USA 2000

1968

Beginning with his prophecy that the United States of America will no longer exist in the year 2000, Alan introduces us to a possible utopia which he discerned in his vision of the future. Topics include automation, guaranteed universal incomes, the confusion of money with wealth, changing work ethics, and the grim necessity of our learning how to sensuously enjoy luxury if we want to avoid total destruction.

00:00

In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2000, the United States of America will no longer exist. I am not given to prophecy, but I think that one is reasonably certain. Now, by the expression “the United States of America” one can mean two quite different things. In the first place, one can mean the physical territory of North America, now politically designated as “United States,” plus its biological and other geographical features: people, rivers, animals, plants, mountains, skies and flowers. On the other hand, by “the United States of America” one can mean a political and sovereign state existing in competition with a number of other sovereign states distributed over the Earth. And if the United States continues to exist in that sense, and to be primarily identified with that meaning for much more than ten years, we shall create in this world a holocaust.

01:38

There are so many ways of doing it: by the obvious one, with nuclear or biological warfare, by the less obvious ones of total degradation of the wildlife, pollution of the atmosphere, poisoning of the waters—so that we shall erode the natural resources upon which we depend. There are so many threats from so many different points. When you consider just adding up nuclear warfare, biological warfare, overpopulation, bad conservation, racial strife, civil war—take your choice. Either one or any mixture of them, and we shan’t be here. That is to say, we shan’t be here in the sense of a territory; a biological world. We may exist in some abstract sense, like: “See, I was right after all. Deader than dead.”

03:00

Now, herein exactly lies the problem of the future. When I make prophecies from a purely realistic and hard-boiled point of view, I tend towards the extremely gloomy side of things. I have never yet voted in an election where the candidate of my choice won the election. And I tend to feel the practical politics of the matter of [???] that human beings are so stupid that they will always do what they can do. What can be done must be done. And that we will go like the gathering swines on the hill. And if I were betting on it, and I had somewhere to place my bet, I would bet on it that way. But I don’t have anywhere to place my bet. And furthermore, I can look at it from the point of view where I’m not just an objective bystander, looking at this situation as something which I’m just going to predict about. I’m involved in it. And as I’m involved in it, I’m damned if I’m going to let it happen that way!

04:16

There is, then, the other alternative that, if the United States of America ceases to exist in our minds and in our hearts as an abstract political nation, and we focus our attention instead on the physical people and upon the physical environment and the love of it, then we have some chance of creating by the year 2000 a most extraordinary state of affairs. But it is based upon the realization of that distinction, I repeat: between the territory, the people, and all the biological life that goeswith that situation on the on hand, and on the other, the United States as a nation with pride and honor. You know, quite recently the Congress passed an act against burning the flag with all sorts of patriotic speeches. And those same congressmen are responsible directly for burning that for which the flag stands—by absolute callousness as to the care of the physical nation: the water, the air, the crops, the forests. So this is the great confusion of civilization. And if we don’t find some way of overcoming it, I’m afraid 2000 A.D. will see us as non-geographical expressions.

06:01

The point, then, is this: that civilized man has developed the incredible technique of symbolization—of words (which represent things and events), of numbers (which represent patterns and arrangements of physical nature), of social institutions (laws, states, family patterns), and so on. And in these terms he represents the physical world in the same way the menu represents the dinner. But he has been so fascinated by the power of this symbolic way of looking at things that he very easily confuses it with what it represents, and so has a tendency to eat the menu instead of the dinner. And this is precisely the disease from which those congressmen who were irate about burning the flag were suffering from. But this disease assumes much more serious forms. And the one I want to talk about first as the major obstacle to the survival of the territory United States, in the year 2000, may be symbolized by the confusion of money with wealth.

07:32

You remember, don’t you, the Great Depression, when suddenly the whole country was in a state of poverty for the reason that there was what they call a financial collapse. There was no diminution of our natural resources, there was no diminution of our physical strength, of our intelligence. But suddenly, almost overnight, we had an economic depression, incredible poverty and suffering, because of a financial slump. As if you came to work one day and they said to you—you were going to build a house—and they said, “Sorry, baby, but you can’t build a house today. We haven’t got any inches.” “What do you mean, ‘We haven’t got any inches’? Have we got wood? Have we got lumber?” “Oh no, we need inches of wood or inches of lumber.” “We got tape measures.” “Oh no, not tape measures. Just inches. There are just no more inches to go around.” And that’s exactly what happened in the Depression—based on the fallacy that money is wealth, or that money is real. Because money is, in a sense, a reality, but a reality of exactly the same order as inches, hours, or lines of longitude. It is a measurement of wealth. But it is confused with wealth. And this is the main thing which is blocking the proper expansion of our technological genius at this time.

09:18

There is no question that within a relatively short time we have the technical capacity to wipe poverty off the face of the Earth. It isn’t a question of the old socialist programs of robbing the rich to pay the poor. All that kind of thinking is entirely obsolete. It is a question of realizing that we are now, in 1968, long, long beyond the age of scarcity in which we cannot provide adequate and more than adequate necessities and luxuries for every human being on the planet. It is technically possible. The amount we have spent upon warfare, collectively, since 1914 could have given every human being on Earth a comfortable and dependent income. And the amount we are spending daily on the war in Vietnam could abolish the problems of almost all underdeveloped nations in the world. But the confusion is: when we suggest the very idea that money doesn’t matter, people feel deeply insecure. And if we should go further than that and suggest such outrageous ideas as that, in the year 2000 A.D., there will no longer be taxation, that all utilities will be free, and that every citizen—instead of having to pay his taxes—will receive from the government a guaranteed basic income, people say, “Where’s the money going to come from?” As if money were something that came from somewhere in the same way as iron, or hydroelectric power, or lumber, or just plain energy. Money doesn’t come from anywhere and never did! Money is an invention in the same way that inches and hours and clocks and rulers are inventions. That is: money is a measure of wealth.

11:54

Now, if we define wealth as consisting of a sum of three things—wealth is firstly energy. Secondly, technical intelligence. And thirdly, raw materials. Those three things. When, for example, people think that gold is wealth, and use gold for money, gold being used for money becomes immediately useless for anything else. It is locked up in just plain ingots, doing nothing in banks and fortresses, and is of no material value whatsoever. But the trouble is that we, who pride ourselves on being a materialistically-minded people, and are sometimes even ashamed of ourselves for being that, are not materialists in any sense whatsoever. We are high abstractionists. We are concerned with money, with status, with what we are called, what people say about us, with this whole mess of verbiage, and are very badly related indeed to any kind of physical natural reality. And therefore, we have simply to get over—you see, I’m a philosopher. I’m not a very highly informed fact man about matters of economics and political. But I go down to basic principles, and therefore come with a certain naïveté and innocence like the child who noticed (in Hans Andersen’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes) that the emperor was naked.

13:38

And I see in astonishment, in this kind of childish way, that people really think that money is necessary; that they don’t understand the following simple principle: if you create a technology, and the purpose of that technology is to increase our supply of goods and services, and to make it unnecessary for anybody to perform drudgery, then, of course, you’re getting rid of work. So we have the amazing idiocy to penalize getting rid of work as something called “unemployment:” to be on the lower social status in which you crawl into a labor office and regretfully receive a dole. Because, you see, money was a convenience to get rid of barter so that you wouldn’t have to go down to the market with a basket of eggs in order to exchange it for vegetables or meat. But if you have nothing to barter with because the machines are doing it instead of you, then the people obviously have to credit themselves for the work done on their behalf by the machines. If they do not do so, the manufacturer will not be able to sell their product. Then what must he do? He invents, instead, wars and all sorts of disturbances so that the people will be persuaded to fork out taxes, and the government will be persuaded to overextend the national debt (which is merely a method of issuing credit) in order that they may go on. It is not necessary to invent wars. It is only necessary to invent money.

15:28

But the difficulty with our present psychology of money is that, the moment there would be a guaranteed national income, and everybody would be given $10,000 a year as a mere startup for whatever else they may want to acquire by various enterprises, prices would go sky high to so-called “catch” the new money in circulation. And the result of that would be that you would be a pauper on $10,000 a year. Because people do not realize that when you put up prices in order to catch an extra flow of money, that the money you are getting by this method is increasingly less valuable. And therefore, you are doing nothing at all. You are simply going around in a vicious circle. So we have the situation that when profits go up, the unions say: “More wages, please.” Okay, more wages. Then what happens? The prices go up. And then the manufacturer thinks it’s gaining something. It isn’t gaining anything at all, because it costs him more for everything he has.

16:34

So, you see, the obsession of making money is a thing from which we will—if we’re going to survive at all—is a thing from which we must be delivered! Because if you substitute for the idea of money the sensuous experience of real material wealth, you will very quickly realize that you cannot drive three cars at once, nor live in six houses at once, nor eat five breakfasts simultaneously. That there is simply the physical limit to your consumption of the most luxurious wealth imaginable. But the point is that everybody is going to have this without limit, because it is technically possible.

17:20

And therefore, a very curious thing is occurring: that it is becoming an entire reversal of the Protestant ethic—which was, of course, that human energies cannot be trusted unless most of them are absorbed in hard work bringing out products. If we aren’t dead tired when we get home from doing that, then the devil finds work for idle hands to do! And there will be pleasure-seeking, and orgies, and all the perversions that flow therefrom, until finally we become weak and sickly and a prey to our enemies and fall apart. There’s a certain truth in that. So therefore, we have to define that, in this year 2000 (which is not very far off), that we’re going to realize it’s our sacred and solemn duty to learn how to enjoy total luxury. Very serious! Because, as I pointed out right at the beginning, talking about utopia today is no longer a sort of wishful fantasy, it’s a grim necessity. There is no alternative except utopia to the direction which we are on presently, the direction of destruction. We’ve got to have the nerve. You know, the damn cheek to stand up and say: yes, we’re going to enjoy ourselves as much as possible.

19:19

Now, let me point out that that is a high art. It isn’t easy. In case any of you want to be a little bit masochistic—many people do, because they don’t feel that they’ve contributed to society unless they’ve suffered during the day. I now want to propose an entirely new, adventurous form of suffering, which is the art of enjoying yourself as much as possible and accepting, full-heartedly, the real physical possibility of immense prosperity. Now, the problem of this is what we call fatigue in [???]. That consciousness is a peculiar neurological phenomenon which gets bored rather easily. So that when a certain stimulus is given to consciousness for a period of time, it ceases to notice it. And then, for lack of anything to do, it seeks out another one. And therefore, the people who are permanently comfortable, they cease to notice that they’re comfortable. You know very well when you were worried financially, and were constantly preoccupied that you didn’t have enough money, and then suddenly you got enough money. And you were very happy for a few days, and then you started worrying about your health. You know, nature abhors a vacuum. So therefore, all high pleasure must go hand in hand with a certain degree of asceticism. So very skillful cooks and gourmets are different from gourmands. The French distinction between gourmet and gourmand is extremely important. A gourmand is a person who just shoves it down; a trencherman. A gourmet takes it subtly. He doesn’t ever over-drink. He doesn’t ever over-eat. He’s fussy, particular, and disciplined. Because he attends to the art of cooking as a very rare dinner, so that he mustn’t ever fatigue himself with it. And that’s one of the major tasks in front of us.

21:27

And that goes hand in hand with the other thing that must occur as a form of change of spirit in technology if we are to bring about this kind of prosperity. Hitherto, the spirit motivating technology has been unfriendly to the physical environment. We have spoken of the technological enterprise as man’s conquest of nature, as if man were an alien in the universe who was something that came into this world from outside (that is to say, from the abstract world), and landed in the concrete world incarnate in a human body, and therefore has an abstract spirit at odds with this physical prison. It was his duty on this Earth to order, by violence, his physical prison and make it submit to his will. And as a result of that we have a type of technology which, with few exceptions, is purely exploitive and destructive—its symbol chiefly being the bulldozer: that great metal maw which will shove down mountains in a ghastly fulfillment of the prophecy in the Bible that “every valley shall be exalted, and mountains made low, and the rough places made plain.”

23:07

So the progressive Los-Angelization of the world—I knew I could get away with that in San Francisco!—is going ahead. Because what is fundamentally important for all this change, if this is going to happen at all, and could indeed happen, is a change in the individual human being’s consciousness [???] vis-à-vis, face-to-face, with nature. We have been brought up to experience ourselves as separate souls or egos occupying bodies and confronted with a world of nature that (since the disappearance of God at the end of the 19th century) is a profoundly stupid environment consisting of animals who are not very bright, rocks which are quite clearly stupid, and other electronic forces which have only rationality insofar as our physicists can impose upon them. And therefore, we feel quite alien from the outside world, and we feel we are mere occurrences. We arrive in this world for a short time and then disappear forever. So make the best of it while you can.

24:41

We have absolutely no idea of experiencing our relationship to the physical universe as both ecologists and physicists know it to be. The ecologist knows that a human being (or any other organism) is not something that comes into this world from somewhere else, but is an expression of it; grows out of it like fruit from the tree. And it’s absolutely imperative that we realize this. Because only on the basis of that new kind of conception of the human being, or feeling of human existence, can we have the motivation for developing a technology which will cooperate with the environment instead of merely destroying it. If you are a great winebibber and you love to drink, you must realize that with that goes a lot of grapes. You can’t just tear grapes off the hill and mulch them into wine, you’ve got to love them in such a way that those grapes will be happy to return to your hills year after year. That’s real technology. No matter what instruments, no matter what chemicals you use. You must love the grapes on the hills and they will come back often enough that you can have plenty of wine.

26:04

We can do all of this if we’ll get into contact with what creatures and politicians call brute facts and hard realities instead of abstractions. But if we don’t, and if nuclear energy in the end turns this planet into a star. That may be the way how other stars were made. Think of that one! But, you see, you won’t disappear. The important thing to realize, you see, is that if this goes on long [???] process, then wherever new beings of whatever kind—insects, mammals, fish, people—wherever they come into being, each one is “I.” It feels it is “I” just as you do now. You don’t remember having existed before. Neither will you then. But it will always be “I,” always going on. So cheer up! Because if you understand that and lose your anxieties, then you will be less likely to authorize someone to push the red button.



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