In today’s modern societies, social insurances do not work any longer as they are simple too costly, i.e. inefficient. This new system is intended to solve that.

The basic idea is to no longer have the whole society as the solidarity community, but a subgroup of people who made contributions of their time, some money, and adhere to certain standards of healthy living, and, above all, are trustworthy not to exploit the system ever.

Public nursing care insurance and pension insurance will be replaced by an intentional community, somewhere abroad where there is a nice climate and low official regulations, so that such an alternative solution is feasible. Everybody who served a certain time (approx. 3 years) in that community has, then, the life-long right to come there again and be cared for, in case of pension (>67) and nursing care. It is not possible to pay others for serving in place of oneself, as this would result in the state getting ~50% of that money as tax, lowering the efficiency of that system dramatically. Every member of that community, whether in service or living there during pension / nursing care, has to contribute his work to the community as is reasonably possible, e.g. by helping in the kitchen etc.. This is e.g. impossible in Germany now for accident insurance problems, lowering the efficiency of the system.

Public unemployment insurance is also replaced by that community. Whenever you get unemployed, the community pays for you to come to it (probably abroad). You will then live in a nice condition, contributing your work and receiving food and shelter, and help to find a job again if you like.

Public health care insurance is replaced by a clinic, run by the community, using the same servicing scheme to acquire the life-long right for healthcare. In addition, a small fee has to be paid (~ 50 EUR a month) which will pay for all insured members for: drugs, visits to a local physician (before coming abroad to the clinic if necessary), etc..

To increase the efficiency of this health system, all insured people get, during their service period at the clinic, a 6 month full-time course in medicine, nutrition etc.. This will enable them to live healthy, diagnose and cure small diseases themselves, and prevent harm. They also get literature and medical equipment home, and concise updates on new research results and developments. Also, all insured people agree to certain standards of healthy living, including to forbear smoking, excessive alcohol use, to do sports, do prohibit obesity etc..

So basically, the community is a place to go to in every calamity of life, whenever you do not know how to get out of something on your own. The really nice optimum would be if the community is so well organized that it can offer: everybody may come at every time, and stay as long as he wants (as long as he contributes his work in exchange for meals and shelter). The organization would probably have to be done by an IT system, able to cope with perhaps millions of members at times.

This time I’m writing in German, as by chance, I wrote the idea in German when it came to my mind today. It’s the further development of the »Multiplying Power Community« idea into a model for a society, with jump-start-ability. Contact me if you need the contents in English.

Bzgl. der Grundversorgung autarke Communities als Gesellschaftsmodell: sie sind bzgl. Import und Export abgeschottet. Dieses Konzept ist kein Freihandel. Benötigt wir also ein anderer Motivator als der Gewinn über den Verkaufspreis, um Effizienz zu gewährleisten. Idee: Autarkie ist nur bzgl. der Grundversorgung gefordert (Nahrung, Hausbau, Medizin usw. in Eigenleistung), denn das gewährleistet Überlebensfähigkeit in Krisen. Für den Komfortlevel (der Bedürfnispyramide) dagegen gilt Freihandel, und jede Community tritt als eine Firma oder ein Dienstleister auf. Das ist auch notwendig, weil High-Tech nicht autark hergestellt werden kann.

Außerdem: es sollte staatliche Programme zur Gründung solcher Communities geben. Diese sollen auch als funktionierende soziale Systeme aufgebaut sein und etwa 500 Menschen umfassen (Kibbuz-Größe). Eine kleine Power Community (10 Personen) organisiert die Ausreise- und Aufbauphase (1-2 Jahre in jeder Community). Durch solche Maßnahmen können Staaten das Slum- und Hungerproblem in Städten lösen. Denn Menschen ziehen nicht vom Land weg, weil Nahrungsversorgung prinzipiell unmöglich wäre, sondern weil es kein System gibt, das effiziente Nahrungsmittelproduktion gewährleistet. Die Communities aber sind solch ein System (inkl. Transportmitteln, Verkehrswegen, Landbesitz, Produktionsstätten, …). Mitglieder der Communities wären durch Vertrag für je 5 Jahre gebunden, so dass Auflösung durch simplen Personalmangel oder Fachpersonalmangel erschwert wird. Communties sollen auch Behinderte, Waisen und instabile Personen integrieren, anteilig entspr. deren Anteil an der Gesamtbevölkerung.

In diesem System besteht also die Marktwirtschaft weiter, aber zwischen größeren Einheiten (den Communities), nicht zwischen Individuen. Das ist ein Vorteil, denn diese Einheiten können sich in Krisenzeiten selbst versorgen, im Gegensatz zu Communities.

Gewinnmaximierung ist nicht mehr das Ziel der Einzelnen (auf Kosten der Gemeinschaft), sondern das Ziel der Gemeinschaften (der Communities), i.S.v. Wohlstandsmaximierung. Die Communties müssen klein genug bleiben, damit jeder den Effekt seines eigenen Beitrags zum Wohlstand aller auch persönlich spüren kann (also evtl. auch nur 50-100 Personen). Beteiligung am erwirtschafteten Gewinn und an Gewinnsteigerungen geschieht, indem die Community jedem eine durch die Autarkie garantierte Grundversorgung bereitstellt, und darüber hinaus die Einnahmen der Community gleichmäßig an alle verteilt werden.

Communities wissen, welches Fachpersonal sie benötigen, und machen Ausschreibungen dafür (zuerst intern unter den Heranwachsenden / Mitgliedern ohne Ausbildung, danach extern). Benötigt wird Fachpersonal für die Community-eigene Firma, und Fachpersonal für die Autarkie. Letzteres ist, für eine Community von 500 Personen: zwei Ärzte (Redundanz gefordert!; ein Arzt gleichzeitig Zahnarzt) , eine Hebamme, ein Pysiotherapeut (m/w), ein Tierarzt, zwei Mechatroniker, fünf Handwerker (Kombinationsberuf aus Elektriker / Zimmermann / Maurer / Lackierer usw.), zwei Kfz-Mechaniker, ein Psychologe (Seelsorger), zwei Bäcker, zwei Fleischer, … .

Jede Community darf auch eine »Style-Guideline« haben, so dass sich Individuen eine Community aussuchen können die ihrem Lebensgefühl entspricht (Hippy, Rocker, Familienmenschen, …).

Mitgliedertausch zwischen Communities und zwischen Community und Restgesellschaft ist zulässig, wenn dadurch die Stabilität der Community erhalten bleibt.

Lebensmittel aus der Autarkie-Versorgung werden in Rationen verteilt, um zu gewährleisten dass sie auch aufgebraucht werden. Zusätzlich können sich die Mitglieder Luxus-Lebensmittel (Gewürze, Süßkram usw.) von ihrem Geldeinkommen leisten, hergestellt von den Komfortlevel-Firmen der eigenen oder anderer Communities.

Eine Community sollte anstreben, nicht mehr als 20% ihrer Ressourcen für Autarkie-Versorgung zu verwenden (in Industrienationen derzeit: 3% Beschäftigte im primären Sektor). Es bleiben 80% Ressourcen, die prinzipiell kostenfrei eingesetzt werden können. In Normalzeiten zur Wohlstandserhöhung gegen Geld als Gegenleistung von anderen Communties und der Restgesellschaft. In Krisenzeiten, wo niemand mehr die Komfortlevel-Produkte kauft, kostenfrei zur Krisenreduktion.

Es kann auch Spezial-Communities geben: mobile Communities, oder Charity-Communities (die ihre 80% freien Ressourcen kostenfrei einsetzen).

Besonders interessant am Community-Ansatz ist: perspektiv- und hoffnungslose Menschen können wieder Perspektive und Hoffnung erhalten. Was oft das Grundproblem ist. Auch erfordert die Gründung einer Community nich viel: eine Power Community zur Begleitung des Spin-off (inkl. Ausbildung), Land, etwas Kapital, und Nothilfe-Backup durch einen Staat oder einen Zusammenschluss anderer Communities für den Fall, dass in der Gründungsphase durch noch fehlende Autarkie externe Hilfe benötigt wird. Diese externe Hilfe kann aber später zurückgezahlt werden. Die Gründung solcher Communities inkl. Kauf des Landes, Verhandlung mit staatlichen Organisationen und Entwicklungshilfe-Organisationen kann von einer einzigen kleinen Power Community (10 Mitglieder) bewerkstelligt werden. Diese kann alle 2-5 Jahre eine neue Community gründen, und steht bereits gegründeten Communities nur beratend zur Seite. Eine Power Community braucht hochintelligente, hochspezialisierte Mitglieder, deren Lebensaufgabe die Gründung von Communities ist (etwas finanielle Gegenleistung ist natürlich möglich, sobald Communities Gewinn bringen).

Das hier vorgeschlagene System eignet sich sowohl als Gesellschaftsordnung, als auch zur Bekämpfung der Arbeitslosigkeit: Arbeitslosigkeit ist nicht das Problem, sondern Erwerbslosigkeit (fehlende Möglichkeit zur Sebstversorgung). Das aber kann in einer Community nicht auftreten, durch das Autarkie-Konzept. Arbeitslosigkeit bedeutet in einer autarken Community dann bloß 80% Freizeit und einen geringeren Lebensstandard. Das ist kein gesamtgesellschaftliches Problem. Und die Community ist in der Lage, die 80% sinnvoll zu investieren, wenn auch nicht so effizient wie bei der Produktion in der eigenen Komfortlevel-Firma. Möglichkeiten sind z.B. Beiträge zur lokalen Infrastruktur, Teil-Autarkie im Komfortlevel (würde in Zeiten eines funktionierenden Wirtschaftssystems, d.h. ohne Arbeitslosigkeit, als zu ineffizient gelten) usw..

Einer der Fehler der modernen Zivilisationen ist, Spezialisierung so weit zu treiben, dass Individuen nicht mehr in der Lage sind, sich selbst zu versorgen. Die Communities sind die Gegenbewegung, und sie sind wettbewerbstauglich. Sie gewährleisten Selbstversorgung, bieten aber auch (in den Komfortlevel-Firmen) die Spezialisierung, die für industrielle Produktion notwendig ist.

Wenn es eine Arbeitsplatz-Standaridierung zwischen Communites gibt, kann es auch einen »Community-Mitgliedsplatz-Markt« geben: Communities werben um neue Mitglieder (wenn denn welche fehlen), haben also die Motivation, attraktiv zu sein.

Wichtige Beobachtung: die interne Strukturierung der Communities und deren übergeordnete Strukturierung (z.B. Verbände, Unternehmerverbände, Staaten, …) ist beliebig. Wichtig ist bloß, dass es die Community als »Pflanze« (viell. auch »Zelle«), d.h. als selbständig lebensfähigen Organismus, gibt. Das bedeutet, dass keine Community sich in Abhängigkeiten begeben wird und darf, die ihre Autarkie beschränken. In Krisenzeiten, in denen die Community-übergeordneten Strukturen dysfunktional sind oder sich radikal ändern, besteht die Community durch ihre Autarkie-Fähigkeit.

Problematisch ist, dass Communities nur in Gebieten angesiedelt werden können, in denen keine oder nur geringe Gefahr von Missernten besteht. Das kann durch Vorratshaltung (3-5 Jahre) an Nahrungsmitteln, und durch Auftreten als Agrarlieferant für die Restgesellschaft (wodurch bei geringeren Ernten noch genug zur Selbstversorgung bleibt) etwas ausgeglichen werden, so dass Communities auch z.B. in vielen Teilen Afrikas denkbar sind.

Indem die Community als Solidargemeinschaft auftritt, sind viele Sozialleistungen völlig unnötig (Arbeitslosen- und Pflegeversicherung, Rentenversicherung (es bestehen Versorgungsansprüche ggü. verschiedenen Communities prozentual zur Zeit der jeweiligen Mitgliedschaft; in der Praxis aber viel unproblematischer, da die meisten Menschen sesshaft lebenslang in einer Community sein werden, viell. mit wenigen Austauschjahren als Gast woanders), tw. die Krankenversicherung durch eigene Ärzte).

Und, indem die Community als Solidargemeinschaft auftritt, werden viele Sorgen und allein untragbare Risiken aus dem Leben der Individuen entfernt. Staaten als Solidargemeinschaften sind möglich, aber instabil und unmenschlich (in Deutschland z.B. ist es schon lange nicht mehr so, dass Arbeitslosengeld als bereitwillige Hilfe des Staates für Bürger in Not gesehen werden kann; es ist das widerwillige Bewahren vor dem Verhungern, aus Angst vor Aufständen; ebenso mit Krankenkassen: das Anliegen des Systems ist schon lange nicht mehr eine gute Volksgesundheit, sondern es kämpft um sein finanzielles Überleben).

Indem die Solidargemeinschaft klein ist, wird es Möglich, Individuen für Fehlverhalten zur Verantwortung zu ziehen: Rauchen, Alkoholmissbrauch usw., was in großen Solidargemeinschaften (z.B. Staaten) ein Missbrauch des Gesundheitssystems ist, kann in Communities verboten werden, und diese Verbote können auch durchgesetzt werden.

Eine zwingende Voraussetzung für Autarkie ist eigener Landbesitz (d.h. das unbeschränkte, exklusive Nutzungsrecht an landwirtschaftlicher Nutzfläche). Denn die Community kann keine Pacht bezahlen, wenn sie in Krisenzeiten im »Autarkie-Modus« ist; denn in Krisenzeiten kann nichts verkauft werden, womit die Pacht bezahlt werden könnte, denn den Markt gibt es nicht mehr.

Diese Idee behebt auch das Problem der Hilfeleistung für hungernde und unselbständige Bevölkerung: es ist echte Hilfe zur Selbsthilfe, die sofortige Entlassung in die Unabhängigkeit, kein dauerhaftes Mit-Durchfüttern.

If I’ve learned something from the current financial crisis, then it is that big systems may result in big disasters. So durability in times of crisis needs small, flexible systems with a good degree of autarky. If this is the case, recession should not really harm anybody: in Germany, the GDP may drop in 2009 by 0,5%, and with full flexibility of the economic system that should result in a 0,5% drop of income for everybody. Which does not harm. Now of course we don’t have such a flexible system, I cannot change it into one, and the unflexibility will result in a good amount of unemployedness. And we will have to deal with that: feeding unemployed people increases the drop of income well beyond that 0,5%, even in a fully flexible economy.

But, here’s a somewhat crazy idea how to deal with unemployed people immediately. Probably that idea is too crazy to try it out, but perhaps it’s crazy enough to inspire somebody for something more practical.

Here’s the idea: we need technology and ingenious organization to jump-start companies as “flash companies”: collect unemployed people on the street in any place of the world, give a smartphone to each of them, and press “start”. The system starts to coordinate, build task forces, analyse competence, educate etc.. If there’s enough money generated to keep the system running, it’s all ok. Slowly growing companies are not what we need in times of recession. After large companies went out of business and there are millions unemployed, we need rapid reconfiguration.

Such flash companies can build on the vast excess of material that’s available in people’s private households (at least in industrial nations). This is waste of resources and therefore a reason for recession (how can we argue that unnecessary buys would improve the economy, while it harms companies?).

Salary should be paid on a daily basis, to act as a motivation. The only precondition is that the employee did what he / she was told to do via the smartphone. Even better and more practical than paying salary is to give people what they need: food, medical treatment, places to rest. Whenever they need it (telling via the smartphone). Of course, people in industrial nations would want more, wherefore this kind of company mightnot work there (or it might, if people are allowed to enter personal wishes in specified amounts, like, “I want my bathroom renovated.”).

These flash companies should be organized as grassroots movements, without explicit organization structure, and with the software based coordination guaranteeing that no such explicit organization (and with it, exploitation of power) can arise.

The smartphone app should display realtime statistics about the flash companies daily income, in parallel to Wikipedia’s donation target.

The idea is that everybody has a bunch of contacts, competences and capabilities. And that just combining these can instantly lead to synergistic effects that are strong enough to uphold a company, earning money for every participant (it is not even necessary to select which people to add to the company, just to sort evil people out or to educate them). For example, somebody will know a possibility for a paid job, and others will contribute necessary competence and material. Precondition is extreme flexibility (working with other people every day, being called in the middle of the night by the smartphone etc.).

It is argued here that most companies don’t flourish because of bad leadership: wherefore the flash companies are led by software, which is far more consequent (i.e. forcing people to anonymously criticize each other).

The financial crisis, its concrete and deeper causes

The financial markets are currently in an uproar, and independently of if and how these problems will be solved, we should ask what their deeper cause is, and how to protect economy from that. First, regarding the concrete causes, I found the following material to be a good introduction:

Now regarding the deeper causes of the crisis, there are way less people who at least think about that, and way less articles to read about that. I found two ones that seem to be recommendable:

  • “Der Kapitalismus ist zum Spielcasino verkommen”, Spiegel Online, 2008-10-09. An interview with Muhammad Yunus, who got the 2006 Nobel Peace Price together with his Grameen Bank for micro credits as development aid in rural regions of Bangla Desh. He suggests that businessmen turn away from earning money for its own purpose and out of pure profit-maximizing greed, and instead use it for social purposes as a “social company”. His Gremeen Bank seems to be the paradigm he has in mind. The “social company” as a company that helps people and earns money at the same time is, in his eyes, preferrable to “blindly giving” philantropy, because the invested money is not just used up, instead it is “help for self help”, it is used as a catalysator for own economic activity. He says that Adam Smith’s theory of the “invisible hand” (self-regulation of the market) is invalid, and that the current financial crisis shows just that (it’s a “crass market malfunction”).
  • Jürgen Werner: Die wahren Hintergründe der Finanzkrise, WirtschaftsWoche, 2008-10-12. The German philosopher Jürgen Werner thinks that short-visioned desire for more efficiency (in my words: greed for money) is the foe of long-term efficiency, which is provided at best by mutual trust and correct behavior towards each other.

The problem financial markets and the real economy

A financial crisis in itself would not be that bad, but it can have immense effects on the real economy and on politics. During the Great Depression (1929 and onwards), people in the USA even became fugitives, and in Germany it led to the rise of the NSDAP and the Third Reich. The financial crisis of 2007/2008 starts to have effects on the real economy, also (BMW announced that it lost 14% of new car sells in 2008-09).

It definitely feels uncomfortable to be part of an economy that you cannot steer, being doomed to share its fate, be it success, depression or chaos. This has to be avoided, definitely. The fate of a human being should not depend on the fate of his society. So how to achieve that?

Theoretical basics: indirection, complex systems, modularity, centralization …

Here are some basic perceptions of mine (though not formally verified by studies) that I will use later to build my own flavor of economic system on:

  • Money is an indirection: it’s a substitute for material value. As any indirection, it is more flexible (easier to transfer, easier to divide, can be saved up). And as any indirection, it comes with its own rules: it can be traded, exchanged between currencies, it can be creates out of nothing (fiat money), it can lose its worth independent of the underlying material worth, it depends on trust (as the money material is worth nothing), it enables “market rules” as an indirection of money trading, and “market trend” as an indirection of market rules, again with it’s own rules set. All these rules differ widely from the rules applyable to material goods, and as every set of rules, they come with their own set of problems. The current financial crisis shows that we don’t know the rules and how to use them correctly. Therefore, we should search for a more robust economic system.
  • A complex system is one that uses its own result as input (feedback principle). Good architectural guidelines for complex systems are set up by agile system architecture. The best work on this that’s available online is: Dove, Rick K.: Design Principles for Highly Adaptable Business Systems, With Tangible Manufacturing Examples. In: Maynard’s Industrial Engineering Handbook. Ed.: Zandin, Kjell B.; Maynard, Harold B.. 5. edition. New York, NY, USA; et al.. 2001. pp. 9.3-9.26. Here, systems are made up of “self-contained units”, with “plug compatibility”, “facilitated re-use”, “non-herarchical interaction”, “flexible capacity”, “unit redundancy” and “evolving standards”. These principlses seem to be a perfect basic idea for an efficient economic system (even more efficient than current high-tech financial management), and as stable (through reconfigureability, multi-redundancy etc.) that it is, as a worldwide system, undestroyable.
  • As to the morals. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” might have been present in the past, but it vanished into thin air (or worse) nowadays. Why? In my opinion, because, less decisions are based upon personal values (desire for quality, desire to do something for the money you get, desire to spend money only on what you can afford etc.), and more decisons on pure greed. There seems to be a critical threshold of value-based decisions, below which the economy starts to malfunction.
  • Centralization is immensely positive for the development of efficiency, but for robust economies and societies, centralization is negative. Because, where there is only one or a few large things of one type, a defective one will have dramatical effects on the whole society. Therefore, for the sake of world’s stability and on the cost of technical efficiency, I suggest to decentralize everything, from power supply to state laws. By using the agile deisgn principles, the loss of efficiency can be minimized, so that it is bearable even for a technology freak like I am.

Practical proposal: community-based world economy

The following proposal may seem somewhat strange, but propose to me a less strange one that is both capable of being a personal and world-wide alternative to the current greed-based economy (which we call still “market economy”). A central thought is, that in modern Western societies, the “social net” has only very small and very large meshes (the family and the society), and that’s a fault. But let’s see:

The proposed economic system consists of modularized modules (in five layers), each with a special task and the promise of solidarity (in level-specific areas) to its members. Solidarity decreases in intensity from smallest to greatest level, but increases in extensity (that is, higher levels are for the rare, really bad cases in life, while the everyday cases need higher personal commitment of time). Economically, the modules of each level are autarchic, and the degree of autarchy increases from smallest to highest level, while a level of autarchy sufficient for survival shall be available from level 3 on (i.e. groups of 1000 people).

The levels are:

  1. the individuum
  2. the community (10 individuums)
  3. the thousand (100 communities, resp. 1000 individuums)
  4. the million (1000 thousands)
  5. the world community (6000 millions, i.e. all people of the world)

Each module (i.e. each group in the size as described by a level) is able to select its members. For example, a thousand may decide that it wants to include (or educate) two physicians, but no more theologicans. By applying such careful orchestration, te groups become organisms, not just societies which are cobbled together by some laws. And, most importantly: through their autarchy, groups (from the “thousand” size on) can live on themselves, including education and medical care. To do so efficiently, all information must be free by default, shared between all the groups (by using the Internet). Because, if you have all the CAD data on the net, manufacturing your own products is possible in a community of 1000 in an efficient way; and where it is not, the following is possible without sacrificing autarchy: every group uses 10% of its time for a group specific special service or special product, wherewhich it serves other groups. This can be applied to all levels, and resembles the “community service” principle in African societies.

If this proposal is used to create a “personal economy system” as a working alternative to the fragile global economy system, I suppose to found a powerful community of 10 friends, and with them, the “thousand” community. As goods and services are exchanged within the community without any need for money, in direct exchance or with an internal registration system, this “thousand” community is functional right from the start, even when it would consist of unemployed people only.

And of course, as there is only direct marketing of goods and services, and as larger enterprises are enabled through the collection of people as a community instead of the colloection of capital, no financial market with all its drawbacks will be available in this new economic system … .

I don’t wanna sound proud and I do.
I’m building my own world right now.

A world without houses, but with homes.
A world without streets.
A world without passenger cars.
A world where 4-10 people live on 13m², with a living room of 148,939,100,000,000 m².
A world where one can work from anywhere in this living room.
A world with a space station moving in this spacy living room.
A world without furniture.
A world without DVD player, desktop PC, notebook, PDA, TV, alarm clock, mobile phone, landline phone, SIP phone, dictaphone, remote controls, MP3 player, stereo music equipment.
(That’s due to convergence.)

A world with brothers and sisters around, not just acquaintances or “just” family or just nobody.

A world where you know your Father and why you are around here.

If you are interested, keep tuned.

Some day, a HowTo will appear here which explains how you can build such a world. It has 90+ pages now and needs some more 🙂

Update as of 2011-05-09: The “HowTo” finally made it online and can be found at my “Documents: Main” page as the EarthOS document. Note that it’s called “idea pools” as I simply lack the time to finish and polish all that … . If you like the idea, check out Open Source Ecology, a group pursueing a similar approach, but they got practical already.

 

The hedonic treadmill

Here is the basic assertion of our economy: the needs of human beings are infinite (… but the means to fulfill them are finite, so we have to be economical). Infinite needs are surely observable, but what’s the reason behind? From an evolutionist perspective it looks like this:

“And there are more anthropological constants: our emotional self-model makes it possible to consciously feel ourselves. It drives us forward in the steady attempt to feel good, to find emotional stability, protection and security. We are biological systems which are damned to search for happiness, which must try to feel as good as possible. But unfortunately, the reward system in our brain and our emotional self-model allow no stable kind of feeling good.

Admitted that especially the conscious self-models brought experiencing joy and happiness into the physical universe – to a place where these did not exist before. But psychological evolution did not optimize us for permanent happiness. On the contrary: it put us on the “hedonic treadmill“, which is driven by the permanent attempt to experience happiness and joy and to avoid pain and depression. But we also are kept in permanent motion: the hedonic treadmill – concretely the reward system in our brain – is the engine which mother nature built into us. We might discover its structure in ourselves, but it is unclear if we can ever get out of this treadmill. In some sense we are this structure. The Ego is the hedonic treadmill.”

[Thomas Metzinger: Der Preis der Selbsterkenntnis; in: Gehirn und Geist; 7-8/2006; S. 46; original in German; emphasis per original; hyperlink added to original]

We’re not interested in evolution here but in happiness: this guy thinks, permanent happiness cannot be found because the steady longing for happiness is the engine that drives all the people in this world with their lifestyle and “great achievements”. (By the way, if you need to know what’s a treadmill … .) It’s not that we want to live the way we do, but we’re driven by the search for happiness. And it’s not that we want to create, build, achieve something, but we’re again driven. Surely one finds the “hedonic treadmill” idea inspired and confirmed by so many experiences of private and public life.

Now, should we feel happy about working constantly (on “improving” circumstances) just to retain our level of happiness? That’s what the hedonic treadmill means. Up to a reasonable level of life quaity, the treadmill does a good job: it allows to feel happy while working on necessary improvements, i.e. to feel happier than “allowable” with respect to the amount of work done. And it enables humans to gain dominance over the rest of nature, which is not equipped with this treadmill thing. But after our basic needs are met, the treadmill thing should stop, and allow to do further improvements as creative freetime work, just for the fun of it, and just if one wishes to do so. But it does never stop, it has gone mad. It drives people further and further, stressing them with a desperate need for more happiness, for absolute happiness. But this need is never fulfilled, as it is not the idea behind the hedonic treadmill to produce this (but instead, to give motivation and reward while working on necessary improvements; any other use of the mechanism is actually abuse of this biological system).

Just, people seem not to realize this wrong direction of their search. They naively extrapolate that the “inner reward” they receive when reaching goals will be proportional to the goal reached, so try to reach goals that high that the reward remains for the rest of their life. Instead, the reward mechanism has a built-in fade-away mechanis, so that they can never stop to work though objectively possible after the basic needs have been met. It’s like having a job where one gets money only when beating one’s own record from yesterday … and that’s surely not happiness. Let’s envy the animals, which don’t have this treadmill thing and are happy without working for something beyond their basic needs. Where’s the way out?

Jesus about the hedonic treadmill

Me thinks that Jesus talks about the treadmill thing here:

“(24) ‘No man can work for two masters. He will hate one and love the other. Or he will obey one and despise the other. You cannot work for both God and money. (25) ‘So, I tell you this. Do not be troubled about what you will eat or drink to keep alive. Do not be troubled about what you will wear on your body. Life itself is worth more than food, and the body is worth more than clothes. (26) ‘Look at the birds that fly in the air. They do not plant or cut or keep any food. Yet your Father in heaven feeds them. Are you not worth more than birds? (27) Can any one of you live any longer by troubling yourself about these things? (28) And why are you troubled about clothes? See how the flowers grow in the fields. They do not work or make cloth. (29) I tell you, King Solomon was a great man. But he was not dressed as fine as one of these flowers. (30) God dresses the grass in the fields so it looks nice. It is in the field one day and the next day it is put on the fire. If God dresses the grass like that, he cares much more that you have clothes to wear. You do not believe in God very much! (31) ‘So then, do not keep asking, “What shall we eat?” “What shall we drink?” and “What shall we wear?” (32) It is the people who do not believe in God who work for all these things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need them all. (33) ‘Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also. (34) ‘So do not be troubling yourself about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own trouble. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’” [Matthew 24:24-34 BWE]

As an experiment, I interpret Jesus’ words here as pragmatical verbalization, i.e. immediately do-able. Then, I suppose the theoretical background is this: Jesus does not promise riches to those who “work first for the kingdom of God”. He talks about not searching our happiness in material things like luxurious meals and fine clothing, as this results in the unnecessary activity produced by the hedonic treadmill after the basic needs are met. Working for the basic needs is oll korrect, but serving materialism like a slave on a (hedonic) treadmill is not [Matthew 24:24 BWE]. Me thinks, Jesus even teaches that fulfillment of the basic needs is possible without conscious effort, i.e. we won’t realize this as a fatigue [Matthew 24:26,28,30 BWE]. Why do you reduce life to material stuff by caring for material stuff all your life? Realize that life is more than food (or other material stuff), as Jesus said [Matthew 24:25 BWE].

But staying away from the hedonic treadmill does not provide what you searched on it. So where to find permanent happiness? Let’s look closer at the following verse: “Work first for God’s kingdom and what he calls good. Then you will have all these things also.” [Matthew 24:33 BWE]. I think that this means primarily: “[…] then you will have happiness in the material world also, the very thing you searched when serving money, the very thing you searched on the hedonic treadmill”. In my view, it cannot mean that God will add all the clothes and riches of Solomon as immediate gifts, as e.g. Paul did not experience this (we will look at this below). But the need for happiness is fulfilled, and that is the thing searched for. And how or when is this need fulfilled? When one is “first […] concerned about God’s kingdom and his righteousness” [Matthew 24:33 ISV]. This is exactly what (who …) we need for our materially unfulfilled need: God. A relationship to God, where one experiences God’s love for humans and expresses love for God by a straight life according to his will. And how exactly does a relationship with God make us permanently happy? Lets o further …

The autarky escape

I stumbled over Paul’s approach to happy practical living, which is quite interesting. He seems to have internalized what Jesus said about sorrows (see above). Let’s read what he writes:

“(10) The Lord made me very happy to know that you were thinking about me again. Yes, I know you were thinking of me before, but you had no way to help me. (11) I do not mean that I needed it. I have learned to be satisfied with what I have. I am happy with whatever happens to me. (12) I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I am rich. No matter how things are, I have learned how to live: when I have plenty of food, or when I am hungry; when I have more things than I need, and when I do not have enough. (13) I can do all things because Christ gives me strength.” [Philippians 4:10-13 BWE]

You might want to read the wider context: Philippians 4:10-19 BWE. (And if you clicked the references and arrived at verse 9: these references are correct but the verse scheme at crosswire.org is shifted by mistake.) In Greek, Paul states that he learned to be satisfied whith what he has like this:

“ουχ οτι καθ υστερησιν λεγω εγω γαρ εμαθον εν οις ειμι αυταρκης ειναι” [Philippians 4:11 TR]

A word-by-word translation would be like “Not that with respect to want I say this; because I learned, in whatsoever I am, to be content.”. The word translated “content” is “αυταρκης” (transliterates “autarkes”). It comes from “αυτος” (autos), meaning “self”, and “αρκεω” (arkeo), meaning “to be sufficient”, “to be enough”, or literally “to ward off”. So together it means “self-sufficient”, and indeed this is where the word “autarky” comes from.

Perhaps Paul would accept the following variations to describe his condition:

  • I am self-sufficient, which means that my happiness depends on what is in myself rather than on what comes to myself from the outer circumstances. And in myself is Christ with his strength, resp. my relationship to him which does not depend on material circumstances.
  • I have learned that the material world with all its lack and abundance will vanish, but I know and experienced what is eternal: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and my company with them. See also what I wrote in I Corinthians 7:29-31 BWE.
  • I have learned how to deal with every situation. Which means, there was a time when I was not able to be happy instead of poverty and instead of richness, but I was trained to be.
  • I am content within every situation. This does not mean that I would be content if there’d be nothing at all and I’d be starving to death. Instead, God knows what I need, and supplies this for me. Some people will be surprised that God does not prevent me from bing poor at times, but I’m no longer surprised. Because what we call poverty also is a situation that has enough good things in it to be content with. I had to learn to see and use these goods and I did learn it.
  • God’s supply means I’ll never enter a situation where there objectively is less than I need (not: wish) to be content with.
  • The key is to basically think the present situation to be worth living (at least potentially or latently). With this premise, one will care about adapting, furnishing and customizing the situation, according to one’s abilities, and indeed arrive at something worth living. This is a situation of “conformance with one’s goals and wishes”, which is the very definition of happiness. If one instead wishes to escape the whole situation, one tries something beyond one’s abilities, which means that one’s practical life is no longer in conformance with one’s goals and wishes, which means unhappiness.

Paul that that he had to learn to be happy in all situations. Which means one has to know some things and get some training to do so. What, for example, does one have to learn to be content in poverty?

  • Create no plans how to escape from your present situation. You’d just see them fail (and get frustrated) because poverty means you have not the resources to escape.
  • Take good care to discover all the available resources and beneficient peculiarities of your situation, and use these with a creative mind to their fullest.
  • Wish just what you can achieve with the present resources, and think carefully about what can be achieved with the present resources. This is plenty of stuff, as “best things in life are free”.
  • Await a change of the situation from the outside, i.e. look out for open doors to walk through. That is, use very moderate force to search for open doors, but do not try with full force to break doors open. You wouldn’t succeed or would choose the wrong door, and you would get stressed and exhausted, anything far from being happy.

To-do’s

  • Important: Paul talks only about the missing correlation between his money and his happiness; in this context “I am happy with whatever happens to me.” (Phil 4:11 BWE) does not mean “really all” as this would consequently say that Paul would be happy in hell as well. So one should not blindly extrapolatethese words to friends and social needs as well.
  • Did Paul expect a change of his poor situation? Perhaps it was really really equal to him (Phil 4:10-11)?
  • Verbalize the insights here as the difference between top-down life (the idealistic approach that comes from (thinking about) the ideal) and bottom-up life (the pragmatic approach to the ideal).
  • Add examples how the “hedonic treadmill” idea is confirmed by life’s experiences (par. 5): “While private life is private, we might look at some publicly visible persons: […]”, then insert here 5-10 stories of tragic persons of public life who searched for money, love and might.

Date: 2007-08-14
Last meaningful change: 2007-08-19