The hardest question is: "What do you want?"
Pick almost any activist at random and ask: “What do you want the ideal society to be?” and the likely answer will be a list of what he or she doesn’t want. Here are some responses I’ve been getting to this question:
• I want the banks to stop screwing us over!
• I want to see those corrupt politicians in jail
• I want the government to stop cutting public services
No one seems to hear the question I’m asking. Instead, they hear an invitation to voice their objections. The purest answer to such a question as: “What do you want?” is one that is born of aspiration, not objection. Let’s suppose the banks reform a little and clean up their act enough to satisfy the majority. Let’s suppose the most blatantly corrupt politicians are sent to jail and let’s suppose the government stops cutting public services: is that it? Can we all go home now? Is this the longed-for Utopia?
God! I hope not! I hope the youngest and brightest among us want more than that!
Where are the dreamers? Why are we so afraid to dream? Are we afraid of ridicule? How many of us have had our dreams and aspirations rebuffed with the phrase: “You have to be realistic!”?
I am writing this on my computer… a device that was once somebody’s unrealistic dream. I remember watching a TV show called Tomorrow’s World back in the 1970s and seeing an item about a printing device called a Plotter that could draw a crude copy of an equally crude design that had be drawn on a computer screen (BIG computer… tiny screen). I thought Wow! What I would give to just have a go on one of those! It never occurred to me that two decades later, I would be an illustrator using Photoshop and taking it for granted as part of my toolkit.
The time scale between an unrealistic dream and a generally accepted reality is getting exponentially shorter. Yet still we hurl sneering rebuttals such as pie-in-the-sky and dismiss the visionary as ‘just a dreamer’, as if the power to dream is something of no consequence and warrants contempt.
Then I describe my dream of a society that doesn’t need some fictional unit of value to get things done; a society in which people don’t need financial incentives to work for the benefit of the community because they are freed from the pressure of earning a living and the workplace is a joy to be a part of. A society in which workers are asked and never told… and always thanked for their input. I’ve worked in the voluntary sector during a prolonged period of unemployment back in the mid 80s and the experience is totally different to working for a profit-driven company.
It is not cost-effective for a company to employ a large workforce to work just a few hours a day so they employ minimal workforces who work long hours. Employers don’t like to see staff socializing and taking breaks when they are paying for their time and very few employers see any need to thank their employees. They pay them and consider that should be enough. Good performance is rarely rewarded but the threat of the penalties for poor performance hangs over the workforce like the sword of Damocles. Workers are paid, yes. But this isn’t a reward. This is simply the means by which they survive. They are undervalued and often underpaid. They see the boss (who earns five times their salary) arrive at ten thirty, bark orders down a telephone until lunchtime and go home. They often have no emotional attachment with the company, which is owned by someone who doesn’t even know their names and much less gives a toss about their welfare. It is little wonder that they long for the weekends and dread Mondays!
In a society free from money, they are free of the stresses of paying bills, free to enjoy the social environment of the workplace and can expect the respect and acknowledgment that their input deserves. They have an interest in the workplace, which belongs to the community and they feel valued. I would come out of retirement for that (otherwise, it would take a whole lotta money and a team of wild horses to drag me out of the freedom I enjoy now).
I describe an administrative system that works for the community as a local authority. But the word: “authority” is not to be confused with power. The administration must have the authority to enforce the laws (approved by the majority of the people) and conduct its duties. The administration has a degree of authority over the individual but, collectively, the people have authority over the administration. A vote could be called at any time to hold the elected administration to account and a majority vote has the final say. The power base is the people, not some ruling elite.
Administration would be much simpler because there would not be the requirement to balance highly complex, extremely volatile and ultimately fictional economies.
Although politicians insist that solar power and wind power are not feasible, the evidence suggests the contrary. Even in a cloudy rainy place like England, there are some homes equipped with efficient solar panels and a small wind turbine that provide 100% of the energy they require and even put a surplus into the National Grid. If one home can do this, every home can do it. Industries that require more energy than they can generate can utilise the surplus. What politicians and advocates for nuclear energy actually mean by "not feasible" is that there are no investment opportunities. Sunlight cannot be bought cheap and sold at a profit.
Every home can be equipped with water treatment equipment and sewage processing equipment to convert the waste into safe, usable compost and this can be utilized in the gardens in which each household grows all of the food it requires. That takes considerable pressure off the necessary infrastructure.
Products that are currently built to last only a short time to ensure a continual consumption of computers, phones, TVs and so on could be built to last a lifetime. Craftsmanship is no longer considered unfeasible because it doesn’t have to be cost-effective. Distribution is limited only by available resources, not by cost. Feeding famine and drought-stricken countries, irrigating deserts and medical research would no longer be hampered by cost.
Without money and power, there would be little crime, no oppression, no war and no greed.
The response I got to this description of my dream was:
“But I don’t want a solar panel! I want a thatched roof!”
Well, I guess it’s a start…