Rewarding Behaviour, p.1Alex Burrett
by Alex Burrett
Copyright Alex Burrett 2016
This ebook manifesto is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It is distributed for free to encourage reader contribution. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share it with others, please encourage each recipient to download their own copy. If you’re reading this ebook and did not download it, or it was not downloaded for your use only, then please download your own copy. Thank you for your support and interest in this proposal.
This manifesto proposes a universal way to encourage socially beneficial behaviour. There are more things wrong with our world than institutional indifference to social good. However, solving this issue could have a positive impact on other problems.
My proposal follows this introduction. It is called Rewarding Behaviour. Within the text of this document, I have hyperlinked words that need further explanation. Each link takes you to a chapter entitled with the highlighted word or phrase.
This is the first version of Rewarding Behaviour. Please send me your thoughts on the content. I will revise this manifesto over time in response to feedback. Details of all contributions and an overview of version changes can found in the Afterwords section at the end of this document.
Send your thoughts to [email protected] Let me know in your email if you want to be kept up-to-date with future revisions.
In developed countries, social cohesion has been sacrificed on the altar of individual gratification. Individuals wanted more and better. Inventors and entrepreneurs rallied to serve our desires. We progressed – pulled along by our hunger for improvement. This strategy worked well for centuries. Survival rates benefitted more from technological advances than from recognising individual social contributions. But the paths of ‘what we want in the short term’ and ‘what is good for us in the long term’ diverged. As we moved forwards, we increasingly abandoned non-commercial activities – regardless of their contribution to social wellbeing.
We’ve now reached point where the benefits of technological advances are becoming outweighed by the disadvantages. New consumer inventions make us less active. Improved food production is turning us fat. Social media is stopping us socialising. Even medical advances will become less important to the majority – focusing, quite rightly, on a shrinking minority of ill people or providing more years of relative infirmity for the very old.
The wellbeing of the majority during the majority of their lives can now be improved more by positive social interaction than by technological advances. To do this, we need to amend our reward system. We need to provide additional motivation for carrying out beneficial social activity. Although many already help others altruistically, there’s no moral reason why they shouldn’t receive further tangible rewards. And tangible rewards might encourage even more people to help one another. This would deliver additional social benefits – thereby improving general wellbeing.
There is an obstacle. Money. Money is our dominant reward system. Money, in its most basic form, is stored work. We can earn money doing or making things for other people. Yes, people can and do earn money when they help others. But money is indifferent to social good. You can earn lots of money making torture weapons for psychopaths or providing sexually explicit photographs of babies to paedophiles.
When you criticise money, capitalists leap to its defence. Money has taken us from the Iron Age to the Information Age. It has done, they will point out, sterling work. (Pun intended.) They will admit it has weaknesses – but claim there is no better system for rewarding endeavour. Ardent supporters will even insist it’s the best possible system for organising the human world. They do so much like C18th defendants of god’s failure to eradicate evil, claimed we lived in, “The best of all possible worlds.”
Never let anyone claim something is the best possible anything. There’s always room for improvement.
The necessary cultural shift towards rewarding social good cannot be delivered through money. Money is a Gordian Knot. Try to unravel it and you will make an even bigger tangle. Just ask central bankers. Plus money is partially responsible for the problem – so cannot be relied on to deliver a solution. For these reasons, I propose a supplementary system to run in parallel with money. Those who help others are rewarded with an additional non-transferable currency: Smiles.
Sound silly? Imagine yourself a resident of the New Kingdom of Egypt around 1250 BC. You are living in one of the greatest human civilisations to date. At it’s greatest moment. Now imagine someone telling you that democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of belief, individual consumerism and, craziest of all, absolute freedom… would make the world a better place. That proposition would sound ludicrous.
When our basic needs are being met, particularly if our society is outperforming others in our time, it’s difficult to imagine things being demonstrably different. This is entirely natural. And yet history shows us that society continually changes. Change is constant. And change is driven by ideas. My idea is that we reward socially beneficial activity with something separate to the monetary system. This will rejuvenate an old-fashioned notion of society – one that elevates long-term, broad access to wellbeing above short-term individual gratification.
My sister, who has worked in healthcare and social care for decades, told me, “Ill health is a great leveller.” We attribute little value to good health when we have it – and immense value to it when we don’t. Western society is ill. Socially sick. But there’s little recognition of this. A parallel can be drawn with resistance to a national healthcare system in the US.
Medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcy in the US. Most of those in the US who file for bankruptcy because of medical expenses, had some form of health insurance when they became ill. And yet many Americans are opposed to national health care. I bet most of those who go bankrupt through illness, or find themselves dying of treatable health conditions, wish there was a national health care system. But national health care is resisted because, although ill health is a great leveller, the sick remain in the minority.
Things only change when a sizeable proportion of society demands change. Recognising the need for change is the first step.
We have handed control of our communities to The Market. And The Market doesn’t give a damn about our communities. The Market destroys the viability of them more quickly than endemic drug addiction or changes to transport infrastructure. The Market will rip the heart out of a community at the whim of a fashion.
As mentioned earlier, this has been expedient. Now, at our level of technological advancement, we need to address our social ill health.
If I had a penny for every time I heard someone say nurses, youth workers, teachers etc. should be paid more… I’d have a lot of pennies. AND I DON”T WANT PENNIES. I want a different form of change. We need to create an independent reward system that mitigates The Market’s social indifference.
I propose that people who do socially beneficial work earn Smiles in addition to their monetary income. These can be redeemed but expire on redemption. This is necessary because the transferability of money turns it into an exploitable commodity. Social good should not be exploitable. Capitalists exploit the desire for big diamonds or limited-edition trainers. These are desires for gratification that deserve to be exploited. And exploitation of consumerism drives innovation. Acts of kindness, on the other hand, should not be exploitable by third parties. Kindness is the antithesis of exploitation.
Governments will resist supporting this social reward system. They will resist it because the political elite feed from the sa
We must see the truth behind the economic conditioning of the last few decades – a ruse to direct more wealth towards a tiny minority at the expense of broad social wellbeing. We have been befuddled with the glittering iron pyrite of rabid consumerism. It is our responsibility to see stuffocation for what it is – fool’s bait. It is worth noting it is a child, untarnished by political manipulation, who notices the Emperor is naked in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale. Like the child who sees things for what they are, we must rediscover our natural awareness that healthy communities enrich our lives. We must relearn that true richness is gathered through positive social interactions… not money.
There will be institutional resistance to an alternative to money. This is because our institutions are built with, and thrive on, money. Therefore the onus is on the masses to instigate change. The reprioritisation of beneficial social activity can only spring from the grass roots. To kick-start it, local communities must form Recognition Panels to decide who receives Smiles. These panels should be democratic and as broadly representative as possible.
At first, Smiles won’t travel too many miles. Their value won’t reach much further than the existing form of non-monetary social reward – local recognition of, and reward for, socially beneficial activity (e.g. the local butcher who gives local hospice workers free steak on Fridays).
Because the Smile system must grow from the local level, Smiles won’t earn much in the early days. Perhaps, at a community fair, an amateur baker will exchange two thirds of their produce for money and one third for Smiles. They would do this because they can afford to do so – and because they want to show their appreciation for positive contributions to their community. Without Smiles, the baker wouldn’t know that the hunched old man in tattered clothes eyeing their produce, spent 40 years running a boxing gym that kept young lads out of trouble. Via Smiles, that boxing coach could enjoy a slice of Victoria Sponge in the evening knowing his life’s work has been appreciated – surrounded by photos of the young men he’s helped achieve.
As the Smile movement grows, money-wealthy philanthropists might convert some of their wealth into Smile-redeemable products and services. A holiday resort owner, for example, might set aside 5% of their portfolio for Smile redemption. The value we attribute to Smiles would grow as more people accept them.
Eventually, transport companies could accept Smiles as payment for travel, utility businesses for vital services, medical providers for treatment and medicines. Even governments – for rent or taxation. This might sound ridiculous within our neo-liberal, capitalist paradigm. But governments regularly spend our money on expendable items. Take bombs for example. If we’re happy that tax money is converted into weapon systems that turn to scrap on use, why shouldn’t it be converted into beneficial social systems? Governments could build houses for which the rent or mortgage could be partially paid in Smiles. If you think governments would be unable to turn tax money into assets like homes without hope of ongoing income streams, remember they’re happy to turn public assets (developed over decades) into private wealth for revenue adrenaline shots known as privatisation. So, with the necessary political mandate, governments could let or redeem property to Smile owners. Political change is necessary. But this mechanism for rewarding social good will benefit society. Is it not the job of governments to make society better for the majority?
And what better way to reward socially beneficial activity… than with a Smile.
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