Thursday, November 27, 2008


The seemingly utopian ideal of a world without money has been stewing in my head for quite a long time, perhaps ever since I became familiar with communism as related by someone other than some small-minded Republican who hasn't gotten round to moving on from the dark days of McCarthyism. Just stewing, mind you. It's not like I've managed to formulate some grand plan to free humanity of the shackles of currency and haul us all, kicking and screaming, into the nigh magical post-scarcity future of Iain M Bank's Culture.

With this moneyless ideal in mind, this article from BBC News' website caught my attention. Anybody who's been using the Net long enough will know of the ongoing conflict between those who believe information should be free and the men in suits who would put a price tag and take a commission for every little piece of so-called "intellectual property" produced.

A couple of months ago, I slipped a Youtube video into this blog from this Jap bloke - Hiroshi... something-or-other. Anyway, he pointed out that as this world gets more and more connected, the value of information diminishes, such that information is no longer of any real value, but the wisdom to sort, select and wield information becomes of paramount importance. It wasn't long ago that a human mind was only limited by its imagination. Now, with the Net, a human mind is limited only by the collective imagination of all of humanity. With the Net, the floodgates have opened to a massive leap in the limits of human cognition. Perhaps, in this respect, we've unwittingly stumbled into Vernor Vinge's technological singularity.

I can't escape the feeling that humanity is on the edge of something good. Well, hell, better than good. Something bright and amazing but for some reason continues to elude us because too many people close their eyes to too many uncomfortable truths. For a start, why is it that the richest 10% of adults account for 85% of the world's assets?

It is a sad fact of life that money begets money. To get rich, you *could* win your fortune by your own (or if you're sneaky enough, someone else's) sweat, blood and tears. But hell, that's nothing compared to being born rich, and raised to get richer. We see such tycoons as Branson, Soros, Buffett make it big and are seduced by the glammer. Wealth beyond imagining - isn't that a good thing? Isn't it great to be able to build such a fantastic fortune from the ground up?

I say no. I liken the achievement of these tycoons to that of players of a very skillful, yet fundamentally worthless game. Like tiddlywinks or golf, say, or maybe even Yugi-Oh, Poxnora, or Pokemon or those horribly addictive Facebook games (you know the ones), the acquisition of money is a game. However, it is a less-than-zero sum game that's fueled by the many, many losers who play it under the sad yet seductive delusion that anyone can be a winner. And it is in the blind pursuit of this delusion that we dig for ourselves a deeper and deeper hole. Add to that the effects of inflation and the very idea of eliminating poverty is but a castle in the sky.

As long as money as churned out by a central bank exists, this game of musical chairs will always plague humanity - there MUST be losers. And because of the nature of money, building value out of scarcity, we can never achieve our full potential. Worse yet, in our blind, desperate, groping for more money, we pollute everything we touch. Beautiful music is twisted into catchy jingles, whatever sells. Visual arts intensify into the garish obscenity of modern advertising. Literature degenerates to whatever makes the widest possible market feel good, burying truly valuable words in a tide of glurge, mysticism and motivational rot.

This is not to say that the world of Idiocracy is coming to life. Intellectuals in every age have despaired of the folly of man, few as eloquently as Erasmus, yet somehow, we manage to bumble our way through.

In the past, the scale of the social meltdown caused by the sheer buildup of inequality was held in check by the limits of communication and transportation technology. Then, in the wake of the 2nd World War, a hint of what things may come was seen in long paroxysm of violence that was the Red Revolution and the wave of communism that swept the world. History has shown us that communism is not the problem, but rather the weakness of human nature in executing the communist ideal. Only the most ruthless, unscrupulous, yet charismatic people could stand a chance of leading such revolutions, fueled by the righteous indignation of the oppressed. With such people on top, the social experiment of communism could only fail. The remaining communist regimes have had no option save to become reluctant participants in the capitalist game.

Now, the world is more connected than ever before, and globalisation slowly smudges the borders between nations into nonexistence. With Deng Xiaoping's reforms, China is now set to be the biggest player in human history of the money game, meaning the stakes have now been raised like never before. But, ultimately, this is a game that can only be lost; it's simply a matter of time.

It's clearer to me now, more than ever, that a new system is needed. I can't rightly say that I have one, and, crazy as it sounds, I think Jacque Fresco is looking in the right direction. But, as Bertrand Russell rightly pointed out, the very idea of humanity spontaneously adopting an system guaranteeing equality and justice for all is laughable. There are simply too many people with too many vested interests in inquality and injustice and, of course, they're holding all the cards. True human progress, a world in which war and poverty are eradicated and every human has an equal oppurtunity to reach their full potential, demands the system be overturned, but it won't be pretty.

I don't think I've ever quite hoped so much that time will prove me wrong.

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