First of all, notice that the Myth of Scarcity and the Myth of Self-interest are inextricably intertwined. This is characteristic of all the Major Myths. They arise out of one another, reinforce one another, and mutually support one another. Because of this, it is extremely difficult for someone who has been captured by one of the Myths not to become entangled in the others as well. And once enmeshed in the network of the Myths, it becomes increasingly more difficult to see anything but the Myths at work in the world around you.
Now the Myth of Self-Interest has its roots in the Myth of Scarcity. Acting in a self-interested way is a response to the fear of shortages and the fear of others. Since we fear that necessities of life may become hard to find, and that other people will try to take what we need for themselves, we try to protect ourselves by acting selfishly. We try to grab what we need before someone else gets it. We try to hold on to everything we have. We try to put up barriers that will scare others off. We adopt defensive postures that project both confidence and strength, in an effort to ward off predators.
All of this is unnecessary. As we saw in our discussion of the Myth of Scarcity, there is no a priori reason to fear scarcity itself, nor do we need to fear that people will behave badly when subjected to scarcity. Both of these outcomes can be avoided or mitigated by intelligent planning and generous assistance. So there is no need to take up the defensive posture of assuming that everyone is only out for themselves, especially when there isn’t even any scarcity yet.
Letting go of this posture frees up energy and time. You don’t have waste time plotting and planning how to beat back others, how to take what you want away from others, and how to protect what you have from others. You don’t have to create a zone of negativity and exclusion around you, which takes a lot of psychic energy to maintain.
And along with this freeing up of energy and time comes a breaking free from the tyranny of the zero-sum mindset. What is the zero-sum mindset? It is imagining that all or much of life is like a zero-sum game—that is, a situation in which whatever is gained by one player is lost by another. Now there may be some truly zero-sum circumstances. Any unique object could be cause of such a situation.
There was a movie some years ago called The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which a Coca-Cola bottle was dropped out of an airplane into a bush society that had no such objects. The bottle became the origin of just such a zero-sum situation, in which everyone who wanted this unique item had to take it away from someone else.
But although such circumstances do exist, it is a grave mistake to imagine that all, or even many, of life’s apparent conflicts are like this. In fact, most conflicts—even those involving unique objects—can usually be settled by intelligent and generous compromise. In the case of the bottle, it might come about by instituting a rotating possession of the object, or by some other means of making the object accessible to everyone.
Someone who is captured by the Myth of Scarcity and the Myth of Self-Interest would find it difficult, however, to see the value in these solutions. Since such a person is motivated ultimately by Fear—that is, fear of not having what he wants, and fear of others who might take what he wants from him—he is suspicious all the time. He suspects that Nature will capriciously withhold its bounty from him. And even when Nature delivers her bounty, he suspects that others will try to cheat him of it or steal it from him. This ingrained suspiciousness makes it nearly impossible for him to see cooperative solutions as anything other than disguised rapacity. He resists compromise, preferring his fear-based zero-sum illusion to the reality that there may be many solutions that lie outside the zero-sum perspective. He cannot see a world of other possibilities because his attachment to his fear has boxed him in and limited his perspective. The ability to get out of this sort of limited perspective is one of the crucial traits needed to progress in life, both individually and socially.
From the viewpoint of the boxed-in person, the unboxed person looks impossibly creative—that is, the free person can bring into being acceptable outcomes that elude the boxed-in person. Unboxed people are able to do this not only because they see more new possibilities, but also, as we said before, because they have more energy to devote to bringing these new possibilities into being. Unboxed people can use this extra energy to pursue positive goals that will be satisfying to themselves, and may also be satisfying to others. They can enjoy the companionship of friends and the collaboration of colleagues who are trying to attain the same goals. They can produce things that never were, reshape things that need renovation, generate things that no one ever imagined.
This is Creation.
Boxed in people produce, but unboxed people create. Production is generally lifeless, soulless, joyless. Its extreme symbol is, not surprisingly, the production line—no human spirit required. But humans can also produce soullessly without a production line. Most office work is like this: shuffling paper, filing forms, answering phones. And indeed, any kind of work to which you feel no inner connection is production for you.
Creation, on the contrary, is vital, energizing, joyful. You can’t wait to get started on it in the morning, can hardly pull yourself away in the evening, and keep thinking about it in your free time. It’s absorbing and fun, and the result—whether it’s a painting or a book or an expertly completed mortgage application or a well-solved plumbing problem—is the answer to a unique challenge.
What the world desperately needs, and has needed for some time now, is a shift from production to creation. We have been coasting too long on the former and neglecting the latter almost entirely. We have turned most people into near machines by forcing them to settle for being agents of production, and we have almost forgotten that people are most alive and healthiest when they are agents of creation. We need to shift production jobs as much as possible to machines, and move people into the sphere of creation.
Creation can only take place in freedom, and no one is free who is hemmed in by fear of scarcity and fear of other people. If you can just let those go, a wide-open new expanse of choices will emerge in the midst of your life. Once you drop the shackles of fear, you can finally devote yourself to the joy of creating. And among the things you can finally begin to create is—your own life.
Now that we’ve identified the direction in which young people need to head, we will begin tomorrow to discuss the changes in perspective that must accompany any attempt to change the distorted world view of conservatism, which is preventing us from creating a future in which anyone would want to live.