All Commentary
Wednesday, June 1, 1983

Abundance and Scarcity

There are two opposing philosophies prevalent regarding the natural distribution of wealth on this earth. One presumes that virtually all material wealth has already been discovered, and the role of man is to distribute that wealth in an equitable manner. This view is the one that has predominated throughout most of recorded history and has saddled man with one monumental conflict after another. The other philosophy assumes that wealth is boundless in the universe, and man must merely discover new combinations of behavior and/or existing matter in order to unlock the vaults to that vast, undiscovered mass of benefits.

The shape and nature of a social order is a consequence of whatever ideas dominate in that particular society. Civilizations which endorse the idea of scarcity, or limited wealth, tend to be rigid and structured. They are likely to be ruled by individuals whose concept of leadership is to create and implement wealth redistribution formulas that assure adequate food, shelter and warmth to members of their own group. Secondarily, if there does not appear to be an adequate supply of internal wealth to distribute, a warrior class may emerge whose role is to raid other groups and forcefully extract goods to bring back home.

In such a society there is a natural tendency for the warrior segment to achieve positions of dominance for theirs is a twofold role. They must raid and plunder surrounding groups, plus, they must preside over the wealth redistribution process at home by force of arms. Since the most common personality trait in such a

society is rigidity, there usually exists an abundance of rules and regulations governing not only property but all manner of dealings between individuals. The basic premise is one of scarcity. Hence rule by force is necessary, for such a presumption takes for granted that one man will take from another less powerful unless restrained by an even more potent force.

Most of us are unable to see that such a pessimistic viewpoint is but a matter of perspective. Is the glass half full or half empty? Were not the raw materials for the space shuttle Columbia buried in the earth alongside the materials for the craft that first flew at Kitty Hawk? Man is a noble creature, gifted with rare skills in comparison to the remainder of plants and animals. These skills allow us to manipulate our environment in ways unavailable to other forms of life. If we activate our talent to think and plan, we can literally recreate the world. The ideology of scarcity ignores that ability and presumes that God created a universe in which, for me to have enough, another must starve.

Boundless Wealth?

The ideology of abundance presumes that the wealth of the universe is boundless, and that we must merely put our minds to the task of tapping that wealth—and it will come. The difference in perception in these two philosophies is startling, and one can produce a vibrantly alive world for the believer if acted upon. Countless men have met their deaths journeying to the far ends of the earth in search of fortune. The Yukon, the Alaskan north slope, mine shafts cut deep into solid rock in South Africa, Chile, Peru, and even our own coal mines. Yet a man in the American southwest recently tinkered with a tin can, a small gasoline engine and a piece of string and found great wealth. He invented the rotary weed-cutter and changed the gardening habits of millions of us.

When enough of us finally tumble to the fact that both wealth and progress lie in appropriate utilization of the mind, our nation and the world may begin to move forward again. The task of this era is to free creative minds from the bounds of bureaucratic conformity and ineptitude and allow them to pull us out of the economic and social mess that we have tumbled into. Government must get out of the way! It must stop taxing us into oblivion. It must stop punishing intelligence and creativity and stop rewarding indolence and ineptitude. These tactics will lead to a failed society. If bread, circuses, a huge bureaucracy and a Senate that’s a joke could hold a social order together, then Rome would still be a mighty nation.

The philosophy of scarcity is tinged with envy, greed and meanness; we don’t need it. For as long as there have been written records, men have been predicting that we would soon run out of raw materials. Have we? For the better part of the past decade a horde of supposedly brilliant analysts told us that we had at last nearly depleted the earth of oil. The OPEC cartel exploited that fantasy, and was aided and abetted in that disastrous experiment in social manipulation by the U.S. Department of Energy. We spent billions of dollars on that Department, and more billions on the overpriced oil that its policies perpetuated. Did we run out of oil? Not hardly. Today the world is bathed in an oil glut and our banking system is stretched to the limit because it bought into the illusion of oil scarcity.

All of the limitless material wealth of this universe is open to the inquisitive, exploring mind. Our fires will remain lit either with wood, kerosene, coal, gasoline, or some yet-to-be-discovered substance. New inventions will warm us, cover us, lift us and move us—if they are needed, and if the inventor is provided sufficient reward for applying his mind to the problems that we must solve. The greatest danger that our culture faces today is that those with truly creative potential will remain preoccupied with trivia such as animated cartoons, self-stimulatory electronic games and complex weapons of annihilation. Obviously, the reason that our creative geniuses are presently tied up in such pursuits is because that is where the rewards are. A pity.

Explosions of Creativity

Periods of incredible expansion in the quality and capacity of life occur when certain basic conditions have been met in the human situation. These conditions have to do with freeing the mind, are cyclical throughout history, and the relative scarcity or abundance of resources has little or no bearing upon them. The social and cultural factors which enhance creative thinking jelled in Greece to produce Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides almost simultaneously. A later period of the same culture brought forth Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Likewise, there were no geniuses at all in England between 1450 and 1550, but a whole series of them in literature, music, science, philosophy and politics between 1550 and 1650. Germany saw a similar explosion of creativity between 1700 and 1800.

In examining these separate periods of Western history, more than a few sociological parallels are obvious. First, the cultural substrate which feeds genius consists of an open, receptive social order not focused exclusively on only one aspect of human life, whether that be militarism, religion, comfort, sensuousness, materialism or something else.

Secondly, the culture must place a stress on becoming, not just on being. This translates to a tolerance for, and even an encouragement of transitional phase behavior. Genius tends to plan ahead, often very far ahead, and a society that focuses on being emphasizes immediate gratification, comfort and pleasure and distrusts activities that relate to remote goals. Becoming, though, should be part of being, and the mature, thinking individual is always becoming, for to day he is somewhat different from the way he was yesterday, and tomorrow he will be different from the way he is today.

Next, other forms of freedom and tolerance must be manifest in the culture for it to grow and develop. The creative individual must be allowed to move unhampered between different and even contrasting cultural stimuli. America itself emerged from a synergistic combination of English and German philosophies, values and traditions merged with the new, adventurous, enterprising and individualistic spirit of the colonies.

Those who focus upon the material resources that creative eras utilize to express their wealth miss the entire point of the matter. The explosions of knowledge, wisdom and mastery of the environment such as took place when Americans moved westward and settled the frontier are not secondary to the land conquest. It is the other way around—the knowledge explosion made the land conquest possible. The Indian could not stop both the gun and the new plow. An idiot alone on an island with a family of chickens will eat roast fowl, then starve; an individual of creative intelligence will develop an array of egg recipes and will learn to breed and cull his flock.

Both the conquest and exploitation of the frontier and the survival tactic on the deserted island are done best when creative juices are sprinkled on the situation. If our nation is to emerge intact from this era of economic instability it must move again toward the type of social order which both rewards and fosters creativity. If you unduly tax creativity and productivity (which we do) you will get less and less of it, and if you reward indolence you will soon be drowning in indolent beings (which we are).

Instruments of Socialism and Cultural Decline

The philosophy of scarcity is a predominant influence in producing the slide of our great nation toward oblivion. The government and the instruments of education and persuasion are currently in the hands of those motivated primarily by that philosophy and the grasping greed it produces. Control, dominance and wealth redistribution are the socialist formula, and they are techniques of cultural suicide—not growth and development.

The philosophy of abundance recognizes that free minds can and will wrench wealth from the environment if allowed to do so. Just as the space shuttle Columbia lay undiscovered in the crust of the earth until our minds were ready to conceive it, there are even greater discoveries yet to be made. These discoveries can and will produce a social order of growth and abundance if they’re not prevented from doing so by the choking bureaucracy of our repressive, ever-hungry government.

Unfortunately, many are placing their trust in the apparatus of government at this time of economic and social crisis in the mistaken belief that it can reverse the process of decay and dissolution. This hope is sheer folly, for it has been the unrelenting implementation of counter productive government policies which has been the major force in creating the onrushing calamity. The public debt is beyond control, the size of the bureaucracy continuously escalates, and even those who sense the reality of an impending calamity are in the grip of a vague, anes thetized helplessness which is usually described as malaise.

Others are trusting in material objects such as diamonds, gold, silver, art or antiques to shelter their wealth during this period of instability. An external device of dubious value (currency) is used to acquire other external devices (goods) of less dubious value, and these devices are then secreted. We call people who randomly steal items for which they have no reasonable immediate or deferred need kleptomaniacs and consider them ill. People who purchase a variety of items with equal randomness we call consumers and have built an entire commercial system about them.

Materialism Is an Outgrowth of the Philosophy of Scarcity

Materialism, or the preoccupation with the acquisition of money or the devices it can purchase, is an outgrowth of the philosophy of scarcity. Surely, if things are the measure of man, and if there are not enough things to go around, then it is reasonable to be constantly concerned with acquiring things. The thing-oriented individual often decides that it is a waste of time to continue to yearn for the old freedoms, questions whether or not they ever really existed anyway, and busies himself constructing substitute gratifications to replace those he feels have been permanently lost.

Those of us who are thing-oriented people often view both objects and people as commodities—including ourselves. We think, “I am what I have”—and we collect injustices done to us as if those injustices were valuable possessions as well. Our dreams are of great wealth, romance, intrigue and power.

If we’re men, we lavish a great deal of attention on our automobiles or other shiny objects and well-kept possessions such as condos, rental houses, yachts, and the like. If we’re women, we are likely to lavish our affections on our jewelry and our personal appearance. We feel more comfortable touching objects than we do touching each other—especially objects that we own. Additionally, we spend a great deal of time and energy safeguarding our possessions from theft, taxation or random destruction. Indeed, we often appear to be owned by our things for they command so much of our thoughts and activities.

Such materialistic, thing-oriented, scarcity-dominated behavior can be termed life-rejecting. Those among us who are life-rejecting tend to carry our bodies stiffly. We view relationships from a paranoid angle, feeling exploited by nearly everyone. We respond to these feelings by projecting a free-floating resentment, coupled with anger and envy, out onto the world. We would deny the rich and powerful, as well as the powerless, the right to enjoy pleasures that we cannot experience. We tend to view work as a duty and pleasure as sinful and immoral. We may own many things, but we often hurt those people who come close to us.

The life-rejecting obsession is with control and dominance, so we are often found within hierarchical situations. That includes government, the military, educational institutions, or some large corporations. We are the bureaucracy. We scorn disorganized “messy” personal relationships and prefer those in which a superior-subordinate interaction is precisely defined—the more precise the definition the better.

Life-Oriented Behavior

Adherents to the philosophy of abundance, on the other hand, are life-oriented rather than thing-oriented and life-rejecting. Those among us who feel this way tend to view the universe as a vast tool placed there by the Creator to assist us in achieving self-actualization. We learn to fully experience and express our feelings and tend to be loving and accepting of others. We are capable of outer-directed, or helping, behavior, even though our primary motive for such behavior may be self-actualization. The difference is best seen in the idealistic social worker versus the inventor.

An inventor is perceived as selfish and preoccupied with his own creations and the social worker as altruistic. However, if the inventor is successful in creating a meaningful new product (lightbulb, flush toilet, hot-water heater, weed cutter) he can profoundly affect the quality of life of all society. That is the essence of effective outer-directed behavior.

Such people tend to be spontaneous and open, and present themselves in a loose, natural style. Their work allows them to feel competent and self-reliant, and they don’t wait for others to fill their needs or solve their problems. Perhaps most importantly, life-oriented persons are capable of deep, profound relationships bathed in freely flowing and totally experienced feelings. They learn to activate and express buried potential—aesthetic creation, selfless service, communion with nature. They learn to become one with the environment rather than merely dominating it.

As the Renaissance swept aside the bleak intellectual torpor of the Dark Ages, this era of bureaucratic banality is likely to be jolted by an awakening. But such an awakening will not come easily. Creative, individualistic believers in the abundant universe must shoulder their way through the deadwood of a social order choking on its own pollution. Small men with small minds hooked into the philosophy of scarcity and lusting to control and dominate the assets and lives of others are in the halls of power and must be displaced. Until and unless they are we will continue on the road to social chaos.

Those who preach that this is the age of limits are only projecting their own myopic view of the world. The concept of limits is acceptable to those who have lost the capacity to grow and develop. It allows them to rationalize their own narrow achievements. But it ain’t necessarily so. At one time surgeons would not cut into the human abdomen for fear of a fatal outcome. Today abdominal surgery is commonplace, and operations on even the heart and brain take place on a daily basis. These and other miraculous vistas open each day in the field of medicine, and similar progress can doubtless occur in other disciplines as well.

The Computer Revolution

The electronics industry represents the cutting edge of modern technological development. Properly implemented, the computer revolution will bury once and for all the idea that there are limits to exploration and utilization of the environment. Entirely new industries will spring up around this new socio-cultural entity and these industries will rejuvenate America’s manufacturing infrastructure. We will march from this point into an age of unprecedented prosperity if we but allow ourselves to do so.

At one time men believed that the world was fiat, and that earth was the center of the universe. One man spoke up against this misconception and announced that not only was the world round, but that earth was only one of several planets revolving about the sun. His observations brought him ridicule and agonizing persecution—but his truth eventually prevailed. Without the appropriate mental concept of a spherical earth in orbit about the sun, men would not have made it to the moon, or placed the satellites in orbit, or done a thousand thousand other things that have permanently altered the quality of life.

So it can be with the concept of a universe of boundless abundance. Once man can accept the fact that the power of the mind is limitless, he can begin to apply that power ina myriad of ways to improve his existence. It would seem far better for us to invent new techniques to implement the vast number of raw tools God has provided than to scheme, fight and plunder each other for the few resources that have already been converted to physical wealth.

In the final analysis man, collectively and singularly, is the measure of himself. We can accomplish what we believe that we can, find what we want to find, go where we want to go. The magic carpet in the universe without limits is your mind. Use it.

  • Ban Barker, M.D., is a specialist in psychiatry and contemporary therapeutic techniques and is Director of the Crisis Advisory Canter, Simi Valley, California.