Bill Miller

2050 Looking Backward -- How We Saved the World

by Bill Miller
(Palo Alto, CA)

Ah! I never thought I would make it to age 96. In fact, years ago, I didn’t believe civil society itself would last — at least not as events were unfolding in the early decades of this century. How pleased (and relieved) I am to be wrong!

In the prior century, our country was a beacon of hope — a shining example of what was possible when a nation ceased bowing to kings, popes, and dictators, and instead encouraged each citizen to learn, grow, and reach their potential to create and contribute their unique gifts. It worked so well that our nation became a world leader in knowledge, technology, leadership, financial prowess, and the advance of human potential.

However, we began to discover that these gifts also had a shadow side. While they could be used to nourish, create, and uplift in a way that benefited all, they could also be used to consume, control, exploit, and dominate others — and the planetary environment itself.

We also found the dark side of individual achievement, as one’s progress began to be measured by how far one was ahead of others. Initially this kind of competition took the form of individual and team sporting contests. Find the village champion or team of heroes, and everyone was entertained. Unless weapons were involved, there were physical limits to how far one person or team could prevail against others.

So when and how did the existential threats to people and planet set in?

In hindsight, it was when our measure of success moved from physical creation and achievements to an abstract, arbitrary measurement mechanism — that of monetary wealth.

It is a normal human impulse to create, obtain, and hold any sort of value that would secure and improve one’s existence, or that of society at large. In the latter case, it is helpful for trade and commerce to have a common mechanism to measure such value. That is the function which money was originally intended to serve.

Yet there are limits to the acquisition of physically existent things such as food, clothing, and shelter. One knows when one has accumulated “enough”. Yet because money, being an abstract concept rather than a physical thing of value (one can’t eat, sleep in, or wear it), money has no such limit. More always appears to be better.

So, whereas commercial markets originally used money to exchange goods and services, the equation eventually turned inside-out, and goods and services became a mechanism to acquire more money. Whereas the increasing value of goods and service used to correlate with increased monetary value, now monetary “profit” increases by providing as little physical value as one can get away with.

By the end of the first quarter of this century, the destabilization caused by this new dynamic had significantly corroded our major social institutions, resulting in existential threats to existence. Governance, economy, health, education, the social fabric, international relations, climate, ecology, the natural world we all depend upon — all were threatened.

So how did we turn things around? Why am I still here to write this report? It was the youth — the incoming generations who saved us.

The existing institutions and the people who were raised and trained to believe in them — the “Old Order” — was difficult to reform. However, younger generations began to see that the opportunities and values by which the former operated were no longer available to them. In fact they began to question whether the existing values were valuable at all — competition, struggle, acquisition, control, individual achievement, winner-take-all. These could be tolerated when the world was vast and human society was small. Yet as our knowledge and power increased, so did our ability to affect and even destroy the very planet on which our existence depended.

We began to realize that a fundamentally new approach to living together was needed — one less based upon “me” and more upon “we”. Paralleling the evolution of life from single-celled organisms competing for existence in a hostile environment, we began to view each person — in fact, all organisms and planetary resources — as vital organs in the common body of Life. We understood that the health of this body (sometimes referred to as “Gaia”) depends upon the cooperation and mutual aid of all organs, each performing their functions and offering their gifts to the whole.

Although the above may sound like a lofty, “pie in the sky” ideal, we found a surprisingly practical solution to turned the tide — and without need to first change the hearts and minds of the masses. We simply returned money to its original purpose as a tool to facilitate commerce, by discouraging its opposing use as a mechanism to hoard wealth, and thereby deprive others of its proper use.

Though it was opposed by the beneficiaries of the old order, it was not hard for people to understand that they ought to contribute back to the system in proportion to the benefits received, in order to keep that system flourishing. Though it had to be phased in over a decade or two, we eliminated the income tax (essentially a fine for working) and instead replaced it with a progressive wealth tax.

A tax on accumulating wealth eventually freed individuals and corporate entities from the pressure and incentive to acquire and control ever more of the wealth of the planet and its people. Resources could then flow far more freely to projects and places where they were actually needed. This eventually — and rather naturally — enabled widespread prosperity and security to be shared by all. Everyone contributed something, and those with the greater portion eventually found it more rewarding to live in a diverse and broadly flourishing society rather than a walled compound to hoard and defend meaningless tokens of wealth.

Ancient religions often spoke of life as a struggle, for which one might ultimately be rewarded with an afterlife in some sort of Heaven (although it was never made clear what such an existence might actually consist of).

Yet as I look back from my 2050 vantage point, I realize that Heaven was never a preexistent, far off destination — a place to get to. It is something we were charged with creating, given the abilities and potential we were gifted with by whatever powers were responsible for our existence.

Though I am too old at this point to play a significant role in our advancing future, I am grateful for what small part I could play in shifting our collective consciousness from fear and competition to one of hope, curiosity, and a desire to discover and further advance our expanding role in the Cosmos. How far can we go? It’s a mystery, but that is what makes it an adventure!

One Earth One Chance

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