the industrial revolution.

The technologies available for the new society are therefore much reduced from the present system. To avoid excessive labour, the number of technologies should be kept at a minimum. To select the technologies to be used, the fundamental needs of the society should be examined. For example, food, clothing, and basic medical supplies such as disinfectant. Food technologies would be basic, seed saving, basic farming implements, organic growing techniques focusing on encouraging beneficial insects to inhabit the area to eliminate pesticide requirements, and recycling nutrients to replenish the soil. As for clothing, the growing of flax, cotton, or raising wool in an ecological sustainable way, and extracting, refining, and weaving all with technologies that can be made by the community itself, such as a wooden loom. I'll examine making disinfectant as a special case.

The creation of a chemical plant would require a large capital investment, an army of unemployed looking for work, human resource department, bosses, a regimented education system focusing on job skills rather than human flourishing, lots of time spent apart from family, mind-numbing 24-hour shift work to keep the plant running to justify the investment and enrich the investors, marketing, and long-distance distribution. As all of the above are inimical to a just and harmonious society, something smaller scale must be considered. After reviewing the list of antiseptics and their production methods and raw materials, it appears ethanol may be the best option, so let's examine how to make it on a human scale, as an example of analyzing and selecting a reasonable technology.

There are likely several methods of chemically synthesizing ethanol, but the method of fermenting grains and distilling the result is best for a small-scale production. The grains used can be barley, oats, wheat, potatoes, or sugar beets. Critically, the starches in the grains must be cooked and saccharified by an amylaze enzyme. The enzyme can come from malted barley. Malting barley can be done on a small scale without the need of experts, following techniques developed during medieval times. The malted barely then used for the fermentation of an all-barley mash, or it is mixed in with another cooked grain, for instance potatoes, and left for a while so that the enzymes from the malted barley can act on the potatoes. The next step in the fermentation is the addition of yeast. In mass society, one would buy a yeast packet from a store. This seemingly simple act however includes a huge chain of labour and social relations based upon capitalist values that we are trying to avoid. So how could a society not using money get yeast? The answer is not so simple. Wild yeast could be collected from the air, but it would likely be contaminated with mold and bacteria. Even if the society could start off with a single packet of commercial yeast* it would be a challenge to maintain the strain as there would be no refrigeration. Storing some of the yeast dormant in a cool underground area, and culturing it out into many glass jars of nutrient solution would be feasible with a bit of practice. Back to the process - after the mash has been treated with the malt enzymes, some yeast is mixed in and a few days later the result is ready to be distilled. An airlock would be useful to prevent contamination during the latter stages of the fermentation. This could be made from glass - which requires an entire glass making process. You are probably wondering what the mash was cooked in and what it was fermented it. Cooking pots and banded wooden barrels require metal. Extracting ores (not usually located right near the surface of the earth) and refining them in a blast furnace, then shaping the metal is no small task. This in itself would require the efforts of a substantial number of people, but it could be done by worker organization without bosses or capitalist investors. The metal producing worker collective would need to be initially self-sufficient in their basic needs of food and clothing, and would then be free from financial pressures to exchange their advanced products without needing to resort to marketing schemes. The next required technology is the still, usually made of copper, requiring at least bronze age production techniques. Finally glass would be the ideal storage medium to avoid evaporation of the alcohol. 

The preceding example of alcohol production shows that technologies are interrelated and rely upon each other. The point to be emphasized is that the limitation of technology is shows that be generated by people freely working under their own direction without coercion, technologies whereby people do not become the tools of their tools (such as where constant maintenance is required), as well as the limitation against technologies requiring huge investments with long-term payouts that benefit a monied minority who don't do the actual work.

In my next post, I'll look at ways to reform the consumer-capitalist system to make it more liveable, in contrast to this post, which examines a way to escape entirely away from the system and start anew. For example, setting up a communal house in a neighbourhood where all food preparation would take place, so as to obviate the need for grocery stores or restaurants. The communal house would save food preparation labour, reduce food waste, and spare people from work at grocery stores and restaurants, where much of the time is spent waiting around doing nothing.

*The new society would not be starting ex nihilo, and even though it would have the goal of being self-sufficient and not dependent on the remnants of the capitalist world, it would initially collect a set of useful items and tools

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Battle of the Rent Collectors

Much press coverage has been given to Uber lately. Uber positions itself as a revolutionary way for people to get rides, but it is little different from the existing taxi service. The real difference, is that those benefiting from the work of the drivers will not be the existing taxi services, but the Uber investors.

There are two types of people in society. The rent collectors (the rentier class), and the workers, who generate and pay the rents to the rentiers. Many people are a mixture of both, rent collector and worker, for example someone who rents out their basement but works full time for a company not owned by themselves. Rents can come in the form of rental fees, taxes, royalty payments, and several other forms.

In the case of the taxi service, the taxi companies consist of the rentier owners, who collect a portion of the fares in licensing and franchise fees, and the taxi drivers, who are the workers. From the position of Uber, they saw the rents being paid to the rentier taxi company owners, and thought "Hey, how can we cut in on their action? How can we collect those rents instead? " The answer: the Uber car service, which collects 20% of the fare paid as rent.

The desire of the rentier class to increase the amount of rent they are paid (or the desire of more and more workers to leave the working class and enter the rentier class), is a major cause of increasing wealth inequality in society. As the working class must pay more rents, it gets poorer, and the rentier class gets wealthier. This is exacerbated by the fact that the more money one has the more rent one can collect (by acquiring more properties or investments). Thus, the flow of money cycling up the rentier class will only accelerate over time.

One way to break or slow the cycle is for the government to tax the rentiers at much higher (more progressive) rate than the workers. However, the rentiers are experts at putting aside a portion of their money into a pool to form think tanks and lobby groups to influence the politicians to not increase taxes on them. The rentiers also have excellent techniques for protecting their money from government taxation, through offshore accounts, and tax-code loopholes.

Another way to break the cycle of wealth inequality is the get rid of the rentier class completely. I do not advocate the Bolshevik method of 'eliminating' of the rentier class, but rather by appropriating their wealth and distributing it equally. For example, if a rentier owns 6 homes in a city, 5 they do not live in could be taken and assigned to families needing housing (see note 1). Excess of two cars, and excess of other possessions would be redistributed.

In the case of companies (such as factories) owned by the rentiers, they could be converted to worker-owned co-operatives. There hasn't been a lot of research done on the subject, but I believe that worker-owned co-ops would be less likely to produce poisonous or toxic substances, or to excessively pollute the planet in manufacturing their goods.

As the rent collectors battle it out amongst themselves to see who can collect the most rents, they may soon find the whole rent collection system flying out the window.

1. As for how to distribute the appropriated homes, the best way is that (in the case the home was being rented out) would be to give the home to the current tenants. The currents tenants would then become owners, and the money they previously paid as rent would go straight to property taxes and repairs, rather than through the landlord who was really just an unnecessary intermediary. Entire apartment buildings would be divided up into individual family owned units. As for the special case of people who live in the only home they own or have a mortgage on, but rent out their basement to help pay that mortgage, those owners would be given full title to their home from the bank. As all banks would be left without any mortgage payments coming in (the banks are completely in on the rentier game), the inflated bubble economy would be collapsing around this time, and people would likely need their basements as places to do handicraft work and would be free to have their tenants move out if they so decided. The tenants who had to leave the basement suites would be given priority on the unoccupied homes appropriated from the owners of multiple homes who were not renting out the extra homes they owned.

Letter on Transhumanism (The parable of the dying chief)

One day an indigenous chief lay dying in his tepee. He was surrounded by his friends and family. His armor and weapons sat in the corner. His horse paced about ruefully outside. His beautiful daughters and strong sons all wept and commended him for the greatness he had brought to their tribe. They recounted how he had led the tribe in a successful defenses against countless invasions of enemy tribes. They gave him approbation for the many fair and just decisions he had given on difficult matters between members of the tribe. They thanked him for keeping the many gods and spirits in favour by encouraging living harmoniously with nature. The medicine man wafted the smoke of a bundle of white sage over the chief and he drew his few remaining breathes.

Suddenly, the chief bolted up in bed. He sat fully upright, looking about in a panic. "Oh no!" he cried, "I can't die just yet! What a waste my life has been! All this time, riding about on my war horse, talking to people, raising children. What I should have been doing all this time is researching medicines and technologies that will keep me living forever! If only I'd spent hours and hours staring into microscope, creating pharmaceuticals. If only I'd done countless scientific experiments on animals, including vivisection, to develop surgical procedures that could extend my life!"

"But great father!" his family interrupted, "You have a lived a great a full life, you have accomplished so much in your years on this earth." 

"No!" he retorted, "I never got to spend hours and hours staring into a small screen, being amused at the flashing pictures. I never got to immerse myself in the fictional life of a set of characters on the screen. I only could live my own life directly, never vicariously. Furthermore, I never took the time to mass up large amounts of material possessions. I only had the things I needed for day to day life. I never got to pore through catalogs and shop in malls for things that I could imagine increasing my sense of self if only I owned them. I never took a vacation to Paris. What an unfulfilling waste it's all been! Oh won't someone freeze my body in liquid nitrogen in hopes of a future cure, or at least transfer my consciousness into a computer?"

The chief's family was left speechless. The chief fell back down onto the bed. He was dead. "What sort of evil demon was that which possessed him in his final moments?" they asked.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Being ill-at-ease in the present moment

Do you ever suddenly feel compelled to:

-glance at your smart phone, to check the news perhaps
-eat some junk food
-drink an alcoholic beverage
-smoke a cigarette or marijuana
-watch TV
-catch up on social media
-play a video game
-get angry at someone
-take a opioid related pill of some sort
-drift off into a fantasy, perhaps about being rich and powerful

-purchase a commodity

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be suffering, at least some of the time. Also, you are 'normal' in this day and age, where I say normal as in common or average. All the scenarios listed above originate from feeling ill-at-ease in the present moment. Engaging in any of the behaviors is a desperate escape tactic. Why would anyone not feel at ease in the present moment? And how do these escape tactics work?

Not feeling at ease in the present moment is an unnatural state that is conditioned by living in modern western neoliberal civilization. The basic unease can be caused by unresolved feelings from difficulties in childhood, yet rather than dealing with them directly through psychological or spriritual means, the system directs people to escape through distractions instead. Engaging in the distractions usually means spending money or consuming more media propaganda messages. People must be conditioned this way by the system because happy people who are at ease do not spend, and consumer spending is critical to prevent the economic system from collapsing.

People in our society are taught from an early age that striving and earning money with which to buy things is of utmost importance. This puts people on a hedonist treadmill that never ends, because people can never be satisfied for long with commodities. Finding satisfaction in things is the collective delusion our society suffers from. Real satisfaction in life is found outside of the consumerist system. But no one really dates mention that in the media, lest they lose their precious advertiser clients. The side affect of all this striving is unhappy people and a trashed planet.

Ingesting a psychoactive substance like alcohol or caffeine or any drug appears as a way to get into a more peaceful mindset. The mind says, "If only I had [this], then I would feel okay". As for consuming media images from a smart phone, or a video game, or a television program, it has a two-fold function of acting like a drug, and also distracting you away from the reality of your life. Having a daydream is along the same lines, although you provide the imagery yourself, rather than from a digital screen. Finally, getting angry at someone is in it's own category, though the fundamental function is the same. By getting all amped up about a perceived injustice, you generate a sense of pseudo-aliveness from the feeling of superiority over the target of your anger and the self-righteousness of punishing on them.

But why bother with these cheap temporary tactics that all have at least some negative side effects each? Just meditate on the fact that life is how it is, however it is. If you see life how it truly is, you are freed from a delusion of thinking it would be better some other way. You will be able to spend more quality time with your family as you will be less focused on escaping to your phone while you go through the actions in body only of being with them. You will save money by not needing to upgrade your computer to play the latest game. You will have less resentment towards you as people receive the brunt of your anger less and less often. The planet will get less polluted with packaging garbage if you stop trying to buy your way to happiness.

I would like to point out that it is not the necessarily always a sign of fearing the present moment to partake from the list above. For instance, if you go to your friend's house and he offers you a choice of craft beers, you would accept one gratefully not out of a desire to escape a feeling of unease. Some careful self-reflection is needed at all times though when accessing items from the list as to your true motive.

If you look at indigenous societies, there are little known instances of their having hard-core drug addicts or members who just wanted to watch plays or accumulate material possessions. They had a different ethos than us. Perhaps if we as a people change our ethos to one of appreciating the present, planning ahead less, focusing less on our material condition, striving less, and fostering relations more, we would lessen our suffering.