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prefer audio? ☝🏾 Here’s me reading it out for your listening pleasure…
One of the fascinating things about the peer-to-peer economy is that it has thrown up so many examples of the human-friendly version of almost every kind of job out there.
Take housekeeping, or in general the cleaning of human debris, dirt and waste remnants. A very human-friendly version of that work that now exists is perfectly exemplified by my friend Gigi, who works as a self employed cleaner in Berlin. Her client base is of a number that means she works about 5.5 hours a day across 2–3 homes, 5 days a week and takes home enough to support a comfortable middle class lifestyle.
Her work is arranged in such a way as to maximise the upsides and limit the downsides. A close friend is an accountant who handles all related affairs for mates rates, so there’s none of the usual fallout of not being institutionally employed e.g. credit rating etc. Her appointments are arranged in such a way that she had time to wake up and do her personal errands before she’s off, and they are spaced out so travel between is not hectic. She has a uniform she changes into on arrival and her own set of go-to tools selected from trial and testing over the years. She cleans with obsessive focus, leaning into to understanding the complexity available in the science of matter removal to keep things interesting, and also enjoying the inherent satisfaction in a job done to excellent standards. There’s more, but you get the gist.
Who would want to be a cleaner in Utopia?
Anyway this is interesting (to me), because often the go-to response when you ask people to imagine a world not mediated by capital; where everyone contributes to the shared labour required to provide all the stuff (items, products, information and experiences) that human beings need to thrive, they say: ah but wait! That could never work because someone would have to do the shit jobs and no one wants to do the shit jobs.
But pray tell, what makes these jobs shit? Inherent and immutable elements, or superficial debris that selfish people who lack imagination have dumped on top of it? From what we’re seeing today, it would seem the latter is correct.
So when someone asks who would clean the toilets in your egalitarian utopia? I find myself thinking: what the fuck do you know about being a cleaner in utopia? Because it seems to me like you’re just picturing a cleaner as we know it in this hellscape we call late stage capitalism in the 21st century — at most you’re maybe picturing them they’re wearing white carbon-y looking “futuristic” outfits.
But I’m telling you to stretch your imagination a little bit. Do better. Come on a journey with me because I say the cleaning in Utopia would be a dream job compared to anything available to us now.
Come imagine with me for a moment.
The Foundations of a labour-powered Utopic Society
First things first, remember that everyone who is born into the utopic society goes to school. Also note that instead of only select schools employing the sorts of teaching methodologies that we have figured out are the most compatible with the human brain and its learning tendencies, all schools do.
So from the beginning we’re stimulating all brains alive, feeding them information, helping them construct a picture of the world around. A world in which there are many pathways that one can go down in order to enjoy the intrinsically rewards of intellectual activity and worthwhile productivity — because in this utopic society, it’s understood and effectively taught that you’ve got to exercise your mind as well as your body, because energy use is what keeps the machine going, and makes life worth living for the conscious animal.
And so, this foundational learning period would comprise being encouraged along the wonderful world of physical sport and at the same time along the paradigm of intellectual play such that they unlock that universal human capacity for curiosity and desire for learning, and desire for opportunity to validate learning through challenge.
The people in this society grow up wanting to further and deeper understand the truths about their world; and wanting to be part of the society, to come of age and find their place — the first of many, or a lifelong perch — from which they can contribute to the grand project of human society.
In way reminiscent of many of us in our current society, these kids would be excited to get to grow up and find something fulfilling and interesting to do like their parents, and older siblings or cousins or neighbours etc.
Because absent traumatising contexts that warp the normal process of human development, that that is exactly how children behave. They desire to be part of the productive activity the see happening around them; or at least the beautiful version of it they imagine in their minds. Which if you’re paying attention, I’m saying is closer to how it should and could be, than the nonsense we’re presently doing. But more on that later
A Utopic Coming of Age
And so then what happens to these kids? They grow up learning as one is supposed to learn, having their curiosities continually piqued and satisfied; getting to understand the broad strokes of the point of human civilisation, the journey to reach the current stage, and the how the different fields of science and craft relate to each other and the project of human welbeing. Their minds expanding until they’re primed to start seeking opportunities to apply their learnings and contribute to society in ways they find genuinely rewarding.
Like us, they would have multiple levels of satisfaction for effort rendered: from innate intellectual and physical satisfaction to the respect of their peers, the pride of their parents, gratitude of their communities and wider culture.
Work in this society is seen as a continuation of their wonderful version of school. All jobs are arranged to be an opportunity to learn more about the subject matter on which that job is premised, as well as a chance to apply the learnings that they have already attained and enjoy the eureka moment of deeper understanding through doing, or the thrill of nailing something and seeing effort turn into a problem solved in the real world.
Jobs are also seen as an opportunity to form meaningful social bonds with co-workers. An inevitably diverse group of people, that have been raised to culturally understand each other, and to engage socially in ways that maximise likelihood of mutual enjoyment of each others company — and who would now enjoy something big in common, by virtue of all focusing on this subject matter on which the problem is premised.
In other words, work is arranged so that the thing they’re doing feels good to do in and of itself. Heck, they’d do it for free!
I guess they are already doing it for free…
But wait a minute, is it really? Because they’re raised to understand that their work directly contributes to maintaining the balance between labour in and value out that results in all the utopic things that make their society a utopia. Plus, they also get this massive bonus of being thanked and honoured in authentic, resonant ways for being part of the reason the world is a wonderful place to live in. We already know what it’s like to praise and honour people for contributions, our current society just does it unequally or nullifies the honour by giving it to people who are first and foremost demanding what they need to live healthily: i.e. fed, rested, balanced and able to provide these same elements for their loved ones.
Relatedly, it’s important to emphasise that there is no survival element to productivity in this society— they’re not being pursued toward work by the fear of material deprivation and/ or social punishment. All their needs and wants are accessible to them without the pointless mediator of money. Everything is available to everyone. They walk into a store of a particular kind of item or service and take what is needed or desired and just walk on out again.
For the slow ones, I’ll repeat again that the everything is able to exist and be available for taking because of the labour that has been equally and sustainably shared amongst everyone in the society.
There is no need to coerce anyone into playing their part; they are willing and motivated for the same reason we are willing and motivated when it come to: solving problems that annoy us (and we understand how to solve them), or figuring out puzzles that tickle our brain, or showing off our knowledge or skills, or generally doing things to earn the positive attention of our peers, or learning something new, or winning competitions, or collaborating with friends on little projects etc.
They “play their part” because all work has been organised and arranged into the format that is most satisfying/least displeasing to the human brain and body, and people are supported in selecting the arenas of work they are most interested in from the options available.
We could be them, you know? #couldbeusbutyouplaying.
Can we Please Please Please Just Try?
As an example: we have already figured out the interconnected mechanisms by which you could sustainably extract from the planet all the nutrients that all the human beings in the world would need in order to all be comfortably fed and nourished. And we already have the means and systems to distribute that efficiently.
So if you take all of the jobs that must exist to power that dual project of extraction and distribution of food (such that everyone on the planet is comfortably fed), there are plenty of people around to do it.
We have a theoretical balance right here between the energy required to result in a desired outcome and the energy required to power it. Alls we need is a to make the jobs into the good-and-satisfying-to-humans versions, as opposed to the horrible, weirdly punitive or boring versions.
Between the potential intrinsic rewards and the attachable extrinsic rewards, all jobs have a version that is, at minimum, perfectly acceptable to humans. So if you tally up all the work that must be done to power a utopia where everyone receives what humans being need to be happy, divide that into jobs, design those jobs to be most enjoyable, safe, interesting, challenging-but-not-too-challenging, social, praised, version possible, then divide those jobs around to those who have come of age in such a way that no one is doing enough work to become wearied by it, then all the work needed to power your utopia will be sustainably performed (and then you have your utopia).
And the “sustainably” bit is so important, because even if a thing is arranged to be it’s most intrinsic rewarding etc, there’s only so much a person can be expected to do before dopaminergic systems and stress response systems and all sorts of other things are thrown out of balance and you get chaos. In a way this is the second argument of the “we need money because we need a carrot and stick or you can’t get people doing what needs to be done” brigade. The idea that even if the jobs weren’t inherently shit, the nature of work is having to do it when you don’t want to, which in automatically repellent to humans, hence the need for a carrot and stick. But again, why are we assuming this is any different from all the other solvable problems? Just as we can arrange work to be as intriguing and rewarding as possible, we can also arrange it to come in human friendly doses.
If you took the actual quantum of work that must take place to sustain a system that effectively delivers the balanced needs and wants of humans, shorn of all the pointless bits that no one enjoys, and then intelligently applied technology to assist as far as possible… how much work is actually left — relative to the hands available to share?
I’d wager it’s considerably less than amount of labour we’re all doing now.
We are all the maximum busy we could be working right now, because productivity has in and of itself become fetishized thanks to propaganda of people who benefit from people working even when it’s literally pointless or adding no real value to lives of people in the world.
So if you remove all of those “pointless bits (that aren’t even fun to do, because fun is a point)”, and you trace the jobs that are naturally following on from the real needs of humans… you get the point.
And we should really get on with orchestrating this because society is just supposed to be an extender of humans capacities to give ourselves the good life. That’s what this whole project is about. There has now been millenia upon millenia of experimentation toward this aim, some good ideas and some awfully misguided ones litter the timeline and now we’re standing in the wasteland of everything that’s ever been theorised or invented in service of this grand ambition. So if everything is on the table, let’s select and keep the features that just makes sense, toss what doesn’t and edit or remix what needs improvement — then stick it all together.
And we all know, we have an intuitive sense for what good looks like here. It just makes sense that there should be a way for you to grow and learn when you come into the world. It just makes sense that there should be someone helping us take care of our bodies. It just makes sense that there should be people helping to take care of our minds. It just makes sense that there should be people at every stage of the development of nutrition and dispersal and distribution of that nutrition. It just makes sense. There should be those helping us eke out more learning from our history and our environment that might further our ability to meet the challenges of improving and sustaining utopia. And that there should be administrators that help things work efficiently.
Do you see what I mean? If we decided to pretend we had a blank page, and we were just trying to see how we could organize everything so that everybody would be having the best time. The type of society we would design is just a reconfiguration of the pieces already on the table. I’m saying that utopia is so proximal to where we’re standing, that it’s kind of mind-melting that we aren’t just reaching for it with everything we have. We’re literally just sort of wallowing in this this bizarre final bit before a world that actually makes sense.
By virtue of having come so late to the party, so much of the thinking and experimentation and evolution happened we got there. So we understand enough about the mind and body to know how to create the kind of environment that turns out the ideal kind of human being: the one that is capable of reason, is powered by joy and balanced reward seeking, the one that seeks to learn, that wants to do, that wants to love and be loved.
We are able to build it for absolutely everybody and we easily (relatively speaking) could if we wanted to. Resulting in a world where everybody is starting off internally fucking stable and able to play ball.
Then on top of that, we know how to educate people in this amazing way that delivers dense amounts of information. Such that people can end up understanding not just themselves and their local environment and their own personal history, but can catch up on everything that happened everywhere, and some of what might yet happen too.
From what happened just in their parent's lives to what happened at the beginning of time as humans can conceive of it. And the stories of past civilisations and the arc of how they tried to approach the grand project of society and how they fucked it up through mistakes and the limits of the knowledge and imagination.
We can bring all that into play; teach them how all the different human disciplines link up together, the relevance of linguistics to history to literature to physics and chemistry. And then from there, they could pick a pathway wherein they’d find the opportunity to work with other humans to apply those learnings, and use their productivity to contribute towards a system that sustainably meets the needs of all humans and allows us to coexist ideally with the planet around us.
That world is totally possible and in that world, there are no shit jobs because truly there are no shit jobs.
Human beings are completely malleable and everything that has this structure of trigger-effort-satisfaction can be enjoyed because that is the foundation of the dopaminergic cycle — our motivational engine. It just depends on how it’s arranged, queued and presented by the environment.
You gotta remove all the removable human-unfriendly elements of the job: disrespect, material deprivation, excess stress etc — all that debris that never should have been a part of any job in the first place. You gotta make sure it’s loaded up with all the human-friendly elements it can carry: the understanding that it matters, and why it matters, the learning opportunities, the challenges, the encouragement, the best in tooling and technology to support the work,
If you look at history in one way, I urge you to pick this one: that every society can be understood in terms of taking their best shot at the puzzle: If someone’s got to suffer, if there’s not enough to go around, if someone’s got to take the crappy job, if someone’s got to get the short straw, how do we decide who that is, and how do we make sure it’s them not us?
How do we figure out where the suffering goes and where the enjoyment goes? That’s the basis of all the versions of societal ideologies we’ve seen from the: I’m going to optimize for me and mine and everybody else can get fucked; to just turning a blind eye to those getting screwed because “well I don’t like to see it but it is the way the world someone’s got to get the raw end of the deal, and at least it’s not me…
But finally we’re wising up enough to ask: er does anyone have to suffer? We’re beginning to concede that it seems that there’s actually no basis in reality that necessitates this suffering. It seems like the things that people need in order to be enjoying life and not suffering are all things that can be sustainably yielded from the materials of this environment and the collective energy of organised humans.
So if we know all of this, and we have enough people for this work to be parcelled out in such a way that no one is overburdened by the efforts required by it, what are we doing?
Like the equation looks really solid, so can we get going? Can we just get started? Like aren’t people bored of being unhappy? Aren’t we tired of trying to justify the world we live in? Where at best, if you’re really lucky and willing to screw over lots of people, you end up with more of everything than you could ever need, no peace to enjoy much of it anyway, and tying your mind into knots to avoid thinking about how almost everyone else is suffering.
A better civilisation project; one where the productive labour our bodies and minds are wired to crave is plugged into a system aimed squarely at creating and delivering everything everyone on this planet needs to thrive. It’s right there for the taking.
The internal capacities that we need to be able to pull it off are inside us. The external environment that is renewably rich in all the things we could need is all around us. The pipelines of information and tools of coordination that mean that we can come together and engage in this grand project have already been built.
Like, Oh, my God, guys, what are we doing?