Contemplations on Sufficiency
The word sufficiency has been on my mind this last week. But, unfortunately, it is a word I do not hear often.
And I wonder why?
We know scarcity. Scarcity is the ingredient informing our global economy and monetary system.
Our sovereign currencies have scarcity built in by design. This drives completion, which, left unchecked, becomes a rabid quest for power, status and fame. Unfortunately, few of us know how our society’s operating system drives this hyper-competitive behaviour.
Capitalism as a human-designed operating system has only existed for about 500 years. Most of humanity’s history has not been at the effect of capitalism. Yet we think capitalism is the way and will go on forever.
It cannot. The design features of capitalism include endless growth, accumulation and a win-lose game. Poverty is built in as a consequence.
To say this sentence another way, poverty is needed for capitalism to exist.
Commodification and enclosure of almost everything and anything are baked into capitalism’s incentive structure. “What can we take – from human labour, creature labour, land, water, air, other planets – that we can wrap in a capitalistic blanket to make a profit to feed the machine that insists on more profit…endlessly?”
And it goes on, and on, and on. Take. Exploit. Extract. Colonise.
I do not see a capitalism 2.0 or 3.0. Nor do I see capitalism becoming conscious, social, or any other fancy reskinning. Capitalism must die if we want a world without poverty, hunger, or extinction.
I see something beyond capitalism, beyond socialism, beyond communism. Something we humans in this era has yet to create. (Parts of this something may well have existed in other eras.)
For years I lived in fear of scarcity—the experience of being a single mother, self-employed. Sometimes the fear would grip me so much that I was paralysed. Breathing smoothly was an effort. I sucked in air with the reflex of fear, as if the air was the only thing I knew was available in abundance.
Scarcity as a daily experience – particularly scarcity to survive – is trauma. It takes so long to get the parasitic tendrils of its grip from our biology. Knowing this, I wonder at the cruelty of the neoliberal remit that celebrates keeping people in scarcity or animating the austerity measures to ‘balance a national budget. At the same time, the captains of industry and politics build McMansions in a dozen places simultaneously, their taxes scant, their coffers often filled from taking from the commons while exploiting human labour.
At this stage of human history, listening to the world news and allowing it to sink in invites such despair that we might never get up again—my heart breaks. One million people are displaced by drought in Somalia. The women of Afghanistan are thrown back into a non-human place. Some pumped-up ego wants to take over another country, killing thousands and bombing whole cities into oblivion. Our political leaders are parodies of parodies – through all the drama they deliberately create, their financial wealth grows. Our beautiful creatures are on the brink of extinction – those that remain. Our oceans are stuffed with plastic. And no human has access to clean rainwater, for there is no such thing anymore as clean rainwater.
We call this progress!
Many of us, the majority of humanity, know scarcity. Monetary wealth profits obscenely from peddling scarcity. The fear of it has people say yes to jobs that hack out souls while placing them into anti-life environments. Even those of us who feel we have made a choice might wake one day to find we made our way, like sleepwalkers, onto the treadmill of work, busi-ness, status and fame accumulation.
As a child born in the sixties, I also know the mythology of abundance. I was brought up in a New Age haze, where the antidote for everything seemed to be to follow the path of abundance.
And in a world using the engine room of scarcity to drive society, abundance is a beautiful aspiration.
Abundance of food. Abundance of time. Abundance of choice. Financial abundance.
So much. Too much. Excess everywhere.
I will never forget my first visit to the United States in 1983. I felt sick to my stomach at the excess. The amount of food on plates. The amount of rubbish in a food court. The size of cars and highways. As a naive 23-year-old, I felt intuitively that I was witnessing the early days of the equivalent of the fall of Rome. How right I was. This type of excess taken for granted and expected was unsustainable. Health. Earth. Wellbeing. Other humanity. And then, of course, the excess of power that says any one country can do almost anything to keep their hegemony alive, or in these times, any one leader can build power based on lies and hypocrisy and get away with it.
The chase for abundance was as addictive as success and status. In the aspiration for abundance, we again measure ourselves. Because we do not have it, we are deficient. At least, that is how I felt.
Between these two poles, we lurch.
Amplification of either pole, like an amplification of any extreme, ends in either blow-up or collapse. Scarcity to the point of death. Abundance to the point of gluttony and death.
Into this brew, we might consider sufficiency.
To be sufficient. To know sufficiency.
Think about that!
Allow the experience of sufficiency to settle into your bones.
What does it feel like to be sufficient? Do we even know?
I think about the years spent trying to feed my hungry ghost. The part of me that always came up wanting, inadequate, and not worthy. How I strove to validate myself through my work, my accumulation, my assets, and my bank balance.
How this crazy quest had me spend way too much money on way too many things that I did not need.
I think about enterprises designed around the belief in sufficiency. What would we do differently if the incentive of our future was aligned toward sufficiency? If there was an exponentially expanding tax on excess? Excess salaries, excess profit, excess use of the commons – like land, water, oceans? This tax goes into the commons pool to support the increased wellbeing for all. Better education, health care, child and elder care. If we cultivate our children’s sense of sufficiency from day one.? If the exploration of sufficiency was a regular topic throughout education, from year one to year 12 and beyond?
If sufficiency was rewarded – not through financial bonuses, but public stories that recognise sufficiency as desirable, beautiful, and healthy.
I look at my own life, the pull of desire from a place of my scarcity. How would my life be if those areas were sufficient? If I did not need too much, but just enough.
In the wonderful book by David Graeber and David Wengrow – The Dawn of Everything – a new history for humanity – they show that cultures from times past that thrived for a long time were not cultures of accumulation and hoarding. Instead, they were cultures that enabled and celebrated sufficiency.
How would we behave as collective humanity if everyone knew we lived on a sufficient planet? That there is indeed enough to go around?
And I wonder how anyone with excess beyond the ability to spend or experience in many lifetimes can sleep at night knowing so many have less than nothing.
I am sure it is time to bring the word, the thought, and the contemplation of sufficiency back into our collective psyche, our family dinner conversations, the design of our enterprises, the preparation of food, and the crafting of life.
We have abundant light and abundant incoming energy. We have abundant skills, creativity, innovation and care. We have abundant food on our home planet.
If we stepped off the platform of scarcity that drives excess, we might create a world of sufficiency for all. This is my hope and a driving impulse behind Syntropic World.