CAPITAL, WEALTH, JOBS, AND HUMAN FLOURISHING

Rosie von Lila
9 min readJul 14, 2021

How We Flourish

(If you like this piece, down below you can give it up to 50 claps, which helps with the algorithms, and I thank you for that!)

The following is an excerpt from Rosie von Lila’s book FELLOW: Essays on Mass Human Flourishing. It references The Maker and The Unmaker, which you can learn about here.

WEALTH AND FLOURISHING

Human flourishing is very much tied to how we use our time to survive, create wealth, and generate meaningful experiences. Regarding wealth creation, the limiting belief that only labor creates wealth is based on an outdated and narrow assumption that wealth is merely the financial value of assets. In terms of human flourishing, we now know that wealth comprises a multitude of capital forms — we know that the definition of wealth is no longer solely equated to your net worth, how many figures you have in your bank accounts, and how much property and stuff you own. From the perspective of human flourishing, wealth is more complex and includes multitudes of capital forms. These capital types include:

1. Intellectual capital

2. Experiential capital

3. Social capital

4. Cultural capital

5. Living capital

6. Spiritual capital

7. Financial capital

8. Material capital.[1]

We humans possess remarkably flexible minds and can expand our thinking and behaviors beyond outdated beliefs. We can give up the cultural belief that only labor (specifically so-called “productive” labor) creates wealth, and we can give up the limited thinking that wealth is only financial. Intellectual, experiential, social, cultural, living, and spiritual capital are created through the miracles[2] of wonder, curiosity, discovery, practice, adventure, stewardship, caring, and creativity. (Lots of Makery!) Arguably, these are the most fulfilling forms of capital that we value. (Translation: Our most valued forms of wealth are created through Makery.) I assert that a person who prizes financial capital above all else is not actually flourishing and is likely unaware of the impact that their personal priorities have on the people closest to them.

Here are four of the seven ingredients for human flourishing:

1. Basic needs can be met

2. Creativity can be explored

3. Contribution can be given

4. Belonging can be nurtured.

Said another way, mass human flourishing arises when everyone can meet their basic needs through dignified means, can work on things that light up their creativity and make use of their miraculous human mind, can contribute benefits to their community and the world[3] in ways that are personally meaningful[4] to them, and in so doing can experience belonging in humanity.

ON WORK AND FLOURISHING

Putting people to work is about ensuring that we have income to spend and invest for participation in the economy.[5] Money as a means for value exchange is a marvelous technology, and a great tool for facilitating human flourishing. One of the puzzles government leaders dance with is this persistent question: What will we do when automation and artificial intelligence replace the need for human labor in major areas of the economy, thus stunting or ending peoples’ incomes?

I’ll say briefly that human flourishing requires that we have some kind of universal basic income payment for all people so that everyone may participate in the economy at a basic level. Here, however, I am more interested in the connection between work, self-worth and meaning, and robots taking our jobs.

It is worth noting that working at jobs-that-robots-can-do-better so that one can earn money is not a path to human flourishing. One of my favorite science fiction futurist questions is: What will humans do when we are freed from the jobs where automated machines and artificial intelligence have replaced us? This question turns on its head the notion that we must fear the specter of being replaced. Instead, we can discover what happens when we are given the freedom of not needing to labor where humans have become obsolete. For some, this is a paralyzing and terrifying prospect.

Research shows a paradox: People’s identities are attached to their jobs and simultaneously they hate their jobs.[6] The first portion of that paradox, that people’s identities are caught up in their jobs, has led some to the foregone conclusion that people will be psychologically lost[7] when robots free us from our jobs. There is, however, a shining, recurring, consistent example that demonstrates the glory of what people do when they are set free from the requirement to work all the time to survive.

Every year, for many years now, nearly 80,000 people get together for one-to-several weeks to take time away from working for money. Many of them spend this time together working extraordinarily hard in a remote, harsh climate navigating impossible circumstances as they unexpectedly arise. What are they are up to? Leading up to the gathering, many of them labor the entire year (outside of their day jobs) at various crafts, generating works of creativity, including: engineering, design, architecture, fabrication, materials science, wood working, painting, sculpting, inventing, sewing, writing, performance arts, singing, music making, movement arts, practical jokester-y, beverage mixology, cookery, logistics planning, and communing. They spend their time on Makery throughout the year, getting ready for “the world’s biggest playground,” the one-of-a-kind, city-sized, performance-and-participation stage and community: Burning Man.[8]

A quick side-trail for the uninitiated: Burning Man is not only an event that happens once per year in the lifeless void known as the Black Rock Desert. Burning Man is a culture and global network. The culture is one of participation, creativity, generosity, and shared experience. The global Burning Man Network comprises hundreds of Regional Contacts representing more than 100 regions in 20% of the world’s countries and 90% of US states. Burning Man Regional Events and the Burning Man event in Nevada are crucibles of human potential, showcasing the glory of human flourishing at its most inventive. To attempt to describe the imagery of Burning Man is an impossible task. Imagine the most spectacular light show and sunrise and sunset you’ve ever seen, the most creative sculpture you’ve ever laid eyes on, the wildest playground and most playful people you’ve ever played with, the most inventive vehicle you’ve ever been transported on, the most fantastical costume you’ve ever seen, the most bumpin’ sound system that’s ever got your booty groovin’, the most generous and friendly neighbor you’ve ever met, the wildest party you’ve ever stayed up all night for, the most refreshing beverage on a hot day you’ve ever had, the most extraordinary “I can’t believe someone built this!” engineering you’ve ever seen… take all of this and multiply it by infinity and you have something nearing the experience of Burning Man. The magic of Burning Man culture is in part due to all of this being created by people because it feeds their soul in some way. This is Makery at play.

In its simplest terms, Burning Man culture creates the opportunity for every participant to explore their own personal creative expression, to do so freely, to connect with humans from all walks of life, and to discover a sense of belonging. It has been said that Burning Man trains humans to be good neighbors and is a blank canvas of permission to be your most genuine self. It is also worth noting that Burning Man does not occur in a benign environment. Amidst so much human Makery, The Unmaker is, as always, perpetually at work attempting to destroy what is made, what is orderly, what is connected. Colossal dust storms with savage wind, rain, and extreme heat from the sun wreak havoc on participants and their endeavors every year. The intense environment exacerbates emotional experiences and offers extreme wear on the human body. The Unmaker and The Maker are on grand display at Burning Man.

So what does all of this have to do with automation and people losing their jobs and humanity losing its collective mind because we won’t have jobs to define our identities anymore? Returning to our inquiry: What will people do when we are freed from the necessity of having to work to meet our basic needs? What Burning Man shows us is that if given the context, invitation, and freedom to create, we humans engage in mass Makery of our own choosing, and we do it for fun, adventure, discovery, and connection. This assertion is proven by the self-replication of the Burning Man culture across the globe in hundreds of locations, year after year, with millions of people moved and inspired by the invitation to generate something of their own making from their own creativity, which inevitably builds community and belonging. The prospect of being freed from the work-that-automation-can-do-better opens a promising gateway for all humans.

This fear that “if people lose their job, they will lose their identity” lacks imagination. This kind of thinking lacks exposure to the reality of what people do with their time when they are invited to create and participate in something that inspires them. To be clear, I’m not saying that no one will choose to work for money — quite the opposite. I think that many people will be incentivized to work for money to build up financial capital and build companies that are meaningful to them and provide beneficial contributions to humanity. What I’m saying is that we do not need to fear being out of the work that robots can do better than us, so long as we have some way for everyone to have some basic income so that we can all participate in the economy and meet our basic needs in a dignified way. The future of living our human potential is very exciting and full of Makery — there is a promised land, and you have a hand in creating it.

To Recap: Human flourishing requires the wealth of a multitude of types of capital; the majority of the capital types that contribute to human flourishing are generated through our own Makery; it’s a blessing to be freed from work that automation can do for us, so long as everyone has access to some income that allows us to meet our basic needs and participate in the economy; and when invited and given the context of freedom and creative expression, humans will use their time to make things and connect with each other.

Thank you for your time and attention. If you like my perspectives on Human Flourishing, please follow me on Twitter @rosievonlila.

Footnotes:

[1] Fullerton, John. “Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Principles and Patterns Will Shape Our New Economy.” Capital Institute. April 2015, p. 53. http://capitalinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/2015-Regenerative-Capitalism-4-20-15-final.pdf. Accessed 13 July 2021.

[2] Here we define a miracle as a shift or correction in perspective. Source: Schuctman, Helen. “A Course in Miracles Workbook.” A Course In Miracles Workbook. Foundation for Inner Peace. 1996, chapter 13. https://acim.org/acim/workbook/what-is-a-miracle/en/s/764. Accessed 1 July 2021.

[3] Often the greatest meaning for a person is created through seeing the impact that they have on another person’s life — be that family, friends, community, or strangers. Sparking joy for another person through providing something useful, opening an opportunity, helping in a time of desperation, or saving a life are often reported as the most satisfying of human experiences. Source: Pew Research Center. “Where Americans Find Meaning in Life.” Pew Research Center. 20 November 2018. https://www.pewforum.org/2018/11/20/where-americans-find-meaning-in-life/. Accessed 1 July 2021.

[4] “Personally meaningful contribution” can be defined only by the contributor — no one outside of you can tell you what is meaningful to you.

[5] Additionally, there is a (perhaps pessimistic) hypothesis that putting people to work is also a way of ensuring the lower classes have something to do that does not threaten the status or control of the upper classes. Even if there could be some evidence to support this, I don’t give much credence to this hypothesis, as it is an example of a disempowering boogeyman story. Said another way, this kind of story is the work of The Unmaker. There are so many examples of people who live their lives in defiance of this kind of story, which counters any evidence that this disempowering boogeyman story is real.

[6] Graeber, David. Bullshit Jobs. Simon and Schuster. 2018, p. 241.

[7] World Government Summit. “Mohammad Al Gerwani in Conversation with Elon Musk World Government Summit 2017.” World Government Summit. 2017, 22:30–24:40. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCoFKUJ_8Yo. Accessed June 15, 2021.

[8] www.burningman.org

--

--

Rosie von Lila

Causing human flourishing. www.vonlila.com. Board Member. Public equities trader. Advisor to Burning Man.