Making the pie better not bigger

Making Light has some good thoughts about resource security, abundance, and growth.

Substituting non-acquisitive goals for acquisitive ones is difficult but not impossible. Our society already does that, whether people are collecting photos of themselves in exotic locations or status in whatever communities matter to them most. Measuring wealth in whuffies makes deep sense. After all, aside from fetishists like Scrooge McDuck, who really wants to swim in gold coins and light cigars with $100 bills for the pure aesthetic pleasure of it? People do these things to be seen to be doing them. Beyond a certain level of necessity9, money is mostly a counter of monkey-status.

More difficult is the other engine of growth and acquisition I’ve been running into: security. It’s difficult to pass up usable resources, even if I already have a good store of them, because I know I will run out eventually. But it’s easier to walk by this vein of coal if I can trust that I’ll be able to find another one to dig out when I need it. Minecraft’s abundance is consistent and reliable. Sadly, though, the real world contains unfed hunger and unmet need. There is always competition for resources, and real penalties for failure. There are visible losers in the race for everything necessary and useful to human life, from clean air up.

Growth is the promise of future plenty, and thus a mental escape hatch from zero-sum thinking. Make the pie bigger is the standard communitarian, non-competitive advice to someone trying to take a bigger slice of a limited resource. I don’t encounter competition for resources on my solitary server, but shared servers address the matter the way that the United States did in the 1800’s: geographic expansion. Players range further from the spawn point to find unexploited territory. Again, they tap into the unlimited abundance of the virtual world.

This is our immediate and pressing challenge as a species, and the off-worldsmen, to coin a phrase, need to get real: until we solve this nothing else really matters, long term.

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