Peter Joseph, an American independent filmmaker and activist, discusses The Big Question: Environmental Misalignment and The Value War at TEDxOjai on February 29, 2012. Below is the full transcript.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Peter Joseph on The Big Question at TEDxOjai
The title of this presentation is, The Big Question: Environmental Misalignment and The Value War.
Human society today has two diametrically opposed systems of economy. One is our traditionally imposed mode of monetary-market economics, the other is a physical rule structure emerging from our growing scientific recognition of reality, both environmentally and sociologically. The consequence is an ever increasing level of social destabilization and an ongoing decline in public health.
I’ve divided this into two brief sections, the first part is called: System Clash: Market Efficiency vs. Technical Efficiency. The part two: Value Wars: Societal Potential, Collapse and Transition, what we are capable of doing, what’s in store for us if we don’t, how we can get out of this system, etcetera.
Before I begin part one — economy, what is economy? It’s defined in Greek as the management of a household, a definition that’s often lost. To economize, what does that mean? It means to increase efficiency. Keep that in mind. Reducing waste. That’s what an economy is supposed to be.
Defining my terms. We’re going to use two terms throughout this presentation. The first is a theoretical notion of an ‘Earth Economy’ which I will define as decisions made directly based upon scientific understandings as they relate to optimized habitat management and human health. Production and distribution is regulated by the most technically efficient and sustainable approaches known. Compared to our currently existing market economy, defined: “Decisions are based on independent human actions through the vehicle of monetary exchange, regulated by the pressures of supply and demand. Production and distribution is enabled by the buying and selling of labor and material provisions, with the motivations of a person or group, the self-interest, as the defining attribute of unfolding.”
This is a chart of seven economic attributes, many more, but this is what I want to focus on here. Basically they are intrinsic to each economy, in comparison. Obviously I’m focusing on the market economy and its relationship to a natural system, what we are calling the ‘Earth Economy’.
The only caveat here with these asterisks, are elements of sociological development based on scientific integrity, scientific ingenuity. The evolution of science and our knowledge of ourselves and of the environment. That will be talked about as we go along, as we touch upon each one of these.
First point: consumption. In a market economy the entire thing is based on consumption, the only reason that you are wearing clothes, the only reason you are eating, the only reason that you have a home is because someone, somewhere is buying a service or giving a service, exchanging money in some form and consuming. That’s what the system is.
What does the natural world have to say about that? What does an ‘Earth Economy’ have to say? Well, in all reason, the Earth is a finite closed system. Preservation, not consumption, should be the ethos. If you lived on an island with a small group of people and you had a finite amount of resources with a natural generation of growth, a very simplified society, would you decide to make an economic system that try to use that up as fast as possible? No, and I’m afraid the Earth is an isolated island in a vast cosmic sea, if you will, and it’s a lot smaller than we think.
Point two: obsolescence. The market system is driven explicitly by obsolescence. Two: Intrinsic obsolescence. Intrinsic obsolescence being the use of cost-efficiency, meaning that every good produced has to be inferior at the moment it’s made because the corporate institutions must save money at the very beginning of production to remain competitive against everyone else that’s competing.
Planned obsolescence, which is much more insidious, which is basically a form of fraud, even though it’s completely codified and formalized as a marketing tactic. Basically designs goods to break down under the assumption of repeat purchases and it’s truly amazing that this exists at all.
And what does nature have to say about this? Well, building upon what we’ve just stated, it’s environmentally irresponsible to design goods to fail or allow them to fail unnecessarily. That is basically offensive, we need optimum design, to have things last, survive.
Point three: property. The ownership metaphysic is a core premise allowing controlled restriction of resources and goods. They say metaphysic as property isn’t real. There is no such thing of ownership in the broad scheme, not either intellectual or physical goods. It’s all transient.
The idea of everyone owning one of everything, for example — does that make a lot of sense when we think about our natural economy? What about the use of goods? What about access? The natural environment demands access. Universal property is inefficient. Strategic access is more environmentally responsible as a model and more socially efficient. If you have a car that you drive, maybe 40% of the time, why not let the other 60% be used by somebody else? You create a system of access and use, that’s environmentally responsible.
Point four: growth. Building on the consumption once again. The market economy requires near constant growth to maintain employment. This ties in a little bit with the growth of our population as well, but you always hear about this, the government: “We have growth” and “we need more growth” and “GDP” or “lacking growth” and it’s basically just absurd. We need a steady state economy. The Earth is a finite system once again.
Earth demands a ‘balance load’ economy respecting dynamic equilibrium, where things come together and balance, not the necessity to exhaust just to say maintain labor.
Point five: competition. This inches into our new, sociological developments that aren’t talked about enough. Market system economy based upon personal and corporate competition in the open market, selling your labor, competing for market share. That’s a completely metaphysical notion, if you think about based on our early tribalistic form of scarcity and this notion that we can’t possibly get along or can’t possibly enough go around so we have to fight for everything and everything is out for themselves.
What we’ve come to find is that human collaboration actually is at the core of all invention, it’s called usufruct. And psychological studies now show long term distortion with the competitive view. The great amount of distortion, corruption, crime you see, all you hear, the headlines, white-collar, blue-collar, all come from this primitive notion of the competitive environment and nothing is held as sacred.
Point six: labor for income. Human survival is today contingent upon one’s ability to obtain employment and enable sales. That’s your right to life. You can’t get labor, you might as well die, because you don’t serve an economically efficient role.
What does this mean to our development in science and technology? Mechanization is incredible. The advent of automation is making human employment more scarce at a minimum and possibly obsolete entirely. Mechanization is also more productive and efficient than human labor which means it’s social irresponsible for us not to mechanize and enjoy the fruits of the abundance, ease and safety it can create.
Scarcity and Imbalance. Contrary to what most think, money and the movement of money that generates consumption economy, is explicitly based on imbalance and inefficiency, it’s really an inefficiency economy, an anti-economy. The poverty that you see, everything, and this imbalance that’s just not some by-product or a result of some greed institution or something like that. That’s inherent to the system. The system wouldn’t work if it was efficient and there was a balance in any element of human survival.
Why would we want that? Abundance. Equality. New sociological studies have found that equality is more positive to public health. If you compare United States, a highly stratified society with deep imbalance, to Norway and Sweden, that have much less levels of stratification, the public health in those less stratified societies blow us out of the water.
Why not work to create an abundance through all these mechanisms of efficiency that technology now enables to meet human needs? Reduce crime, all sorts of other, obvious sociological phenomena.
Spectrum of social disorder and there it is. You have a macro socioeconomic system, a macroeconomic element, that is basically, funneling out this distortion from childhood all the way through every level of sociological exhibition, if you will and everything you see is coming from this very sick distortion premise of economy. My interest, ultimately: relationship of macroeconomics to sociology.
Part two: Change. “Value Wars: Societal Potential, Collapse and Transition”– Over here are series of social problems that you would see in the newspapers periodically: poverty, unemployment, destabilization, debt collapse, pollution and waste, all of which are completely technically obsolete. None of them have to exist, at all. At minimum they could be reduced to a very core degree those that are a little more subjective. Removing the environmental and sociological inefficiency inherent to the market and simply applying modern, scientific understandings, resolves or greatly reduces all of these issues. That is our potential.
And since we don’t maximize that potential, unfortunately, because of this framework we’re in, we are faced with a unique form of collapse that many are not talking about enough. There’s three nails in the coffin as far as I am concerned. Unemployment: I’m sorry to say, based on the way things are going, you are not going to see percentage employment levels that you’ve ever seen in the past human population, it’s over.
Energy cost – only going to rise from here and now, within a hydrocarbon economy. There is absolutely no investment or true intention of the government or corporate institutions to move forward to any type of renewables that will replace the current, massive infrastructure we have created and far too much money will be made as the system fails, because of the scarcity of this thing.
Debt failure: Am I the only one laughing at the fact that there is this fictional notion of debt, that’s like dominoes knocking down countries one by one? Transition. Here is the value war. Of all the times I speak with people about these issues, they tend to understand it, but they have this value association that hold on to all artifacts of the prior system; it’s a value war.
How do we get from one to the other? What can we do to inspire change and create social reform? And that is the big question: what will you do? What kind of form, what kind of social awareness, what kind of role do you think you can play? Are you going to maximize your own self-interest or are you going to realize that your self-interest is only as good as the integrity of society as a whole? Where self-interest must become social interest for us to survive.
That is the new equation and that is the big question.
Thank you very much.