Universal Unconditional Basic Empathy Part 2 of 2
“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
Cash based democracy…
I originally met Cormac whilst participating in an event to raise participation in democracy. Democracy advocacy has been and remains a longstanding and shared passion between us. So I think this particular question, would be one he’d encourage us all to consider: How will democracy be served by changing the relationship of the citizen to the state, from one where the citizen’s contribution is necessary to maintaining the state to one where the state’s contribution is the basic necessity to maintaining the citizen?
We need to consider, with the current direction in political behaviour, how likely it is that political parties would avoid entering into a competition to use offers of higher basic income to buy votes. How simple an outcome it would be: in this time of no real difference between voting options; to simply give up on the efforts to draw politics into participative democracy, and go for an algorithm of vote for who offers the most basic income cash. After all, goes the argument, it’s no one in particulars money, or it’s simply encouraging the acceleration of redistribution.
To place this more as a caveat, how do we avoid the emergence of a very negative attitude towards dissenters of this option. Is it unimagined that one person would make the argument to an opposer: “You can go without this if you want, but you have no right to deny me this money!”
Such wilfully ignoring of such predictable unwanted outcomes displays shades that leading proponents are more driven by ideological desires than strong motivation towards deepening the wellbeing of community and repairing the deeply damaged relationship between the representation and the represented.
So all other options have failed…?
This points to something that should be brought into clear visibility in this discussion. Why are other ongoing efforts to raise incomes and the availability of good work opportunities being so readily abandoned? Why is a blanket top down proposal being raised again and again, in ever increasing volume as the best solution, in such an intractable way, when there remains so many efforts to release the strengths of local communities simply going uninvestigated and uninvested. UUBI is more like a blunt, artificial and state scale instrument whereas the approach of communities driving their own efforts is by nature micro targeted. Herein lies a difference in perspective that can’t be answered by subjective argument that leans on political bias.
One perspective would argue that people given more latitude will seek the pleasure of productiveness as long as that encompasses a great enough range of things to value, the other would argue that we are not separate from our environment and such an expectation cannot realistically be argued. Both perspectives suffer from being ‘from the tower’ views. So how can we decide to declare that people’s drive to rise to challenge and seek co-operative solutions to mutually faced challenges is over? That it is time to realign to a different track where personal motivations are not tempered by the lessons that life teaches, because life so far has used such routes as entry level work, manual labour, or other seemingly mundane modes. We have a level of society that is promoting an idea to end poverty from their perspective, from another perspective it is that same level that are the principal players in choking out opportunity that leads to poverty by their self serving modes of shaping society in the name of helping others. This level has created a narrative of we should unite in resentment of the 1%ers.
Whom does UUBI take closer to their goal of closing the gap between ‘we the 99%’ and the ‘1%’? For some UUBI will replace means tested benefit levels of income, or the slightly higher earning potential of minimum wage. In effect UUBI will not leave them better off, it merely offers a removal of vestigial stigma from the days of being called a doley. For others it offers an automatic pay rise to top up incomes, that even at the national average wage are already multiple times the income of the lowest levels. Graeber chose to use the reference of freedom from burdensome jobs, from what he refers to as ‘bullshit jobs’, in a nudge, wink, we know what we don’t like, conspiratorial way but leaves out that the greatest economic beneficiaries from UUBI aren’t those in poverty pressured towards low level jobs but those who are raised in relative income even further above those left behind at the new universally mandated lowest level.
But what experience does he employ to really know what he was talking about in defining work without worth? When I swept floors, fetched and carried, I learned about politics from Jim, about supervision from Jean, about management from Bilal, about acceptance from Pam and mother’s love for her son from Barbara whose son was serving in the desert war. We celebrated the end of that war together because of what that meant to Barbara who had spent every day deeply anxious over the danger to her son. We celebrated Thatcher’s resignation amongst a community of workers from around the industrial estate, we sweltered in the heat of summer and felt the cold of winter together. Handed a way out, I would never have chose that experience and even though I never wanted to stay there, it leaves an indelible mark on me; a deep connection to where I come from, an understanding of the value that lies in people that all the literary education, artistic exposure, participation in theatre, singing in choirs or supervising play groups simply can never lead to.
Does Graeber’s ideas really offer a kindness and respect to my working class roots and being, in wanting to remove that forever? Can those proponents of this idea be so sure of their intended consequences that their idea of growth and freedom is the only culturally relevant one? I’ve watched my communities receive deep wounds over my life, it seems that every news bulletin has some statement that success of society is the growth of a middle class with the unstated implication that it’s corollary is the removal of the working class. If this is so then I have two last questions, why do some so fervently wish to remove us from existence & what view of us do they hold that they wish to eradicate, from this Earth, the things that created us?
Perhaps the first principle of those who have the influence on the macro structures of future society, should be first and foremost do no harm. That would be a principle if put into practice that would offer space for the efforts of connectors to emerge at the rate that is natural, from the building of trust and relationships that are made real by realising our value to each other in direct rather than monetary terms.
Universal unconditional basic empathy…
In the second part of Universal Unconditional Basic Income, Cormac raised 5 questions, the first 3 I hope I have engaged with in my discussion on UUBI by drawing from story and experience. Those questions are, I feel, most likely to have many different answers for each of us, and perhaps it is as well to draw upon them as routes for reflexive personal thought, that can be applied situationally and offered as perspective. His last two questions however call for ideas going forward to search for answers to very difficult conundrums.
Question 4: How do we create a society where gifts can be shared and the limits of humanness accepted?
Individually we can’t create society, as it is the sum of our interactions, intermeshed with knowledge and traditions from the past and concerns, hopes and priorities going into the future. In looking at such challenges that can be bewildering at scale, it’s often meaningful to re-state and even re-evaluate core principles.
Question 5: What other ways can we re-distribute wealth as well as how we currently do so?
Unlike the idea of UUBI that presumes wealth must re-distributed by a macro scale intervention of considerable political and social force, I don’t assume that the quest to share opportunity is over and failed. However it has been slow, and stalled as successive leaderships have been unable to raise any effective new ideas. A distinct impediment to achieving this change is the tendency of institutionalised power to constantly apply part of their resource to the purpose of maintaining their status quo, and this influence sits far closer to national leadership than the ideas raised from the grassroots can travel.
Addressing this means dividing the problem into the three parts mentioned in part 1: things we can do ourselves, things we need help to achieve, and things we need help to see them done.
Things we can do ourselves…
5 assumptions to underpin empathy:
- Assume people value connections to other people.
- Assume people can recognise the humanity in each other.
- Assume people can share something they know that would be useful for others to know.
- Assume people have things they love to do that others would appreciate seeing done.
- Assume relationships that bind people together are strengths but relationships that bind people to things are dependencies.
Value is that which is raised into being by the act of a person recognising the gifts of another person as valuable. It is that act of appreciation, to value something, that brings to life the fruits of a gift that is shared. The act of recognition forms an innate human behaviour that establishes a bond that nurtures both the giver and receiver, thus contributes to human wellbeing. This is something that can readily and abundantly be brought about.
Things we need the help of others to achieve…
If done by the people of a community this raises its ability to respond to needs, be resilient to problems and discover how to bring about sustainable positive and meaningful change. If done by people of a local community for their local economy it can add to exchange activity the thought that choices shouldn’t be solely measured by monetary value.
Seeing only cash value is the concretisation of dependence upon things. With mindful reframing of the choices made about earning and consuming within the local economy, community members can add the determination of which choices lead to a transaction that includes recognition of the value of the people of the community, and therefore of the community itself.
This mediates through the choices of where transactions for goods and services are made. The shallow activity of consumerism can never satisfy a desire to be valued nor match seeing the response of someone being recognised as valued. But shifting the paradigm from: I go to places to obtain things; to: I obtain things when I go to places to be with people; we can invert participation in the economy away from consumerism and towards community connection.
Things we need help to see them done…
Consumerism grows by converting wants that are not needed to needs that are not satisfied. Community grows by meeting needs that can best be met by connection to people. The friction in these ideas means we do have to consider where and how we invest our time. Time remains for each of us, a finite resource, so we should think carefully about what we spend it doing. I would suggest that empathy and the ability to recognise empathy towards us, is an innate human facet that can guide us towards things we should invest time in, and recognise the value we should seek to realise.
The help of institutions, national and especially regional leadership should aim to ensure that place is designed with appropriate space for the pursuit of positive connecting relationships. This space will need to be in terms of physical space, addressing social barriers and shifts in the pace people are expected to conduct life’s activities. This includes making time and space available within our working or earning activities, consuming activities, and civic & communal involvement. Changes that will move away from the free reign consumerist capitalism has had in shaping consumptive space. A different approach would be wanted which allows time for mindfulness and thoughtfulness to shape the transactions we choose to do that shifts the consume on impulse paradigm to one that is about engaging in the stewardship of a commons, for the wellbeing of self, community and the safe management of the Earth’s resources we depend on.
Things that [only] externals can do for us…
5 institutional amendments to their assumptions:
- Don’t assume your views are universal truths.
- Don’t assume speaking at people is the same as talking with people.
- Don’t assume what you want to supply is what the community wants and needs.
- Don’t assume generic mass produced solutions can be made to fit most situations.
- Don’t assume efficiency can only be found in terms of economies of scale.
Institutions, ranging from all levels of government, anchor institutions, public services, media and communications corporations and the myriad of supply chains should adopt a new default position where they no longer prioritise strategically ensuring their longevity but move to asking, and listening to the answer, how can they add value to what people themselves determine they want to achieve.
The public shouldn’t be put into a position where they have to constantly seek monetary gain in order to achieve self expression. External institutions have a support role to play in life, not a leading or even pivotal role. By shifting to be entities that seek a welcome to a role as alongsiders, where they can respond but not control, they can be part of the connections to wider community. Help is appreciated that sees things done that are beyond the capabilities of a community. Our places hold specialness whose value can be brought forth by wise investment, that prioritises long term stewardship and making sustainable economic assets for the peoples of that place.
Empathise don’t sympathise…
Opportunity hinges on being allowed to draw upon the abundant value that is around us, and within us. This value if allowed to flow can open the gates for a meaningful sustainable and resilient way to achieve re-distribution by co-operation that hinges upon understanding what is needed, where and why.
Wealth redistribution can follow, but it is assets that are in motion of producing wellbeing that are the necessary achievables. Cash redistribution doesn’t guarantee anything, especially not in the midst of a global system that is 100% geared around creating accumulations. The most damaging accumulation isn’t of money, as the understanding of money needs to inform: amount of money held is a record of debts owed. On the contrary, the most damaging accumulation, is that of withheld opportunities, and often occurs in the most frivolous of manners: by heedlessly removing the opportunity of neighbours to have value to each other.
That brings about the disintegration of communities, shifts them to a state of depency, and life without aspiration. Reasons to grow are diminished as maturity and wisdom don’t develop in a culture that wants immediacy of gratification above the rewards of patience and effort.
Sympathy for those who are suffocating under the weight of dependencies and deficiencies neither achieves change or the realisation of what will actually help. An unconditional empathy, universally applied can help make visible what people actually value, what doing things together means for members of a community, and then wiser decisions can be reached about when to step forward and when to step back.