7.3 The Creation of Abundance


The second most effective step is to go local, to strengthen local communities, to build up the Transition Towns[26] and to grow our organic produce locally. Urban areas constitute land that we’ve appropriated from Nature for human use and it behooves us to make the most of that land, to grow fruits, nuts and vegetables in all the sidewalks, backyards, front yards and parks. If Amory Lovins can grow bananas in Colorado[27], surely we ought to be able to grow most of what we eat locally? This would allow us to return most of the rural land, especially the land that we’re currently using for livestock production, back to Nature to regenerate forests and to heal the biosphere. This is the “Garden World” vision of Doug Carmichael[28].

Making maximum use of the urban land that we’ve appropriated also means that we would tap into the solar, wind and geothermal energy within these urban areas to meet our energy requirements. The energy infrastructure of our cities would mimic the communications infrastructure of the internet, with a distributed, robust, non-hierarchical structure that is difficult to disrupt. It is only when we cease to rely on remote, concentrated energy production that the hierarchical Caterpillar culture can dissolve and the true Butterfly can emerge en masse.

The Butterfly culture is about the creation of abundance. In contrast, in the Caterpillar culture, a substance that is abundant would be considered worthless and it is only by making it scarce would it be rendered valuable. I recall that around thirty years ago, when Perrier first introduced the concept of bottled water in America[29], it was met with derision. When tap water is nearly free, clean and abundant, why would anyone pay money to buy bottled water from a French company? Yet the young urban professionals of that time bought it because the company cleverly sowed doubts about the cleanliness of tap water. The bottled water industry grew from this small beginning into the 100 billion dollar a year behemoth today[30], by creating both the perceived and the real scarcity of clean, drinking water and by manufacturing demand. Thus, the Caterpillar culture did the opposite: it took something that was abundant and turned it into a scarce commodity, by physically, chemically and psychologically polluting it, while positioning the industry as the sole means for providing a cleaned version.

Now imagine taking something so polluted and cleaning it up so that it becomes free and abundant. And imagine doing this with volunteers who are willing to work on the project because they believe in the end goal of abundant, free water for all. So much so that the volunteers bring in not just their sweat equity, but procure all the equipment needed to complete that task. That is the Butterfly culture. Things get done, even big things get done, because enough people believe in the end goal. Things get done because someone has inspired enough people to work on it, because it makes sense within the overall purpose of the Butterfly, to regenerate and celebrate Life.

This is the gift Economy of the Butterfly. In the Butterfly economy, food is grown in abundance so that no one goes hungry. Shelters are built as and when needed just as the Amish do, not because the construction workers get paid to do the job, but because they are celebrating that rite of passage for a young couple. Everybody goes to work because they truly believe in the work that they are doing. Everybody would literally pay somebody to do the work that they are doing. Absenteeism is a rarity in such a culture because it is fundamentally driven by Love and not by Fear.

And clean water flows freely.

If you need a software operating system, just write the initial code and make it open source so that your friends can help you perfect it. And Linux is born[31]. If you need an encyclopedia, just ask. And Wikipedia is born[32]. If you need a web site, just ask. And CharityFocus will do it for you[33]. If you need help with homework, just ask. And Khan Academy is born[34]. If you need something, anything, just ask. And, if enough people believe in why you need that something, anything, you will get it.

For free.

As we are slowly beginning to discover, money is not a good motivator for creative work. Prof. Dan Pink of Harvard points out that it is autonomy, mastery and purpose that are much stronger motivators than money[35]. The best thing we can do with money is to create an environment where money becomes irrelevant. Then, give people the freedom to create. But Sir Ken Robinson says that we are educating children out of their creative capacities at the moment[36], in our Caterpillar culture. We’re running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing that children can make, but it is mistakes and group learning that foster creativity. In our current education system, we are chipping away at the creativity of the individual in order to chisel out a Lego piece that can be plugged into the vast pyramid that is the global Caterpillar economy.

The Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef, summarizes the principles of what I call Butterfly Economics, using five postulates and one fundamental value principle[37]:

1. The economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy
2. Development is about people, not about objects.
3. Growth is not the same as development and development does not necessarily require growth.
4. No economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.
5. The economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the Biosphere, and hence permanent growth is impossible.

And the fundamental value principle to sustain the economy is that no economic interest, under any circumstance, can be above the reverence of Life.

Within Butterfly Economics, development is about creative possibilities, which is infinite, while growth is about quantitative accumulation which is necessarily finite. There are absolutely no limits to development in a Butterfly economy because its objective function is the creativity of society, not the totality of goods produced.

In the Butterfly culture, everyone is working towards a common purpose, the regeneration of Life, and there is this deep meaning to human lives. The third pillar of true happiness, Purpose, is built in to our lives. In his very spiritual book, “Man’s Search for Meaning[38],” Viktor Frankl writes about how he survived the Holocaust because he had found a meaning for his Life; he wanted to find his wife. His love for his wife let him forget the trials and tribulations of concentration camp and let him forgive his captors for causing them. Therefore, it is Compassion, Detachment and Purpose that make up the three pillars of true Happiness.

Ideally, the actions of a Butterfly are performed without any ego, without any desires and while forsaking the fruits of those actions. For it is wisdom that defines a Butterfly, not knowledge. In the Butterfly culture, knowledge is available at everyone’s fingertips and therefore, people are constantly striving to be wise. And a truly wise being can never be boastful, egotistical and will forever be steeped in humility and wonderment towards Nature. Humans have good reason to be humble as a recent article in the New York Times detailed how animals and birds outperformed human beings in various tests, including social interactions (chimpanzees),  botany (sheep), probability and statistics (pigeons) and common sense (crows)[39]. The test with the pigeons was particularly striking as it involved a famous probability dilemma that I was introduced to during my years at Stanford. It is based on the old game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” where Monty Hall was the host. In the game show, the contestant is asked to choose from three doors. Behind one of the doors is a spectacular prize, e.g., a car, and behind each of the other two doors is an ordinary prize, e.g., a bicycle. Once the contestant makes his choice of the three doors, Monty Hall reveals the bicycle behind one of the other two doors and then gives the contestant the opportunity to switch his choice to the other unopened door. Most of the contestants on the game show did not switch.

This is contrary to the theory of expectations. When the contestant made the initial choice, he had a 1/3 probability that he picked the car. The probability that the car was behind one of the other two doors was 2/3. If, instead of revealing the door with the bicycle, Monty Hall had offered to the contestant the chance to switch between the door he picked and both of the other doors, surely the contestant would have switched? That is, if he gets to keep the car if it is behind either of those other two doors. And that is precisely the option the contestant is given when Monty offers the chance to switch once he reveals the bicycle. In laboratory tests, only one-third of human subjects switched. But a whopping 96% of pigeons switched in a version of the Monty Hall dilemma involving pecking keys and “mixed grain” rewards.

Pigeons 1, Humans 0.

However, whether animals and birds are smarter than humans in cognition tests – that humans devise – is beside the point. Indeed, during the recent earthquake in Virginia, many animals in the Washington National Zoo appeared to have anticipated the earthquake well before it happened[40]. Therefore, if animals devise tests for humans, they might invariably find us dumb and lacking in basic, common sense. As the biologist Richard Dawkins once pointed out, every species on Earth today is at the same level of the evolutionary tree. We are all truly cousins, the human, the tiger, the bat, the shark, the oak tree and the fungus. And a truly wise species wouldn’t be devising tests to judge others and wouldn’t even be calling itself “Homo Sapiens,” the Wise Man.

For have you ever met a truly wise man who’s constantly boasting that he is wise?

As such, the Butterfly culture is terrifying for the human ego, because it would be impossible to persuade enough people to voluntarily build a monument to its arrogance and stupidity. Why would volunteers build a 27 story, one billion dollar monstrosity to house an individual and his five family members, with a helipad on the roof just so that they won’t ever have to set foot on the ground?

The 27-story Ambani family home, Antilia[41], would have never been built in Mumbai, India, in the Butterfly economy.


[26] The Transition Town movement resides on the web at http://www.transitionnetwork.org/

[27] Here’s a video of Amory Lovins describing how he grows bananas in Colorado: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJbVLyst4Ok

[28] Douglass Carmichael, “GardenWorld Politics: American Values,” http://doug.pbworks.com/w/page/18138359/GardenWorld

[29] A History of Bottled Water in the US can be found in http://water.columbia.edu/?id=learn_more&navid=bottled_water. Please see also http://storyofstuff.org/bottledwater/

[30] Solvie Karlstrom and Christine Dell’Amore, “Why Tap Water is Better than Bottled Water,” National Geographic Daily News, March 10, 2010. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100310/why-tap-water-is-better/

[31] https://www.linux.com/

[32] http://www.wikipedia.org/

[33] http://www.charityfocus.org/new/

[34] http://www.khanacademy.org/

[35] Dan Pink, “On the Surprising Science of Motivation,” TED talk, 2009. http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html

[36] Sir Ken Robinson, “Schools Kill Creativity,” TED talk, 2006, http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

[37] Manfred Max-Neef, “Barefoot Economics, Poverty and Why The U.S. is Becoming an Underdeveloping Nation,” Democracy Now, Nov. 2010, http://www.democracynow.org/2010/11/26/chilean_economist_manfred_max_neef_on

[38] Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy,” Beacon Press, 1946. http://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/0671023373

[39] Alexandra Horowitz and Ammon Shea, “Think You’re Smarter Than Animals? Maybe Not,” NY Times Sunday Review, August 20, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/opinion/sunday/think-youre-smarter-than-animals-maybe-not.html

[40] Joel Achenbach, “Zoo Mystery: How did Apes and Birds know Quake was Coming,” WashingtonPost, August 24, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/zoo-mystery-how-did-apes-and-birds-know-quake-was-coming/2011/08/24/gIQAZrXQcJ_story.html

[41] Matt Woolsey, “Inside the World’s First Billion Dollar Home,” Forbes Magazine, April 30, 2008. http://www.forbes.com/2008/04/30/home-india-billion-forbeslife-cx_mw_0430realestate.html

7.2 Conscious Consumption
8. Climate Healers
Sailesh Rao
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