Article — December 30, 2016 — home, trust
Do you have too little time or not enough money? There’s a reason for that, and if you understand it, you can change it. Not only for yourself, but for everyone around you.
Let’s think about ownership.When I say “ownership”, I mainly mean psychological ownership, not necessarily legal ownership. When we say things like “I don’t have enough”, whether it be time or money or anything else, we’re talking about ownership. I want to start with time, because that’s the hardest to wrap your mind around. If you can understand ownership of time, it’s easy to generalize to other things.
Naively, IThis is the general “I” speaking. Hello! I am not necessarily the author! I might be anyone. I might even be you! assume I own my time. I have 24 hours per day. Is this true? Logically, yes. Does it feel true? Almost certainly not.
Maybe I work for a living. If I work 5 days per week, then I might feel 5/7 of my time doesn’t really belong to me; I’m selling it to someone else, in exchange for money, which I need to live. If I’m forced to sell my time, for food and shelter, can I really say I own it to begin with?
Maybe I would have more time if I were a business owner? But, even a cursory glance at the evidence throws this idea out the window. Who feels more time pressure: the entrepreneur, or the employee? Who experiences more freedom of choice? Usually, for the CEO, there is no weekend. There’s only the opportunity to answer some of those emails and have some of those meetings that you didn’t have the time to get to, earlier in the week.
Parents of young children have even less time, and today the most extreme case is quite ordinary: to be a single parent, with several young kids, working more than one job. How much time do you have, then?
This is a problem for everyone alive today, I think. With very few exceptions,Hello! I’m the author! I am an exception! Please listen to me, because I have unusual knowledge and experiences that I want to share! no matter who you are or where you’re from, you lack the time to live how you would really want to live. But there’s no law of reality saying it has to be like that. This is a solvable problem.
The key is common ownership. Once upon a time, this was the only kind of ownership. The concept of private ownership came much later, presumably some time in the last twelve millennia.Almost all bad ideas were had after the neolithic revolution. Which makes sense; almost all ideas were had after the neolithic revolution. Private ownership is just the same thing as common ownership, with one rule added: that which belongs to me cannot also belong to you.
This one single ruleTo be exact, it’s a preconception. I call it a rule in light of the fact that a culture is a kind of game, and to make it more obvious that the rules can be changed. is enough to make life competitive – peace becomes impossible, and war is inevitable. I want to make it clear how absurd this rule is, and how recently it became a background assumption in the global culture.The history of property rights is long, and rife with violence and rules-lawyering. By the time the Code of Ur-Nammu was written, it was already a well-established idea in the collective consciousness that one could own things, land, and people. The Code of Ur-Nammu is really shitty, by the way. Don’t use those laws. They’re bad!
In the 17th century, in the midst of a civil war in England, a guy wrote a thing. The guy was called Richard Overton, and the thing was called “An arrow against all tyrants”.
In it, he wrote:
To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any. For every one, as he is himself, so he has a self-propriety, else could he not be himself; and of this no second may presume to deprive any of without manifest violation and affront to the very principles of nature and of the rules of equity and justice between man and man. Mine and thine cannot be, except this be.Translation: there can be no ownership except exclusive (private) ownership. No man has power over my rights and liberties, and I over no man’s. I may be but an individual, enjoy my self and my self-propriety and may right myself no more than my self, or presume any further; if I do, I am an encroacher and an invader upon another man’s right – to which I have no right.
Overton was one leader of a group called the Levellers. The dreaded arch-nemesis of the Levellers, the Diggers, had very different ideas about property.They shared a similar enthusiasm for writing pamphlets, though. I suspect this has to do with some combination of feeling oppressed and being English.
In a declaration with a long title, they wrote:
We whose names are subscribed, do in the name of all the poor oppressed people in England, declare unto you, that call your selves lords of Manors, and Lords of the Land, That in regard the King of Righteousness, our Maker, hath inlightened our hearts so far, as to see, That the earth was not made purposely for you, to be Lords of it, and we to be your Slaves, Servants, and Beggers; but it was made to be a commonThere’s our key word. Livelihood to all, without respect of persons: And that your buying and selling of Land, and the Fruits of it, one to another, is The cursed thing, and was brought in by War; which hath, and still does establish murder, and theft, In the hands of some branches of Mankinde over others, which is the greatest outward burden, and unrighteous power, that the Creation groans under: For the power of inclosing Land, and owning Propriety, was brought into the Creation by your Ancestors by the Sword; which first did murther their fellow Creatures, Men, and after plunder or steal away their Land, and left this Land successively to you, their Children.Yes, that was all one sentence.
These two groups, under various names, have been butting heads for centuries. You might recognize them in the political history of wherever you’re from. Their value systems are very nearly indistinguishable, except that one prioritizesAs a general rule, everyone wants all good things, and agrees about which things are good. We just disagree about the relative importance of all these different good things. In my experience this seems not to be because our values are fundamentally impossible to reconcile, but rather because we each have partial information. People who understand politics think political change is the most important, and people who understand ecology think differently. autonomy over community, and the other prioritizes community over autonomy.
Today we have a global culture that leans, rather heavily, toward autonomy and away from community. That means we as individuals are unconsciously gaining quite amazing skills and knowledge in the area of autonomy, thanks to thousands and thousands of years of people like the Levellers figuring out how to live independently. This is great, and it’s appropriate to show gratitude for it.As opposed to, say, complaining about how poor and oppressed you are, while enjoying a quality of life that would make your ancestors justifiably call you a god.
Meanwhile, there have also been people figuring out how to live together, not only for thousands of years, but millions of years. We were communal animals for almost our whole existence as a species,Anatomically modern humans first appeared about 200 thousand years ago. We were living in community for a long, long time before that. yet almost none of that is represented in the dominant cultures today. Very few people are even aware that this massive store of accumulated wisdom exists. Sometimes someone rediscovers a page or two from the ancient lore, which is generally enough to kick off the formation of yet another group of people like the Diggers. Usually they only learn enough to recognize the world-shaking importance and desperate urgency of regaining what we forgot,Leading them to write many pamphlets and the like. and not enough to make a meaningful demonstration of the actual value of doing so. This reinforces the perception that people like the Diggers are crazy idealists, and only people like the Levellers are in touch with, to use Overton’s term, “the principles of nature”.Hence the saint-like position of Charles Darwin in the same philosophical lineage as Ayn Rand.
In reality, the old ways are eminently practical, just like every other thing that evolved over millions of years. Now we come back to the original question: what’s the solution to the nearly universal issues of too-little-time and not-enough-money? Take a moment to imagine yourself in a typical hunter-gatherer society. Do you have more time, or less?
When I ask people this question in person, they usually say “less”. It’s the same with subsistence agriculture; everyone seems to think it’s back-breakingly difficult to live off the land, including most of the people who actually do it. I’m mainly interested in the exceptions.
In 1964, a scientistTranslation: maniac. by the name of Richard B. Lee spent a month obsessively counting all the hours of work done in one camp of a contemporary hunter-gatherer society.Lee’s observations were used in an argument by Marshall Sahlins that hunter-gatherer cultures were the original affluent society. The figure he came up with is a two or three day work week, adding up to 23.4 hours of work in total.He also counted an additional 18.9 hours of “housework” per week, meaning cracking nuts, making fire, cleaning, and so on. This was going on every day, not just working days. Housework isn’t usually counted as work, when we talk about hours per day or days per week in industrial societies, as Lee himself points out, so I’m not counting it here either. If you want to check the data yourself, you can read the book. This is all beside the point, though.
Jon Jandai, of Pun Pun, gave my favorite TEDx Talk of all time. In that talk, he said:
I thought about when I was a kid. Nobody worked eight hours per day. Everybody worked two months a year. Plant rice one month, and harvest the rice another month! The rest is free time. Ten months of free time.
Why is it that people in cultures with so much less time-saving technology seem to have so much more time?
The only way to solve this puzzleOkay, so there are other ways. Sahlins solved it by claiming that hunter-gatherers are less greedy than other people. He calls it “the Zen road to affluence”. I find this answer intellectually sneaky. A good rule of thumb is: if you think you’ve found the truth, and it doesn’t require you to pave a new road into an unknown future, you should keep looking. is to recognize the flaw in thinking we each have 24 hours per day to begin with. How often do people complain that 24 hours isn’t enough? What if they’re simply being realistic?
Contemporary post-industrial societies are much more efficient with their time, but they have less time to begin with, compared with their pre-industrial counterparts. You can measure that very concretely, as Lee did, but you can’t replicate it in your own life just by mimicking the lifestyle. You’ll only discover that life really is harder without a laundry machine.
To gain time beyond 24 hours per day, you first need to recognize that there is more time. It just isn’t yours. It belongs to other people.
If you have the worldview of Richard Overton, that’s the end of the story; all that remains is to be happy with what you have. The alternative is to ask: how can I get some of your time?
If ownership is exclusive – if what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours, and ne’er the twain shall meet – then all answers to this question are loathsome. Coercion at best; outright slavery, at worst.“To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any.” This part is exactly right. However, if one acknowledges that ownership can be inclusive – that mine and yours can also be ours – the door opens to a world where everyone can have everything.
Common ownership is not an idea most people understand, today.Most of us think we do. We don’t! It’s very simple, but it’s completely alien to the logic that most of the world operates on. Staying with the example of time: suppose that you and I form a cooperative. We each dedicate one day per week to be used for whatever we commonly decideI usually think about sociocracy, when I think about common decision-making, but you don’t actually need a new-fangled hundred-year-old concept. Common decisions are the norm, in hunter-gatherer cultures. Everyone, in every culture, has made a decision together with others. It’s very easy and ordinary; it doesn’t require a formal system, although a formal system can make it more fun, and more conscious. to use it for.
In the logic of exclusive ownership, we would then say: we each have 6 days, and the cooperative has 2 days, per week. The fact that we need to invent an imaginary person called “the cooperative” should be a hint that this is an unnatural way to think about things. If we delete the exclusivity rule, we can say it more simply: we each have 8 days per week.
At this point, some will object: “I don’t really own the other 2 days, because I can’t do whatever I want with them. I have to get permission from someone else”. Whenever I hear this objection, I have to struggle to take it seriously. I know it makes perfect sense, in the mind of the person who says it, but to me it shows a staggering lack of consciousness about social reality.
Usually we want the same things, and, not only that, we want each other to get what we want. It isn’t more difficult to do “whatever you want” with your time, when you give other people a say in how you use it. In fact, it becomes quite a lot easier.I can say this from experience. Tamera isn’t the best model of common decision-making, but it’s much better than living alone in a studio apartment.
Imagine a cooperative of 30 people,This was the average in the camp Lee observed, over a month. 20 adults, 10 children. It varied from 23 to 40, as visitors came and went. contributing not just one day per week, but all seven.To spare you the math: we’d each have 210 days per week, or 720 hours per day. That’s probably enough. That means, one way or another, none of us makes private decisions anymore. We’re all involved in deciding what we do.
This is something like how we lived for a couple hundred thousand years. Hunter-gatherers spend a lot of time doing highly impractical things: making art, visiting friends, and so on. If you’ve ever asked your closest friends how you ought to spend your time, you know the reason why. We want each other to be happy.
If this seems too easy, remember: cooperation requires intelligence. Coordinating a group of ten people is much more than ten times as complexIf you have a background in physics: a group has more degrees of freedom than its constituent members would, taken separately, just like a molecule has more degrees of freedom than its constituent atoms. as planning a single individual’s life. We can’t just band together with everyone in the world and immediately have billions of hours per day at our disposal. That would mean each and every one of us taking the opinions of everyone else into account, before we act. If you’ve had any experience with trying to reach a common agreement in a large group, you know it isn’t trivial.This is a hilariously egregious understatement.
It can seem as if building up a cooperative culture isn’t worth it. It takes a lot of thought, and a lot of care. It’s expensive. That shouldn’t be surprising: there is no upper limit to how much we can gain, this way. The potential benefit is infinite, so the work that can go into it is also infinite. It’s wise to look for the best tradeoffs, but, in the end, to keep growing without stepping on each others’ toes, we need to learn to share.
There are more than seven billion of us alive today. What if we shared just a little bit of our time, to do something we all want?