Capitalism Tells & Plays Half the Story. Let’s play-out the other half to save Planet & Society.
Creating value and exchanging it is at the heart of two polar extremes — human ‘prosperity’ on one end and inequality, climate and ecological breakdown on the other. Our value creation narratives shape how value is exchanged and who owns how much of the generated wealth. The story we are told is that value is created only and only by entrepreneurs (businesses or corporations) — and so all generated wealth belongs to them.
The story we aren’t told or take for granted is that almost 80% of the value we buy today has been in creation by Planet earth and the global Society for millions of years. Why we aren’t told the full story is the source of our centralised prosperity but also problems as humanity — self-interest at the expense of shared-interest.
Finding and practicing the balance between our self and shared interests reduces our problems and increases our prosperity even at the individual level. And fortunately, this is the trajectory we’ve been taking until physical confrontation to assert self-interest evolved into stealth mode — ideas and products that empower the individual in the ‘now’ while destroying shared prosperity tomorrow. Am not suggesting that wars and violence take us to a balance but that in stealth mode the imbalance passes as a balance and therefore harder to isolate and eliminate.
Who is the tyrant?
Throughout history, there are stories of the powerless uniting against tyranny. Today’s tyrants aren’t like Goliath, Hitler, nor policies that promote slavery, female inferiority, or segregation, no, the tyrant can’t be direct because he would be easy to isolate.
Today’s tyrant is a system that inspires billions of us to produce and consume for self-interest at the expense of our shared interest, he satisfies our most immediate personal needs at the expense of our shared future, he connects us to his products while disconnecting us from a flourishing Planet and Society.
Today’s tyrant passes as a visionary, high achieving hero, as a smart hard-working wealth creator, even as a philanthropist, yet he comparatively takes a minute to extract billions from the value Planet and Society have been creating for millions of years, the tyrant today accords ‘personhood’ status to himself and accords ‘externality’ status to enslave Planet and Society, the tyrant today owns more than his hand and mind creates, he owns the wealth that should be owned by Planet and Society if they had personhood status — today’s tyrant is the profit greedy corporation.
To be a little fair he is probably convinced he’s the good guy because he rose up in a stealthy ‘self over shared interest’ narrative and probably he wouldn’t be a tyrant if the narratives, systems, and tools we use daily were directed to a self/shared balance, not to an imbalance.
What could go wrong?
The good thing is the tyrant is still in his infancy and we have the power to change the narratives before he fully takes that power away from us — and the state might choose his side. Screenwriters extrapolate the present to glimpse the future, some predicted the corona pandemic with astounding accuracy. It’s worrying, what they predict about the growing corporate power take over from governments, — imagine the impact of a two-year corona pandemic happening in one day, corporations literally fighting deadly wars both between themselves and people. A corporate pandemic is brewing unchecked.
Today corporations broadcast narratives unfavorable to Planet and Society using the same money that should belong to Planet and Society in the first place. They throw billions at academics, lawmakers, think tanks, social grants, they colonise the narratives — they are well on track to being all-powerful than the state. You surely have seen headlines like ‘Facebook is now officially too powerful, says the US …’
Throughout history tilting the self/shared lever to balance even by a millimeter hasn’t come on a silver platter. Slaves and their well-wishers fought back and many died to end direct slavery, many women died and endured persecution for female inferiority to reduce and deaths and violence against racial segregation aren’t far away in our minds.
Did all these struggles happen so that the self/shared balance increases to astronomical levels, for inequality and ecological breakdown to flourish, for wealth, power, and privilege to be so centralized? You’re right, No, they didn’t, but we ended up here because the wealth creation and exchange narrative didn’t change. Why? because the tyrant is invisible in stealthy mode, we don’t see who we are fighting.
No, we aren’t even fighting but cheering on because he bribed each and every one of us with material products, money, and luxuries. Remember the billions thrown at academics and think tanks to persuasively craft the self-interest promise that things will be better tomorrow! — but only for the self. They tell half the story, the ‘self’ story, and ignore the ‘shared’ story because they know the self indulges in stories about itself.
So, on the told half of the story, you have ‘heroic’ entrepreneurs working ‘hard’ to satisfy the self’s immediate desires with products and material wealth, and on the untold half, you have Planet earth and Society taking millions of years to create value that is extracted by entrepreneurs at zero-rate to the disadvantage of a shared future. Actually, to the disadvantage of the ‘self’ itself.
We could have prevented a global pandemic if the system cared about people eating food not wild animals, we could have reduced deadly and costly cyclones, wildfires, if for example ExxonMobil and others started innovating cleaner energy forty years ago instead of shelving and firing scientists, we would be reading poverty and inequality in history books if $13.6 trillion didn’t go to avoidable wars and if another $21 trillion didn’t trickle-up from the 99% to the 1%.
How do we tilt the Self/Shared Lever — A rough plan
Is it too late for a system that fosters a balance between our ‘self’ and ‘shared interests’? It will be if we don’t start acting in 2021 — but first a rough plan we can all participate in daily — anything less than daily action will yield less because we’re here thanks to our daily actions. Here is a three-step systemic change plan we can think over, refine, and get started with tomorrow.
The first step is blowing the ‘tyrant’s cover so we make our target visible. This means telling the other half of the story, — the shared story by;
1) popularising the narrative that value is the product of not only entrepreneurs innovating products, but of them extracting earth’s resources, using knowledge, civilisation, and cooperation of the global society, under the government’s enabling environment.
2) the above narrative needs a new distributed power infrastructure to run on. One based on consumers' self-organising to reclaim their power, normalize incentives from ‘profit only’ to ‘planet and society also’ and enforce demands against corporations. Another pair of the half stories goes; because our wellbeing is tied to their products, corporations have power over consumers, the untold half is that consumers also have power over corporations because they have what corporations need — money.
The second step is building;
1) the value exchange technology with the above narrative in mind. So, if we know that earth and society contributed x% to product y, right at checkout we can send x% in cash not to corporations but to earth and society so they spend it on themselves — i.e., on neglected grassroots social and environmental issues. It can start as a simple eCommerce & PoS payment diversion API that in 5 years evolves into a Civic AI that personifies Planet and Society and optimises its collections, expenditure, and reporting to maximise grassroots impact per dollar.
2) imagine moving with civic power in your wallet (digital)! You can influence minimum wages at corporations, influence their investment in zero-carbon, racist-free, and modern-slavery free value-chains, even influence their evolution from a greedy profit-only metric system to one that fosters a flourishing planet and society. Yes, this is not impossible if consumers communitise around brands, not to consume but reclaim their dormant power to make practical bargains against unchecked corporate extraction, power, control, and privilege.
The third step (which for momentum and ownership should start at 1 and 2) is engaging the masses, you and me, and everyone who cares to;
1) stake $1 dollar each to popularize the new narrative and build the technology it requires. This is important because the tech has to be civic-owned or it takes the same investor greed it wishes away. We the 99% can’t expect the 1% to blow our ‘running nose’ for us. Staking $1 dollar also nurtures a sense of collective ownership and a sense of individual duty while building momentum and anticipation to change the system to work for everyone, or should we say everything on earth.
2) to make demands that corporations implement the tech above.
3) use the tech to divert finance to neglected social and environmental issues daily.
4) track corporate implementation and make the sacrifices needed to inspire corporations that disregard our demands to change and also track grassroots impact and possibly engage in the action.
For how long have we cried for action against inequality, poverty, climate change, species extinction, and ecological destruction? How much have our cries (I mean protests, studies, reports, violence against the system) yielded? If we are talking to the right people, they are probably deaf because the more we protest the higher the inequality, the warmer earth gets, and the more species and ecological destruction. If they are deaf then we need to use their language — sign language.
If we can show them a ‘sign’ that profits are at stake, that valuations and share prices will crash, corporations and businesses, in general, will act fast, even if it means taking half a loaf. Ownership, competition, innovation, advertising, branding, and accounting will auto-refocus attention beyond shareholder profits. The system will begin to nurture a balance between our self and shared interests, between our immediate and future needs, and between our products and a flourishing Planet and Society. Yet, this is not easy but also not impossible because we’ve done it before, against slavery, colonization, female inferiority, racial segregation; we got this too but it has to start in 2021, it has to start now — we can’t be late.
If capitalism tells and plays the ‘self’ story to the destruction of the ‘shared’ story, for a self/shared balance, the onus is on the masses to play out the shared story.