Will We Ever Stop Dragging Our Knuckles?

Updated July 30, 2020: I wrote this post seven years ago. It’s every bit as applicable today as it was then – maybe more so. At present we have unprecedented hurdles facing us – that seem to multiply every day. But maybe our biggest hurdle is thinking we can go back to the way we were. That thinking is delusion. That said, not all of this is bad. In fact this may very well be the perfect time for us hone our skills and embrace a new way to ground ourselves in empathy and benevolence.


Neanderthal cartoon

From February 23, 2011

Yesterday I commented on a provocative blog post by my friend Greg Rader, “The Future of Status – Conspicuous Production.”

Imagine if there was no money and no things to buy. How would you show the world your worth? Or how would you show yourself?

Would your value lie in the number of friends you have – physical or electronic? Would it lie in the quality and depth or your relationships with these friends (kind of three-dimensional assessment)? Maybe it would lie in the number pieces of art you produced, or books and articles you’ve written.

Or better yet … what about the number of karma points you’ve accumulated by doing random acts of good? Haven’t we reached a point on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where we can at least flirt with self actualization?

Over your last couple posts, I think you’ve been us leading to this. It’s obvious, the standard societal measurement of wealth and worth just isn’t cutting it for you. I join you brother.

Maybe this is the first step – discontent. Only then we can find our own “store of value.” and from there truly maximize it’s worth. Maybe this is what mean when I talk about “On the Road to Your Perfect World.” Thanks for pointing me the way. 🙂

I viewed the focus of Greg’s piece as: “Isn’t there a way of presenting our value to world other than just through the money we make and our consumption habits?” As you can tell from my comment above – it’s a topic that’s been on my mind also.

Recently, in light of the sky-high valuations of several dotcom 2.0 stocks, such as Facebook, Groupon and Twitter, this matter seems to be especially relevant. Recent investments have Facebook worth $52 billion and Twitter at $10 billion, while Groupon recently turned a $6 billion offer from Google.

But I ask you … on what are these values based. In the first two it’s their ability to act as an advertising platforms and Groupon is worth what it can take as a cut of the pie. Isn’t there more though … more than just money and advertising, more than just a vehicle to accommodate more and more consumption. God I hope so.

Let’s put Groupon aside, they are what they are – a group buying coupon service … nothing more, nothing less. Eventually they will fall prey to another ‘new and improved’ version of the same.

But Facebook and Twitter are different. To label then as just advertising platforms is to vastly understate what they really are – what they’re really worth. One needs to look no further back than one month. Only thirty days ago the political environment in the Middle East was much the same as it’s been for the last thirty years. No longer. Tunisia is liberated. Egypt is liberated. Libya will be in a matter a days, and whoever is next is anyone’s guess.

While Facebook and Twitter didn’t overthrow these dictatorships … they played an integral role. They facilitated strategic and tactical communication that was on the level of a sophisticated military sorte, only performed primarily by young civilians. These social networks provided something that wasn’t there before … coordination. The results to this point have been the liberation of tens of billions of dollars and ten millions of people, people who now have the prospect of governing themselves and having a say in their future.

What’s that worth?

How can you put a monetary value on person’s freedom? How can you say in dollars and cents what it’s worth to know you have something to get up for in the morning; to know that just maybe your children might just have a better life than you … a life you could only dream of.

Why does everything have to be based on money and what we spend it on. Just because you drive a Mercedes 450SL (and I drive a Ford Taurus) – does that make you worth more than me. I could make a case on the contrary. We focus so much on our children making sure they go to college and get a job that pays a lot of money. How many us even discuss any other options – any other means of worth? This valuation system seems Neanderthal in the light of what’s happening in the world these days.

I have been there and done it. I’ve had the nice car, the apartment on the water, the original art on walls. But it sure wasn’t “the be all end all.” The car’s gone, the apartment gone and the art … well, Blake, Brody and Sydney are enjoying it. The memories are good, but now it’s time to move on.

It’s like the pursuit of possessions had put me in a cloud. I had other pursuits, but the almighty dollar reigned supreme. No longer.

My valuation lies not in my financial net worth, but rather in what Greg says, “my conspicuous production” and what results from it. Production can be anything. It could this blog post. It could be the comments that result from it. And as I said in my comment above, it could be in the karma points I accumulate by doing good things. So here it is, here is my definition of “my value:”

My value is the sum total of all positive synaptic connections I have a role in creating, both in myself and in others. In other words, the more I can get people thinking in ways they wouldn’t otherwise think in – and correspondingly act in ways that benefit themselves and others … the more I’m worth.

There you have it.

Now it’s time to pick up my hands … my knuckles are bloody.


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One thought on “Will We Ever Stop Dragging Our Knuckles?

  1. The critique of what we value is very timely, and money indeed is an increasingly useless and dangerous metric. However the logic of “the more I can get people thinking in ways they wouldn’t otherwise think in – and correspondingly act in ways that benefit themselves and others … the more I’m worth” is only a baby step removed from the logic of monetary “wealth” https://autcollab.org/2018/04/09/autistic-cognition-decoded-for-earthlings/.

    The implicit assumption in this case is that you somehow already “know” what is beneficial to others, feel entitled to educate people accordingly, and possibly even to use techniques of persuasion to shift people’s opinions. In our times of extreme conformism it is important to equip people with thinking tools – with meta tools that allow them to question everything that they hear from other people. The following little experiment illustrates the danger of conformism, it illustrates at an atomic social level how spurious cultural complexity is propagated https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6ocDmkEP1-8MFE1TzRSN09UWHM/view.

    I believe the biggest service that we can provide to fellow humans is to help them to better understand each other. When you think about this for a minute it becomes clear that mutual understanding (and the resulting level of collective intelligence) can only be achieved at eye level, with no goal of clocking up karma points and no goal of changing the other person’s opinions. If I am convinced that my perspective is “worth” more than your perspective, then I am already biased against learning about your context. I have outlined the difference between social transmission of beliefs and deeper forms of learning in this article https://ciic.s23m.com/2018/11/26/a-theory-of-cultural-evolution/. At eye level the teacher learns as much as the student, and the two roles become indistinguishable.

    I would be inclined to re-frame your conclusion to the following:

    “The more I can get people to question in ways they otherwise wouldn’t – and correspondingly discover new insights about the world and themselves … the more we are able to learn from each other, and the more we will start to understand each other. The unique gift that I can bring to the world is the generative potential of all the trusted relationships that I have a role in creating, both with myself and between others. It all starts with the realisation that my gift is not worth any more or any less than the gifts of other people.”

    Karma points may well be a useful crutch on the journey of learning to think without an externally visible currency of social status. But once the assistance of the crutch is no longer needed, it can be discarded.

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