GEORGE: Well, they are people, just like us – from within our own solar system. Except that their society is more highly evolved. I mean, they don’t have no wars, they got no monetary system, they don’t have any leaders, because, I mean, each man is a leader. I mean, each man – because of their technology, they are able to feed, clothe, house and transport themselves equally – and with no effort. – Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern, Easy Rider, a film. (George, an open-minded lawyer and an alcoholic, was played by Jack Nicholson.)
During the last fifty years it has become apparent that man is capable of ending all life on Planet Earth. The extinction of the human race is a natural consequence of the exponential growth of Man’s population beyond the Natural Carrying Capacity of Earth. However, no species has had it in its power previously to so despoil its environment as to jeopardize the posterity of every species. The band-aid measures proposed by single-issue environmental activist organizations have no chance to prevent this from happening. The intention of this essay is to present proposals for the consideration of the reader as to what must be done to preserve all species for which it is possible to account including homo sapiens. This will require fundamental political change.
Ironically and tragically, most Americans are embracing obsolete ideas about society, politics, and economics – grasping with hysterical religious fervor ideas that are failing catastrophically. We are approaching rapidly the time when the average wealth available for consumption will be no more than the minimum wealth necessary to live without unbearable misery. Thus, wealth must be shared unless we wish to introduce horrible suffering – more suffering than mankind has even dreamed of. No amount of prayer in school will have the slightest effect upon this problem and the hundreds of difficulties associated with it. It is clear, too, that additional social change must accompany wealth-sharing to prevent repetitions of the past and achieve what was originally sought by the last generation of idealists. It is incredible that almost no one sees that the time has come to dispense with government and leadership as we have always known them.
I believe in the possibility that some of the answers have occurred to me. Yet I am not a charismatic man, not even a particularly good teacher. I wish to influence a few people who are capable of teaching others in ways of which I am incapable. It takes a special sort of person to learn from me. But, such people exist and I have found a few of them. This essay is my way of communicating with those people, who, as they say, are separated from everyone in the world by at most six degrees. The difficulties I expect to encounter and my best expectations are presented below. Please give me the benefit of the doubt until you have heard the entire argument in favor of reforms that may seem preposterous in an initial encounter.
To evaluate the desirability of a proposed political action, one must understand the vision of the person or group proposing the action. If the success of the proposed action depends on a large number of people embracing the vision, it is essential that the vision be based on a derivable theory. For example, Marxism is a promising theory, although not a scientific theory. Marxism addresses inequities in wealth, but does not address the accumulation of power, except obliquely. The theory proposed in this essay supplants Marxism; thus Marxism may continue to be an economic-political-social system that has never been tested – regardless of the false reports that it has been adopted by some of the nations that the United States has seen fit to oppress for its own selfish purposes .
The vision of the future described here depends on the thesis that continued competition for wealth and power in all of its aspects, including employment, trade, markets, “free” enterprise, acceptance of rewards for what we do or give, hierarchies in business and government, whether appointed from above or elected from below, must inevitably lead to a totalitarian Orwellian nightmare or the complete annihilation of mankind and many other species, whereas voluntary abandonment of competition for wealth and power will lead eventually to the highly desirable future to be described momentarily.
The vision of a desirable future described below is based on three simple moral axioms, namely, respect for the freedom of oneself and others, respect for the environment, including plants and animals, and respect for truth. [Perhaps, the word “freedom” should be replaced by the word “autonomy”. Nowadays, the word “freedom” is routinely abused whenever the speaker or writer wishes to represent repression, tyranny, slavery, or worse as something desirable that only we (Americans) possess. – Chomsky] These moral axioms are based, in turn, on our innate judgments of aesthetics and reasonableness and our experiential judgment of utility. One may suspect the author’s aesthetic judgment and reasonableness, but he shall deduce scientifically the consequences of avoiding the recommended reforms. The theory can be sustained on utility alone. In this way it becomes a scientific theory subject to falsifiability. These ideas will be seen as utopian by those who are the true utopianists, like the man who won’t quit smoking because by the time he gets cancer a cure will have been found.
It can be shown that competition for wealth and power (or, what amounts to the same thing, inequality in wealth and power) leads to tyranny, the destruction of the environment, and all types of falsity, including repression of dissent and Orwellian doublethink; whereas equality of wealth and power is beautiful, it is reasonable (every other arrangement can be shown to be unreasonable), and it is practical (inequality causes poverty, crime, war, and other modes of human misery). Without equality freedom is impossible and without freedom sustainable happiness is impossible. In Chapter 1, happiness is given a technical definition, following the behavioral psychologists Deci and Ryan . This technical definition is in reasonable accord with ordinary experience.
We should not expect to get out of the mess we are in now without replacing the traditional institutions of money (paper wealth) and trade (particularly trading the time of one's life for money), the idea of “working oneself up”, leadership, law, government, and even the sovereign state itself. What social activists ordinarily call change is no change at all. I am talking about real change.
I now wish to describe a state of human society that might be approached after a long series of small changes. These changes are necessary and sufficient conditions for the sustainable happiness of all of humanity. First and foremost, the population density should be steady near its optimum. Since we Americans must reduce our use of energy by 84% or more, people should be living in small decentralized communities with everything within walking distance except for a few light links to nearby communities to effect economies of scale. Mankind should live in harmony with nature with the compositions of the atmosphere, the oceans, and the soil varying only slightly about desirable steady states. We must hope that renewable energy technology will supply the equivalent of one kilowatt per capita of high-grade energy, otherwise the future of most of mankind will be grim. The extinction of the entire human race is a distinct possibility.
Economic enterprises, including the collectives of applied mathematicians who plan the economies, should be owned in equal shares by their participants who are all of one class. Communicators within the enterprises should be chosen randomly; decisions should be made democratically or by professionals who enjoy no special power or privilege. These isocratic enterprises will follow the economic plans of their choice. We should create institutions to encourage enterprise without economic risk. (Why should we encourage gambling in industry when we deplore it elsewhere?)
Our vast systems of law are ridiculous. Laws should be replaced by a few simple moral axioms from which right action can be derived easily. We should embrace rational morals that anyone can follow as opposed to religious superstitions and sexual and pharmacological prudery that no person of spirit can live by. Dissent should be tolerated and even those who do not accept our rational morality should be accorded the dignity of sovereign heads of state. Government should be nearly nonexistent except for a few randomly selected spokespersons. In a planned economy it is crucial to prevent “natural” leaders from arising. To break the endless cycles of leaders coming to power, becoming corrupt, and being replaced by new leaders after war or revolution, we should abandon the institution of leadership. Isn't that obvious by now?
People should enjoy contrasts between positives rather than paying for a few days of leisure with weeks of drudgery. (Presumably, Einstein enjoyed playing the violin without drudging at physics.) People should not be concerned with what's in it for them, but, rather, with what is interesting to do (to be effective and, therefore happy). This will liberate for useful endeavor the huge class of working people (perhaps as many as 90% of the working class if we neglect health professionals) who currently are concerned exclusively with how the pie is sliced up – salesmen, marketers, dealmakers, corporate executives, etc. – and those who serve them. We would have a smaller but better tasting pie. Generosity, equality, freedom, and intrinsic motivation would replace greed, hierarchy, tyranny, and fear.
Instead of trying to accumulate the most costly economic goods, rational people would be trying to consume as little as possible. Thus, the need to ration scarce and desirable items with a finite money supply would disappear and with it the need for money. Money would be obsolete. Can you imagine how much more leisure you would have if you did useful work but did not have to be concerned with money (and an accounting problem that never ends associated with every aspect of life)! No checkout lines, no tax forms, no insurance, no checkbooks to balance, no comparison shopping, no commercials on TV!
No one should have to work at something he hates to “earn a living”; that is, one’s livelihood should be noncontingent. No one should hate his job. Under these conditions of autonomy (necessary for happiness), we can expect tremendous variety in opportunities for involvement to accommodate everyone's need to be effective. The arts and science ought to flourish. Unpleasant jobs ought to be made into interesting activities or be eliminated, perhaps by robotics. We should treat everyone the same with no celebrities, except, possibly, posthumously, and no awards or phony distinctions. We can respect excellence without idolizing those who manifest it.
Most people think of themselves as great lovers of freedom, with the usual proviso that my freedom ends at your nose. However, among these champions of freedom we shall distinguish two distinct and antagonistic types: Type Z seems to be in the majority nowadays. He believes in freedom, in particular his freedom to accumulate power and wealth – normally by placing a number of his fellows in a position of accountability to himself according to the most binding species of what we call employment he can get away with. He provides what we call a job with material remuneration to people whom he expects to do his bidding and to place his interests ahead of their own for a significant portion of the weeks, months, or years that constitute their period of employment from his view and the very time of their lives from theirs.
He defends his “right” to do this, which does indeed impose upon the freedom of those who have sold their inalienable right to liberty, and which most certainly extends his freedom to make his own decisions well beyond the tips of the noses of those so bound, because the wage slave has entered into slavery – the antithesis of freedom – voluntarily. But, as we all know, the wage slave really has no choice. The miracle is that wage slaves continue to believe they are free – unless they see the world as it actually is. Therefore, most wage slaves are themselves Type Z. This is really quite strange as they spend most of their waking hours under the command of a boss. Why should such a person imagine that he is free! Yet he is as enthusiastic about freedom, in the abstract, as a Type S person. He imagines that he would die before he would surrender it, yet he gives it up without a thought every weekday morning. Man is an amazing beast.
One would not expect employment to engender much in the way of loyalty; and, with few exceptions, it does not. Normally, the wage slaver shares one peculiar characteristic with the chattel slaver: He expects the slave to live, more or less, according to the moral code of the class of people who are sufficiently powerful to exploit their fellow man. Normally, he supports laws that prohibit taking interesting drugs and engaging in interesting sexual practices. Whether he, the employer, does or does not respect such taboos, he expects his employees to live by them - willy nilly. Type Z has everything precisely backwards, which would be funny except for the catastrophic circumstances attendant upon it. Would that I could make Type Z appear ridiculous – especially to himself.
In stark contrast to the Type Z person, the Type S person recognizes that the freedom to employ others and to engage in the competition for wealth and power is tyranny thinly disguised and is in violation of every reasonable principle of freedom. Moreover, he understands that a person who cannot follow his personal moral code and is ruled by taboo morality, which quite generally prohibits whatever is interesting or fun, is essentially a serf.
The only hope for the ideas presented in this essay is an extremely broad and, quite frankly, unlikely transformation of a Type Z society into a Type S society, one person at a time, in a sufficiently timely fashion. Throughout this essay, I shall say whatever I can to convince Type Z people that they are in a false position with respect to their own principles and love of freedom. Fortunately, many practical considerations are likely to impel most sensible people toward a Type S viewpoint as we shall see - even if they persist in the delusion that a Type Z society like the United States is free. [The terms Type S and Z represent the author’s prerogative and perhaps nothing more. However, this nomenclature might be useful to divorce these social systems from highly charged terms like communism or capitalism in discussions with students and other people trying to learn.]
March 1, 1998
Revised July 5, 2004
In the first chapter, we discuss the building of a philosophy to provide a basis for a rational social contract upon which nearly everyone can agree. Eventually, nearly everyone will recognize the folly of our present course; however, Mother Nature may have to intervene forcefully to ensure that society does indeed recognize its folly. She will force social changes upon mankind some of which might be decidedly unpleasant for most of the survivors. Chapters 2 - 5 are all that are required to elucidate this “new” philosophy. In Chapters 6 - 8, we shall interpret the fundamental evils that torment almost all of humanity according to the principles espoused in this essay. In Chapter 9, we shall prove that if one of these evils is present all of them will be present (perhaps after a short time lag); if one of them is missing – for a time sufficiently long that we may safely assume it is not on the way, none of them will occur. This means that we must change one thing only – not a host of little things. In Chapter 10, we shall be able to prove a number of interesting and sobering results at least as well as social theorems are ever proved. In Chapter 11, we discuss a hypothetical reformed society and we indulge in some harmless speculation concerning what its institutions might be like. (Personally, I would have liked to employ more graphics to illustrate my futuristic daydreams. Perhaps, someone would like to produce a movie on this imaginary stage.) Finally, in Chapter 12, social change, and how it might be achieved, is discussed.
Appendices I, II, and III are the last three items in the book. Please do not confuse these with appendices to chapters, which are “lettered” in chapters with more than one appendix, e.g., Appendix A, Appendix B, etc., but which are not lettered in chapters with only one appendix. Appendix I is a mini-course in thermodynamics. This, along with the material in Chapter 2, is useful to understand the Environmental Axiom elucidated in Chapter 3. Appendix II, which began as an attempt to catalog all the world’s evils, is really little more than a list of social evils sufficiently complete to convince one that society has real problems worth addressing. In Appendix III, some serious objections are answered, hopefully in a manner that many readers will find adequate. I hope that some readers will look at the appendices. The third appendix probably will attract many skeptics – and I hope we are all skeptics. The second appendix requires only a glance, but the first appendix employs some mathematics.
Note on equations. I wish to pass on some remarkable advice that I received (by way of the written word) from Roger Penrose, I believe. (If, due to a lapse in memory, it turns out to have been written by someone else, I wish to express my apologies to Dr. Penrose and to that “someone else”. What I remember with a fair degree of certainty is that the purveyor of this advice was a person of no mean mathematical attainments, which is what struck me as very remarkable indeed and accounts for the impression it made on me.) The advice is this: “Whenever, while reading, I encounter an equation I do not understand, I simply skip it and continue reading the text. Sometimes, after reading the text, I begin to understand the equation without additional effort. On the other hand, whenever it seems appropriate to do so, I return to the equations later and see if they don’t make better sense to me at that time.” Now I have quoted so loosely that the words are virtually mine; but, I assure the reader, I got the advice from someone else and I merely retail it. Naturally, I endorse it. In this book, especially in Appendix I, many equations are encountered. I wish to take a moment to assure the reader that they are not formidable; but, for the first reading anyway, just take the advice I have attributed to Prof. Penrose. If it’s good enough for him, it’s sure as hell good enough for you and me. In any case, you won’t miss much if you actually skip the equations because the text explains everything I want you to know.
I hope you will assess the validity of my ideas without prejudice. Also, by now, you may be deciding for yourself whether or not our progeny will have a chance to enjoy a future without unbearable misery. Be critical and think for yourself. Don’t take my word for anything. I am fallible. As far as the future is concerned, all I can do is make guesses based on my education, my experience, and, of course, my dreams. No one can predict the future.
In a book like this, filled with controversial claims, normally one would expect to find reams of statistics. That will not be the case for three reasons: First, I do not trust statistics. “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” In this essay, as far as I am able, I shall rely upon macrofacts only (very generally believed and easily verified facts). The second reason that you will not see tables of statistics is that I believe that I can arrange my arguments so that the exact or approximate number of cases in point is not important. The third reason for avoiding statistics is that I am unwilling to do the work to collect them. If I cannot make my point with logic, common sense, and very general facts with which most readers would agree readily, I will have done the best I can under the circumstances.
In Chapter 2, “Emergy and Economics”, I have employed more statistics than elsewhere. Emergy, with an m, is an energy-based measure of value that is adjusted to account for cost and/or usefulness, measured in emergy costs of production or, in case of fuels, for example, in the amount of reversible work that can be extracted from them. For example, if 1 kWhr of 110 volt 60 Hz AC electrical energy were taken to be 1 emergy unit (MU), 1 kWhr of fossil fuel would be worth only one-third of an MU because it requires three units of fossil-fuel energy to produce one kWhr of electrical energy; but, one kWhr of work would be equal to exactly one MU. If a manufactured object can be produced by an efficient process with an expenditure of X units of emergy, we say that the object itself is worth X emergy units. Actually, to account for usefulness, we employ a thermodynamic quantity called availability that accounts for energy and entropy simultaneously. These concepts will be discussed in Chapter 2 and Appendix I.
In the singular case wherein we are trying to evaluate the feasibility of a new sustainable primary energy technology, we set one kWhr of the primary product of the process equal to one MU for the purposes of that calculation only. We assume that the (outside) energy inputs have come from this process or one just like it, therefore we charge the process 1MU per kWhr of outside energy. In the case of energy sources that are produced inside the process (incidentally) and used outside the process, we credit the process for the exergy of that energy source. Exergy is defined in Chapter 2 and is almost the same as the aforementioned availability.)
The arguments in this essay advocate the abandonment of social institutions, such as elected officials, laws, and money, and their replacement by other institutions, such as randomly selected messengers, internalized morals, and intrinsic motivation. Each argument has two main parts: First, I must show that the existing institution is immoral and/or does not satisfy the criteria of aesthetics, reasonableness, and utility. Second, and usually most difficult, I must show that we can do without the institution and/or that the institution I wish to replace it with is practical and, perhaps, ideal. Clearly, to a moral and reasonable human being, the first part is enough; i.e., if I prove that the laws against drugs are immoral, they must be repealed; but, for the pragmatist, I must show, in addition, that repealing the laws is feasible, practical, and desirable. I would like to perform experiments (or allow others to perform them) to show that the replacement institution will work; but, like the great American experiment in democracy, it may be impossible to perform the experiment without instituting the proposed reform. In the case of the experiment in democracy, after much debate, it was decided to perform the experiment on part of society – excluding women, most non-Whites (I believe), and, also, non-property-owners (again if I am not mistaken). Clearly, the experiment has failed after two-hundred years of increasing success, but enough of the nation has survived that another great experiment could be performed, this time with a great deal more compelling evidence, if not absolute necessity, in its favor.
I am struggling with a number of difficulties as I attempt to write this book. First of all, there is a huge gap between what needs to be done and what most people consider “reasonable”. Liberals typically propose social changes that do not exceed the public’s “comfort zone”. For example, liberals are against foreign wars, but being against war is, as Kurt Vonnegut said, like being against glaciers. One needs to be against competition for wealth and power, but that takes one’s arguments beyond the public’s comfort zone and one risks being labeled a nut. I don’t think we have any real choice, though, between (A) advocating changes that are considered “reasonable” by the public (even if they do not favor them – most Republicans think Socialists are evil but not crazy) if those changes are guaranteed to have no effect or even the opposite effect intended and (B) advocating the changes that we really need even though even Socialists might consider us crazy. We must simply tell the truth (defined carefully in the chapter on axiomatic morality) as we see it and expect to encounter serious difficulty in gaining acceptance even if our arguments be irrefutable. (I am holding myself to higher standards of proof than are generally encountered in public discourse. Of course, I cannot attain mathematical certainty, but I have stated my assumptions, defined my terms, and derived my conclusions as rigorously as possible.)
The second difficulty, related to the first, is that books are linear media; the ideas have to be presented in a sequence. I must choose the order of this sequence carefully. It may be unwise to begin with bold promises. If I promise the reader that I shall invalidate every American social institution (from the Academy Awards to the Bronx Zoo) within these pages and propose replacements that are guaranteed to remove every social problem in a manner that is within the power of ordinary human beings to implement, even though that is what I personally believe, the reader may stop reading. (One ought to be suspicious of anyone who promises a panacea for all of our social problems, although no one has ever proved that a simple solution to our difficulties cannot be found.) In Appendix II, I shall provide a list of defects of the American system and, in a very few cases, indicate why I think that particular feature is a problem. Sometimes, usually in the more obscure cases, I shall indicate why I believe the reforms suggested by me will solve the problem without introducing unacceptable consequences. At one time I had great plans for Appendix II, but the best I have been able to provide under the exigencies of the real world is not much more than a list.
The third difficulty is my own state of mind. I am constantly at war with my own frustration and anger. This is bound to come through on the printed page, but it will not facilitate reasoned discussion. It is unlikely that I will be able to disguise my rage, so I frankly admit it. Presumably, I am influenced in part by the disappointments of my own life.
The fourth difficulty is that this essay is being written over a long period of time and, during that time, the author’s viewpoint is changing. This could result in inconsistencies, which may annoy or disappoint the reader, but I hope that none of them proves fatal to the author’s main thesis. A final version will be sprinkled liberally with notes in proof correcting and amending older ideas.
The fifth difficulty is that, if I invalidate a social institution such as money itself by a short and incisive argument, the disparity in the scale of the argument and the scale of the social changes implied by it will offend the reader’s sense of proportion. I would like to appeal to the reader’s good sense and open-mindedness; but, if I rely too much on “common sense”, my argument will lack rigor. I would like to supply as much logical rigor as one ever sees in discussions involving humanity. I hope that common sense will overcome the strangeness of arguments that fly in the face of conventional wisdom; I hope that rigorous logic will convince the careful reader that the defects in the conventional wisdom are real; and I hope that common sense will help the reader accept counter-intuitive conclusions despite the disparities in scale. Logic is a lever with which the world can be moved if one can find a place to stand, which brings me to my sixth difficulty.
My sixth difficulty is in getting a hearing for these ideas. Part of this is due to the disappearance of free and democratic discourse in the United States and, perhaps, in the rest of the world. While people of ordinary ability with no special qualifications interpret the events of the day on television, it becomes increasingly difficult to be heard if one is not famous. A movie star can get a large cash advance for a book on cosmology; but an unknown scholar, regardless of the effort he (or she) puts into his work, will have difficulty getting a reading and a fair criticism, let alone widespread publication. This is the source of a great deal of frustration. As I write these words, I honestly do not know the extent of my hopes for this work.
I have made no effort to publish this book, which is still under revision; nevertheless, for the convenience of interested parties, I have decided reluctantly to post parts of it at least on the Web. (Although the cost of downloading from the Internet, both in money and time, can be significant, the book will be free.)
I have had remarkably little success in convincing my friends and colleagues to pursue my theoretical ideas in detail. Even though I have made claims for my theory that ought to get the attention of any serious person, no one has read all of my essays. What is going wrong? I believe the answer lies in myself. I am a Very Unimportant Person and I do not possess charisma, therefore everyone assumes that what I have to say is not worth hearing. (Also, I am under five foot seven inches in height, which places me in one of the most persecuted classes of people in America, namely, short men – Ross Perot and Milton Freidman not withstanding.) Also, I think people have a predisposition to avoid the solutions to their problems. This “death wish”, if I may borrow Freud’s worst-case term, manifests itself in a number of ways. I remember a cartoon of William Steig, the famous New Yorker cartoonist. It depicted what appeared to be a carnival with performers standing on platforms distributed throughout a large crowd. These performers were juggling, swallowing swords, etc. and each had a large crowd surrounding his platform. One platform, however, had no crowd surrounding it. The words of the man on that platform, which formed the caption, were “But I can cure you.”
Since I was born before the ideas presented here were accepted by my parents, teachers, and others who influenced my development, I suffer from an irrational desire to have my, presumably, superior ideas recognized by the general public. However, I am not so egotistical as to have lost every semblance of rationality. If I am able to bring my writing to the attention of intellectuals, I might have the opportunity to witness the triumph of reason within a narrow circle. That would please me exceedingly, but I shall never be satisfied until the entire world attains equality, freedom, happiness, and reasonable expectations of permanence. Of course, I don’t expect relief from injustice during my lifetime. Even if my hopes and dreams were completely unworthy or hopelessly impractical, I would continue to write. I would write for the sake of writing.
Probably, most of us have experienced the unpleasantness of writing something and several years later finding it embarrassing. A former colleague visited me a year or so ago. He asked me if I had a collection of his papers. Well, of course I did; I had asked him to send me everything he wrote, some of which I had reviewed even. I pulled out a huge stack of reprints from scientific journals. He said, “Wow, I had no idea I had written so many papers. Now, if I could just write one that won't embarrass me two years later when I reread it.” Well, that used to happen to me when I was his age, but I didn't publish anything I wrote then. Now, when I read something I wrote five years ago, I say, “Wow, did I write that? That's good!” The bottom line is that, whatever anyone else thinks of it, I enjoyed reading an old essay of mine yesterday. Not publishing until after you're fifty won't make you a famous intellectual, but it has a great deal to recommend it. I began reading Charles Sanders Peirce (pronounced like “purse”) recently . Almost no one had heard of Peirce during his lifetime. (He died in 1914.) You may not know who he was yet; but, William James, John Dewey, and Bertrand Russell knew who he was; and they took advantage of it, which, significantly, did not bring his work to the attention of the general public.
The following observation is troubling me in my dawning comprehension: I am reading many authors including highly respected philosophers from the last generation: Russell, Popper, and other writers (who are not philosophers by trade) including Günter Grass. These people are extremely leery of the man with the “Big Vision”. They refer to him as a utopianist, which, apparently, is a bad sort of person, although they don't say why; and I get the feeling that they expect him to turn automatically into Hitler or Stalin on cue or disappear into nothingness as most of us, vision or not, seem to do. I believe that the people who raise such objections consider themselves well-off and are afraid of what will happen if we are to see an improvement in the miserable lot of “the wretched of the earth”, although they are certain to deny such a serious accusation. They wish to avoid doing anything to solve the problems of humanity. (The problem is inequality; therefore, the solution is equality. But, these famous writers do not wish to set things equal, which, in my opinion, is not only absurd, it is wicked and cruel.)
I refute Popper in Chapter 1, but dozens of writers incorporate similar viewpoints into their works. Obviously, I can’t discuss every error that finds its way into print. But, I think I have identified a new feature of our old nemesis, “the conventional wisdom” – or mass hysteria even, since we were so badly burned by Hitler and Stalin. Clearly, the activities of Hitler and Stalin prove nothing about “Big Visions”. Perhaps, what we already believe about the acquisition of raw power has been corroborated once again. My “Big Vision” rejects the accumulation of power just as passionately as it rejects accumulation of wealth – even fame. I will not become famous; I must avoid fame. That's one of the reasons why I submit so little of my work for publication. (Maybe another reason is the fear of rejection from which I may not suffer even. I may only suspect myself of indulging in a childish fear of failure simply because I know that it is a common failing of better men than I.)
Let me hazard a guess. These great men reject “Big Thinkers” because they suspect that big thinking (by someone else) might create an intellectual or political climate in which they must join the battle to end the misery and evil in the world or admit their own hypocrisy and cowardice. Neither alternative fits in with their plans to live a comfortable self-satisfied life. They are doing well because of their privileged positions in the intellectual elite and they don’t want to take any risks or be placed in a position where they will lose their self-respect if they don’t take risks. Actually, when the students began to protest America’s criminal invasion of Viet Nam, every intellectual immediately became an active anti-war protester or a pro-establishment creep. When a famous Courant Institute professor lied to the students shortly after Cambodia was bombed, a student knocked him flat. This is not an outcome he anticipated when he elected to cooperate with the war criminals to protect his job. Richard Courant, although he was an enemy of tyranny, refused to help the students during the student strike of 1970 because he was “too old”. Perhaps he was. Also, dealing with the Nazis must have taken a lot out of him. A well-known professor emeritus with whom I have corresponded confessed, “I get a nice pension from ‘X’ University and I intend to keep it.” [quoted loosely]
Let me ask you this. You probably agree that the major problem in the world (population aside) is the great disparities in property and income. Now tell me how you can eliminate inequality without establishing equality. This is tautological! Why won't Noam Chomsky say it? Why won't Ralph Nader say it? Why won't Kurt Vonnegut say it? Why won't anyone who can get the ear of the public say it? We expect commonplace, “party-line” objections: “We have just seen the proof that communism doesn't work.” Remarks like these can be refuted easily: “Proof? What proof?” I shall continue to insist that equality of material wealth is essential to the continuation of the human race – in this book and wherever I am allowed to present my views.
[Note in proof (9-22-98). Suppose the population of the earth consists of eight billion souls each of which, to make the exercise simple, requires precisely one potato per day to stay alive and nothing more. If he does not get a potato on a given day, he dies. Suppose further that the earth for thermodynamic reasons is capable of producing precisely eight billion potatoes per day. No more and no less. If a man contrives to consume ten potatoes today, he has virtually murdered nine people. As we shall demonstrate in Chapter 2, this is essentially the situation on earth except the potato is a certain amount of emergy. All true wealth is emergy. A person who consumes 30 kW of emergy, for example, is a murderer. Clearly the excess consumption in the United States causes starvation and other horrors in the Third World and elsewhere – even in the U.S.]
It is customary to ridicule the dreams of the idealist. No doubt the ideas in this essay will receive their share of ridicule – if they receive any attention at all. It is certainly true that the schemes of idealists have not fared well in a nonideal world. When idealists band together to separate themselves from the nonideal world to actualize their vision, they soon discover that among themselves are found the very defects from which they have attempted to separate themselves. Being an idealist doesn’t make one ideal! So, how can the vision put forth in this essay be useful?
In the first place, the usefulness of the ideas presented in this essay had no bearing on the writing or not writing of the essay. The essay was written because I felt the need to write it. Creating the manuscript of the essay will please me. Even the publication of the essay is secondary. Thus, in this respect at least, I am practicing what I preach. My motivation for producing this work has been for the most part – intrinsic. Nevertheless, I think it might be useful to others.
In this essay I have pointed out certain intolerable aspects of modern society that, if unchanged, will lead to the destruction of the planet or the reduction of life for most people to a level not worth living. Thus, anyone who thinks we can muddle along as we have been doing for centuries is the one who is indulging in idle dreams. I remain – a skeptic.
Later, I shall discuss a generic world-bettering plan the first step of which is the general agreement of society upon an ideal world worth pursuing. It may be true that society will never agree upon an ideal world. I will discuss designing a path of constant improvement from our world to this ideal world in a later chapter. I won’t discuss how to convince the entire world that my theory is correct because I don’t know how to reach the entire world. For now, I would be satisfied to convince one other person to pursue the line of thought I have introduced, to make me explain the proof that the abandonment of competition for wealth and power is a necessary and sufficient condition for sustainable happiness, or to prove that my thesis is incorrect. Obviously, it is insufficient to ignore this thesis merely because it does not correspond to one’s preconceived notions. Often a correspondent answers these ideas with “Oh yes, I would like to live in a world like that, but no one else would. I don’t believe it is possible.” Does anyone else see the irony in this? Sometimes I think that if that particular person believed it was possible, it would be. When someone says, “Yes, of course society would be better off without competition for wealth, power, and fame, but it will never happen,” my answer is, “I am only asking you to agree that society would be better off without competition for wealth, power, and fame.”
I began by referring to any system based on competition for wealth, power, and fame as materialism. I, then, wrote for awhile calling it competitionism; and, in addition, coined the term artificial economic contingency to make the idea clearer. I now feel that materialism is the best term to use and corresponds most closely with ordinary parlance. We say that acquisitive people are materialistic. (Also, I have retained the useful expression artificial economic contingency. All three terms are synonymous in this essay.)
Of course, we intend to treat material things with even more respect than ever now that we finally grasp the concept that the earth is truly finite. Moreover, in my short essay “On Space Travel and Research” in Vol. II of my collected essays , I go a long way toward proving that exploitation of other heavenly bodies is the worst conceivable response to that finiteness. Perhaps you can do nothing to eliminate materialism from society, but I believe that you are responsible to understand why it should be abandoned. Understanding the solution to social problems is important. I have never heard or read the solution offered in this essay except in Jack Nicholson’s character’s off-hand remark in Easy Rider (quoted in the epigraph). Correspondents in debate on social issues behave as though they do not understand the solution. Whenever I hear people talk about the need for more jobs, I know they don’t understand! On the other hand, sometimes I think that many people believe these ideas are correct, but they are so afraid of the ruling class that they won’t get involved.
It may be true that, even if a large number of people were convinced of the validity of my thesis, powerful forces would prevent us from embarking upon a path toward that goal. But, activists and humanists will continue to attempt to improve the intolerable conditions in society and alleviate the suffering they see all around them. If they do this, they ought to have a vision of the future they are trying to attain. If they do not have a vision of a reasonably ideal world, it is possible, even probable, that they will make conditions worse in the long run. Many activist organizations replicate the evil in the world within their own organization on a smaller scale by competing among themselves for what they value, namely, status. These organizations are likely to do more harm than good. This is the typical indictment of “do-gooders”. It is conceivable that, if I were in danger of living forever, I might live to regret writing this book. In all probability, if Jesus were alive now, he would regret abandoning carpentry.
The possibility exists that progress directly toward an ideal world could take the world into an improved situation from which an ideal could never be attained. This might be the view of Marxist socialists who expect to see social conditions become so intolerable that the average working man is willing to take up arms and rebel. Thus, it is conceivable that things can only get better by getting worse. This view is rejected in this essay on the basis of faith in an inherent harmony in nature including man. I don’t believe that it will ever be possible to establish scientifically which is actually the case.
In order to reject completely the possibility that mankind can become sufficiently well-educated that nearly everyone can agree upon a rational society, one would have to prove the impossibility of that occurring. It is insufficient to deem the idea absurd and move on. May I suggest that the ideas in this essay, or better ideas, could be propagated from person to person and from people to their children and students in one-to-one conversations and in small study groups such as the one I have put together in Houston. We are not trying to change the thinking of the entire world suddenly, but rather change the minds of a few people close to us one at a time. Moreover, we do not agree among ourselves. People who wish to see the human race survive and attain general happiness ought to debate these issues in a concerted way and, in addition, search for new ideas.
To summarize: first, I have written this essay to satisfy myself. Perhaps I am a utopianist, but I claim that the people who reject these ideas are the real utopianists since the world is bound to become a very unpleasant place if these ideas, or better ideas, are not adopted. I remain, rather, a skeptic, who predicts failure for competing ideas that enjoy currency today. Next, the ideas expressed herein may serve as a guide to activists to help them reject tactics that lead to conditions no better than those they wish to replace; or, better yet, these ideas may help them aim higher. Finally, it is not at all clear that an improved vision of the world cannot be propagated through society one person at a time until nearly all of society is ready to reject the old institutions intellectually and embark upon a path toward replacing them with rational institutions.
As we have seen in the Former Soviet Union, when no one believes in the existing social structure, change can occur amazingly fast. Thus, we may hope that broad change might occur once more but this time in the right direction. Thus, it would be useful if a plan for change were already in place by that time – a plan that could be rejected, accepted, or superseded by all of us without giving political power to the planners. Finally, if these ideas won’t work, we better find some that will – soon.
I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Ellen Lee, without whose patience, fortitude, encouragement, and hours of assistance at boring and unrewarding tasks this book could not have been written. Also, the importance of the role played by my de facto editor and critic, Prof. Marian Hillar, a man of incredible depth and scope, cannot be underestimated. He read every word of two or three versions of each and every chapter and suggested numerous changes most of which have been incorporated into the final version of the book. I must emphasize the undeniable fact that many sections of the book appear despite his strenuous objections, therefore the final responsibility for errors of fact, logic, and judgment lies with me alone. Thank you, Marian. You have no idea how much your friendship, your articulate reasoning, your encouragement, and your downright hard work have meant to me.
I struggled for many months with the availability (high-grade energy) balance over the earth and her atmosphere without success until Professor Dan Wilkins suggested that I join an Internet list server dedicated to physics. By way of the list server I obtained the assistance of Prof. Dave Bowman who was able to teach me enough irreversible thermophysics of radiation to understand his solution of the problem that had frustrated all my efforts for so many months – despite stacks of textbooks that I found difficult to understand without anyone to tell me which should be read first even.
The methods used to compute the vast rate at which availability passes under the influence of the earth were devised by Dave. I checked every formula and repeated all of the arithmetical computations as an educational activity and to prevent mistakes as far as has been possible. I wish to thank Dan Wilkins and Dave Bowman, who is the de facto co-author of Appendix I, as well as the many physicists who managed to teach me more than I expected to learn so quickly at my advanced age. I think this may have been the most accelerated learning experience of my life. It is fitting, then, to acknowledge the valuable lessons learned from Dave Bowman, Leigh Palmer, John Mallinckrodt, Brian Whatcott, Jim Green, and others who were generous with their time, effort, and knowledge.
Also, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Professor Edward Deci of the University of Rochester who has made available to me at his own expense preprints and reprints of numerous peer-reviewed research papers written by himself and others on the subject of human motivation. This has saved me much time and effort and is greatly appreciated. Also, it is with great sadness that I acknowledge the assistance and advice of John Condry who has recently passed on. Professor Condry introduced me to Ed Deci and, indeed, to the whole idea of intrinsic motivation, which, as the reader will see, plays a crucial role in my philosophy. The literature on intrinsic motivation deserves and receives its own bibliography at the end of Appendix III.
October 12, 1990
Revised June 28, 1991
Revised August 1, 1992
Revised May 27, 1993
Revised July 30, 1993
Revised September 30, 1994.
Revised August 6, 1995
Revised May 21, 1996
Revised January 18, 1997
Revised July 2, 1997
Revised September 5, 1997
Revised September 22, 1998
Revised July 5, 2004
Revised January 22, 2005
1. Chomsky, Noam, World Orders Old and New, Columbia University Press, New York (1995).
2. Deci, Edward L. and Richard M. Ryan, Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior, Plenum Press, New York (1985)
3. The Chicago Manual of Style, The University of Chicago Press, Thirteenth Edition, Revised and Expanded, Chicago (1982).
4. Peirce, Charles Sanders, Philosophical Writings of Peirce, Ed. Justus Buchler, Dover, New York (1955).
5. Wayburn, Thomas L., “On Space Travel and Research”, in The Collected Papers of Thomas Wayburn, Vol. II, American Policy Inst., Houston (Work in progress 1998). [Most essays in Vol. II of my collected papers were written during the last ten years and are available from The American Policy Institute. One or two, such as this one, are still “in progress”. Five additional essays, namely, “On Television”, “On Education”, “On Sports”, “On Sex”, and “On African-Americans” are planned for Vol. III.]