abundance is everywhere

Littered in my sketchbooks are outlines of a modern progressive epistemology, where I try to detail each of the core tenets of progressive politics and ideology. It’s a fun thought experiment, but when I try to flesh it out into paragraphs and pages, it grinds to a halt.

I ask myself who I’m writing this for.

It can’t be for myself – dreaming up political theory in a vacuum is a gross cocktail of narcissism and solipsism.

Who, then, is it meant for?

Providing support for progressives that already agree? Eh. The world doesn’t need more preaching to the choir.

Attempting to sway centrists or conservatives? Most progressives wouldn’t read a modern conservative’s epistemology, nor would most conservatives have any interest in my treatise. Another poor tool for effecting change.

So, I put to rest this notion, but there remains an urge. Change requires unity. Unity requires shared understanding. Everywhere, I see a lack of shared understanding.

Discord seems to be growing in America across all spectra. Demagoguery is on the rise. Tensions are building. Sure, it’s election season and maybe things will chill out in 2017. I tend to doubt it.

How is that even possible? Regardless of what the future looks like, we live in a time of the greatest abundance in the history of mankind.

There is, at this very moment, enough food to feed everyone on the planet.

The most common deadly diseases can be cured, treated, or vaccinated against – globally.

We have enough labor and materials to provide shelter to everyone.

Knowledge has never been more widespread and available.

But we’re still fighting over basic goods and services.

Given dire enough circumstances, humans will do just about anything for survival. That’s a pretty uncontroversial fact. It’s the premise of most post-apocalyptic stories, but history gives us a pretty good picture of this as well.

For most of history, humanity has had little control over those dire circumstances. A year of drought could lead to mass starvation. Disease could swoop in from a few rats (or gerbils) hanging out on a wagon. Our margins for error were a lot thinner. That’s in societies where more than half of the population were farmers or directly involved in agriculture, and they still struggled to feed everyone.

A War on Poverty would not make sense in ancient China, medieval Europe, post-revolutionary America, or any other point in history. Eliminating poverty wasn’t an achievable goal until the mid-20th century. Class and caste systems inherent to many past civilizations are a direct response to that. There’s no point in hoping for a better life – you were born into poverty, best just to accept it as your lot in life and hope for better luck next time.

Scarcity changes everything.

But we don’t live in a time of scarcity.

If there’s one idea that I think needs to spread, it’s that we are in an era of overwhelming abundance. There are enough resources to meet everyone’s needs, without qualification or exception. This is a fact.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy task; the logistics of distributing resources are intense. Our economies might not be configured for the task – but that can be changed with less difficulty than we might imagine.

Many of our current political schisms seem to be premised in the notion that not everyone can be prosperous and not everyone deserves to prosper. But if the first notion is false – we have the abundance to provide basic necessities universally – why is there any need to determine who qualifies for help?

Abundance is everywhere. Everyone can prosper.

2 thoughts on “abundance is everywhere”

  1. I appreciated reading your thoughts on this.

    So I guess this is a psychology question more than a political question or an ideology question, but what happens when people have all their basic needs met, there really is abundance everywhere and people still don’t feel that they have enough. What then?

    This seems pretty relevant to the current national political conversation as I think I’m hearing many people disparage progressive politics on the basis of the fact that it would make their own situation more insecure. I’d be interested to hear your take on this.

  2. (I hope it’s okay – I fixed some formatting in your comment, I know WordPress stops you from editing, which is annoying)

    When we talk about “enough”, I think we have to start by recognizing how bad it is to be poor in America. There’s a minimum threshold for survival that many Americans are struggling to meet. There are over a million without homes. 48 million people are classified as “food insecure”. 40% of America has no health insurance – which we can safely assume means they’re not going to the doctor, dentist, or optometrist with any regularity.

    These are very explicit thresholds that aren’t being met. This minimum is crucial for individual well-being as well as social stability. Back in the global food price surges of 2007-8, as well as during the Arab Spring, there was a strong correlation between food prices and riots (Scientific American and The Economist had a lot of great articles about this). When survival is threatened, order breaks down, and that’s really bad for everybody.

    I believe that’s a major source of the demagoguery we’re seeing today. The panic over immigration is, at its core, about poor Americans watching their only remaining source of income wither away. The situation for impoverished Americans is on par with what we see in second-world and sometimes even third-world countries – so I think the comparison to the Middle East is apt.

    The goal can’t be to deliver happiness to everyone – that’s not a resource that we can distribute through legislation. No question – people will still be unfulfilled if we did manage to provide food, clothing, shelter, and medicine to everyone. Prisoners have all of these resources and no one really wants to be in jail.

    But that minimum threshold is the line between having the time and energy to build a better life, and survival mode – a constant state of stress, anxiety, and fear. To me, there’s just no question that we can meet all of these needs without anyone else suffering a loss in their quality of life.

Comments are closed.