Voting edges us closer to catastrophe

A guest post by Matt Greer


I’m going to start with an intentionally confronting statement then try to unpack it with an analogy. The statement: Placing a vote takes us one step closer to catastrophe.

Now for the analogy.

100 years ago a ship carrying thousands of people crashes onto a desert island. The island is lush with plenty of fruit, vegetables, animals, and natural resources. After a few days the people start exploring. They lay claim to parts of the island and develop it. Being humans, some are better at this than others. The successful ones build multiple dwellings and capture animals to produce food and clothes which they trade with others.

The more they can own and produce themselves, the more leverage and power they have to trade with others, and the more they can improve their own quality of life. Without realising it, all people, through necessity, are now unwittingly participating in this rabid self-interested pursuit of perpetually growing material wealth.

Early on, groups of successful people band together to create rules for governance. Unable to agree on the specifics, they hold elections and encourage everyone to vote. Party politics is born.

After a few decades their self-interested and growth-focused society is in full flight. The people are now spread across the whole island. The rich leverage their wealth to become more successful and the poor become more impoverished. Trees are razed, animals are captured, and agriculture becomes widespread. Most of the poor dedicate what little land they have to producing the staple food for everyone on the island. Things like fruit, vegetables, and animals which used to flourish abundantly across the island now only exist in the estates of the rich.

Due to their material wealth, the rich are able to invest their time into intellectual pursuits, creating sustainable new technologies which further improve the productivity of their own land. Most of them no longer need to work. Meanwhile, the poor are working longer and harder as their comparative productivity levels drop. They don’t have the time or energy to invest in luxuries like researching new technologies that could reduce workload and improve quality of life.

Due to their difficult circumstance, the poor turn to any pleasure they can. Sex is a popular one but without contraception it leads to lots of babies which only serve to deepen the plight of the poor. Also, with more people and more mouths to feed, more of the island is leached by the impoverished farmers with their ecologically destructive methods of cultivation. The stability of the entire social order begins to erode in a number of ways.

With growing inequality, the poor start to rebel. That leads the rich to build bigger fences around their sprawling estates. They also start developing weapons and soon realise they can use these to proactively nullify the troublesome poor. These troublesome poor come to be known as terrorists.

The rich also use their weapons as a deterrence against attack from other wealthy people. Before long, most wealthy people have bombs secretly buried under the houses of most other wealthy people as a pre-emptive measure.

Environmental issues are manifesting and they’re also affecting both ends of the wealth spectrum. Due to the extensive loss of natural vegetation, landslides are increasingly common. Some of these are now wiping out the rich families living in the lush valleys below. The widespread redevelopment of the island is also diminishing the nutrients in the soil and altering the climate.

New psychological problems are also affecting both rich and poor. The poor are becoming physically and mentally sick and the rich are developing anxiety, depression, and other psychological insecurities about their own achievements.

And finally, ecological problems are developing too. With everyone blindly trying to grow their own wealth and secure their future, farmers’ increasingly prioritise productivity over sustainability. As a result, animals suffer in torturous conditions and become disease ridden causing the food supply of the island to become cancerous.

A few more decades pass and all these problems amplify. More disenfranchised sub-groups form and resort to violence. With widespread primitive agriculture leaching the topsoil, much of the island is reduced to sludge. Coastal areas are eroding ever more quickly and breaking away into the ocean. The poor are having more babies and living conditions for the vast majority worsen by the day. Without doubt, the fundamental structure of their society is unsustainable.

Fortunately, they aren’t without alternatives. The technologies the rich have developed can enable a sustainable and largely automated abundance of resources for all people on the island. If these technologies are rolled out everywhere it would improve the lives of both the rich and poor who are both suffering under the existing approach. The new technologies could also make destructive farming practices redundant, prevent animal suffering, and allow the natural environment to regenerate. These are quantifiable possibilities to utilise technology and avert catastrophic collapse.

It would require them to ditch the self-interested and growth-focused approach though. Instead, they would have to become collectively-interested and well-being focused. Of course, this would require a long-term shift in vision and values and the transitionary period could well be tumultuous.

They couldn’t switch back and forth from it every 3 years though. As such, it never comes up within their existing political processes. Furthermore, those outside political institutions aren’t inclined to take responsibility for such matters. The farmer farms, the fisherman fishes, and once every 3 years they vote on the options presented to them.

Those options never deviate far from the status quo though. The Green party wants an extra 2% of land reserved for native bush. The Labour party wants everyone with more than 100 animals to give 1 animal to a poor person. And the National party thinks the rich should be duly rewarded for their hard work and shouldn’t have to prop up the poor.

Regardless of who they vote for, the same foundations exist. Their society is built on the fundamental premise that each person should try and get as much as possible for themselves to ensure a decent quality of life. This naturally leads to parasitic growth which, as a by-product, creates all manner of social, environmental, psychological, economic, and ecological issues. The broad underlying foundational structure of their society is not something they can vote on, but that broad underlying foundational structure is precisely the problem. Consequently, the problems are never resolved, regardless of who is voted in.

Without any malicious intent from either politicians or citizens, they continue collectively driving the same bus in the same direction, headed for the edge of the cliff. Everyone is so focused on prospering individually they’re oblivious to the fact they’re killing themselves collectively. Stop for a moment to consider the irony of this situation.

Party politics cannot be used to fundamentally change the social system. Voting for parties every 3 years serves to tinker within the basic framework of the existing social system. To provide an analogy within an analogy, it serves to change the colour of the house and give it some weather-proofing but doesn’t address the foundations or structure. If we vote for the best colours we can certainly extend the life of the house but if the floor is cracking and the walls are rotting there isn’t much point re-painting. You need to bowl the house and start again. The longer this gets delayed the greater the chance of the roof collapsing with everyone inside. Each cycle with high voter turnout is a collective confirmation to continue spending another 3 years in this proverbial house of cards. We don’t know when it will collapse but we do know it will collapse. It’s a dangerous experiment to undertake with our own lives at stake.

So what does this mean? Should we just abstain from voting and let everything fix itself? Of course not. The responsibility lies with us all to understand our situation and take action to change it. Voting is a cop-out and I suspect many of us do it sub-consciously. We’re passing the buck so when the shit hits the fan we’re not to blame. Research suggests most of us have a basic awareness of these foundational problems but we don’t have the courage to address them.

Only when the majority stop participating and actively promote genuine change will we be forced to re-tool and re-organise. Throughout history this is the only way it’s happened. Fundamental change never happens from within an existing system. New systems are always born out of the failure of existing ones. When we place a vote we give our stamp of approval for a self-interested and growth-focused system.

Every nation on the Earth for last 100 years – from the most capitalist to the most communist – have all had growth and self-interest as their primary building blocks. We know these ideological underpinnings are causing untold social paralysis and preventing us reaching our collective potential. They’re also destined to fail in the not too distant future. We don’t know exactly how or when they’ll fail and we don’t know exactly how to change them but we know that voting (in its current form) is antithetical to that cause.

61 Comments

  1. Alloytoo

     /  September 22, 2017

    Good environmental practices are the luxury of rich countries.

  2. Conspiratoor

     /  September 22, 2017

    Tolerance is the last virtue of a decadent society …Aristotle

  3. Corky

     /  September 22, 2017

    My eyes glazed over at this point:

    ”Rabid self-interested pursuit of perpetually growing material wealth.”

    Three thoughts assailed me: Am I having KFC on election night? This post was better suited to ‘The Standard’ And, this dude isn’t all bad. He has an understanding of why I wont be wasting my time voting for the first time in my life.

    On second thoughts, it will be Subways on election night. Given the government will probably be known by 7pm because of advanced votes counted. If Jacinda gets in I want something light for my digestion.

    • Blazer

       /  September 22, 2017

      try a …wafer.

    • I’m curious why your eyes glazed over? With the possible exception of the word rabid, I’d argue its a factual statement of the behaviour our global society encourages. Do you not think so?

      • Joe Bloggs

         /  September 23, 2017

        Nah, Corky just struggles with multi-syllabic words and bigly concepts 😜

      • Corky

         /  September 23, 2017

        Oh, it’s just that one side of the argument is always banged on about. As I mentioned before, everyone has to come to the table if we want a better society….not just the supposed powers that be. That means the Joe Bloggs of this world need to get of their arses and contribute. That way they climb to the moral high ground and can talk with conviction because they have actually done something apart from whining.👺

  4. David

     /  September 22, 2017

    So, you want everyone to be poorer then?

    • Corky

       /  September 22, 2017

      Not quite. He wants the filfy witch to stop their excellence and put community first. Notice little was said about the supposed poor and under trodden lifting their game and changing their modus operandi to contribute to this collective utopia

      • We need to stop thinking that all alternatives that sound better than what we have today are automatically utopia. There is now a mountain of research across many scientific disciplines that overwhelmingly suggests collective societies are not only possible, but far more appropriate for the needs, wants, and motivations of human beings

        • Corky

           /  September 22, 2017

          ”There is now a mountain of research across many scientific disciplines that overwhelmingly suggests collective societies are not only possible, but far more appropriate for the needs, wants, and motivations of human beings”

          Quite true, but we must all come to that evolutionary step voluntarly. No force must be used.

          • Agree 100%. I’m trying to encourage people to come to the realisation that we need to voluntarily advocate for this and make it happen democratically

        • David

           /  September 22, 2017

          “There is now a mountain of research across many scientific disciplines that overwhelmingly suggests collective societies are not only possible, but far more appropriate for the needs, wants, and motivations of human beings”

          I’m sure there is. It would be good to hear from these scientists as to why every time it;s actually tried in reality it turns into totalitarianism and mass murder?

          • Hi David. Good question. Three obvious reasons jump out. There are many more I’m sure..

            1. They didn’t realistically have the ability to achieve abundance. Back when most of these attempted, the internet (critical for modern logistics, openess, and fairness) didn’t even exist and most used unscientific methods to produce abundance.
            2. The vast majority of these were attempted by heavily poverty-stricken countries. They didn’t have the foundations to achieve it anyway
            3. They tried to transition to a fundamentally moneyless world using money. Communism, in theory, is a collectivist and open world without money where everyone works for each other. You can’t transition to an open and sharing world within a closed and selfish system. This naturally leads to dictatorship and fascism. However, to assume that transitioning to a system with similar ideals would always descend into fascism is to oversimplify and misunderstand the drivers and influences of social systems. It is naïve at best and malevolent at worst. Transitioning to a system like communism while still using money is analogous to driving a Formula 1 car with diesel. It doesn’t matter how well designed a given system is, with the wrong fuel it will always fail eventually.

            • David

               /  September 23, 2017

              I’ll let you found your money less society elsewhere thanks. Don’t be surprised if all you end up with is a lot of dead bodies.

      • Gezza

         /  September 22, 2017

        Just in. More thoughts from the Old Zen Yoda:

  5. Ray

     /  September 22, 2017

    Take a look at the list of the most equal counties, most you wouldn’t want to set step in, let alone live there.
    Cuba, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan,Iceland, Sweden and Ukraine rate better than us, note they are either dirt poor or taxed till they squeak!

  6. Gezza

     /  September 22, 2017

    Yeah, well, buddy, when you figure out exactly what the necessary complete change in how things needs to be so we can all suddenly stop voting, wait for your all-powerful benevolent dictator to suddenly decree it & impose paradise on everybody to avoid all the endless, inevitable bickering & arguments about what kind of paradise we want, get back to me. 👍🏼☘

    • It’s funny that so many people assume radical left societies can only play out as dictatorships, presumably on the basis that’s how they’ve unfolded in the past. This is an overly simplistic view of social systems.

      There are many approaches that we can describe exactly. These would be infinitely better than what we have today. The “exactly” part was referring to how we transition to it, i.e. how do we get people to take an interest in how their own species organises themselves, to learn of the many better ways, and demand it changes by withdrawing participation in the old broken approach and actively taking responsibility for something better.

      • Gezza

         /  September 22, 2017

        😳 🤔

        Who are you & what have you done with Matt Greer? 😠
        He better still be alive & kicking somewhere, buddy.

        The “exactly” part was referring to how we transition to it, i.e. how do we get people to take an interest in how their own species organises themselves, to learn of the many better ways, and demand it changes by withdrawing participation in the old broken approach and actively taking responsibility for something better

        Righto. 👍🏼
        We did all this with flowers & lsd & dope & electric guitars and bag-ins & Hell’s Angels providing security at Atlanta, 40 years ago. Stopped the Vietnam War. Got more blacks the vote & segregation the shove in Whitesville, SC, USA. Brought democracy & black corruption to Zimbabwe & South Africa. That’s about it really.

        What’s the plan? Internet forums? Twitter? Committees?

        • Haha! I don’t know the plan! But that’s ok. I do think the internet is a great enabler for this but it isn’t inherently good. Much like a hammer, what matters is how its used. As for how this is likely to unfold, here is a fascinating piece of research that looked at past human civilisations over the past 3000 years and examined the cycles they went through from their initial rise to their final fall: http://www.rexresearch.com/glubb/glubb-empire.pdf

          Our globalised US-led society today shows all the hallmarks of a civilisation in late stages of decline. Based on those historical lessons it’s hard to predict how this will fail and what will be born in its place. We can’t predict how the hive mind of society will evolve – will nationalism win out and will we shut ourselves in and put up fences? or will we embrace the sharing economy thats already booming? there are so many unknowns but personally I’d be very surprised if there aren’t another round of attempts at egalitarian societies at some point in the next 50 years. Hopefully this time we can attempt it with more maturity, democratically and technologically, with an engaged population.

          • Gezza

             /  September 22, 2017

            How are you getting on selling this idea in Riyadh, Tehran, Islamabad, Beijing, & Moscow?

            • Great point Gezza. I’m not suggesting it’s easy but just because something seems difficult does it mean we should just give up on it and continue on our way with such a harmful and self-destructive way of life? Surely we have a little more fire and ambition in our bellies. We’ve come this far as a species and even throughout recent history there is so much evidence of fundamental change on large scales. It appears to be an inevitability of our evolution.

            • Gezza

               /  September 23, 2017

              I know what you’re saying, pockets. Really I do. And I’m having a little fun with you, I don’t mean to be cruel.
              The reason I know what you’re saying is I was saying this 40 years ago. Lots of us were. And we meant it.

  7. High Flying Duck

     /  September 22, 2017

    So the answer is to stop doing the things that lead to technology and innovation, environmental improvement and wealth creation and transform to a system where innovators, risk takers and hard workers provide for all!
    That’s the missing link in all these socialist diatribes. They assume that when you change everything about the system that fosters such innovation and creation these things will magically continue, rather than withering away.
    Unfortunately reality tends to get in the way of these utopian ideals.

    • Gezza

       /  September 22, 2017

      Yup. It’s how we all get there that they come up short on. Wanking on about it is easy.

    • Blazer

       /  September 22, 2017

      once again it goes back to…where does ‘money’ come from.A topic studiously avoided by the neo liberals.

      • Gezza

         /  September 22, 2017

        You really need to elaborate for that comment to have much value. Fiat money’s wobbly I agree, so we’re running everything on credit – there’s more ephemeral digital money going around than tangible assets to back it. But what would be better?

      • High Flying Duck

         /  September 22, 2017

        Money isn’t actually the issue here Blazer – it is the incentive to strive for excellence.
        If effort and innovation leads to reward people are encouraged to go the extra mile.
        If no matter what you do personally everyone is treated the same, why bother trying to stand out?
        And just as important is the culling of failure. Without a proper market there is no mechanism for bad ideas to be filtered out.

        • Blazer

           /  September 22, 2017

          can you elaborate on a ‘proper market…thx.

        • High Flying Duck.. Yes money is the issue. See my post below detailing 128 pieces of research that disagree with your notion

    • A massive meta-analysis of 128 studies was conducted into the effect of money on our motivations. Money was shown to decrease motivation for activities where there was previously a non-monetary motivation. This applies to anyone doing something they’re passionate about – such as scientists, inventors, explorers, musicians, advanced technologists, and artists – the type of people who make our lives more enjoyable and drive progress forward. These people don’t do what they do for money and studies show when they get paid for it they enjoy it less. People do these things because they’re passionate about them, not because they get paid for them. Without a requirement to work its likely many more of us would engage in productive pursuits.

      Study attached: http://www.rug.nl/gmw/psychology/research/onderzoek_summerschool/firststep/content/papers/4.4.pdf

      • High Flying Duck

         /  September 22, 2017

        Top businesses are never motivated by money – that is correct. But the result of success is still that the most innovative businesses become the best resourced, so excellence can continually move to another level.

        • You’re right about enabling excellence to continually move to another level but what if all the most innovative businesses co-operated rather than competed? Consider a case study to understand how progress can accelerate far more quickly in a collective society:

          Today there are 115 corporations worldwide that manufacture mobile phones. Each has their own technical experts, scientists, engineers, programmers, and developers, all trying to figure out better ways to build the same item. If one of those experts makes a discovery it’s kept private. It’s their intellectual property used to provide a competitive advantage and increase profit. It may be years before the technical experts from the other 114 mobile phone manufacturers have each individually made the equivalent discovery. In this scenario we have hundreds of scientists, engineers, programmers, and developers, all trying to figure things out that – collectively as a species – we’ve already figured out. This is a terrible waste of precious intellectual and material resources that could be used to accelerate progress and improve quality of life for all.

        • Blazer

           /  September 22, 2017

          it is not correct.The biggest businesses in the world strive to return bigger returns to their shareholders.Growth,increasing profits…is the esscence of capitalist business.

          • High Flying Duck

             /  September 22, 2017

            People who get into business to make money generally will not diced. You need drive and passion. Money is the by product of a successful enterprise rather than the reason or aim.
            Fits business and success also requires competition.
            This is where collaboration falls down.
            There is definitely room for both. Many great breakthroughs have come from universities and public institutions. But competitive business relies on never ending improvement.
            Look at the advances in vehicle technology that come from F1 as a great example.

            • High Flying Duck

               /  September 22, 2017

              Diced = covfefe = succeed. Writing on a phone…

            • Blazer

               /  September 22, 2017

              people go into business to make money…they need it to pay the bills.period,ende,fin.

            • Gezza

               /  September 22, 2017

              Fits business and success also requires competition.
              I don’t get this bit? 😳

  8. PDB

     /  September 22, 2017

    Money is the only means of getting people to do the many shit jobs that are needed to run a fully functioning society.

    • Blazer

       /  September 22, 2017

      what are the people who don’t do the ‘shit jobs’ wanting as …recompense?

    • High Flying Duck

       /  September 22, 2017

      Money is simply a way to make barter or the trading of goods easier and more portable.
      Blazer is a little fixated on this, although to be fair given the number of financial instruments abound and how much business revolves around repackaging and shifting money as opposed to genuine tradable commodities I can understand it.
      But offering payment is the only way certain jobs would be done willingly. Using ‘Money’ as payment enables the recipient to choose the form of their reward for work a little better than 3 goats and a bushel of wheat would.

      • Blazer

         /  September 22, 2017

        you just stated the obvious.Here is an example the man in the street does not know…when someone obtains a mortgage,the issuing bank merely types the numbers into accounts…it is not a utilisation of deposits and a margin between interest charged and recieved that finances these instruments.

        • I see you both asserting that money is the only way to get people to do shit jobs. I think what you mean to say is its the only way you know of. There are other ways to do this with much fairer incentives. It’s not a one sentence answer but if you want to read the big picture of how shit jobs could be done without money you’re welcome to read a book I wrote recently titled Our Future Is Free. It’s on amazon.

          • phantom snowflake

             /  September 23, 2017

            What you didn’t mention was that Our Future Is Free is, appropriately, available as a free eBook.

  9. PDB

     /  September 22, 2017

    • Blazer

       /  September 22, 2017

      you did not ask a question.I see you cannot answer…mine.

      • PDB

         /  September 22, 2017

        You question was off on another tangent from what I commented about.

        • Blazer

           /  September 22, 2017

          sure…it..was. )~

          • PDB

             /  September 22, 2017

            With the amount of dribbling you do have you thought of trying out for the All Whites?

            • Blazer

               /  September 22, 2017

              The Black Sox might be more appropriate given the number of times I belt you ..outta the…park.

  10. Alan Wilkinson

     /  September 22, 2017

    Most people who lived on small islands stayed equal and very poor. Inventing money allowed people to specialize, become more efficient and make the community richer. Technological inventions together with cultural protection for private property created an endless chain of economic progress and opportunity. This is exactly what Matt wants to destroy without realizing it or the consequences.

    If he actually lived in poverty he would see the consequences. We see it here in SA. While a poor woman goes to work her neighbours break into her house and steal everything she has. Another man plants a pretty creeper on his fence and the local children destroy it. Nobody has gardens or fruit trees for the same reason. People hide the little money they have in their shoes or socks to try to avoid being robbed. This is what equality looks like.

    • Lindsay Lilburn

       /  September 22, 2017

      For God’s sake be more concise!

    • People specialised with barter.. inventing money didn’t enable specialisation. Technological inventions have driven progress and opportunity, you’re right, but this has only been shackled by money, not enabled. See my comment above about how technological progress would accelerate without it. And to address your other point, cultural protection for private property may well have helped to enable it initiallly, much like money did initially, but both of these things are now counter-productive to our survival given our collective technological capability today. We do still have a value deficit but technologically we don’t need ownership and on paper it is holding us back.