Rabbit Holes 🕳️ #59
From vegetable money to the interstitium, attention activism, an ecological civilization and superyacht owners
Below is an excerpt from my recently published report Alternative Prosperity: Reframing The “Good Life”. I am currently working on an improved version of the framework that I shared in the report. In case you haven’t checked out the report yet, you can download it here.
THIS WEEK → The Interstitium 👁️ Attention Activism 🥕 Vegetable Money ➕ An Ecological Civilization 🚿 Superyacht Owners
Rabbit Holes 🕳️
As always, here are three perspective-shifting ideas to create a better world, plus some fun extras below. Enjoy!
#3 🥕 Vegetable Money
What if money expired? “That’s a pretty radical idea…” you might think. But what is “radical” really when the status quo, the “normal” or “unradical” means that the richest 1% own almost half the world’s wealth and emit as much planet-heating pollution as two-thirds of humanity, or when certain billionaires have more money than the US Treasury and the new generation of billionaires collect more wealth from inheritance than from “work”? Aristotle called money “unnatural”. Maybe he was right, and we need to make it “natural”…
“More than a century ago, a wild-eyed, vegetarian, free love-promoting German entrepreneur and self-taught economist named Silvio Gesell proposed a radical reformation of the monetary system as we know it. He wanted to make money that decays over time. Our present money, he explained, is an insufficient means of exchange. A man with a pocketful of money does not possess equivalent wealth as a man with a sack of produce, even if the market agrees the produce is worth the money.
“Only money that goes out of date like a newspaper, rots like potatoes, rusts like iron, evaporates like ether,” Gesell wrote in his seminal work, “The Natural Economic Order,” published in 1915, “is capable of standing the test as an instrument for the exchange of potatoes, newspapers, iron and ether.” […]
Gesell believed that the most-rewarded impulse in our present economy is to give as little as possible and to receive as much as possible, in every transaction. In doing so, he thought, we grow materially, morally and socially poorer. “The exploitation of our neighbor’s need, mutual plundering conducted with all the wiles of salesmanship, is the foundation of our economic life,” he lamented.
To correct these economic and social ills, Gesell recommended we change the nature of money so it better reflects the goods for which it is exchanged. “We must make money worse as a commodity if we wish to make it better as a medium of exchange,” he wrote. […] There would be no more “unearned income” of money lenders getting rich on interest. Instead, an individual’s economic success would be tied directly to the quality of their work and the strength of their ideas. […]
[The poet Ezra Pound] called Gesell’s idea “vegetable money” and argued it was a necessary equalizing force so that one person doesn’t have money wealth that accumulates in a bank while others have potato wealth that rots in their root cellar. In Pound’s view, the wealth of a nation ought to not be measured in its amount of money but by the flourishing of its creative and productive arts. […] To Pound, money that is organic, subject to birth and decay, that flows freely between people and facilitates generosity, is more likely to bind a society together rather than isolate us. An expiring money would enrich the whole, not the select few. […]
The negative consequences of the unimpeded accumulation of wealth are plain for all to see. Human rights abuses, corruption and the devastation of the planet have all been justified in its pursuit. It’s possible to imagine many reincarnations of money that serve different values. Putting a price on carbon emissions is one way to offset the environmental damage incurred by economic growth. A universal basic income and free higher education would help redistribute and equalize financial and social capital.
There are more radical questions being asked: What if the money you accumulated in life died with you? What if actuaries determined the amount of money people need to live a comfortable life, and earnings were capped there? What would a world look like in which the ardor of one’s work — not just luck and geography and privilege — determined a person’s wealth? […]
Money may be a language, a way to translate value in terms we all understand, but money is not the sum of what we have to say. The more money one has, the less meaning work has to that person. At the same time, life’s most meaningful work, like raising children or cooking a meal for others, often goes unpaid. And yet this is the substance of life, the stuff that determines who we are and how we will be remembered.
Is [Gesell’s] idea of an expiring currency any more absurd than the status quo we inherited? Perhaps his greatest contribution is to remind us that the rules of money can be reinvented, as indeed they always have.”
#2 The Interstitium
Great article about the influence of scientific discoveries (and biases) on our worldviews and how we design systems or institutions. As we begin to look at the world from a perspective that is rooted in ecological systems thinking, we shift our focus from individual parts to the relationships, the dynamic, the energy, and what Nora Bateson calls the “warm data” (i.e. information about the interrelationships that connect elements of a complex system) of systems.
“Scientists' recent discovery of a "new" part of the human body, the interstitium, is an invitation to think differently about our relationship with the world at large […]
In the early modern period, Western scientists conceived of the world in terms of parts, of individuals. Everything was seen as a unit. A molecule, a cell, an organ, a person, a … noun. That’s no accident. The microscope plays an outsized role. […]
But once the microscope came along, it ushered in a worldview premised on individual identity. The first eyes to peer through those early eyepieces spotted what looked like empty boxes. English scientist Robert Hooke in 1665 coined them as “cells” because they reminded him of the small rooms where monks lived in monasteries. This formative moment led to a worldview called “cell-doctrine” — focusing on things — cells, this basic unit of life from which all living things are composed. Similar cells bundle to form tissues, which then cooperate to form organs, which then carry out the functions necessary to sustain the life of an organism, was how the thinking has gone.
We didn’t pay attention to all of the dynamic, fluid phenomenon, unseen and in between, which connects the organs to one another, and allows the whole system to communicate and stay in homeostasis.
And we grafted this same thinking onto how we organize labor and society. Similar people bundle to form departments, which then cooperate to form companies, which then carry out the functions to sustain our collective communities, countries and world. The enforcement of this model starts young. We ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, not “how do you want to be when you grow up?” We divide knowledge into subjects, disciplines, majors, then sectors and industries and specific job titles.
We need more navigators skipping between these constructed categories to subvert and replace a perspective of separation that has reached its limits and logical conclusion.
[…] It’s all about that third thing that envelops the spaces between any two nodes: the relationship, the dynamic, the warm data and the energy that animates their movement, direction, and leaves everything changed through the very act of connection.
Other fields are revealing this same truth, seemingly all simultaneously. Ecologists now perceive the trees in forests as connected to one another, trading information and nutrients across long distances, calibrating an ecosystem’s health. Mycelial networks are now part of conversations of people who, until recently, knew nothing about mushrooms. Cooperative businesses and mutual aid are experiencing a resurgence as more people recognize their own interdependence and trade value with one another.”
#3 👁️ Attention Activism
Throughout history, technological revolutions and the money or growth-at-all-costs interests behind them – boosting technology’s often unregulated and fast acceleration and adoption – have always led to an emergence of mass counter-activism, of people rising up and demanding the enforcement of certain values and liberties through regulation. What we’re missing these days is an uprising against addictive, unhealthy social media technologies that cause so many of our current problems – or has TikTok’s infinite scroll infotainment already lulled us into paralysis…?
“We are witnessing the dark side of our new technological lives, whose extractive profit models amount to the systematic fracking of human beings: pumping vast quantities of high-pressure media content into our faces to force up a spume of the vaporous and intimate stuff called attention, which now trades on the open market. Increasingly powerful systems seek to ensure that our attention is never truly ours.
In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution enabled harrowing new forms of exploitation and human misery. Yet through new forms of activity such as trade unions and labor organizing, working people pushed back against the “satanic mills” that compromised their humanity and pressed money out of their blood and bones. The moment has come for a new and parallel revolution against the dishonest expropriation of value from you and me and, most visibly of all, our children. We need a new kind of resistance, equal to the little satanic mills that live in our pockets.
This is going to require attention to attention, and dedicated spaces to learn (or relearn) the powers of this precious faculty. Spaces where we can give our focus to objects and language and other people, and thereby fashion ourselves in relation to a common world. If you think that this sounds like school, you’re right: This revolution starts in our classrooms.
We must flip the script on teachers’ perennial complaint. Instead of fretting that students’ flagging attention doesn’t serve education, we must make attention itself the thing being taught.
The implications of such a shift are vast. For two centuries, champions of liberal democracy have agreed that individual and collective freedom requires literacy. But as once-familiar calls for an informed citizenry give way to fears of informational saturation and perpetual distraction, literacy becomes less urgent than attensity, the capacity for attention. What democracy most needs now is an attentive citizenry — human beings capable of looking up from their screens, together. […]
Call it attention activism.”
» The New York Times | Powerful Forces Are Fracking Our Attention. We Can Fight Back. by D. Graham Burnett, Alyssa Loh and Peter Schmidt
🚿 Shower Thoughts
The COP28 version of this would probably be:
“Today’s autocratic, fossil fuel producers are younger, and more in tune with the climate crisis around us”
That’s it for this week!
Don’t forget to have a look at my recently published report: Alternative Prosperity - Reframing The “Good Life”. And please support this newsletter by sharing it with your friends and colleagues or by ☕️ buying me a coffee.
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