My Experiments With Hacking Capitalism



In a 1976 study anthropologist Jane M. Murphy, then at Harvard University, found that an isolated group of Yupik-speaking Inuits near the Bering Strait had a term (kunlangeta) they used to describe “a man who … repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and … takes sexual advantage of many women—someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment.” When Murphy asked an Inuit what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, he replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”

In such tribal cultures your worth is measured not by how much money you have, but by the extent to which you improve the quality of life for those around you. If you make life pleasant for the collective you’ll receive plenty of goodwill from them, and if you make life unpleasant for them you run out of goodwill and get pushed off the ice. But in our society a kunlangeta’s disregard for goodwill and his willingness to do anything for profit could make him a CEO.

My goal here is to get by on goodwill currency instead of kunlangeta currency, while hopefully helping to move us out of our kunlangeta way of life.

This is why I don’t have any tiers or rewards on my Patreon page; it’s important to what I’m doing here that it be an entirely goodwill relationship on both ends, because in my experience the healthiest relationships all come from a mutual desire to give freely while the unhealthiest are “you give me that I’ll give you this” transactional relationships. I put just as much effort into my work whether I get a lot of money on a given day or none at all, and patrons get the same whether they give me two dollars or two hundred. That way we’re all operating entirely from intrinsic motivation, driven by the inner rewards of having done something helpful and advancing something we value, rather than the extrinsic motivation model of capitalism that is driving our world toward disaster.

And that’s ultimately what I’d like to see for humanity going forward: a world where we’re not stepping on each other and our ecosystem in pursuit of profit, but collaborating with each other and with our ecosystem out of intrinsic motivation toward the common good of all beings. My way of life is the best personal testament I can offer that such a world is possible.

And seeing that it is possible is the first step. Mark Fisher writes:

Watching Children of Men, we are inevitably reminded of the phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. That slogan captures precisely what I mean by ‘capitalist realism’: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.

I am trying to help us all imagine a coherent alternative to it. I don’t know precisely to what extent my path can be traveled by other people, much less by the entirety of our species. But walking this path for myself has given me a lot of hope that I can leave my children a much healthier world.


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