Working together… taking risks together.

Landing (Photo credit: Rhubarble)

44 years and one week ago, we worked together and landed on the moon. We invested massively as a society and we all took the risk that the mission may fail. Yet, we came out of it benefiting not only from the pride of such an amazing achievement, but also by the myriad technologies developed by the process to achieve said achievement. No money was made, no one became dirty rich over it, if it failed it would have ruined no one’s lives except the individual astronauts who were willing to take the risk for all of us and yet, we all gained in the long term.

We gave up short term gain by investing money, sweat, blood and tears on such a grand venture for all mankind.

We would have all gained from the investment in engineering and research regardless of the success of the mission, and a few heroes who went on that flying firework were the ones that took all the risk.

Business firms like Xerox invented  the PC as we know it (ethernet, GUI, etc.) They worked to create long-term value for their business, not simply to get short-term gain at all costs.

Wouldn’t that be nice if we could get over our religion of individualism and do the same today?

The ultra-individualism developing over the past decades has lead to short-term thinking, massive risk-taking and wholesale destruction of the social contract that kept all of us united and building a better world together. We excuse it because of the myth that anyone, without regards to luck, familial connections or access to capital can somehow become an individualistic God (read: billionaire) by simply working hard on that idea that changes everything.

Yes, some people have done that and helped the world – Steve JobsBill Gates, etc. However many, many more have not and what’s worse is many have discovered the best way to become a God in an individualistic secularist world is to cheat the system, find the loopholes where you can make money without adding value, where you can perform rent-seeking.

Firms like FedEx and UPS cut costs by providing terrible customer service because it saves them money in the short term, even though it could cost them customers in the long term. They rely on the barrier to entry of cost to get away with it, just as the wireless carriers in Canada regularly work to ensure that no real competitor exists against them so they can provide the worst quality server and most expensive data plans without fear of repercussions.

Many businesses have stopped trying to create value for society, instead trying to make competition difficult, if not impossible.

Our government systems have evolved from systems which work to improve the well being of all, into systems designed to maintain the status quo and only help those who are already successful – social darwinism by any other name.

We had a grand financial and economic experiment for the past 20 years. An experiment designed to take the wealth of the richest people and increase it without adding any significant value to the economy, all without risk – rent-seeking on a grand scale. These investments were nothing like the risky investments by the rich English bankers in the days of exploration – investments to build boats to bring the riches of the orient back to Europe or investments into building railways to connect millions and allow factories to be built. These investments were designed to be risk-free money producing money without any consideration for the production of value for society as a whole.

This whole house of cards collapsed in 2008.

Trillions of dollars were wiped from the account books in an instant and most Americans, heck most people worldwide had no say in this risk-taking, so their hands should have been clean when it failed. Those who taken the risk should bear the brunt of that gamble failing.

Yet, they haven’t.

In fact, those who did the risk-taking, those who gambled and lost have come out better than before from this. The economy has already recovere for them. Yet the contractors who build their houses, the factory labourers who build their goods, their software programmers who program their software, the doctors and nurses who take care of them, the teachers who taught them, the workers who pave their roads, even the barristas who makes their coffee are all still paying for their failure, and worse the government – our government – has made it clear that they aren’t going to even try to get any of the money back from them. The true failures of the experiment suffered nothing (or barely) while we, the labourers and the creators, suffer the most to save them from becoming failures.

We suffer in order to save these people from becoming fallen Gods, even though that’s what they already are. We are all sacrifices at the alter of individualism.

We went over 40 years from a world where the heroes brought back pieces of the stars to us, to a world where we all have to sacrifice to the fallen Gods of our individualistic religion, even if it costs us our soul as a united society.

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The propaganda of the individualistic ideology or why we need to rebuild our communities.

Social-network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The buzzword these days is “networking.”

We all, apparently, are not making billions of dollars because we don’t network enough. In western society, we live our entire childhood lives and, for many, most of the early years of adulthood being told that we need to be independent. We are all told that we need to stand out as individuals. It is driven into us that the only way we can find any self-worth is by earning that worth by ourselves.

In the end we are told the world only moves by ultra-individualistic people.

We are starting to realize how wrong that is, how much we need community to build things. The class though that gains most from having us all stand divided has found a way around our natural urge to build community, “networking.” It is a roundabout way to say, “we need to have community without having community.”

From what I can tell, this became quite prominent as a counter to the communist Russians around the late 1960s, coming to full strength around the Ronald Reagan years of the 80s. Many western countries went from viewing their efforts towards building a common good by building value to trying to find the individualistic “cheat code” to the market that allows them to live high on rent-seeking – Not producing value, just collecting money. What’s sad is I feel that now we have 2-3 generations of people who believe the propaganda so much to think this is cardinal truth, this is how the “world works.”

I must admit, it’s a very appealing ideology. I can take full ownership over all of my successes and failures which I am able to learn from, and blame others when the failure is based on pure random chance or the fact that I cannot find/convince others to help me. It also helps my id immensely because I can legitimately act like a 3 year old over self-centric things, such as “why do I need to give Jenny or Tommy anything? They’re poor because they’re lazy, or why do I have to pay for the roads I drive on, they are already there. ” Instead of ever having to be an adult and realize that we are all interconnected and, in general, when Jenny or Tommy does better, so do I. Even if it costs me a little in the short term.

If you want proof that this is ideology and not human nature, you only need to look at the myriad cross-cultural studies around morality and ethics in children.

For example, an experiment was performed with children from China and Canada, Toronto to be specific, and in it a child was taken into a room and told they would be getting some form of test. The room was a mess, and the child was encouraged to help clean it. In China, the child needed no encouragement, they saw the room was dirty and immediately cleaned it. In Canada, the child needed to be prodded repeatedly to do anything. Afterwards the “teacher” comes in and notices the room is so clean, and asks the child who did it. In China, the child lies to maintain humility and says they don’t know. In Canada, the child tries to take full ownership of it, even though they were prodded strongly to do it.

Another study by NIH explains this phenomena clearly. The individualist ideology is not the default, nor likely the best, ideology for humans, no matter how much we have been taught this.

The extreme individualist is a nice propaganda piece, but it is a difficult way to build anything of consequence.  For example, how do you think we made it to the moon? JFK wasn’t even alive for 80%+ of the program. He didn’t make the speech and then go and build the Apollo program with his bare hands before he was shot and then it took a decade for people to figure out what he built. He reminded us we are all part of a community and that we need to work together to accomplish great and sometimes difficult things.

Somehow, we need to rebuild our communities if we are to build anything more lasting than tikky-tacky buildings or in Toronto’s case, giant, leaky glass buildings.To build something that we can all be proud of, we need to have a community for this. 

Note, we may accomplish things along this individualist trajectory, but we are taking the most difficult route to accomplishing things when we have every single person in the room insist on their personal interests as being the most important. All you ever get in those circumstances is prisoner’s dilemmas. To address the major and important problems that are affecting all of us now, we need to drop the individualist religion, and start to work together towards real solutions.

Look at Washington right now, the optimum is obviously not to continue playing the chicken game with the entire country’s economy, but rather to have a collaborative effort to solve these problems realistically. Yet, in the game of the prisoner’s dilemma, if your partner is defecting, then you need to defect too; that’s the Nash equilibrium, the natural place where any change makes you lose even more.

Now, it seems fairly clear we need to do this, how can we start to rebuild this community?

I will discuss my ideas in a later blog post, but they aren’t easy and could take a few generations to accomplish.

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