Monbiot’s new book: Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis

I haven’t read it, but I have read George’s Article (9th September), and William Davies’ review, also in the Guardian (14th September). It reinforces Kate Raworth’s potentially seismic ‘Doughnut Economics’.

In last Saturday’s Guardian, Monbiot even makes an oblique reference to the Universal Basic, (Citizens’) Income (UBI):

“Using common riches to fund universal benefits will supplement state provision, granting everyone security and resilience.”

Thank you George, but it would have been even better if it was more explicit. Perhaps it is in the book. I have said many times that the UBI is not only a practical measure, essential though it is as such. It is a potential catalyst for the new narrative both Monbiot and Raworth propose. Without some such catalyst, there are formidable obstacles to change.

I may have to repeat myself here, but it is essential to draw strands together. In her book The Origin of Capitalism: a longer View (Verso 2002) Ellen Meiksins Wood identifies the monetization of transactions in the late mediaeval period as opening up opportunities which swiftly became imperatives. The capitalists, or neoliberals are certainly exploiting the  rest of us,  but they are just as trapped by those imperatives.

Philippe van Parijs, one of the gurus of the Basic Income movement, has described it as “A Capitalist Road to Communism”. The UBI looks ‘Communist’ because it will be drastically redistributive, at least it will if it is to fulfil the primary purpose I envisage for it: allowing every individual, everywhere (see World Basic Income Movement) to view with equanimity the possibility that economic growth is not merely unsustainable, it is actually harmful per se. But as long as redistribution is perceived as a victory by socialist enemies, it is another serious obstacle to what needs to happen.

Nevertheless the UBI is ‘Capitalist’ in that it will facilitate entrepreneurial start-ups, ‘make work pay’, and allow market forces to operate fairly in areas where they are oppressive without it.

George believes that humans are inherently ‘supreme co-operators’, hard-wired with a degree of altruism. He identifies the neoliberal narrative as ‘perhaps the dominant political force of our times.” He blames this for “a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism that pits us against each other”. I agree with Monbiot’s assessment of how things are, and even how they could be, but I have a different interpretation.

If I ever succeed in achieving a mainstream consensus on the centrality of the UBI to humans from now on, I shall move on to another of my personal constructs: the notion that just like all other life forms, we humans are a bundle of primal programmes. Ours are certainly more adaptable than those of any other organism, but that does tend to obscure the possible truth of my basic assertion.

All organisms come into existence with a set of instructions. Many are mutually inimical, but only those instructions relevant to the situation in which the organism finds itself will be ‘switched on’

Whether human nature is benign as Monbiot claims, or as brutish as it currently appear to be depends on which primal programmes are in operation. I think George has been reading ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. We have indeed evolved as Harari explains, and Monbiot asserts. However, humans who would not be noticed as different except as foreigners in most countries have been around for at least 170,000 y ears.

But the newly evolved people had abilities their ancestors lacked. Consequently they were able to expand from their limited area in East Africa. Around 70,000 years ago, an Adam and Eve sized family of ‘Sapiens’ crossed the straits of Bab el Mandeb at the southern tip of the Red Sea. Genetics indicate that the entire human race outside Africa is more homogeneous than neighbouring African tribes.

Human tribes outside Africa would naturally develop a culture suited to maximum exploitation of their ability to expand. But such a culture will tend to be what Monbiot observes as our current tactics. Individualism and aggression would often produce more benefits for the society as a whole than the co-operation and altruism necessary where Limits to Growth are accepted.

We are capable of behaving better, and many human tribes did so (though not necessarily reaching the standards Monbiot thinks of as the norm) before being invaded by others who still had a culture of expansion.

Kate Raworth points out that growth as a basic assumption is flawed. But that has been mainstream gospel for a long time. It would be more surprising to me if the neoliberal narrative had not become dominant. On this reading, no narrative can dislodge the neoliberal one until growth as a shibboleth goes. It encourages the traits I deplore as much as Monbiot does.

I have been waiting for 44 years for a better catalyst than the Universal Basic income. It will not automatically bring about a narrative which will combine social justice with a healthy, sustainable  ecosphere, but it will make that possible.

No blog next week. I shall be attending the BIEN conference in Lisbon, at which I shall try to persuade some high powered people that the foregoing should be the main purpose of a UBI.

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