The Scarcity Principle

I want to revisit a post from 2018, repeat some of what I said then, and elaborate in greater depth about the conflict all living creatures face: the immutable problem of scarcity. There is obviously a purpose in doing this, as I want to walk us through two basic characteristics of the human condition; one asserted from without – that being scarcity – and the other asserted from within – the Social Contract. Squeezed between the two, so to speak, brings about the evolving existence of the primary subject I want to tackle – that being the ideology and final reality of freedom. And, so to start…

Today, there are many long-standing natures of the human being that have been, in the western, modern world, universally accepted as fact, and our teleology and success hangs on their presence. Some are bred in forever, while others are more susceptible to the redefinition of their meanings, so as to nestle comfortably and efficiently into our evolving society. In some cases, a few human metaphysical concepts of being are facing dramatic upheavals in their definition and use these, so-called, modern days.

As shocking as the novel, Peyton Place, was to the social and sexual mores of proper, white Americans living in the 1950’s, so too was a zoological exposé by Desmond Morris in 1967. It portrayed the exalted man of divine aspirations as nothing more than kin to the great apes; describing all its faculties and motivations as simple, behavioral adaptations and habitations to its environment. Morris stripped mankind of its regal garb and showed the world the true human being.

In his bestselling book, The Naked Ape, Morris referred to the human condition of neophilia; the love of the new.  It led him to describe the most interesting aspect of the human condition; one that entailed a few rules as he describes:

“These rules can be stated as follows: (1) you shall investigate the unfamiliar until it has become familiar; (2) you shall impose rhythmic repetition on the familiar; (3) you shall vary this repetition in as many ways as possible; (4) you shall select the most satisfying of these variations and develop these at the expense of others; (5) you shall combine and recombine these variations one with another; and (6) you shall do all this for its own sake, as an end in itself.”

As impressed as I was when I read those words in 1967, I now understand that Morris was slightly in error; at least about that last phrase: “you shall do all of this for its own sake, as an end to itself.” The truth is that we did “all this” for our preservation and not just to idle the day away. This endless quest of humanity to unravel our sensory perceptions and then attempt to knot them back up in some new form and usage was for but one purpose; to fend off the onslaught of the one and only, true adversary to life: scarcity.

Scarcity may be defined as a noun referring to an environmental condition in which existing organisms face limited resources of relevant, usable particulars that are crucial for the accomplishment of its survival and continued existence.  In other words, things are tough; things are in short supply, there’s insufficient provisions by which a human might experience life as one more of supply than demand.  As a result, one must contend in an environment that lacks copious and accessible resources; forcing an individual to engage in the consummate, continual, and unchanging task of foraging and competition for the very means by which one exists.

Scarcity has been the dominant factor of our environment since before there was anything that might be related to as hominid.  All animate creatures of this planet must seek, gather, and consume in order to exist.  This is the normalcy of being alive.  We take it for granted.  We wish it to go away; hence religion, and that’s another story to tell. We are who and what we are precisely because of the tension inherent within scarcity.

Scarcity has defined and shaped the very physiological and psychological characteristics of each and every human within his or her social structure. The scarcity of material, sensory particulars in our environment hold primacy to the very metaphysical core of what and who homo sapiens are as a creature.  Our birth, security, health, and well-being are completely dependent upon this condition.  Scarcity directs our thoughts, our words, and our everyday actions, and we engage this condition in the never-ending effort to assuage our needs for those things that enable our continued existence.  It is the parent we never knew we had.  It is the teacher, the politician, the grocer, the mechanic, the administrator, the soldier, the mortician, and the lord of our very being.  The Darwinian phrase “the survival of the fittest” is a direct reference to this most intimate tension between humanity and the environment about us, and make no mistake, scarcity, as an incomparable dictator, has created us in its likeness. And not to underestimate its importance, scarcity is responsible for the full complement of genetic material within us. We are nothing other than a creature of scarcity.

While I have been, by implication, referring to material goods that we lack and must have in order to survive, I’ve been only referencing the final phase of an action(s) and not the means or mode by which one acquires sustenance. The more important methodology comes by an agency that I noted in the opening paragraphs of this essay.

Knowledge is humanity’s sole sponsor for its pursuit of existence. Through the understanding of our world and of ourselves as social creatures, we have been able to move the dynamics of evolution into our favor. I need not detail this point to its abstraction; just leave it to ask yourself to look around. Everything you see, everything you experience, is the result of knowledge and its application into the effort for a better life.

Our gained assets of our social condition have systemically pushed us towards where we are now as a species on planet Earth; living in an elaborate and complex social system that is the result of the congealing of different systems that have been tried and failed with those that have been tried and succeeded.

Politics by government, our elected, economic practices, and the will of humanity are the driving forces that generate and sustain humanity. These forces are the result of knowledge; the knowledge of what has worked or failed, and thus represents the quality and character of human nature at this moment. It is our best effort. This trial and error process has yielded governments of autocracies (dictatorships), aristocracies (family dictatorships), and democracies (elitist dictatorships). It has also produced economic systems by which a society might sustain itself: capitalism, communism, distributism, feudalism, socialism, statism, and the welfare state.

As to these social structures brought about by scarcity, there has been one common theme throughout the varieties: a strict, static, power-based form of hierarchy, though the forms are diverse: divinity, royalty, ecclesiastical, administrative, political, military, and elitism. This last form of social group entails caste systems of India, white privilege in Europe and America, the feudal families of Japan, actors, professional athletes, and, of course, the patriarchal domination that exists – in all fairness, due to scarcity – throughout the world. The result of all of this institutionalizing, is a tradition of management of our society that, for better or worse, is what we have today.

With hierarchy and authority came an inequitable layering of individuals into identity groups with varying degrees of rights and privileges. Those who can, would, and those who cannot, couldn’t. Again, this is scarcity. To call this evil, as many do, is to evade a natural condition of humanity; that in the effort given to maintain sustainability – to push away the more rapacious characteristics of scarcity from one’s front door – most humans will do just about anything to live; including entering into many social institutions. Ultimately, no social condition comes about through the elective process; it always comes from necessity; a necessity caused by scarcity.

These are but the public, institutional consequences of scarcity; the ones that can be clearly delineated through historical documentation.  There are the everyday, private varieties that go unrecorded.  Each of us live a life of necessary discrimination; the making of a distinction or difference between multiple subjects or objects. This is not without purpose. There is a continual effort by each of us to move ourselves, to position ourselves so as to reap, through labor or laziness, the resources that we personally need and desire. Not one word is uttered, nor an action taken that does not advance the cause for the individual involved. From this personal enterprise comes the wide variety of pathological conditions that plague each one of us. And thus, it is with great fanfare that we acknowledge the altruisms and sacrifices of humans who give more than they take. It is quite unusual. As such, there is nothing abnormal about discrimination as a tool for survival, as it promotes the foundation by which one secures one’s existence.

Scarcity is responsible for the majority of all violence that occurs in human societies; whether it be illegal acts between individuals and groups, or legal, military actions between social groups and countries.  Scarcity is responsible for gang-wars, slavery, eugenics, genocide, and law offices.  Tucked neatly within the principles of scarcity can be found racism, bigotry, elitism, and all of the other “isms”; even those whose claim is reparative, like feminism.

Scarcity is also responsible for every quality and act of love and compassion.  It ennobles us to the arts and raises us all with the rising tide of human accomplishment.  Scarcity nestles itself within every act of goodness between individuals and between social groups.  Though it is important to keep in mind that these virtuous emotions we so urgently feel when what is good finds true, accessible expression, they are but the release of the frustrations of scarcity.  It’s why we cry in the presence of beauty.

We are so caught up in what is the singular reality of our condition that we cannot think, nor imagine, what it would be like for humanity without scarcity.  No science-fiction writer has ever properly illuminated such a place; preferring the amateurish, more-common, grazing field of dystopia: the utter failure to cope with scarcity.

Because we must live with scarcity, we treat it as normal. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find much information on this subject; whether it’s your local library or the internet. Humans are too hard at the task of scarcity to view it in a relationship other than short term. What’s for dinner? I need a new pair of shoes. This traffic is ridiculous! We just don’t see the big picture, and I contend, that without seeing the big picture, we are destined to repeat the same mistakes and the same errant visions that have ultimately been only a hindrance to our evolution into the potential future that, at this point, we seem only to dream about.

It’s an interesting occurrence in recent years that the movie industry is so fascinated with the imaginative, speculative dystopian concepts for a future of humanity. Just try to find a book or a movie about a pleasant and happy future. Few have bothered to give themselves over to an intelligent, rational prophecy of a future without scarcity. Instead, we simply look at today and not tomorrow. Politicians promise an era of justice and equality.  Technocrats promise a future of leisure and pleasure.  Corporatists promise a job for everyone, along with daycare, and the Religious promise a future of perfection.

Fortunately, humanity has the key to unlock the door into a world of abundance, and that key is knowledge. Our very innate nature is to remediate any condition of suffering.

What we do want to understand in all of this is that this new world will not come about by revolution, upheaval, revelation or some other momentary and momentous event. No cataclysmic point in time, no charismatic individual will yield a universal understanding and amiable abeyance to the necessary conditions for universal plenitude to exist. We have attempted such measures many times in the past with consistent regularity; always offering assurances of utopian resources for freedom, liberty, and equality for all; only to discover that we have installed but another hierarchy and another authority that takes more than it gives.

To change the very genetic mindset of the human society from whence it came to where it will be, will require patience. Humanity’s evolving nature and its unique ability to imagine solutions to our needs is a matter that evolution, and only evolution, retains the authority over. A sixth grader cannot simply become a tenured professor by desire, impatience, and dictate. Things just don’t work that way.

This is the point of this post on scarcity. It is to establish in your mind where we are today, and the potentiality of our future not being dependent upon our past; as much as we believe it to be inescapable. There are seemingly two ends to the spectrum of conditions by which the human animal lives out its destiny. Those ends are scarcity and plenitude. We’ve just had a brief look at scarcity. If plenitude were to yield as much reflection of human existence as scarcity has, can you begin to imagine what we might become at the very core of our being? The conclusions for life brought forward by engaging this subject openly and without historical prejudice yield totally different existences in which the very composition – physiological and psychological – of the individual and society are as far apart as scarcity is from plenitude.

There’s more to the struggle for survival than the provisions that bring a measure of physiological comfort to humanity; there’s also those human constructs meant for the comfort of our psychological source of being. The importance of such constructs is as critical to our historical success as any fire with roasting meat turning on the spit. Of them all, the Social Contract stands at the epicenter; it was, is, and will continue to be the sole bulwark against the failure of humanity as a species of animal on this, and any other, planet.

I take up the matter of the Social Contract in my next post; soon.

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