The problem of plenty

The late Scottish writer Iain M Banks considered a society free of want. He termed it, the Culture. What would drive such a society? People became thrill seekers, child bearing was considered an obligation and the family structure a transient unit.

Human beings and our society have evolved in scarcity. Scarcity of food, scarcity of security and scarcity of comfort. As the nature of this scarcity changed, societies and even human nature changed to match it. The move from relative egalitarianism to rigid social classes was inevitable with the dawn of agriculture which needed a large number of people to till the same soil over decades. Massive irrigation and trade demanded corresponding social organization. The shift from large families tied to land was replaced with the industrial concept of the nuclear family as people left the countryside in search of better opportunities in cities.

The problem is that though most of these scarcities have been vanquished in the 20th century in at least come parts of the world, the mindset and mechanisms developed to cope with them are still with us. People still want to excel each other. In the animal world, this is a way of finding mates with whom to produce the fittest offspring. Now even if the nation garauntees their safety.

The idea of wealth arose as a means of security. Capitalism, communism, feudalism and fascism are all methods of distributing scarce resources. Today, they create artificial scarcity often of things that nobody needs, but everyone feels they must have. From furniture to cars to phones, products have moved well past the domain of functionality.

So what should a post scarcity society look like. Should it be more generous? Less jealous of its own privileges. So far, if anything, we are seeing the reverse with the backlash against immigrants flying in from all parts of the world.

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