Tuesday, June 21, 2016

See People

I am against hand-outs, but not for the reason I think many people are. Throwing solutions at problems doesn't work primarily because of the thrower, not the receiver. An alternative to hand-outs of a 'nothing for nothing' philosophy also leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Again, I think the problem doesn't solely lie with the person trying to get out of their hole. The primary problem in my mind is that we don't 'see people'. It is not a relationship. It is an attempt at a 'hand-up' rather than a 'walk with'. Charity has an implicit hierarchy. That the person giving has the answers and that the person receiving aspires to reach their level. Sharing is different. It requires the hard work of community building. It requires learning from each other.

One push back on hand-outs is entitlement. That people will expect things to just be given to them. The best example of entitlement I have seen is privilege. Through travelling, I have been lucky enough to spend time with a number of families in the past two years. Most of these families have been privileged. In privileged families children grow up with parents doting over their needs. Interpreting screams. Working through and around tantrums. Slowly teaching them how to engage with society. Showering with love even when they behave badly. Slowly building up boundaries. In the first few years these kids believe the world is designed for them. Little emperors throw things on the floor. Dismiss food. Insist on going home. The world often bends to their will.

That is not what I experienced in my two week stay in a place outside my bubble. Normally I stay with families for 2 or 3 days. It is enough to relax and see people as they are. Longer than the curtain can be held up. I get to know the children. I get to have awesome chats with my friends. Normally it is long enough for kids to misbehave. For me to see the many varied approaches parents attempt to use. In the two weeks I spent learning isiXhosa with a family that didn't have the privileges I have, the children didn't misbehave. They were incredible. Obviously it is just one example, but in poorer communities there is an inner fight I don't see elsewhere. Resilience busting a gut to shine.

Privilege includes the ability to forget all the handouts we have received. Teachers, family and other mentors that have put up with our nonsense over the years. Lessons in punctuality. Lessons learnt playing team sports. Lessons in confidence and inner-belief - that you are entitled to the fruits of your labour. The big difference is our hand-outs came from people who were making a genuine attempt to see us. To help us carve away the obstacles that were holding us back. Our hand-outs came from our community.

Like Michelangelo, our communities carve out our talents and beauty

A Universal Basic Income isn't a hand-out. In a society with Private Property and an ability to deserve the fruits of your labour, there has to be a functioning community. We don't know how all wealth was created. We have a long history of screwing other people over. Of looking after our own. Of taking things, land and power that we want at the expense of others. The most powerful tool I have come across of redressing this, is directly. Put cash in the hands of everyone. Enough to survive. Enough to look up from living hand to mouth, and start thinking about living. A Universal Basic Income is a muse.

Hand in hand with a Universal Basic Income, we start the hard work of building communities that work. Communities that look after each other. You can't monetise a lot of the work that is required. Paid work is only possible where functioning markets can be created. Where there is supply and demand. The most obvious example is parenting. The tools of pricing don't work there. The Emperor may feel entitled, but there is normally only a small circle of people willing to supply that love. Immediate family. Perhaps a friend or two. The salary of a parent is normally zero. The worth of that job is priceless.

'Nothing for Nothing' can encourage a 'Work for work's sake' mentality. That is basically just killing time. Killing time keeps people away from building relationships and supporting each other. The fact is there isn't enough meaningful monetise-able work to go around. There are structural problems that prevent job opportunities. It isn't laziness. In Johannesburg, I drive past guys just sitting on street corners hoping someone will come and give them a job. Any job.

To finish with a quote from Rutger Bregman:
'There is no evidence at all that people will turn out to be lazy. You know, most people are inherently creative. Most people want to do something with their lives. People get really depressed most of the time when they are unemployed. So what may happen is people do less paid work in order to do more unpaid work.'

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