Removing barriers to a new economy that is both sustainable and fairer for all.
We keep hearing about systemic problems. Systemic racism, systemic abuse, systemic poverty.
What is it about the system that fails so many people?
This is an essay that offers answers. It explores the history and basis of society. It proposes the basis of a new understanding, one that underpins the transformation of society into one that is sustainable, compassionate, effective and fairer for all.
It starts off with a brief history of mankind. It is told for a reason, from a very particular perspective. It is told to help understand our successes to date, so we can keep and nourish the bits that have worked well. And it is told so that we can understand and circumvent our limitations, to work out more intelligent ways to achieve a brighter future for humanity.
But before we can even start to tell the story, we have to articulate why we want the story to tell.
This is not the story of the human species, nor of our beliefs, nor of wars. This is the story of what makes life worth living. It is the story of how the most primitive life forms we know emerged from a lifeless planet and evolved into this most complex of worlds in which life teems from the deepest depths of the seas to the highest reaches of the skies. It is the story of the world we inhabit that provides us with everything we need to live. But most specifically, this story tells a tale of human endeavour, of resilience, of irrepressible drive and of the emergence of an intelligent consciousness that has taken humanity even to the stars.
This story poses a key question. It asks humanity, as a species, where do we want to go? For if we can map a future for mankind, one which nurtures the planet on which we rely for life, one which serves the very people who drive our communities, our towns and our nations forward, one which recognises and enshrines our deepest passions and potentials, we have the opportunity to create a better world, full of care, of meaning and of happiness for all.
This is the story of humanity.
In the Beginning …
Organic molecules collected together into cells. Cells collected together into specialist organs that supported primitive organisms. The organs grew in complexity to become more specialised, more proficient at their specialist task. The host organism changed shape, becoming better adapted to their environment to grow and reproduce. They spread geographically, encountering new environments. The organisms that were best able to adapt to the new environments outperformed those that did not. As they grew in complexity and sophistication, increasingly new, diverse and more complex species evolved — bacteria, fungi, plants and trees, plankton, fish, insects, mammals, dinosaurs. The success of a species depended entirely on how well its members’ component cells and organs were able to work together to extract from the environment what each cell needed for energy and to reproduce.
About 500,000 years ago, a particular branch of mammal evolved in an unusually adaptable way — humans. There was one aspect of our particularly human specialisation that marked us out from the rest. Our brains.
For the first 430,000 years or so, humans were not especially different to any other species on the planet in evolutionary terms. Like other species, our numbers ebbed and flowed as we cycled through times of plenty and times famine, through flooding and drought, through ice ages and global warming. In the beginning, our brains were not that remarkable. They empowered us to develop and use tools to carry out tasks that our bodies had not evolved to carry out. We learnt how to make fire. We learnt better techniques for hunting. We were starting to adapt to new environments without having to wait for nature to equip us to do so. And for the great majority of our evolutionary history, our brains slowly grew in size and sophistication. We found if we hunted as a pack, we were able to subdue even the largest animals in ways that individuals alone could not. We learnt to set traps for prey and to manipulate our prey to run directly into the traps we had set. Our intelligence was growing apace.
During the first 85% of our evolutionary history, our survival as a species was dependent on how well we were able to raise our game by joining together into communities. We evolved a vast array of physical and emotional attributes that supported our working together to achieve something that we were unable to do alone. Communities that worked together effectively established functional capacities that were beyond the reach of individuals. The communities almost took on a life of their own, through specialisation and collaboration. This process of combining cells, organs and individuals into coherent entities is nature’s way of bestowing the specialisms needed to evolve into higher organisms. During this story, we refer to the miracle of nature that emerges from this natural process of evolution as an “entity”. It comprises any number of sub-parts working together to create a new whole, complete with its own particular set of attributes and functionality.
And so it was. Many species evolved to establish communities, the entity created by large numbers of individuals. There was one characteristic of human communities in particular that set us apart from our ancestors. The characteristic emerged around 70,000 years ago. It sounded the starting gun that was to change the fortunes of humanity forever. That gun was language.
At that time, our brains had developed an enormous capacity to understand our environment. We were able to come up with creative and new solutions to our challenges. We were developing ever increasingly sophisticated language to communicate with each other, to collaborate with each other on hunts, to protect ourselves against the elements. But the dramatic change seems to have happened over a relatively short period of time — our drawings and our language started to support abstract thought. We were able to plan ahead because we were able to conceive in vivid detail how a hunt would pan out. We could organise our communities into efficient groupings. We were already able to learn. But our new abstract language gave us the tools to pass on what we had learnt to other communities and to the next generation. We no longer needed to rely exclusively on being equipped with better-adapted behaviours by the slow natural response of genes mutating to new environments or circumstances. We could solve problems, pass on those new skills, and the new skills allowed us to solve even more complex skills.
Around 70,000 years ago, we had already worked out how plants grow. With our newly developed tools of language, we were able to share that knowledge with others in a way that allowed us to plant fields of food. We were still dependent on weather cycles, but we were now less dependent on having to find new hunting fields when our existing ones dried up. Our entry to the world of farming opened the opportunity to switch from a nomadic lifestyle to a fixed residence. This allowed us to created permanent residences, more robust, more resilient to the dangers of violent natural weather patterns and violent animals. Without having to move to pastures new every three to six months, we had more time to address other challenges of life. In the same way that the early organisms had thrived on the back of specialist cells and organs, our communities developed ever more specialist roles for members of the community, which allowed our communities to grow in a multitude of ways. Our farming productivity improved. Our buildings became stronger and bigger. We were able to develop bigger, better and more specialist tools. Individuals were able to become especially proficient at their specialist task through repetitive practice and continual development of better ways of carrying out those tasks.
Around 70,000 years ago, the human population exploded. And it has never looked back. Yet!
The single most significant factor in this sea change of human success was collaboration. Our newly matured language had opened up a new opportunity. We no longer needed to evolve our nature to be able to enjoy the fruits of evolution. We had learnt to overtake natural evolution by combining with each other and with the resources around us to co-create new, better adapted, more powerful entities. We had evolved the capacities we needed to design and create coherent entities, tailored to our individual and collective needs. We had learnt for ourselves how to adapt. And in purely evolutionary terms, our ability to adapt to changes so rapidly gave us a huge advantage over our ancestors. The age of humanity had arrived.
Mapping the Human Journey
Humans have come a long way in their ½ million year existence. It would help our future prosperity to understand what we have achieved and how we can improve our lot in life going forward.
But first, some questions to reflect on. How have we been successful? How do we judge success? Have we even been successful?
This part of the story introduces two conundra relating to assessing success.
Between 1800 and today, the human population has increased from around 1 billion to just short of 8 billion. An almost eight-fold increase in just 200 years. But we have achieved this growth at the expense of other life. In the last 10,000 humans have destroyed half of all the plants on earth. Since 1970, we have killed off 60% of the animal population. In order to sustain a meteoric population growth, we have been destroying the very life on which we depend for our survival. If we continue our destructive trajectory, the likely outcome of future human generations looks bleak. If we want to avoid mass starvation, we will need to find new, less destructive ways to sustain ourselves.
So the first conundrum in measuring our success is how to evaluate the devastation wrought in our wake. How do we judge the fragile state in which this destruction leaves our future prospects.
But measuring success in purely evolutionary terms somewhat misses the point. Humanity has found a way to evolve beyond the scope of natural evolution. We have the capacity to identify challenges to our future and to use our prodigious ingenuity to work out solutions. We no longer need to depend exclusively on the slow process of natural selection. We have worked out not just how to live more reproductive lives, but also also how to live life better. We no longer have to focus exclusively on our species staying healthy enough to reproduce, we can now also focus on individual wellbeing.
In traditional evolution, the purpose of non-reproductive individuals is to support the reproductive ones. Not so in human society. Individual purpose is far more nuanced. It can be also be defined in terms of an individual’s wellbeing, no longer exclusively as their contribution to the wellbeing of the entire species.
The success of society depends in part on our emotional experience of life. This is where we distinguish humans from other species. We are not the only species that mourn the loss of close family or community members. Elephants bury their dead. They show strong signs of grieving. As humans, we do not assess the success of an Elephant population with reference to individual elephant’s emotional experience of life. But where it comes to humans, we do.
So the second conundrum is how to reflect the quality of individual life in our assessment of the success of our species.
The Fruits of Success
Have we been successful?
In purely evolutionary terms, there are several ways to measure success. Humans have survived for 500,000 years — the Horshoe Crab has survived for 445 million. There are 7 billion humans on the earth — there are 10,000 trillion ants. For every 1 kilo of human biomass on earth, there are around 80,000 kilos of plants. In these terms, humanity is not an especially successful species, even though, relative to our ancestors, there is a lot for humanity to be proud of.
Where success becomes tilted more directly in favour of humanity is the extent of control we have over our enjoyment of life. Here, we have a good deal more to shout about. In the last 200 years, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 90% to 10% today. One hundred years ago, richer countries devoted 1% of their wealth to supporting children, the poor and aged. Today it has risen to 25%. Today. the proportion of people killed in wars ia about ¼ of what it was in the 1980s, around 1/16th of what it was in the early 1950s. Early in the 19th century, 12% of the world could read and write, today,it is 83%. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of global deaths from malaria fell by 60%. In the UK, life expectancy has risen from 47 in 1845 to 81 in 2011. In the US, time spent doing laundry fell from 11.5 hours a week in 1920 to 1.5 hours in 2014.
We have developed better clothing, more advanced medicine, more robust buildings, better and more comfortable ways of transport to get around. We are developing a whole new generation of medical treatments through our new understanding of genetics. We are developing robots to automate and improve on carrying out a huge array of tasks, freeing us up for more enjoyable and productive pastimes.
Yes, in material terms, there is also a good deal to be proud of.
In social terms, we still have a long way to go. In the US, 75% of adults live with what they describe as moderate to high levels of stress. 40% of workers say they are unable to manage their stress without help. In Australia, 91% of adults feel stress in at least one important area of their lives. Depression is the major cause of disability worldwide. Fewer than 25% of those with depression have access to effective treatment. In the UK, around 1 in 20 children have been sexually abused. According to a UN study, 22% of women are subject to domestic violence at some point in their life. Around 58% of Hispanic adults in the US have experienced discrimination.
We have made huge advances in our ability to provide for the material needs of our species. This has come at great cost to our emotional wellbeing.
Mechanics of Success
What has been the key to our qualified success?
The success of humanity is not achieved through the success of individual humans. Individually, we have an amazing ability to understand our surroundings and to develop any number of innovative solutions. Individually we are resilient and persistent — some more than others, but by and large, we are all endowed with a whole host of skills and capacities that support ourselves and our species. But our individual capacities are limited.
None of us individually can push a massive fallen tree trunk out of the way. If each of us pushes one after the other, the trunk stays put. But something changes when enough of us push together as one. Collectively, we can generate enough power to move the trunk. The number of people involved in moving the tree is not the decisive factor. It is how we combine our efforts to create the enormous force needed to move the tree which none of us alone can generate that determines the outcome.
This ability to combine to create new functionality, capacity or skill is quite a common feature of evolution.
The human body itself can be perceived to be a combination of thousands of component parts. We have individual cells which contain a unique combination of genes, genetic cells that combine into genetic organs, genetic organs that combine into our genetic body. But even the individual and combined genetic cells are not enough to sustain a living, breathing person. We are host to literally billions of non-human cells and living that help us to carry out the bunch of necessary physical and chemical reactions for life. We even carry non-organic material, without which we could not live. In volume terms, over 80% of the human body is made up of water. Communities of ants, for example, achieve functionality that is truly amazing relative to the size and capacity of an individual ant. There is one species of ants, army ants, that individually are puny relative to humans but when combined, become the most ferocious predator on the planet.
We have a name for this process of entities combining together to create a functionality or capability that eludes each individual component entity. We call it a combined entity. It can come into being through evolution, such as cells, organisms and inert materials combining to become a person — an evolved entity. It can also come into being through behaviour, such as ants coming together to create an ant colony or humans coming together to push away a trunk — a co-created entity with unique functionality that only comes into being through fusing together the efforts of its component parts. It is such a significant concept in both evolution and in what makes us successful, we need a term for it.
I call it an “enfusion”.
The Life Cycle of Nations
In this history of humanity, which of these forces wins the prize for our success: aggression, power, competition or exploitation?
Answer: All of them. But which rules supreme at any one times depends on the circumstances on the ground at the time. Whichever has paved the way to our success, if we want to move forward into the future, the time has now come for the old guard to make way for the new. This is the next part of our story.
In no part of our history has a celebrity ever achieved success alone. Think of the universally recognised names. Julius Caesar, Kublai Kahn, Napoleon and Hitler. They all relied on well trained and ruthless armies for their temporary dominance. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela came to fame by leveraging the collective anguish of entire populations in defence against brutal oppression. Even the great explorers such as Christopher Columbus (discovery of America), Neil Armstrong (first man on the moon) and João Rodrigues Serrão (first person to sail around the world) who carried out super-human feats of bravery depended for their success on others — on the people who helped them through childhood, on the people who inspired and educated them, on those who helped fund their expeditions and by the millions of people who were inspired by and benefited from their feats.
A community is a type of enfusion. The power of community is too great for any individual to compete with.
The first human communities ranged from just a handful to 100 or so. Natural evolution optimised a human nature that communes best with up to 150 people or so. Evolution bestowed on us a diverse set of social capacities that are best suited to these sizes of communities, such as skills that bring about trust, compassion, togetherness and joy.
Communities grew and grew because the gains from larger sized communities were so great. They grew so quickly that the evolution of our natural social skill set was not able to keep up.
In order to grow, communities had to rely on leaders to manage effectively the changing nature of social interactions. Some people cooked, some hunted, some farmed, some looked after the children. Some built homes. Some made tools. A few painted. Leaders were needed to ensure everyone shared in the fruits of success, in the growing output of the enlarging communities. Everyone needed enough to eat, everyone was looked after, everyone contributed as best as they could. The communities that failed to take enough care for their own could not grow as fast as any neighbouring communities who did. They could either trade with their more successful neighbours or subdue them militarily. But they would never be able to outperform their economic success in the long run.
Communities both grew in size and spread far and wide. Generally, people stayed put where there were enough resources to sustain them. They moved when they started running out of enough natural resources for their needs. The innovation and efficiencies that accompanied population growth allowed communities to make better use of the scarce resources around them. But there were times where resources were not enough. Climate change, natural disasters, growing demands from populations or simple overuse from static populations left parts of the communities, or sometimes entire communities, in need of more. Human ingenuity, resourcefulness, resilience and raw courage enabled us to populate ever-growing ranges on natural conditions — from the searing heat of the African deserts to the bitter cold of the Siberian ice caps, from the riches of the rain forest to the harshness of the Mongolian mountain peaks.
There was one feature common to the success of all communities. Its members had to work together to realise their benefits. Once communities grew beyond the size for which we are equipped, they needed leadership. In some communities, leaders were chosen, in other individuals or sub-groups took control. Every leader had their own style. Some treated leadership as a service to the people they led. Others were somewhat more focused on their own interests.
In the light of scarce resources, it is not surprising that people and communities competed with each other. It was one thing looking for prey and protecting against natural predators. It was quite another have to defend against enemies of super-intelligent, resourceful, tooled humans. Communities grew to realise the benefits of growth. But they also needed to grow to be able to defend against every larger, more hostile neighbours. Communities had to devote increasing numbers of resources to defend themselves. If they failed, they risked being subdued, their possessions and people pillaged. There was no rule of law to protect against unruly neighbours.
In the ultimate of ironies, military strength became a necessity for security and peace.
Military leaders commanded the armies. They were able to act with impunity. But even the most powerful leaders needed to respect the members of their society. Without members of their own communities, they would not be able to sustain their military prowess. Some of the more fierce leaders chose to oppress neighbouring communities. That kept them going for a while. But at some stage, their success depended on the communities they ruled.
Every society that wants long-term success has to accept the need to protect and provide for its members. They are the producers and consumers of the economy that provides the means for a military to equip and populate itself. History is littered with leaders whose success was predicated on overcoming neighbouring populations, who enslaved or exploited members of their own and their neighbouring populations. Their anaemic economies were not able to compete with the vibrancy and innovation of other societies run on a more caring, fairer basis. Eventually, even the most successful military nations decline, yielding to nations that are better equipped to take advantage of the gains of an economy that understands how to engage and reward its members effectively.
Humans being humans, there seems to be a natural progression to the path to a successful economy.
Anarchy is the state where communities are ruled by warlords, often fighting and competing against each other, who rule and exploit their communities with impunity. As mentioned already, communities need leadership to grow. Competition between humans for scarce resources means leaders need to exert force. Having sole access to force within a community allows leaders to rule and pillage with impunity. It is close to inevitable that small communities will be ruled by leaders with access to the means of violence. Members of society pay for protection within society, either with money or through the support of the leaders. It is quite a disturbing experience to pay for protection. But the alternatives are often worse.
As the need for communities to defend themselves against aggressive neighbours, they become more powerful. Typically, societies with powerful communities progress into anarchy. Strong warlords rule a number of communities, dictating the terms of life. It allows communities to grow because the warlords offer a degree of security against other warlords looking to dispossess individuals or entire communities. But strong warlords are not known for their economic acumen. Whereas communities can grow and strengthen, life for individual members is insecure and quite precarious.
Aggressive factions may choose to fight each other or to leave each other alone. But in time, the nature of aggressive warlords favours a less harmonious outcome. As one warlord sees an advantage in subduing another, there will be growing skirmishes or full out war. As separate communities are smashed into smaller numbers of larger groupings, they have a growing advantage against other warlords in their size. The more people the warlords ruled over, the greater the value of bounty they produced. As the cycle continues, a warlord eventually subsumes enough neighbouring communities into its own, it becomes a nation-state.
Nations are safer places for the majority of its members than the anarchies that preceded it.
Nations born of war are almost certainly ruled or controlled by warriors. Its autocratic leaders rule supreme. They are usually warriors, violent and aggressive. In order to run as effective communities, nations require laws which protect members against the lawlessness of anarchists. They do not protect members against the excesses of supreme leaders since the leader is able to set or ignore laws to suit their purposes.
Greater security offers the opportunity for societies to innovate and for businesses to flourish for those who are left to flourish.
Absolute rule puts control over society in the hands of a very small number of people — the leader and the clique of people on who the leader relies to maintain control. They control who succeeds, how much everyone is paid, even who is allowed to participate in society.
Autocratic leaders have a number of tools at their disposal to maintain control. The predominant one is force. Autocrats rule with an iron rod. They continually fear being undermined by other competing autocrats and by forces from within who want to take control. They can also buy loyalty by diverting wealth or privilege generated by society to key people. Leaders put a great deal of time, effort and resources into protecting their control. They need to protect themselves from attack within and from hostile forces without.
Maintaining control is a primary occupation of an autocracy. People do not take well to being ruled unfairly, with a rod of iron. It opens leaders to many risks from within, from people who are dispossessed or unfairly treated, and so few people that hostile members of society have to overcome to wrest control. The challenge for the autocrat is that the greater the number of people they need to use to maintain control, the fewer the number of people is available to produce consumable output.
As autocracies mature, they find better ways to maintain control using a smaller proportion of the population to do so. Incentivisation features more prominently, the level of coercion and violence softens.
It is difficult to imagine an autocrat ceding control over the running of a nation to anyone else. They need to work with others to maintain order of populations ranging from several hundred thousand to over a billion. But an autocrat, with or without an inner cabal, fears the implications of re1inquishing control.
So how does an autocracy ever develop into a democracy?
It generally starts with leaders needing to share the workload of security/leadership with others. Some leaders will not share, others will do so to a limited extent. Some leaders need a deeper engagement of others and chose to achieve it through incentivisation over coercion. Early forms of democracy involve the election of nobility or wealth land-owners to aspects of government. Where the nation is insecure, leadership by force tends to prevail. Where the nation is more secure, the leaders who delegate their control to a concentrated pool of leaders tend to achieve greater economic opportunities for the nation. As the wealth of the nation expands relative to its neighbours, so does its ability to protect itself from internal or external attack.
A handful of politicians voted in by their wealthy or well-connected peers is better than the one-person rule. But an autocratic or pubescent democratic nation is nowhere near as powerful economically as a democracy that is fully representative of its members. Yet leaders with a tight grip on the control they weald risk personal loss if they allow others to take over some of their control. It could lead to a complete loss of control.
In a fully-fledged representative democracy, a shift is needed from leaders being elected from a tiny pool of privileged people to leaders being elected by a significant proportion of the population. Generally, this shift occurs where the leaders see a compelling benefit to widening the circle of electors.
In Greece, the electorate did not include slaves. This meant that only around 15% of its population was able to vote. Mighty Rome took over from the Greeks. The Senators, who largely controlled the Roman empire were elected from a small clique of the highest echelons of society.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, wider democracy started to emerge in Italy. At the time, there was not strong central control of the nation. Leaders of communities needed the support of their population to be able to stand up to their neighbours and to have enough influence in the weak central government. When the skilled population demanded voting rights, some of them were successful. This lasted just long enough for a central government to become strong enough to feel able to dispense with the experiment. As the Italian exploration of democracy crashed, so did its economy.
When the Spanish and Portuguese nations discovered the Americas, they subdued a flourishing population with monstrous cruelty, murdering huge swathes of the population and enslaving the rest. When the British tried similar tactics in North America, they faced an unexpected challenge. Instead of having to subdue a huge population of South America, the population of North America was tiny. There was no relatively limitless supply of slaves. The British government tried to enslave the early religious settlers. But the settlers were so few in number, the British could not afford the crushing South American technique of mass exploitation. The settlors put an offer to the British government. The settlements could either be granted the right of self-rule, with elected officials, or the few settlors would desert the settlement. If the government wanted people working in the fields in order to extract taxes, they had to submit.
This echoed similar pressures in Britain in the mid-1300s. A disease found its way to the British shores of such devastation that it killed off one-third of the British population. Before then, the major population were compelled to work the fields for the landlords of the time with little or no ability to move to another employer or to demand more wages. Suddenly, the landlords found themselves without the people power to sew and harvest. This offered the population an unusual opportunity to demand change. It came, albeit to a limited extent.
Greater democracy began its long journey to adulthood in the 1700s only when the British monarchy came to rely on Parliament to raise taxes in order to defend itself against its very aggressive neighbours. But it was not until the end of the first world war, when the country experienced another major shock to its system with a colossal loss of life, that all males were entitled to vote. It took another decade before women were granted the right to vote too.
Similar patterns emerged in New Zealand, Switzerland and Scandinavian countries. Representative democracies grew where the conditions were right for central governments to need people to feel engaged enough in the nation-state to provide the co-created human powerhouse needed to drive the nation’s economic growth, whilst ensuring it retained sufficient central control to assure security for the nation’s members from outside and from within and to be able to implement national-scale projects where it was economically advantageous to do so.
But a nation’s road to democracy is not a one-way street. Once the gains of democracy start to become realised, the gains can be sustained only with the continued goodwill of the nation’s people. Where leaders start to place a greater priority on self-preservation than on the nation’s wellbeing, where they divert the fruits of the democratic nation disproportionally to a select, favoured group of people, where they rule without reflecting the true interests of the people they rule, the pressures favouring autocratic rule are never far from the surface.
The challenge for nation builders is to corral thousands to hundreds of millions of people to co-create an ever greater productive enfusions. It is distinctly more complicated than corralling a herd of sheep into a pen. When it comes to humans, the autocratic technique of setting dogs to snap at people’s heals has some impact. But it takes a lot of people and effort to monitor and direct people. Autocrats are more warrior than politician. Divide and conquer is a necessary technique to secure control. These are not great ingredients for to become more productive. The conundrum for an autocrat is they need to retain control to avoid losing their grip on power, but they need to release control to prime the system to become more productive.
Once, and only once, security is reasonably assured, there is a much more productive alternative technique to divide and conquer — unite and build. Warriors are not necessarily the best people to direct everyone’s job to best effect. They are not skilled at productivity, and it is profoundly difficult to micromanage millions of people. Successful building of society involves delegating control outside the military or political fold.
The path to national prosperity runs along a single track road.
- Small communities grow into anarchies. They gain security and some of the benefits of co-created enfusions, but they are also susceptible to the whims of their own leaders and to powerful competitive gangs.
- Anarchies grow into autocracies. They offer security against powerful competitive gangs, but are still subject to the skills and motivations of leaders preoccupied with maintaining control.
- Autocracies grow into distributed economies where security is assured and control is decentralised. Citizens have the greatest degree of security and are freed to innovate and create. But the lack of centralised control diffuses the clarity of purpose for society.
- Distributed economies become aligned economies where security is established, control is decentralised and a common purpose is established that aligns with the interests of all of a nation’s citizens.
Democracy is an electoral method designed to encourage the spread of political control beyond an individual autocrat. Its impact depends on many factors. They include what proportion of people have the right to vote, how many actually vote, how well informed voters are about the issues, and how faithfully the people they vote reflect the interests of the voters. It also depends on how well voted leaders develop laws, customs and incentives that promote a form of decentralisation that is aligned with the interests of citizens.
The Purpose of Society
In the history of the human species, we have never yet experienced a nation that has progressed into an aligned economy, one that is aligned with the collective hopes and needs of its people. Today’s nations are predominantly mixes of autocracy and distributed economies. Countries like China and Russia are more autocratic. Countries like Sweden and Finland are more decentralised. Indeed they are bumping along the entry point to aligned economies. Many of the traditional first world countries such as the US, UK, Germany, France and Austria are experiencing strong backward pressures from decentralisation towards autocracy. They have been struggling with the diffusion of common purpose. Too many people have been precluded from sharing in the fruits of economic growth. The internet is proving effective at extending this awareness throughout society.
This narrative is written to support a fairer share of the benefits of human-built enfusions, to be more inclusive and to develop a consensus around common purpose. Within this vision, the purpose of society is to maximise the aggregate wellbeing of members of society and the wellbeing of the environment on which we depend for life.
How consensual? OK, that is the aspiration. There is the issue of the prisoner’s dilemma to be processed first. This is where a prisoner is given the option of grassing on another prisoner in exchange for freedom. The catch is, the other prisoner is given the same option. Are they better off snitching or saying nothing? The correct answer is that both should say nothing. If they work together, neither will be convicted. If both snitch, both will be convicted. The dilemma is — which is in their best interest. We have a similar dilemma in society, If each of us looks out for ourself alone, we will never achieve the overwhelming benefits of co-creating a more effective enfused entity. It is only when we are able to see the bigger picture that we understand the net gains from joining in. For as long as our dear leaders are comfortable that some people do not deserve to share in the dividends of the co-created enfusions, people will continue to question the self-evident wisdom of the benefits of co-creation. For too many, the benefits are inconsequential.
Does that mean the principle that enfusions bestow societal advantage is wrong? No. It is quite clear. The “greater good” is a numbers game. The more people who participate effectively in society, the greater the good. Metaphorically, the more people who push together at the tree, the more trees our communal enfusion can move. The more people hampered or excluded from contributing to society, the fewer numbers available to maximise our collective wellbeing.
The challenge for society is, how do we achieve our goals. Another thing is clear, if we know what our goal is, we are more likely to achieve it.
Wellbeing is probably something we will never truly understand. But that will not stop us trying. There are three versions of wellbeing that are important for the narrative.
Number one — human wellbeing. What makes us tick? What would make us feel happy and fulfilled?
One way of answering the question takes us back to evolution. We have evolved an amazingly complicated system of awareness, instincts, capacity to understand and ability to reason. But most of all we have evolved with a series of needs which we need to fulfil to succeed in life. In order to satisfy those needs, we have evolved a series of motivators and drivers. When we respond successfully to those drivers, we fulfil our needs and we also feel good. This is the body’s way to reward us for doing what we need to succeed.
There are three sets of underlying needs for success. One relates to our physical security. Examples include eating and drinking to acquire the energy and inorganic material our bodies need to thrive, clothing to protect against the weather, medicines to keep us healthy and armies to protect against human or natural disasters. The second relates to our emotional security, which comes from connectedness. We are social beings. We have evolved to live in communities. This has translated to our basic needs. We need to feel we are a valued part of our communities. Our self-esteem is wrapped up in how we feel about ourselves and how others feel about us. We get validation from family, friends, our work colleagues and those we know in a multitude of other ways. Our wellbeing is directly impacted when our experiences nourish or undermine our sense of being valued. The third relates to stimulation. We need stimulation, each of us relishing our own unique preference for stimulation. This makes it difficult to measure. But for most people, loneliness stalks unhappiness, excitement is thrilling, playing is nature’s fun way of teaching us new skills and emotional intelligence.
These combine to become the holy grail of personal wellbeing. It helps to explain why the pursuit of happiness does not deliver happiness. Pleasure is a means to an end. We have developed the capacity to deliver pleasure directly. But it is hollow without an action that the pleasure was evolved to motivate. Pleasure does not fulfilment bring.
Number two — societal wellbeing. In the wellbeing narrative, society is a servant of its members, not the other way around. Society flourishes when it is best able to generate and deliver wellbeing to its members.
As mentioned, societal wellbeing starts with security. If basic national security undermines individual freedoms, so be it. But once it is in place, it is important not to confuse national security with the individuals who deliver security. It is fair to say that most autocrats believe they are the only people who are strong enough to maintain security. If that is true in any particular time, it does not augur well for individual wellbeing. But where security is reasonably assured, individual wellbeing is achieved through effective laws, cultures, opportunities. Society’s wellbeing should be measured by the opportunity it provides for all its members to contribute to their wellbeing. What they do with the opportunity, well that is up to the individual.
Do we have a responsibility to look after our planet? We certainly have the capacity to destroy it and seem to be doing our utmost to fulfil some sort of destructive destiny to satisfy our every whim, consequence be damned.
But even to people who have little regard for the planet, it is unarguable that we depend on it for life It provides the food we eat, the water we drink, the materials we use for just about everything we make. We can continue to use up all our resources. But the quicker we do, the quicker we will forgive the ability to feed ourselves, the greater the cost we will bestow on our children for the sake of our personal greed.
We need to look after our planet because we have the responsibility to do so, and because we depend on it to provide for the just shy of the 8 billion humans that currently are currently alive.
How Do We Generate Wellbeing
Understanding what wellbeing is has never been easy. It varies from person to person, depending on their circumstances, their opportunities, their skills and dispositions and their aspirations. So it may seem bizarre that we have a better understanding of how wellbeing is generated even if we struggle to pin it down for individuals.
There are two parts ot generating wellbeing. One is delivering to an individual the opportunity to experience wellbeing. The other is the individual’s capacity to convert the opportunity into reality. We call this the wellbeing capacity. It is the classic case of taking a horse to water — no matter how far you manage to drag the horse to water, it is always the horse that decides whether or not to drink.
The Role of Society
In a fully functioning society, the opportunity to experience wellbeing is increased by a factor of between 60 and 6,000, depending on how you measure wellbeing. As society becomes less effective, so the improvement factor reduces. We call this factor the specialisation multiplier because it stems from the gains that society can achieve through specialisation.
We see enfusions throughout nature. An enfusion has its own capacities that are distinct from the capacities of its component parts. Society is an enfusion of people. It has a combined advantage is comparable to the advantage of a body’s enfusion. The human body is made up of billions of cells. They clump together to form a bunch of composite entities of their own — the stomach, the liver, bones, blood vessels, blood, the brain. When these combined cells, these bodily organs combine in a very particular way, a single composite entity is created — the body. An individual cell is capable of extracting energy from nature and converting it to material for growth and reproduction. But a body is vastly more capable than its individual cells, even though it is made up of nothing more than billions of those cells. Some may find it interesting that even basic atoms and molecules are composed of any number of sub-atomic particles that combine to create a stable entity, another type of enfusion.
Society is a composite entity. Whereas the body is an entity that has evolved in nature, society is an entity that is designed and made by humans. A co-created enfusion is more flexible than an evolved enfusion. Co-created entities can be fashioned in any number of combinations and can break up as easily as they come together. Like the human body, society has capacities that are way beyond the capacity of the same number of individuals working alone. One hundred individuals can not move a fallen tree from the road by pushing one after the other. But when the same people push together, they can. Conversely, it takes several generations to evolve adaptations to a new environment.
As an enfusion, society has one purpose and one purpose only; to deliver sustainable wellbeing to its members
Wellbeing is delivered in tiers. Its primary tier delivers the means for individuals to subsist — providing the minimum food, security and shelter for an individual to survive their environment. This sustainability tier has no bearing on the measure of an individual’s wellbeing. If an individual can not survive, wellbeing is zero regardless of the individual’s access to any other aspects of wellbeing. Subsistence living has no relationship with sustainable wellbeing. People within this primary tier of living are not capable of long-term considerations. Its secondary tier delivers the means for individuals to maximise their quality of life. This tier does involve sustainability. A fully functional society can not deliver short-term wellbeing in lieu of long-term wellbeing. To be successful, it needs to do both.
Society delivers wellbeing by arranging people to carry out activities that complement each other, which together deliver the means of wellbeing — the security needed for survival and comfort; the relationships needed for self-esteem, self-confidence and a sense of purpose; and the stimulation needed by individuals to trigger the drivers of behaviour that deliver security and relationships. The magic of society is achieved through individuals being able to specialise in particular tasks, to become super-proficient at that task and to innovate new and better ways of carrying out that task. Clumps of humans can organise together to co-create any number of intermediate enfusions such as corporations or communities, each of which carries out its own particular function. Individuals and organisations of individuals combined with each other to create the vast array of material and social conditions from which individuals can experience wellbeing.
The Role of the Individual
Society can deliver the means for wellbeing. But that is not enough to experience it. Individuals need to convert the opportunity for wellbeing to its experience.
The first tier is exempt from wellbeing considerations. Subsistence living requires society to provide a small range of basic material needs. Without this provision, an individual can not survive. So the provision of this tier of needs delivers life rather than measurable wellbeing.
It is the second tier of wellbeing for which individuals need the capacity to experience the opportunity for wellbeing delivered by society.
Our wellbeing capacity comprises a complete set of skills and dispositions. We are born with some wellbeing capacity. Babies smile and laugh from a very early stage showing their enjoyment of life, and they can cry from birth. Our capacities develop as we mature, being moulded by our innate personality and by our circumstances. Babies from loving families develop the ability to trust in a way that babies from abusive families do not. We evolve an outlook on life. Our dispositions drive us to describe a glass as half empty or half full. Our experiences drive us to a greater or lesser understanding of ourselves, each other and how to relate to others. Our wellbeing capacity brings this all together, leaving us with our own unique understanding of the world, our unique worldview. It determines how we relate to different aspects of our lives in a combination of positive and negative ways, whether we see life as full of vibrant colours or as dull and grey. It provides us with different capacities to form effective relationships with others, relationships that meet our personal needs in our given circumstances at a particular point in our life.
Our wellbeing capacity takes what life or society leaves at our doorstep and converts it to the reality of the wellbeing we will experience. Society can deliver us our water — be it sweet or poisoned, bountiful or drained. It is for us to decide how or whether to drink.
Our Engagement With Economics
In monetary economics, an economy is the place where money flows. If two nurses both looks after their own parent, the activity involves no monetary flow, so it is not considered to be economic output as measured by GDP. If the same nurses swap parents, both looking after the other’s parent and both paying each other the same amount, the outcome is identical as before. But since money is involved, it is treated as economic output.
In wellbeing economics, an economy is the place where any activity take place that contributes to wellbeing, either directly as contributions to individual wellbeing, or indirectly as contributing to the societal structures that deliver wellbeing. In wellbeing economics, the activities of the nurses are counted as the same output in either scenario
In wellbeing economics, the role of the economy is identical to the role of society as a whole. Its purpose is to maximise the sustainable wellbeing of its members. It achieves its purpose through creating the conditions in which individuals co-create enfusions. They can work individually, or they can organise their activities into entities with a productive capacity that is distinct from the capacity of its individual members. The individuals and organisations themselves enfuse, working towards a common end in which the whole range of conditions required for every individual to experience wellbeing can be generated.
An effective society is one which brings people together sensibly to generate greater wellbeing. The more people who are engaged effectively, the more effective society will be.
The role of the economy is to create the environment in which people can co-create effectively, to maximise the sustainable opportunity for individuals to experience wellbeing within the environment’s physical constraints. People generate the power that drives the generation of wellbeing. People who lead society control how that power is applied, which in turn influences the level of power the people-driven economy is able to generated. A poorly led society is one that is not focused on delivering the ultimate objective of society. It generates less wellbeing-creation power than one that is.
So how does our economy achieve people to enfuse effectively?
It has three methods at its disposal. At one end of the scale is slavery. Slaves are metaphorically tied to the yoke and put to work. The ties are not physical ones, generally they take the form of violence and torture for failing to do what the slave is told. At the other end of the scale is incentivisation. An organisation generates profits from its activities which it uses to motivate particular activity. The organisation is charged with deciding what it needs to do to serve society. Its reward for getting it right is monetary profit which it can choose how to share between the people who contribute to powering its output. In between is a more murky mixture of coercion and incentivisation. In an autocratic regime, members of society may not be enslaved, but the leaders can exert a high degree of control over what members are allowed to do, often through the threat of physical or violent punishments. In exploitative capitalist societies, physical or violent punishment is generally prohibited by law. Some employers work outside the law, so there remain pockets of people whose lives are very close to the slavery end of the scale. But a much more widespread form of coercion is through economic dependency. An organisation that can limit the pay to its employees to little more than subsistence level has a great deal of control over the lives of the individual. Despite the absence of physical enslavement, economic dependency creates similar conditions that force people to act in ways they may otherwise choose not to, for a level of income that is at or barely above subsistence levels. In practice, many people find themselves on the scale closer to enslavement than to incentivisation.
In modern societies, swathes of people find themselves being controlled through economic dependency. They include people who are disabled, people from ethnic, gender, religious or social groups who are precluded from free access to the employment market, asylum seekers who are not given papers to work, people with access only to low-income work, university students who are excluded from much of the employment market without degrees who are saddled with enormous debts before they enter the job market. In current monetary economies, the share of gains from enfused society is skewed hugely in favour of people who have control over others, with almost no regard to the actual contribution of individuals to co-created wellbeing.
There are many ways to judge how effectively a society engages its members. Markers of ineffective societies include huge wealth inequalities, unequal work or social opportunities for significant numbers of people, social immobility, restricted access to justice, laws that favour employers over employees, failure to care for the most vulnerable members of society.
By these standards, most nations in the world have considerable scope to improve the outcomes for their members. Two examples of ways by which this can be achieved are improving the proportion of members of society who are fully and effectively engaged in delivering wellbeing, and rewarding people and organisations by reference to their contribution to wellbeing rather than by reference to their level of control over others.
Our Engagement with Culture
If we had to highlight the fundamental difference between a monetary and a wellbeing economy it would boil down to humanity. Monetary economics is dehumanising and blissfully ignorant of the impact we have on the planet. Wellbeing economics is built to serve humans and the environment on which humans depend.
This helps to explain why one crucial aspect that determines economic outcomes is so fundamentally overlooked by monetary economists — culture.
Culture is the set of social norms that communities expect their members to follow. The punishment for failing to play by the rules is shame, the justification for members to exclude the errant member from taking part in the community. Humans are social animals. The process of culture is an evolved process. Almost all of us feel shame and understand its ramifications. So it is not surprising that the nature of the social norms determines social and economic outcomes.
In the 1960s and 70s, the nature of social norms was researched. The research concluded something very interesting. Humans seem to follow a predictable pattern of social norms as they advance through life. The pattern spirals between a predominant focus on self and a predominant focus on the community until a state is reached where social norms acquire on a more balanced focus. By way of illustration, four of the eight patterns are the stage where tribal loyalties are expected which progress to a stage where an egocentric focus is seen as a valid alternative. This gives way to a state-defined truth stage which progresses to a stage where the individual enterprise is celebrated. As our experiences of life mature, we advance to the next stage of progression. We can get stuck in any stage if it does not fulfil our needs at the time.
This pattern of progress provides an opportunity to measure culture. And researchers have recently discovered a good correlation between the level of an individual’s sense of wellbeing and their stage of cultural progression.
In a wellbeing economy, nations need to address their culture in order to improve wellbeing outcomes for its members. A nation’s culture is comprised of many people at different stages of cultural progression, and leadership that implements changes based on its own cultural beliefs and influences.
The difference between the average cultural imperative of a nation’s members and its leadership is called the leadership gap. As the gap increases, so does social unrest. In the US, for example, there is a strong trend of individual progression making Americans quite advanced on the world stage. But the failure of its political system to represent its population fairly has opened the door to a backlash by a minority of earlier stage views against the socially liberal progress of later stages. The minority has wrestled political control which is unleashing enormous social discontent.
The leadership gap illustrates an interesting relationship between the nature of a culture and the degree to which individual members of a national honour their communities’ cultures. In general terms, the more aligned individual members are with their communities’ cultures, the more connected they feel. Since connectedness is one of the core component of wellbeing, a nation’s leaders whose objective is to enhance wellbeing would do well to understand its communities’ cultural dynamics.
It is interesting to note that individuals generally progress forwards in life, rarely backwards. That is not true of nations though since the balance of political power can shift from people in one stage to another. Individual cultures generally progress forwards only, but national cultures can move in either direction.
There is an even more interesting relationship between individual human values and culture.
Over the last few millennia, community and national leaders have gone to great lengths to impose a set of values on their people. It makes them much easier to control. But it has given rise to two significant costs. Firstly, values are very personal and very deep. Where we are not permitted to live our values, a wide range of social and mental health problems arise. This has a direct impact on wellbeing. Secondly, most populations have become so out of touch with their own values that they no longer recognise them. We rarely talk about our values. When we do, we have such a primitive understanding of each value that we usually talk at cross purposes. Our values become sub-conscious and too easy to ignore where there is a dilemma between competing values. One of the fundamental parts of living in society is being able to assess conflicting values and to react in a balanced way, reflecting all the competing pressures in a conscious way. Since we have largely lost this skill, it is too easy to address challenges through the prism of just one or two values, disregarding all the other values we hold dear. It leads to a lack of accommodation of others, and to our seeking simple solutions to complex problems. Too often, we end up taking immediate action to address a problem without regard to the wider impact of that action. Many of today’s social ills stem from our lack of consciousness of our personal values and, as a result, from responses to challenges that do not meet our personal standards of behaviour.
The relationship between individual human values and culture is this. Communities that encourage members to understand and live their complete set of values provide the means of personal fulfilment within a stage of cultural progression, opening the gates to faster and greater progression towards socially cohesive cultures. Those that seek to dictate a set of values to members of a community or nation fuel the three-faced fire of personal peacelessness, hate and social division.
There is enormous value bestowed on species who develop culture. It allows us to learn how to manage dangers without having to experience them first, and about new techniques without having to reinvent them each time.
The safety and benefits this confers encourages us to follow the herd. The risks are evident. If the herd is heading towards a precipice, lots of people are going to pay an enormous price.
From the inside, it can be very difficult to know which direction the herd is taking. This effect has an important impact on economic cycles. The devastating impact of booms and bust cycles are a product of herd mentality. As an economy grows, we read all about growth and expansion and the wealth associated with people who have succeeded by taking risks. It encourages business and individuals to expand. We look at the past performance to judge future demand and how to succeed. Even when the economy is heading towards overcapacity, we keep adding to capacity. When the first signs of over-capacity appear, we dismiss it as poor performance by individual businesses because plenty of evidence is available to show success is associated with bold action. Once it becomes clear an economy needs to rebalance, the brakes are slammed on. All we read about is businesses laying off staff, contracting and going bust. We consume or dismantle capacity. When the first signs of under-capacity appear, we dismiss it as uninformed with plenty of performance data to show failure is associated with reckless action. We follow the herd.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, roughly every ten years a stock market bubble grew and burst, with catastrophic consequences for everyone who joined the gold rush. Stocks in high-risk entities went through the roof. There were incessant stories of people who earned fortunes from investing in these stocks. Huge numbers of people joined in. But in many cases, the risks were entirely unfounded. From within the herd, it was close to impossible to see. When reality popped the bubble, large numbers of people were bankrupted. It took just ten years for the collective memory to fail.
Modern society is still composed of people, so the herd mentality still overwhelms our decision making. At the turn of the millennia, there was a technology bubble, with stocks rising through the roof, then almost halving in value within just six months. Today, the experiment with cryptocurrencies like Mt.Gox has already ended in tears for many. In just the three years from 2017–2019, almost 2,000 cryptocurrencies failed. Yet today’s headlines read “Become rich from Bitcoin — Make $3000 a day“. The advert appeals directly to the herd mentality. It is very likely that for many, the exciting and cruel journey to despair continues.
The herd mentality helps to explain why economic forecasting is so fraught. People are not basing their decisions on rational thought but on how they perceive those around them achieve success. As a side note, if cryptocurrencies continue their growth, it will undermine nations’ ability to control their money supply. If the economic consequences of a failing cryptocurrency are severe to individual cryptocurrency owners, it is nothing compared to the impact on the economy of a government that has lost control of how much artificial money is pumped into the economy.
It also helps to understand the importance of establishing a culture that equips people with greater resilience to peer pressure that they have an instinctive awareness will not serve them well.
Alignment with Social Objectives
A measure of success of a society is how well its members’ interest align with its objectives — wellbeing for all.
If it is tough measuring wellbeing, it is even tougher assessing the impact of ideas to improve wellbeing. Alignment offers some counter-intuitive insight into what society may want to change to improve its members’ outcomes.
The objective of politics is to resolve difference without having to go to war to do so. It is the art of compromise. It is also the art of manipulation and double-speak.
There is no inherent reason that democracies are better for members than autocracies. It is just a fact that they usually are when looked at from the perspective of the entire population rather than from the perspective of an agitating group.
The challenge for politics is to identify how well members interest are represented in decision making. Current measures of representation seem to believe democracies offer wider representation. They may do. But there is still huge room for improvement, which is what wellbeing economics is all about.
The assessment of the effectiveness of the political system to deliver wellbeing should focus on how well members of society are represented. This becomes especially important where different members have different interests. The criteria for assessment must always look at the whole picture, not just at the winners’ perspective. Where one group is favoured over another, care must be taken to provide a balanced assessment in future decision to ensure the interests of the losers are not compounded by regular dismissal. A good example of disregard of the losers is the recent program of austerity in the UK. The most disadvantaged people in society are being treated as if they are pariah, unwanted, authors of their own failure, as part of a program that completely undermines their access to wellbeing.
The current capitalist model has delivered breakneck growth to societies that have embraced its principles. But the fruits of success have not been shared evenly. Where organisations are able to attract unfair advantage, through monopolies, favourable legislation or through access to capital denied to others, they have received a disproportionate share of the co-created gains — gains that would not be available without the almost miraculous performance achievable through enfusion. Monetary accounting supports this artificially restricted narrative that supports inequality of almost incomprehensible scale. It is not surprising when the success of a society is measured in terms of profit growth, where unreasonable profits can be achieved through anti-social practices.
In a wellbeing economy, the focus of society is delivery of wellbeing. It needs to create an accounting system where an organisation’s contribution to social cohesion and wellbeing is assessed. And it needs to create a system that rewards the organisation’s alignment with social objectives and penalise unaligned ones. Social responsibility accounting offers the opportunity to gain better insight into an organisations alignment with social objectives, which offers the opportunity to create rewards to encourage better alignment. Already, we see corporate valuations being enhanced where long-term profits correlate with better social alignment — rewarding socially aligned businesses with greater capital value. Similarly, many countries have introduced tax systems that penalise some aspects of social irresponsibility.
We have a long way to go, but the foundations are being laid for a business model that is more aligned with social objectives.
Society is a huge, complex, co-created enfusion that marries the peoples of a nation with each other and with its resources. It is capable of delivering wellbeing on a scale completely beyond the capacity of the individual. It is equally capable of the opposite if we let it.
Any entity co-created by millions of billions of individual constituents (cells in the case of a human body, humans in the case of society) establishes its own eco-system. The constituent parts work together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The change in any one part of an eco-system has far-reaching consequences because of the interdependent nature of a higher entity’s components in specialising to create a particular functionality. If a heart becomes less effective, every part of the body becomes weaker.
Individual components of an enfusion are only effective in the environment they inhabit. If we want to understand how to improve the quality of society, we need a paradigm shift in awareness. We need to develop a better understanding of the difference in performance between perfected and adapted. We need a clear awareness of how society’s co-created enfusions bestow advantage. When humans disregard the value of other humans, they undermine the choreography of individuals to support the higher-level entity. When we exploit the physical resources of our planet with complete disregard for its physical constraints, society’s future is compromised.
Understanding the harmonious nature of society requires a raised awareness of the role of social cohesion and harmonious interaction with each other and with the planet.
In a wellbeing economy, adapted trumps perfected.
If social cohesion is an objective of harmony, how can it be achieved?
We are naturally endowed with a wide range of positive, universal values. From a very young age, children develop an elementary awareness of trust, fairness and empathy. As the child matures, so does its appreciation of the positive values they experience during the course of their lives.
The challenge for the individual is less about individual values, and more about the interaction of a wide range of values, some of which conflict with others to varying degrees as circumstances change. We need to allow our children to develop ethical intelligence through exposure to values-based environments in which their ethical intelligence is nurtured through the natural process of trial and error. We need to raise the consciousness of our values and the interplay between different values. We need children to learn to distinguish between values based on circumstances. We need children to learn to adapt their behaviours to their particular circumstances at any given time. This is the platform from which society can establish a socially cohesive, harmonious future without undermining the co-created society that has such huge potential to deliver wellbeing.
Every one of us in society has a dual role. We need to take care of ourselves and we need to play our part in society. What happens where the interests conflict? Should we give up our own life to save someone else?
Ethical dilemmas have no single answer. The action we take when faced with dilemmas depends on our circumstances, on our understanding of people and the world around us, and on the overall role we see for ourselves.
When we contribute to a co-created enfusion, our role is similar to individual cells within a body. If the cell dies, it can not contribute to the whole. So it has a primary purpose to ensure it is healthy. Once it is healthy, it is in a position to make its contribution to the whole. From the perspective of the co-created society, an individual need to take care of itself by ensuring it is both healthy enough to make a full contribution to society and also to be equipped to coordinate with others to support the wellbeing of society as a whole. In the nature of humanity, society’s role is to support the wellbeing of the individual, creating a beautiful system of social harmony.
Self Awareness (Introspective intelligence)
Humans have a consciousness that seems to dwarf the consciousness of any other living being on earth. We have what seems to be a unique capacity to be aware of our awareness. It gives us the opportunity to design society in a way that no other species is able to do, by allowing us to look inwards at who we are and what we need society to deliver for our wellbeing.
Self-awareness is looking at and understanding the essence of who we are. We are moulded by our genes, by our experience, by our understanding of how the world works, and by our understanding of how we relate to each other and to the world. When we look at our unique and extremely personal physical, mental and emotional constitution, we see our soul.
In order to understand ourselves fully, we need to nurture our introspective intelligence. At the heart of our internal drives lies the soul. It is entirely on our side. It is programmed into our DNA. It is one part of our world that we know will look after us. The more in touch we are with our soul, the more likely we are to act in ways we believe are in our best interests. Where we lack introspective connection, where we are not conscious of how our soul guides us, we behave in ways our inner constitution tells us is wrong. Our body becomes stressed. This unhealthy stress is reduced when we can either connect more closely with our soul, or nurture our capacities to respond to challenges in a way that our soul concludes is in our best interests.
Congruence is the degree of alignment between our actual actions and the actions that best serve our needs, wants and hopes in any given circumstances at any given time. Introspective intelligence lights our personal path to congruence.
Social Awareness (Ethical intelligence)
Social awareness is looking at and understanding the essence of how we relate to others. Our relationship with others determines two aspects of our wellbeing. Good relationships, meaning relationships that meet our particular needs, wants and hopes at any particular point in our lives, directly impact our wellbeing. In a different way, effective relationships allow us to coordinate our activities with others in a way that is appropriate for effective co-creation.
We refer to our capacities to relate to others as ethical intelligence. It involves understanding our own needs, the needs of others and how our actions and reactions impact each other. Life is so complicated, and our needs and values are so diverse, we frequently face a conflict between different ways we can act or respond to people and circumstances. Where we nurture ethical intelligence, we become better equipped to deal with moral dilemmas in more effective ways.
Pulling It All Together (How to Achieve a Wellbeing Society)
In a Handmaids Tale, an enslaved maid is forced to endure the most depraved abuse “for the common good”. Wellbeing economics offers a more valid opportunity to assess whether her abuse, or her owner’s privilege, is indeed in the common good. Does the maid’s abuse, along with the menacing culture that pervades society to enable systemic abuse, maximise the aggregate wellbeing of all members of society, inclusive of the maid’s and everyone else subject to abuse. Are there alternative ways to achieve the same end without so much mutilation of the soul?
The Key Questions for Humanity
The human species is not alone in co-creating enfusions that deliver greater functionality. But it is clearly a critical part of our success. Humans have taken co-creation to a place to which no other species on earth has ever been. Together, we have been able not just to move trees or build bridges, but we have created buildings that can withstand earthquakes, medicines that have eradicated devastating diseases, and transport that takes us literally out of this world.
We can overcome some of our human limitations, but only if we work together.
At this critical stage in the history of mankind, there are two key questions we need to address, the answers of which will determine how the next chapter in our story reads.
How do we best work together, and to what end?