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A Message to Proponents of

the Abundant Society
By Sally Morem

Mankind's ever-increasing technical sophistication will mean that people
should not have to die or suffer unnecessarily due to a lack of basic
necessities like food, clean water and medicine which is still the case in
many parts of the world; and additionally humanity can undertake projects
that were previously impossible or economically unfeasible.

Additionally due to this physical abundance society may lose some of its
obsessive preoccupation with material possessions, meaning it could
become a post-materialistic era also. This is hard to see while sitting in the
middle of the current consumer culture and is a debatable point, but even if
people's taste for goods does not subside, old goods will be easily recycled
into new.

--Joseph Jackson, proponent of the Abundant Society

I predict that a large number of ordinary people will have a great deal of
trouble grasping the concept of a society filled with people using a future
technology that will permit them to create and own anything they desire and
enjoy it without working for it. So Jackson’s point about resistance to the
concept is well taken. If you can’t envision a thing, you will resist it.
Worse, from the perspective of any proponent of the abundant society, most
people will not consciously cooperate with you in any way. They will either
completely ignore you and the points you make, or will brush you off as a
crazy.

To illustrate this point, consider slavery. Consider the millennia during
which people endured it without rebelling against it. Slavery was
established in every area of the world where large enough populations
settled in tropical and subtropical climates, usually along river valleys. Such
geographic features made forced agricultural work without recompense for
large numbers of unfortunate people economically viable. And so people
with the power (enough weaponry and soldiers) to force the issue did so.
Did any of the people living in such societies ever question the existence of
slavery as such? I seriously doubt it. Slaves themselves accepted slavery as
eternal; they themselves no doubt wanted to be free, but could only imagine
somehow exchanging places with free people. Spartacus didn’t lead an
abolition movement. I suspect the “anti-slavery meme” never emerged until
the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution as people watched machines just
starting to take over some of the arduous work that used to be the lot of
people.

The above analogy is not meant to make slavery and “wage slavery” (a silly
term) equivalent. It is meant to illustrate the effects of the
incomprehensibility of a really new, revolutionary idea on the attitudes
toward it taken by ordinary people, and the deleterious effects that
incomprehensibility has on any desired progress. It’s a drag on progress.
But it’s a drag that can’t be wished away by Marxian scoffing. The belief in
the eternal nature of scarcity isn’t merely an artifact of “the consumer
society.” If it were, it wouldn’t have existed before the 19th century.

Considering the fact that we human animals have always had to gather our
energy from any available outside source (food) and work hard for it in order
to survive, the concept of a truly abundant society is a mind-blowing
paradigm shift—a shift that is in the process of shaking up hundreds of
thousands of years of hard-earned home truths. No wonder it makes no
sense whatsoever to most people.

(I really had to work carefully through the implications of the idea on my
own. It wasn’t easy. It was not natural for me. After doing the conceptual
work, I described such a society to fellow science fiction fans, supposedly
very forward-looking people. They kept wondering what jobs would remain
so we could still make a living. The technical term for this incomprehension
is, “not getting the concept.” The science fiction term is, “not grokking it in
fullness.”)

Scarcity is the natural default assumption we take when considering how life
works, so naturally, it’s the planted axiom we accept unthinkingly for how
every economic system works.

I believe that the only way we can possibly help large numbers of people
make sense of the bewildering number of changes coming and how they
may well lead to abundance is to walk the reader through the concept step by
step. And the only way I can think of doing that job comparatively easily
and effectively is by describing one singularly potent technological model,
one that’s been in the news often: Nanotechnology. (The fact that I
personally believe that nanotechnology will be the master technology of the
21st century does no harm to my argumentation in its favor as a conceptual
device here.)

The idea of how “growing your own” anything in your kitchen or garage vat
with billions of friendly nanobots building your desired item exactly to spec
based on “recipes” compiled by nanobots that had previously taken apart
objects and recorded their precise molecular structure, is visual, is
understandable, is enjoyable and heartening, and can be a paradigm-breaking
and life-changing event (and has been) for many people (including me).

Once the basic concept is explained, the proponent for the Abundant Society
may continue to walk the reader through a number of insights that follow:
how this technology will utterly change his or her life…the life of the family
using that technology…and the neighborhood or small town…the
metropolitan area…the state…the region…the nation…and the world. How
this technology will transform economics, politics, the arts, culture, and
every single sector of society. And how it will continue to stoke the engines
of continual acceleration of technological, and thereby, societal change.

It makes no sense whatsoever to blame “evil capitalism” for scarcity. That
would be like blaming the Roman Empire for scarcity. You are blaming the
effect, not the cause. Scarcity is an artifact of the proclivity of human reach
to exceed its grasp. If you only are able to produce enough so that a small
elite can enjoy abundance, while the rest work hard for a pittance, that’s the
kind of society you will live in. This is not an expression of technological
fatalism; it’s an expression of the effect of historical technological
limitations on societies based on the threat of the use of lethal force—every
single society that has ever existed.

Modern capitalism (ironically, apparently) broke the underlying assumption
of endless scarcity as expressed by Jesus, “For the poor ye shall always have
with you.” By the 19th century, as the advancement of industrial technology
accelerated, thinkers of every political persuasion began envisioning a future
without poverty, an unthinkable dream for previous generations. The fact
that they couldn’t achieve the dream in the 19th or 20th centuries was a
source of bitter contention between those who thought the productive
technologies in use were not up to snuff and those who thought the
economic system and those who benefited most from it were blocking what
would have been inevitable progress towards the dream.

Obviously, I agree with the former. I also don’t agree with Jackson’s
contention that we have plenty now—that the plenty we have is not well
distributed because of the greed and incompetence fostered by capitalism.
We clearly aren’t yet capable of producing nearly enough so that every
human need and desire of every single one of 300 million Americans can be
satisfied, and certainly not for six billion humans world wide. If we were
capable, none of the systems of capitalism, socialism, Communism,
feudalism and fascism extent in the world would matter a bit. Actually, none
of them would exist. We would simply…produce. Unfortunately, the past
and present existence of those economies of scarcity is proof positive that
our current levels of productivity are very limited and unsatisfactory while
our very human needs and desires remain endless and deep.

We need raw materials and machine parts from widely separated sources.
We need extremely complex and extensive transportation infrastructures to
get them from where they are to where they’re needed soonest. We need
people to do a number of mind-numbing jobs dependent on rote skills
because we don’t have robots with programming and bodies flexible enough
and capable enough to take over that work load—yet.

We humans in aggregate desire millions of different things that we can’t
possibly grow at home. Walt Whitman desired fresh orange buds in the
wintertime in his hut in New England. So he had them shipped up there
from Florida. Orange trees don’t grow well in snow. Look around your
home and name the things that were not made in your home town, and in
fact could not have been made there. (It’ll be quicker to name the things that
were made in your home town.) You will find that almost everything you
own came from elsewhere; made by people you don’t know and will never
know.

You are part of Friedrich Hayek’s Extended Order, the first economic order
so deep and wide that it encompasses all of Earth. It is, bar none, the most
extravagantly bountiful economic system ever devised by humans. Actually,
it was never devised by anyone. Hayek and von Mises took great pains to
explain how such orders are never devised; we only participate in them. But
even with its bounty, capitalism does not and has never produced abundance.
It operates under the same constraints of scarcity that any other economic
system has ever operated under. But it harnesses the creativity of billions of
people with its digital system of incentives and inventory-control, better
known as money, and augments their efforts with machines of cunning
design, and so fortified, bends the constraints more each year.

The only possibility we have of achieving a true society of abundance is to
make it technologically possible for every single human being who desires
(that’s all of us, folks) to satisfy every desire with his or her own production
facilities—nanotechnology. This and only this will free people from both
technological constraints and the Puritanical posturing of do-gooders and
environmentalists nattering at them for wanting too much and not caring
about poor people.

Privately owned and operated production devices will provide a private
sphere of endeavor that will permit the greatest freedom we humans can
imagine: To decide and to carry out one’s decisions every single day, every
step of the way. Imagine the free feeling of not having to push your design
for a new appliance or a new dress up through the corporate hierarchy or
your local workers council. Ever since reading “Engines of Creation,” I
have attempted to envisioned a series of scenarios in which such technology
could bring about full-fledged—no ifs, ands, or buts, no Puritanical scolding
against materialism and for “spiritualism”—abundance. I believe
nanotechnology fills the bill.

The only way to end material scarcity is to upgrade your technological
means. Self talk won’t do it. Reorganizing and redistributing pieces of a
small pie won’t do it. Dubious sociology won’t do it. Socialism of any and
all parties won’t do it. Changing the ownership of the means of production
won’t do it. Upgrading those means to nanotechnology will.
Sources

Check out Joseph Jackson’s Abundance Google Group here:

http://groups.google.com/group/postscarcity

Check out my attempt to do what I was calling for—walking the reader step
by step through the concept of nanotechnology and its implications.
“Nanotechnology Explained” can be found here at Helium:

http://www.helium.com/items/1327783-what-is-nanotechnology