by Alex Burrett
Copyright Alex Burrett 2016
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This manifesto proposes a universal way to encourage socially beneficial behaviour. There are more things wrong with our world than institutional indifference to social good. However, solving this issue could have a positive impact on other problems.
My proposal follows this introduction. It is called . Within the text of this document, have hyperlinked words that need further explanation. Each link takes you to a chapter entitled with the highlighted word or phrase.
This is the first version of Rewarding Behaviour. Please send me your thoughts on the content. I will revise this manifesto over time in response to feedback. Details of all contributions and an overview of version changes can found in the section at the end of this document.
Send your thoughts to . Let me know in your email if you want to be kept up-to-date with future revisions.
In developed countries, social cohesion has been sacrificed on the altar of individual gratification. Individuals wanted more and better. Inventors and entrepreneurs rallied to serve our desires. We progressed – pulled along by our hunger for improvement. This strategy worked well for centuries. Survival rates benefitted more from technological advances than from recognising individual social contributions. But the paths of ‘what we want in the short term’ and ‘what is good for us in the long term’ diverged. As we moved forwards, we increasingly abandoned non-commercial activities – regardless of their contribution to social wellbeing.
We’ve now reached point where the benefits of technological advances are becoming outweighed by the disadvantages. New consumer inventions make us less active. Improved food production is turning us fat. Social media is stopping us socialising. Even medical advances will become less important to the majority – focusing, quite rightly, on a shrinking minority of ill people or providing more years of relative infirmity for the very old.
The wellbeing of the majority during the majority of their lives can now be improved more by positive social interaction than by technological advances. To do this, we need to amend our reward system. We need to provide additional for carrying out beneficial social activity. Although many already help others altruistically, there’s no moral reason why they shouldn’t receive further tangible rewards. And tangible rewards might encourage even more people to help one another. This would deliver additional social benefits – thereby improving general wellbeing.
There is an obstacle. . Money is our dominant reward system. Money, in its most basic form, is stored work. We can earn money doing or making things for other people. Yes, people can and do earn money when they help others. But money is indifferent to social good. You can earn lots of money making torture weapons for psychopaths or providing sexually explicit photographs of babies to paedophiles.
When you criticise money, capitalists leap to its defence. Money has taken us from the Iron Age to the Information Age. It has done, they will point out, sterling work. (Pun intended.) They will admit it has weaknesses – but claim there is no better system for rewarding endeavour. Ardent supporters will even insist it’s the best possible system for organising the human world. They do so much like C18th defendants of god’s failure to eradicate evil, claimed we lived in, “The best of all possible worlds.”
Never let anyone claim something is the best possible anything. There’s always room for improvement.
The necessary cultural shift towards rewarding social good cannot be delivered through money. Money is a Gordian Knot. Try to unravel it and you will make an even bigger tangle. Just ask central bankers. Plus money is partially responsible for the problem – so cannot be relied on to deliver a solution. For these reasons, I propose a supplementary system to run in parallel with money. Those who help others are rewarded with an additional non-transferable currency: .
Sound silly? Imagine yourself a resident of the New Kingdom of Egypt around 1250 BC. You are living in one of the greatest human civilisations to date. At it’s greatest moment. Now imagine someone telling you that democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of belief, individual consumerism and, craziest of all, absolute freedom… would make the world a better place. That proposition would sound ludicrous.
When our basic needs are being met, particularly if our society is outperforming others in our time, it’s difficult to imagine things being demonstrably different. This is entirely natural. And yet history shows us that continually changes. Change is constant. And change is driven by ideas. My idea is that we reward socially beneficial activity with something separate to the monetary system. This will rejuvenate an old-fashioned notion of society – one that elevates long-term, broad access to wellbeing above short-term individual gratification.
My sister, who has worked in healthcare and social care for decades, told me, “Ill health is a great leveller.” We attribute little value to good health when we have it – and immense value to it when we don’t. Western society is ill. Socially sick. But there’s little recognition of this. A parallel can be drawn with resistance to a national healthcare system in the US.
Medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the US. Most of those in the US who file for bankruptcy because of medical expenses, had some form of health insurance when they became ill. And yet many Americans are opposed to national health care. I bet most of those who go bankrupt through illness, or find themselves dying of treatable health conditions, wish there was a national health care system. But national health care is resisted because, although ill health is a great leveller, the sick remain in the minority.
Things only change when a sizeable proportion of society demands change. Recognising the need for change is the first step.
We have handed control of our communities to . And The Market doesn’t give a damn about our communities. The Market destroys the viability of them more quickly than endemic drug addiction or changes to transport infrastructure. The Market will rip the heart out of a community at the whim of a fashion.
As mentioned earlier, this has been expedient. Now, at our level of technological advancement, we need to address our social ill health.
If I had a penny for every time I heard someone say nurses, youth workers, teachers etc. should be paid more… I’d have a lot of pennies. AND I DON”T WANT PENNIES. I want a different form of change. We need to create an independent reward system that mitigates The Market’s social indifference.
I propose that people who do socially beneficial work earn Smiles in addition to their monetary income. These can be redeemed but expire on redemption. This is necessary because the transferability of money turns it into an exploitable commodity. Social good should not be exploitable. Capitalists exploit the desire for big diamonds or limited-edition trainers. These are desires for gratification that deserve to be exploited. And exploitation of consumerism drives innovation. Acts of kindness, on the other hand, should not be exploitable by third parties. Kindness is the antithesis of exploitation.
Governments will resist supporting this social reward system. They will resist it because the political elite feed from the same trough as The Market. Mainstream political parties, along with wealthy individuals and corporations, have convinced us there is no other way than the neoliberal way. They have cajoled us into thinking The Market knows best. It doesn’t. It only knows profitability. Which is a sycophant. Profitability is a bosom buddy when things are going well for you, disinterested when they aren’t. But, like learning too late that a national health scheme would have helped you stay healthy, happy and productive… most of us only wish for a healthier society when feral society bites us. In the meantime, we share Profitability’s indifference to social good. This tacit commitment to neoliberalism ensures the masses vote for lower taxes – despite the negative consequences of lower taxation.
We must see the truth behind the economic conditioning of the last few decades – a ruse to direct more wealth towards a tiny minority at the expense of broad social wellbeing. We have been befuddled with the glittering iron pyrite of rabid consumerism. It is our responsibility to see stuffocation for what it is – fool’s bait. It is worth noting it is a child, untarnished by political manipulation, who notices the Emperor is naked in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale. Like the child who sees things for what they are, we must rediscover our natural awareness that healthy communities enrich our lives. We must relearn that true richness is gathered through positive social interactions… not money.
There will be institutional resistance to an alternative to money. This is because our institutions are built with, and thrive on, money. Therefore the onus is on the masses to instigate change. The reprioritisation of beneficial social activity can only spring from the grass roots. To kick-start it, local communities must form Recognition Panels to decide who receives Smiles. These panels should be democratic and as broadly representative as possible.
At first, Smiles won’t travel too many miles. Their value won’t reach much further than the existing form of non-monetary social reward – local recognition of, and reward for, socially beneficial activity (e.g. the local butcher who gives local hospice workers free steak on Fridays).
Because the Smile system must grow from the local level, Smiles won’t earn much in the early days. Perhaps, at a community fair, an amateur baker will exchange two thirds of their produce for money and one third for Smiles. They would do this because they can afford to do so – and because they want to show their appreciation for positive contributions to their community. Without Smiles, the baker wouldn’t know that the hunched old man in tattered clothes eyeing their produce, spent 40 years running a boxing gym that kept young lads out of trouble. Via Smiles, that boxing coach could enjoy a slice of Victoria Sponge in the evening knowing his life’s work has been appreciated – surrounded by photos of the young men he’s helped achieve.
As the Smile movement grows, money-wealthy philanthropists might convert some of their wealth into Smile-redeemable products and services. A holiday resort owner, for example, might set aside 5% of their portfolio for Smile redemption. The value we attribute to Smiles would grow as more people accept them.
Eventually, transport companies could accept Smiles as payment for travel, utility businesses for vital services, medical providers for treatment and medicines. Even governments – for rent or taxation. This might sound ridiculous within our neo-liberal, capitalist paradigm. But governments regularly spend our money on expendable items. Take bombs for example. If we’re happy that tax money is converted into weapon systems that turn to scrap on use, why shouldn’t it be converted into beneficial social systems? Governments could build houses for which the rent or mortgage could be partially paid in Smiles. If you think governments would be unable to turn tax money into assets like homes without hope of ongoing income streams, remember they’re happy to turn public assets (developed over decades) into private wealth for revenue adrenaline shots known as privatisation. So, with the necessary political mandate, governments could let or redeem property to Smile owners. Political change is necessary. But this mechanism for rewarding social good will benefit society. Is it not the job of governments to make society better for the majority?
And what better way to reward socially beneficial activity… than with a Smile.
“…Cogito ergo sum” – René Descartes.
Context is everything. I am a middle-aged, white, British male. I’ve visited the US and several European countries. I’ve enjoyed (other than for fleeting moments) all of Maslow’s basic needs. I was state educated up to the age of 17, then spent 6 years becoming and being a British Army Officer. I retired at 23 and have since had numerous micro-careers. In lots of interesting sectors. I am happily married and a proud father of 4 children. I’m fortunate to have received a good education and been born in a wealthy, secure country. I feel incredibly privileged.
Everything I say must be viewed through the lens of me.
“There are only two forces that unite men – fear and [self] interest.” – Napoleon.
In this proposal, I explore interest. Self-interest.
(Fear, according to Napoleon, is the driving force of revolution. So I’m happy to avoid it. Revolutions put crowns on new clowns.)
We are motivated by self-interest – in which I include providing for close family members. We want the best possible provisions for our needs. And we want to stimulate our minds and senses. As much as possible. The mainstream way to achieve this is through money. Money lets us buy things we want.
But money is incapable of targeting non-financial goals such as improving social wellbeing. To motivate people to do good, we need something that specifically rewards such behaviour.
“Money often costs too much.” – Ralph Emerson.
For centuries, money has been an incredibly efficient way to organise complex human society. But the time has come for a system to offset the negative impacts of money. Think of it like fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have taken us through the industrial age – from American Independence to the first man on the moon. Fossil fuels, though we are still addicted to them, have reached a similar crisis point to that of money. We are at (or have possibly passed) the point where fossil fuels do us more harm than good. We must switch to better, cleaner energy sources. Likewise, we must begin the move to a healthier reward system.
The great strength of money is its transferability. The effort of one person’s work can be transferred through a complex system, offering endless positive outcomes for holders of this currency. But, like many great ideas, it’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. The transferability of money makes it something that can be exploited.
The needs to transfer, store and increase monetary wealth turns money into a commodity. Those who deal in this commodity siphon off huge amounts as reward for their marshalling. The sometimes stratospheric level of monetary reward for these marshals is justified by the economic paradigm they have sculpted. They are a fiscal aristocracy – claiming, like their blue-blooded ancestors, their expertise in managing the status quo justifies their extreme wealth. (They also believe that the ignorant, ignoble poor deserve petty reward in return for their [enforced] absence from the corridors of power.)
But money, marvellous as it has been as a means of reward and facilitating exchange, is no longer exclusively capable of delivering the best, long-term interests of the majority of the population. Money is The Wizard of Oz, the greenbacked man pulling strings behind the fiery visage we know as democratic capitalism. (Which, under critical analysis reveals, itself to be neither entirely democratic nor entirely capitalistic.)
“You’ll find that life is still worthwhile… if you just Smile.” – Nat King Cole (comp. Charlie Chaplin).
Although cheesy, what better reward than a Smile? Almost globally, the smile is recognised as a means of showing appreciation.
Smiles cannot be passed-on or hoarded. The Smile instantly rewards the benefactor. Its transient nature is not seen as a weakness. It is part of its worth.
“…there’s no such thing as society.” – Margaret Thatcher
In 1987, when Margaret Thatcher said this, I completely disagreed. I’d grown up in a South Wales cobweb of positive social interactions. When I heard it, I was living in the North of England where coal miners were fighting for their jobs and communities.
Ten years later, working in advertising in London’s Soho, Thatcher’s words rang truer. Most of the people I interacted with had no knowledge of pre-Thatcher Britain. Or poorer areas outside the South East of England. They were focussed on their own lives and financial rewards. There wasn’t much sign of the broad social supportiveness I’d benefitted from during childhood.
Thatcher was right. But only because she, and fellow neoliberals, had made things that way. For them The Market was king. A monetary monarchy.
It’s time for fiscal revolution. We must overthrow the careless dictator. Better reward people who do social good, and we’ll build healthier societies.
“The … market is filled with individuals who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” – Philip Fisher.
The Market is the free market system promoted by neoliberals. According to this system, prices are set by supply and demand. Something that is wanted but in limited supply will attract a high price. The opposite is true for items that are readily available – particularly if demand is low.
Neoliberals insist that the market should be free of institutional interference. The reality of Western capitalism is far different.
To be truly democratic, I’ve made the first version of this manifesto publically available at the same time as distributing it to family and friends. Because it is distributed via , all versions will be stored on that platform for future reference.
Please let me know what you think of this proposal. Future changes will be shaped by your suggestions. If you want to be kept up-to-date with revisions, remember to let me know in your feedback email to .
This first version of Rewarding Behaviour was published on 27th June 2016.
Version 1: Me, myself and I.
In developed countries, social cohesion has been sacrificed on the altar of individual gratification. Individuals wanted more and better. Inventors and entrepreneurs rallied to serve our desires. We progressed – pulled along by our hunger for improvement. This strategy worked well for centuries. Survival rates benefitted more from technological advances than from recognising individual social contributions. But the paths of ‘what we want in the short term’ and ‘what is good for us in the long term’ diverged. As we moved forwards, we increasingly abandoned non-commercial activities – regardless of their contribution to social wellbeing. We’ve now reached point where the benefits of technological advances are becoming outweighed by the disadvantages. New consumer inventions make us less active. Improved food production is turning us fat. Social media is stopping us socialising. Even medical advances will become less important to the majority – focusing, quite rightly, on a shrinking minority of ill people or providing more years of relative infirmity for the very old. The wellbeing of the majority during the majority of their lives can now be improved more by positive social interaction than by technological advances. To do this, we need to amend our reward system. We need to provide additional motivation for carrying out beneficial social activity. Although many already help others altruistically, there’s no moral reason why they shouldn’t receive further tangible rewards. And tangible rewards might encourage even more people to help one another. This would deliver additional social benefits – thereby improving general wellbeing.