Every week, the BBC publishes a 60 second idea of a global thinker from the world of philosophy, science or arts. These thinkers are given a minute to put forward a radical, inspiring or controversial idea – no matter how improbable – that they believe will change the world. I’m definitely no global thinker. But I was very drawn by the concept of this think-tank initiative from the BBC.
If I had a chance to write to the BBC, here’s what I’ll propose. They are not new ideas but a collection of concepts, studies and researches that I went through in search of some insight. Driven by pure curiosity, interest and a deep-seeded personal concern for this world and its future, I’ve put together some of the more notable ideas to form a plausible solution based on my opinions.
I always believe that the best kind of approach in providing resolution to global issues is not to create new ideas, but to blend together a practical solution based on components of existing ideas.
Let me start off by asking you this: have you ever wondered how much do you really contribute to the society? To the world? Because the solution I’m proposing will enable us to measure our “real” contributions to the world. This will redefine our society and how we dispense reward in accordance to our now quantifiable contributions. But for this to happen, it requires our thinking to be uplifted. This, in itself, is the real challenge for the world.
So to define what this “real” contribution is, we need to ask ourselves how much of what we do is really benefitting humanity? In our current day, the answer is based on how we humans perceive ourselves in the eyes of the society and the world.
If the world thinks that being a philanthropist is noble, the society accepts that it is altruistic. If the world perceives that being a celebrity is prominent, the society accepts that it is a high income profession. And the world will allot the publicly perceived reward in accordance to its real (false) value. In these two extreme scenarios, it is clear which effort benefits humanity more. But because of our deep-rooted perception on the intrinsic values of jobs, the philanthropist role becomes unsustainable and unappealing. What we have today is a historical culture of materialistic society built upon centuries of socioeconomic indoctrination, whose own civilization planning outlook is only limited to the next ten to twenty years.
How do we then redefine our contributions to the world that will usher in a change? For it to be even remotely world-changing and sensible, we have to be guided by two very important tenets. The change has to be environmentally sustainable and culturally regenerative. In saying that, the endeavor needs to be directed towards the considerations of ecology and its derivative economics. We have to shift our human culture away from traditional socioeconomics beliefs to a more tenable ecology economics thinking (eco-economics).
What is eco-economics? It is in essence the consideration of economics within our ecology instead of technology. Its disciplines address the relationships of coevolution between human economies and natural ecosystems. And it is defined by justice, time and space. The four key enablers that are critical here is the ecologic efficiency, carrying capacity, legitimacy mechanisms, coexistence and counteradaptation, which I will not go into detail.
Then what is this “contribution” in the context of eco-economics? Think of human output in terms of energy transfer here. By burning our bodies in a microbomb calorimeter, you will find that a human being contains about six or seven kilocalories per gram of weight. To sustain it at that level, we have to consume a lot of calories throughout our lifetime. The contribution we are talking about here is more of how many calories we create by our efforts, or send forth to our future generations.
How does the concept of passing on our calories work? As a species, we humans do it very indirectly, obviously. And because this transfer is so intangible, it involves a lot of speculative judgment. To ensure any of this makes probable sense, we need to assign values to a number of non-physical things we inherently do in our culture. If not, then by pure definition, electricians, mechanics, reactor builders and other infrastructural workers would always rate as the most productive members of society. Then you will have your artists, singers, writers, and the likes seen as contributing nothing at all.
Will the reward then be proportionately awarded with respect to the contribution? It has to, but not in the way of how we understand it today. Our current socioeconomic conditions consist of powerful people from the current power structure arbitrarily assigning numerical values to non-numerical things and pretending they haven’t just made those numbers up, which they have. And if they did, then similarly here by pure definition, actuaries, stock brokers, bankers and other financial service providers would always rate among the most highly paid professions in the world. And you will have your farmers, law enforcements, geobotanists, teachers and the likes seen as not being paid well enough.
So how productive do you think you really are just by existing on this planet? Think in terms of efficiency. The basic equation to calculate human efficiency is simple: the calories you produce, divided by the calories you consume, and multiply that by one hundred to get it in percentage. But there is one fundamental problem here: humans are not in the case of a classic efficiency model.
What is a classic efficiency model? It is basically about passing along calories to one’s predator within a food chain. Ten percent of energy passed on from one consumer level (trophic level) to the next is the classic average in every food chain. This is because the amount of energy transferred between trophic levels decreases as energy is lost from the system due to movement, excretion, reproduction etc. And this is also why organisms at a higher trophic level need to eat more organisms from the lower level to gain sufficient energy. This in essence makes most predators inefficient creatures, including humans.
And why it can’t be applied to humans? Let’s look at lions for instance, which are at the top of their food chain. They typically have ranges of hundreds of square miles and do not have any natural predators, not because they are tough and strong, but because nature has deemed it not worth the effort. Therefore the model can’t really be applied to humans because similarly, we do not have any natural predators. In our case, it’s not a matter of predators feeding on us. As I’ve previously mentioned, it is a matter of how much we transfer energy to our future generations.
How do we then relate this efficiency back into eco-economics? By assigning a certain calorie-equivalent numerical value to all kinds of human jobs, we can determine the efficiency of a certain profession. This will encourage people to make their living based on a calculation of their real contribution to human ecology. Then it is only a matter of manipulating one’s efforts to reduce how many calories they use to increase their ecological efficiency.
A classic case representing this relationship is the argument of energy consumption between the developing Southern nations versus the industrialized Northern nations. The ecologic basis for that argument was that no matter how much the industrial nations produced, they could never be as efficient as the South because the South simply consumes lesser energy. Do recall that all predators’ efficiency is low. That is why lions need to consume more animals. That is why the more advanced Northern nations consume more energy. In hindsight, people should really be rewarded in proportion to their overall contribution to the system, not just separately based on their consumption or production which can be distorting.
But aren’t we already doing that? One may argue that this is no different from the current economics that already exists – where people are rewarded based on merit. As I’ve mentioned before, we are considering eco-economics, not socioeconomics.
Have you ever wondered whether the job you are doing is a real job or not? What is a real job? The meritocracy system that currently exists in our modern day economics are loosely built upon the creation of phantom work. This simply means many of the jobs in our society today are assigned unreal values.
For example, the entire multinational corporate executive working class does nothing a computer couldn’t already do given our advancements in present day technology. Thus, we should stop considering economics within the confines of our technology. What we need to do is to approach this within the framework of our ecology. Because there are also whole categories of parasitical jobs that add nothing to the system in terms of ecological accounting i.e. advertising, marketing, sales, hedge fund trading etc. These jobs are merely an apparatus for making money from the manipulation of money. It is not only wasteful, but corrupting.
How do you then determine if a job is relevant in an eco-economic culture? Because all these phantom and parasitical jobs are speculative judgments, a specific caloric value needs to be assigned to such a variety of activities. To do that, we only need to look back into ecology and calculate what they contribute back to the system in terms of well-being measured as a physical thing i.e. what does the activity equals to in terms of food, water, shelter, medical aid, education and so forth.
This will radically change our current world’s outlook because what we are practicing today is by rewarding someone based on what they contribute back to the current system in terms of financial exclusivity measured as an approximate monetary value in the forms of assets, resources, wealth, policies, growth, capital and so on.
When we structure our new society based on the core tenets of an eco-economically driven culture, we will have uplifted our way of life and become a civilization whose frame of reference in whatever we do are morally justified, has a longer time-planning horizon, and is proficiently minimalistic in space occupancy. We become the world’s moral agents.
So is this all so farfetched then, as to become irrational and improbable? How we carry ourselves, advance our civilization, and uplift our way of thinking into the next age of mankind will determine how much longer our existence remains unchecked.
Arthur C. Clarke, my favourite muse and arguably one of the most prolific sci-fi storytellers once penned:
“In my wildest dreams, I would never have imagined that, less than two decades after this book (Earthlight) was written, I would receive a beautiful three-dimensional map of the Mare Imbrium, showing the track of the Lunar Rover skirting a crater labeled ‘Earthlight’ – and bearing the inscription ‘To Arthur Clarke with best personal regards from the crew of Apollo 15 and many thanks for your visions in space.’ – – (Signed) Dave Scott, Al Worden and Jim Irwin.”
If Arthur can dream, so should we.