It has come to the point that about 100 people control half the world’s wealth. Four corporations control 80 percent of the media, which then defend the values of the elite—the ideals of competition.
Of course the media defend the values of competition. Why would the rich want to give up their stranglehold on the world’s economy?
Competition may be fun and it may be valuable in evolution, but it does not work as the basis for a world economy of 7.3 billion humans. Competition, profit, and capitalism are the framework through which the world’s societies and ecosystems are debased.
One in five humans live in extreme poverty while one in three live on less than $2 per day. It seems there are not enough resources to go around. This drives humanity’s tradition of competing for scarce resources.
The majority of human goods are designed not to last, but to sell and then fail. Using sub-standard materials to edge out competitive prices ensures replacement and continual profit. It also fills the land with waste and exhausts irreplaceable resources.
Instead of supplying basic human needs to one region and moving on to the next, capitalists sell creature comforts designed to fail to developed countries. Upgraded models later replace the obsolete commodities and the cycle repeats.
Society has harnessed trade for as long as we can remember. It began during the transition to agriculture. The creation of measurable value allowed entrepreneurs to raise a single good in quantity and then trade the surplus for precious metals. Things like gold and silver then became the means to a better life.
Then people no longer had to be self-sufficient. The ability to turn labor into goods, and goods into value made long-term settlement in large groups possible. Stocking value and food, along with the domestication of animals, allowed humanity to concentrate on the finer things in life, like the freedom to choose what is fine. It’s no wonder the majority believe in money; it’s what facilitated our transition from a hunter/gatherer lifestyle.
Now, technology launches satellites into space; the collision of subatomic particles can be recorded; and scientists can genetically engineer pigs that glow in the dark. But a billion people—mostly children—still lack clean water, sufficient food, and basic sanitation.
Machines will soon replace fast food workers. Consumers will order via a touch screen, which does not require sick days, overtime pay, or smoke breaks. Computers can provide detailed synopses of novels, and they will soon be able to replace writers.
The 40-hour, service-/sale-based workday is no longer necessary. A new age of cooperation is waiting, but we will only access it if we choose to evolve from the Dark Age of competition for food, shelter, and commodities designed to fall apart.
Humans must consume to thrive, to enjoy, and to find meaning in life. But with the ideals of sustainability in mind, we should be producing the fewest number of goods while supporting the entirety of humanity in an environmentally sustainable manner.
We are on a path with serious catastrophe. Oceanic methane gas release is spiking. None of our four billion years of evolution will be worth it if the earth cannot grow vegetables. The Supreme Court has granted corporations freedom of speech and freedom of religion through Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, respectively.
But long before they became lawfully persuasive, corporations were (and still are) rewarded for outsourcing jobs to third world factories. Genetically engineered cotton is grown in America, shipped it to Indonesian factories that pay 35 cents an hour, and the resulting t-shirts are then shipped back to America for profitable sale.
It is not about natural law, synergy, or sustainability. The free market must pursue profit. Capitalistic values say each person must own at least one of each product. Society should not accept this inefficiency. A sharing economy, with equal access, would quell these silly notions of ownership.
Carl Sagan summed it up poetically in Pale Blue Dot, his response to the first photographs of Earth from space, taken by NASA at Sagan’s request:
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the
endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity—in all this vastness—there is no hint that help will come from
elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
Joshua Bruns is a sustainability advocate and a senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he is studying sociology and philosophy.