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Contribution to a Wholly on "Engagement in the 21st Century" (University of Buffalo, 24-26 October 1996). Co-sponsored by the Center for Integrative Studies and the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS)
It is unnecessary to argue that present and foreseeable economic policies cannot significantly reduce unemployment as it is presently understood. This is increasingly accepted as a reality by economists and politicians themselves. But such people have yet to fully take into account the probable social consequences. These are already proving dramatic for the young (unable to obtain a first job), for the elderly (threatened with erosion of social security commitments), and for those employed in tasks experienced as increasingly meaningless. Current discussion of these issues seems to be trapped in an outmoded pattern of thinking from which it would be foolish to expect any significant breakthroughs.
In exploring new ways of thinking about this fundamental challenge for sustainable community, it is useful to recognize how intrinsically boring are the remedies currently under discussion. They are the products of bureaucratic environments unrenowned for either creativity, sensitivity to individual needs, or the long-term viability of their politically-constrained initiatives. Boredom is not to be taken lightly. Aside from a desperate pursuit of recreation by those with the necessary resources, it is driving many to a level of anti-social activity, violence and substance abuse that are themselves destructive of community. Boring policies contribute directly to voter apathy. Currently advocated remedies are expressed solely in terms of "providing jobs" to sustain consumer purchasing power, however personally unfulfilling are the consequences.
It is also useful to recognize how the present pattern of thinking prevents discussion of any options that do not conform to the dogma sustaining the current pattern of both unemployment and mal-employment. The question to ask is what forms of employment and unemployment are currently excluded from any discussion of meaningful options. The answer is any forms which do not directly sustain the present economic system --although this is recognized as increasingly inefficient in sustaining meaningful community.
The sustainability of lifestyles may be evaluated as differently by individuals as it is by plant or animal species variously adapted to the extremes of arid or tropical ecosystems. The most unusual and seemingly boring, or risky, forms of employment may be considered satisfactory, or even desirable, to some. Others may find even the most carefully designed jobs to be meaningless. Many are content to find meaning only in their leisure activity and have no expectation that it should be associated with their remunerated employment. Increasing numbers, however, have neither the possibility of jobs nor of meaningful leisure. Many turn to substance abuse as their only source of meaning.
Meaningfulness, whether in leisure or in employment, may itself be considered a luxury -- possibly even defined as one to be earned. This attitude could prove to be dangerous, given that any process of human development is associated with the pursuit of meaning. This can only be successfully repressed in the short-term.
Whether employment or leisure, the challenge lies in the interface between the individual and the community, however that is experienced or understood. Extremes to be borne in mind include:
Is it completely certain, to anybody other than economists, that the only relevant forms of employment in a sustainable community are those which are remunerated at some economic rate? The debate about the economic value of housework has made a nonsense of this perspective.
Missing from the debate about the future of employment are issues relating to individual and community identity. What forms of activity reinforce identity and enable some form of development in a sense of identity and self-esteem? Perhaps a distinction should be made between identity-building activity and forms of activity which do not build identity and may in fact severely erode it. The emphasis on developing a system that provides jobs at any cost, overlooks the fact that the jobs provided may destroy any sense of identity or self-worth. Pursuit of economic worth may detract from personal or communal worth.
The above points have been made in the past in many ways and often with great eloquence. And yet the debate about employment, even at the highest level, is conducted in the most simplistic terms -- and, beneath the hype, with little hope. Are there better ways to think about how people employ themselves within community, or are effectively employed by the community -- avoiding the knee-jerk responses of economists? Like it or not, those on the dole (or without such support) "employ" themselves in some way, as do those with a level of personal resources that obviates any need to work. And how will the future evaluate the contribution of various forms of past employment to the well-being of its communities? What activities will be judged as having been minimally productive or a waste of resources?
A useful question is whether it is actually possible to be "unemployed" --other than in terms of the categories imposed by economists and those persuaded of their arguments. What shift in paradigm is required to see that even a long-term comatose patient is "employed" within the community, as is an infant, a homeless beggar, or the resident of a home for the elderly or the otherwise challenged? The challenge is to improve the quality and dignity of that employment, or lifestyle, whether or not monetary issues are instrumental to that end in practice. If economists are incapable of providing the design for a community that can ensure life-enhancing employment in concrete situations, then what other approach is appropriate?
Bearing in mind Geoffrey Vickers adage: "A trap is a function of the nature of the trapped", what will the future see as the characteristic constraint on our thinking that inhibited any emergence of more fruitful responses to this issue?
There may always have been efforts to explore alternative approaches to employment and community organization. There have been many experiments in intentional community. But despite current government interest in sustainable community, there has been no effort to recognize such social experiments as meriting investigation as options in their own right -- to whatever degree they succeeded or failed. Indeed it has been found convenient to associate all such experiments with questionable belief systems that are readily condemned as cultist and associated, at least potentially, with suicidal disasters -- as though disaster was not potentially associated with the best of modern technology. This marginalization has been accomplished with the support of established religions, despite the many interesting experiments in sustainable community by a number of religions in the form of monasteries, ashrams, or retreat centres, for example.
Experiments such as the collective farms of communism are condemned outright as a product of an inappropriate ideology. This which would seem to be inconsistent with earlier willingness to benefit -- in the interests of national security -- from the technical expertise of the Nazi regime in rocketry, chemical engineering and dubious medical practices, for example. The "science" of sustainable community is not recognized as independent of the ideology which sustains the community. Ironically it is only the Chinese government which has recently established a major program of social experiments in sustainable community -- building upon its collective farm experience.
Is there nothing of relevance to sustainable community to be learnt from many centuries of monastic experience, for example -- to say nothing of present day intentional communities, whatever their belief system? In any form of research (and development), the failure of a particular experiment is not usually considered as a failure of the experimental method, nor is it usually considered a definitive indicator that further experiments cannot be successful -- following a change of parameters whose appropriateness is to be determined.
Given the recognized limitations in the capacity of government and other institutions to "create jobs", what would it take to create meaningful living environments for young people in which "employment" and "unemployment" might be experienced and defined in other ways?
Similarly, given the recognized future limitations in the capacity of governments and other institutions to provide "social security" for the elderly, or for the physically or mentally challenged, what would it take to create meaningful living environments for such people in which again "employment" and "unemployment" might be experienced and defined in new ways?
And, given the progressive de-skilling of many jobs, what would it take to provide a meaningful environment for those currently employed in increasingly meaningless tasks -- ensuring once again that "employment" and "unemployment" might be experienced and defined in new ways?
In each case it is clear that current policy-making is in a gridlock situation, bound by regulations and obligations which powerful interests continue to reinforce. This system will continue to flourish in favour of those who are "in", and at the expense of those who are "out", until it collapses through a major social crisis -- of which several are considered imminent. The question is what can be explored with, or without, governmental support, without infringing such regulations.
It would appear to be a mistake to focus on the particularities of possible social experiments, thus prejudging their results and the future ingenuity of those who may choose to undertake them. It is also a mistake to assume that results deemed unsatisfactory by one group would not be considered highly satisfactory by another. The sustainability of community may be evaluated as differently by individuals as it is by plant or animal species variously adapted to arid or temperate ecosystems. The range of monastic communities or kibbutzim illustrate the point.
Setting aside the question of why there is so much resistance to social experiments, it is useful here to draw attention to the opportunities for "community enabling". This is understood here to be any action which enables groups of people to experiment with new forms of community and mutual support -- to safeguard and enhance the quality of their lives. The opportunities for community enabling can perhaps best be understood in terms of the disciplines, professions and vested interests which have been less than helpful in supporting such initiatives -- but from whom valuable support might nevertheless be obtained in the future.
(a) Government: As implied above, government legislation has rarely been helpful in facilitating modern community experiments. Seen in a different light however, governments of some countries have traditionally been supportive of such initiatives where they have been undertaken by established religions. This has been the case with respect to Christian monasteries and convents. In countries such as India, for example, there has been little opposition to ashrams. Indeed India went further in providing enabling legislation in support of a major social experiment at Auroville (near Pondicherry), which has received significant international recognition from Unesco. At best governments have tolerated such experiments where they could be framed within existing legislation regarding cooperatives or mutual societies, or as with the Amish and Huttite communities in the USA. But governments have also quashed social experiments, as in the case of the widespread community credit system in Wörgl (Austria) -- which reduced the unemployment system by 25 percent in a single year (1932-33) -- but proved too attractive to other local authorities in the eyes of central government.
As indicated above, government has however used its powers to impose social experiments such as collective farms under the various communist regimes. In Israel critical support has been given to the kibbutz movement which at various stages pioneered opening of new agricultural lands and was vital to border security. Through its current "settlement policy", some questionable limitations of such initiatives are highlighted.
Less controversially, government has been supportive of cooperative movements and mutual societies and has provided enabling legislation. The importance of such initiatives has been recognized internationally through the International Labour Organization, and more recently through the European Union.
But whilst governments have recognized the vital role of investment in technological research and development, no corresponding efforts have been made with respect to social research and development in living community experiments. Irrespective of whether public funds could be made available to improve the chances of success of such experiments, no enabling legislation has been developed to facilitate the undertaking of such experiments. Where they are undertaken, it is despite the obstacles provided by government rather than with any form of government encouragement -- whether non-financial or otherwise.
One possibility is for governments to use fiscal incentives to actively encourage corporate enterprises and universities to engage in social experiments through tax incentives. This could be justified as research into ways of redefining the social safety net and extending employment possibilities.
Labour unions maintain a resistant, uncreative attitude to contemporary social challenges. Currently discussed is their opposition to wage scales which would permit employers to take on people seeking jobs. For similar reasons they are against prisoners being engaged in gainful employment which would deprive legitimate workers of jobs. And in the same way, they constitute one of the forces opposed to people experimenting with new kinds of social contract based on remuneration below union norms --whether or not they deprive regular workers of jobs.
There would appear to be a case for challenging labour unions to design and implement different kinds of social experiment that could prove attractive to people seeking new forms of employment. This challenge could increasingly be framed in terms of: "more money and less quality of life" vs. "less money and more quality of life". The challenge is to dissociate money from quality of life, recognizing that increases in income are no longer associated necessarily with commensurate increases in quality of life that people have been led to expect. Development processes are progressively eroding the possibility of a life of quality.
(c) Professions and disciplines
Again there is a case for challenging the accounting profession to devise financial systems capable of rendering new kinds of community economically viable and credible in an increasingly hostile financial environment.
Again there is a case for challenging the legal profession to devise new forms of constitutions and contracts which could provide a basis for new kinds of social organizations, partnerships and communities -- and especially contracts covering the participation of individuals in them.
Again it is appropriate to challenge the social sciences to design new social experiments and to treat their implementation as worthwhile field experiments whose improvement and viability is their responsibility. This would complement their proven ability to investigate social experiments designed by others without the benefit of their skills and insights. It is ironic that whilst funds can be found for such experiments as Biosphere2, and plans can be seriously put forward for L5 O'Neil habitats in space, no experiments are undertaken with respect to the social viability of such environments --even by the International Space University network. There is a place for "Sociosphere2" experiments, especially with the increasing tendency to create walled suburbs, compounds and enclaves for security reasons.
(e) Cooperatives: With mutual societies, these constitute a unique initiative which has met with both government and labour union support over many decades. Appropriate legislative, fiscal and accounting systems have been developed for them. The formula has been widely used around the world. The question to be asked is why the cooperative formula has proved unable to respond to the needs of so many in unsatisfactory conditions of employment. In many respects it can be seen as having been most successful as a tool of classical economic policies, but incapable of adapting to situations which did not lend themselves to "economic" remedies.
Can the cooperative movement be challenged to develop new approaches that would provide frameworks for community arrangements that were not dependent on financial transactions. The question might be asked in relation to the LETS (Local Exchange and Trading System) which uses a form of local non-monetary currency to facilitate exchange within a community. To what extent did this innovation emerge from, or evoke support from, the cooperative movement, and if not, why not? Has the cooperative movement been instrumental in lobbying for legislative support for such LETS systems -- notably within the ILO?
(f) Employers: Conventional employers in a business environment are obviously primarily concerned with maintaining a viable workforce consistent with entrepreneurial profit-making. Where there is any sensitivity to wider social responsibilities, extending employment opportunities --notably to the physically or otherwise challenged -- has been severely constrained by labour unions.
However, as noted above, employers have become masters of the creative use of contracts. Indeed the restrictions and costs of employment are now such that new employees tend to be engaged on short-term contracts only. There is a case for exploring a broader range of contracts to enable individuals to be more loosely associated with enterprises. This tendency is already evident in the emerging pattern of part-time work.
Of special interest is the possibility of creating new types of contractual environment. As in the case of free zones (discussed above), it is possible to envisage entrepreneurial initiatives, notably of a not-for-profit nature, based on a range of new types of contractual agreement between the entrepreneur (or the enterprise) and those brought into association by those contracts. To make the point more clearly, any such contract with an individual (or a group) could be the result of a potential "associate" being asked the question "what sort of lifestyle do you really need and what are you prepared to do for it?".
The response to this question could lead to the creation of "lifework" environments in which individuals live simply, benefitting from valued shared facilities, within an environment which is deemed self-sustaining from an economic perspective by the entrepreneurial group which invests to some degree in its creation. If corporations are willing to sponsor high risk sports, why not high risk social experiments?
Entrepreneurs could thus take the initiative in setting up various forms of lifelong work community. The most select business think tanks effectively function like this except that they are maintained at high cost because of the financial rewards deemed appropriate to employees -- as such they are easily viewed as a luxury when cost cutting is called for. The approach advocated here is to create minimum cost environments with the emphasis on non-financial lifestyle rewards in exchange for output of value to the external economic environment. Universities and monasteries, and even the military (including both the Knights Templar and the Foreign Legion), traditionally provided environments where the emphasis was on lifestyle rather than economic productivity or financial remuneration. These have all ceased to be viable in this sense, and are subject to severe personnel and cost reductions, because of the demand of individuals to be rewarded economically in order to purchase their lifestyle props outside these environments. It is appropriate to challenge labour unions to provide entrepreneurial leadership in creating such environments themselves, according to their own philosophies.
It is interesting to envisage situations in which major corporations and other institutions (including religious, university and military bodies) could develop framework agreements whereby such lifework environments could be associated with them to the benefit of both the corporation and the people so associated. One aspect of this possibility can be seen in initiatives of certain corporations to set up retirement villages for their employees -- often an extension of country-club and spa-like environments created for the benefit of employees and their families during their working lives. There may even be a case for exploring possibilities of transferring people into "associate" status rather than "firing" them or "retiring" them.
Initiatives of the type envisaged could be taken by business community bodies like Rotary and Lions clubs -- leading perhaps to a parallel network of such environments between which people could choose to move. This parallels the dynamics of the traditional movement of scholars, "compagnons" and military personnel -- exemplified in the Middle Ages by the religious and military orders which maintained viability across centuries.
A trend in this direction may be signalled by the recently reported willingness of some corporations in the USA (20 percent of those in the Fortune 500 list) to allow employees to take "social service sabbaticals" or to pursue other interests. This was headlined in the media under the title: "How Employers Can Gain by Letting Go" (International Herald Tribune, 23 Sept 1996).
But although there is great merit in such bodies taking the initiative, there is also great merit in being open to, and encouraging, such initiatives by coalitions of individuals seeking to establish some such partnership. Note that the emphasis is on contractual flexibility not on any particular political, social or philosophical ideology -- as demonstrated by the range ideologies associated with different kibbutz. Those of a given pattern of belief could choose to use this approach, if such was their preference. This might be preferred by Mormon, Catholic or Muslim groups, for example.
It is easily assumed that jobs should be found for individuals, or that an individual should "find a job". According to this paradigm, jobs should be created for individuals and it is primarily the task of government to bring this about.
Whilst there is a case for this, it has its limitations. These are now evident in the limited capacity of government, advised by economists, to create jobs. The assumption that jobs are available if only people would adapt to the market is reflected in the 1996 major policy innovation of the UK Government in switching from provision of "unemployment benefits" to a "job seekers allowance".
Especially distressing are the impediments to job creation by government regulation. This has been distressingly illustrated by studies in developing countries such as Peru (where in excess of a hundred forms had to be completed by an individual wishing to start a small tailoring shop).
But even those who believe that government can eventually be made to create enough jobs, by a change of policy or a change of government, are increasingly forced to recognize that this will not happen over night. And in the meantime, joblessness is taking its toll. It is questionable whether groups holding this view can justify the luxury of being able to wait for their view to prevail whilst many are sacrificed on the altar of such dogmatic purity and lack of flexibility.
Why is it that so little emphasis is placed on enabling people to create employment for themselves? Education is directed towards enabling people to "find a job" which it is naively supposed should be available once an appropriate qualification has been achieved. What are the skills required to create a job? Where are those skills to be acquired? Especially dubious is the failure to enable people, notably graduates, to use their skills to work together to create new enterprises. In the UK, for example, why are people not offered a "job creation allowance" rather than being rewarded for having found one of the few jobs available -- thus depriving others of that job?
Positive, if possibly trivial, examples of creating employment, are to be found in the craft industries that develop in low employment areas, especially those associated with tourism. Street musicians and performers are another interesting case -- especially in contrast to beggars. Creation of employment of the simplest kinds is especially noteworthy in developing countries. It is in such an environment, in Bangladesh, that the Grameem Bank emerged to enable the smallest of entrepreneurial initiatives to get off the ground. This particular innovation is finally receiving support from the World Bank. Negative approaches to the creation of employment are to be seen in prostitution -- the "oldest profession". Crime can be considered as even more dysfunctional. Gambling provides an example of an activity widely engaged in legally which can be considered dysfunctional.
There is a great irony to one Freudian interpretation of the vulgar connotations of "getting a job". It is possible that the future will come to recognize the way in which sexual harassment was but an aspect of a far more general "harassment of reality" practiced in contemporary society --and exemplified by mechanistic approaches to getting a job. This may be usefully contrasted by the richer approach to engagement in community relationships, as traditionally preceded by attraction and courtship processes. "Getting a job" may turn out to be a trap engendered by outmoded sexist thinking as much as one sustained by economic rationalism. In this sense there is merit in reflecting on what forms of expertise are "for hire" and how these contrast with the "fidelity" and "loyalty" associated with whatever form of consummation follows from any traditional engagement. It is perhaps no accident that subtler articulations of the most desirable forms of employment are described in terms such as "flow" experience and "no thought" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Maybe there is a case for exploring a Kama Sutra of Engagement (cf Judge, 1978).
In considering how employment is created, so-called "voluntary" initiatives bear careful examination, as stressed by Jeremy Rifkin in The End of Work. Again individuals can "find a job" which is voluntary. But more interesting is how individuals, and groups, can create voluntary employment for themselves. This may take the form of activism, assistance or care, and a whole range of other initiatives through which the fabric of any social community is sustained. Note that the initiative does not have to be meaningful to others for it to be meaningful to those who engage in it and who are bonded together in some way by such action.
The progressive monetarization of employment and social relations has been a concomitant of economic rationalism. Historically it has been imposed forcibly wherever it was resisted by the as yet "uncivilized". Its promise of "better times for all" has now been found to be subject to the qualification "except for some". It is recognized that full employment within that paradigm is at best possible for about 90 percent of the "working" population -- after official statistics have been duly massaged to give the greatest credibility to this logic.
It has not proved possible to respond to the challenge of the widening income gap. In this sense economic rationalism could be seen as the greatest of pyramid selling scams that history has ever seen implemented.
Faced with limitations on material resources, there has been increasing recognition of the need for "dematerializing the economy" -- seen as shifting from primary to secondary and tertiary resources. As an extension of this logic, there is a strong case for examining the possibility of demonetarizing employment through substitution of non-monetary and non-material media of exchange. The various LETS experiments have indicated some possibilities. The question is whether there are others, possibly of a more radical nature, which might prove an attractive alternative to some faced with the prospect of long-term unemployment.
It is not to be expected that any such initiatives would be taken with the support of governments or other institutions dependent on resources generated within the current economic paradigm. But given that their policies have proven incapable of delivering on promises made, or of creating meaningful and equitable opportunities, such institutions should at least facilitate experiments that may be seen to offer alternatives to those who choose to engage in them.
However, even where there is active resistance to such experiments by formal groups, there remain many possibilities for effective monetary substitution amongst informal groups. It is even useful to consider the proliferation of voluntary organizations in this light. They can be seen as providing arenas for non-monetarized exchanges between individuals which compensate for the aridity of the economic paradigm. To the extent that individuals choose to devote more personal "energy" to such activities, at the expense of their paid employment, such substitution can be considered as taking place, at least partially.
The question to be explored is how this process can be developed further and how such meaningful exchanges can coexist within a context in which the increasingly non-meaningful exchanges of the economic paradigm continue to be required. The methodological problem for economic rationalists, in responding creatively to such possibilities of "psychic income", is that they have already had major difficulties in coming to recognize the "informal (black) economy" -- and as a consequence have therefore been responsible for reinforcing the denial of widespread corruption. More recently they have offered significant resistance to recognition of other forms of "work" -- such as household work by a spouse -- as being of any economic significance, thus reinforcing other forms of denial.
Extending this substitution process is therefore tantamount to recognizing the existence of what might perhaps be termed a "white economy" -- which might cluster forms of employment such as that of housework by a spouse, the care given to a physically or otherwise challenged relative, pursuit of hobbies, artistic creation, prayer, and the like. It might also include physical activism in its mildest and most extreme forms. However, it is not a question of persuading economists to recognize this category. Within their own logic, as Hazel Henderson has pointed out, it is simply necessary to hire them to produce justifications of its significance -- if their assistance is indeed of value. Whether freely approved by economists or not, it is through this white economy that many may have greater hope of developing more satisfactory and meaningful lifestyles.
Individuals may choose to buy into the development of the material economy -- even in the most literal sense. But for those for whom this option is not proving possible or fruitful, it is important to consider other options in which they might invest their energies and from which they might derive psychic income and increase their psychic capital. For some religions, notably Buddhism, this has long been expressed through the notion of increasing "merit".
The economic system, especially as a consequence of globalization, increasingly places the individual and groups in what amounts to "padded cells" or "work prisons" in which particular behaviours are required of them if they are to be nourished. Society is being converted into a factory farm inhabited and operated by wage slaves -- as envisaged by George Orwell.
There are however other transactions by which people may be nourished --as intentional communities have endeavoured to explore. These range from the individual's aesthetic and other responses to the surrounding world, but include the many forms of personal interaction with others in a community. This vital living interface merits careful attention. It can be cultivated like a garden. As such it bears flower and fruit nourishing to the spirit -- and basic to any sense of quality of life.
The limitations of economic rationalism, and the economic development programme, are immediately evident in their inability to be able to manufacture or sell "quality of life". What is offered for sale under that label is an ersatz product from which substance abuse is often the only relief. This is well illustrated by the increasing preference for low-maintenance, plastic floral decoration in commercial environments.
The challenge for the individual is to find ways to live in community detached from such economic rationalism. Whilst modern marketing must necessarily seek to offer a sequence of increasingly expensive manufactured substitutes for quality experience, this sequence can be deconstructed and reversed in order to reduce psychological dependency upon them. How can those who choose to do so learn to substitute qualitatively superior, low cost, experiences for products that offer increasingly sophisticated simulations of such experiences?
But whilst it is easy for people in love to spend hours together without requiring manufactured products or services, this is much less easy for those who are isolated or lack group and community skills. People are educated to dependency on purchased products. How can people learn to rely on, cultivate, and relish, their own resources -- as so many have to do under conditions of impoverishment, joblessness, loneliness and in refugee camps?
This does not imply an alternative to "work" -- emulating the spirit of the "lotus eaters". It calls for an understanding of a new kind of "work" through which people relate to each other and to the world -- as well as engaging in work upon themselves (as emphasized in the increasingly popular "self-help" literature). It is through this new kind of work that they are nourished -- without the invasive intervention of an economic system (whether globalized or not). Existing understandings of work are effectively impoverished metaphors for this qualitatively richer form. It has been explored in the research on "flow experience" and in the working styles of those who are passionate about their work -- irrespective of any remuneration.
This understanding of work is based on a subtle "contract" with the surrounding world. Just as with conventional modes of work, it involves some form of "discipline", often of a high and subtle order -- which may perhaps be learnt in slums more readily than in suburban luxury. Together these give rise to a subtle pattern of exchange and a form of identity enhancement which are directly experienced as meaningful and offering a sense of quality of life -- an enhanced quality of engagement. This can be seen as a kind of new psychosocial equation.
There is every indication that the process of globalization will continue to create joblessness in the monetary economy with measurable efficiency. Some may be persuaded to believe that globalization is capable of delivering "Jobs for All", despite the failure of such programmes as "Healthfor All by the Year 2000" (World Health Organization) or the "Elimination of Hunger by the Year 2000" (Hunger Project). Many may literally starve whilst waiting for such promises to be effectively and universally implemented. Do such promises represent the "Big Lie" of the end of the 20th Century? Dependence on the long-term success of mega-programmes based on globalization and universalization need to be complemented by a focus on short-term programmes offering greater guarantee of local and immediate success. The issue is one of conceptual survival kits for those currently in distress.
The earlier argument above indicates the possibility that parallel non-monetary "economies" may emerge and acquire much greater importance. This would counter-balance the trend towards convertible and single currencies, or universal media of exchange. As in early economic history, different "economies" would then co-exist based on quite different, unrelated value systems. Trade between them, if called for at all, could then only be based on some form of barter.
As patterns of social relationships, such parallel "psychic economies" could well be essentially non-territorial and interstitial, just as housework is usually "remunerated" by non-monetary means. Examples of such parallel economies might include: favour-granting (amongst executives and bureaucrats), respect-according (amongst urban gangs), predatory criminality, gift economies (as studied by anthropologists), as well as classical courtly love (as catalyzed by troubadours).
In effect the countervailing trend to globalization and universal values will be the engendering of multiple realities, whether at the macro or the micro level. Religious belief systems are one example of this. At the micro level they will manifest as "localization", possibly of quite radical form in different patterns of community and social relationships. Whereas globalization assumes that satisfiers will be imported as readily from around the world, localization will focus on satisfiers deriving from the immediate surroundings -- however these are to be understood and cultivated. This is perhaps most crudely illustrated by rising distrust in globally distributed meat products, with some consumers relying solely on products from known local farmers.
How people may "employ" themselves within these realities, or are to be employed and nourished by them, are then the questions to be explored. The monetarized economy is not the context in which the real challenges lie to the future sustainability of community. One approach to articulating the range of approaches to engagement is offered as an annex: Engagement: 14 contrasting concepts of meaningful employment.
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Hazel Henderson. Building a Win-Win World: life beyond economics. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 1996
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Christopher Lasch. The Minimal Self; psychic survival in troubled times. London, Pan, 1985
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