There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count and those who can’t. This essay is about labels or categories if you prefer. The mildly funny line I just wrote is an example of labeling or categorizing people. In order to understand the world and get along in it, human beings need to be able to put things into categories, to conceptualize. If we look at things like ants or bacteria or even dogs and cats, we see that they have a lot of built-in categories. Dogs seem to get excited or at least interested when they see other dogs or perhaps, cats. You don’t have to train them to have a dog bark upon seeing another dog or a squirrel. People, on the other hand, start life without those categories. We have to construct them from scratch or nearly so. My time babysitting during the last year has reminded me that babies aren’t afraid of anything that doesn’t make a sudden loud noise. They soon learn, however. Within a few months, facial expressions are meaningful. Tones of voice matter. Strangers in familiar places (like in one’s home) become a source of anxiety. When language begins to develop, those words become associated with properties of objects, with emotions, and with what’s about to happen. Labeling is begun.
Most of that labeling goes on in the subconscious mind. I am told that in a fraction of a second one can judge and categorize a person during a fleeting glimpse. Our conscious mind is nowhere near that fast. Labels tell us how to feel, what to expect, and what we need to do next. If you’ve ever had a wasp or large bug fly up into your face suddenly, you have probably reacted by moving your hand quickly to brush it away. One might say you do that “without thinking.” Actually, of course, that was your subconscious doing the thinking and acting without waiting for your laggard conscious mind to act. Your subconscious also may get your body ready for action when the situation calls for action. Perhaps you are old enough to remember those “subliminal” messages that would flash on the screen in the movie theater just before the movie ended to make you feel hungry so you would buy popcorn or candy before the second feature.
This sort of thing happens with categorizing people as well. We judge political candidates to a considerable degree on their appearance. If you look better than your opponent you have a good chance to win the election no matter what you say on the campaign if you can just get your picture out there. When an employer selects someone to hire for a job, the categories in which the applicants fall in the employer’s mind will typically determine which candidate is offered the job. Notice that those categories often have little to nothing to do with job-related qualifications. If you believe that the best, qualified candidate always or usually gets the job, you don’t know people very well.
Since the most important things to people are other people in their lives, there are many categories in language which refer to people. There are even word endings which convert ordinary words for things into categories of people. To use one emotion-laden example, we have the innocent word “race.” This can refer to cars or biology. If we use the suffix “er” on that word we get “racer” or one who races. If we use the suffix “ist” on the word we get “racist” or one who believes that race (the biological/social concept) is important. So there must be thousands of word categories for people. I will leave it to you to think of an example word category which is applied to people. Note that that category has attached and associated with it some emotion or emotions. Usually, the emotion so attached will be different from person to person. If the category of persons is one which you would apply to yourself then the emotion is, I hope, quite positive. Otherwise you don’t feel so good about yourself. Of course, our society will attempt to shape and influence the emotion in a variety of ways. One of the most blatant is advertising. Note how impressive the people are who take medications in the commercials for those drugs. In truck ads, the men are real men, very strong and masculine. In cosmetic ads the women are very slim and sexy and strikingly beautiful.
The application of labels is very important in controlling the behavior of other people, which is why politicians use labels so frequently, and why propaganda spends so much time and effort on labeling. This is one reason why people do so many things that harm other people.
Some of the most tragic examples can be selected from the recently publicized news of police shootings of unarmed black persons. A man, shopping in a toy store and holding a toy gun while he talks on a cell phone is shot down by police who have been told that an armed black man is threatening people in that store. Because the police put that person they saw into a category, because they attached a label to him, they were afraid of a person who was not a threat to them or to anyone else. If he had had different emotions attached to the label “black man” the person who provided the initial report would not have thought there was any danger and not have bothered to call the police. If the policemen had not labeled the person they saw as a black thug, they would not have taken a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach. This tragedy, for all involved, shows the power of labels to do damage. There are similar tragic cases in the news quite frequently.
Now the picture I have just drawn of labels creating harm is greatly oversimplified. The minds of the people involved were far more complicated than the extremely simple description I provided. You will also note that my description also assigns labels and the images in your mind while I provided that description also provided labels to your mind. So labels will be in our thoughts whether we like it or not. That’s just how we think. But when we rationally consider our situation with labels, it would be wise for us to try attaching some additional labels also in most situations. If we see someone and apply only one label to them then act, we are almost sure to be wrong in our understanding of that person. But if we apply several labels and try to make those labels be of different kinds, we have a much better chance of at least being “in the ball park” in our understanding of that person.
If the police in our last example had applied the label “shopper” or “father” or “customer” in addition to “black man” things might have been entirely different. If they had assigned the label “guy talking on the phone” things would almost certainly have been very different. But the only label their minds allowed them was “black thug.” Everything the man did was interpreted in that light. What the police saw was not what was really happening, it was what their mental labels expected them to see. Yes, our minds can overrule our senses so that we see what isn’t really there.
Now I have provided this extreme example in order to get your attention and engage your emotions. Most people will never kill anyone else let alone kill someone because of an inappropriate label. But we do all sorts of things and come to all sorts of conclusions based on those labels.
I have a vested interest in that labeling because the ideas I propose are also labeled. And, I, as their proponent, am labeled as well. Since my ideas are frequently quite unorthodox my ideas and I get labeled from all parts of the political, intellectual, scholarly, and so forth spectra. That is, since my idea is different from the ideas of the labeler, that person will use one of the handy (bad guy) labels. When I was a faculty member on a faculty which had several Marxists (that’s another label for you) they called me a right wing reactionary. When I moved to a southern small college I was labeled as a socialist. Note that in each case, since I did not agree with their viewpoints, they used what they felt was the opposite of their own position to generate a disparaging label for me and my ideas. With libertarians, I find that my ideas often generate the label “statist.” Now I smile when my ideas generate that label since my ideas virtually eliminate government, have only private property, and there cannot be any taxes at all of any kind under any circumstances. So it strikes me as funny to have a label that indicates strong central government and high taxes applied to my ideas. I also understand that all of the foregoing examples are simply people responding to what appears to be an attack on their beliefs or views. Of course, I am not attacking libertarian ideas at all. I am explaining why the state exists and why it acts as it does. I am explaining what must be done to attain libertarian aims. Something similar happens with those communists/socialists. They also apply a label which is their standard “bad guy” label in calling me a capitalist or reactionary. Of course that label is also inappropriate for my ideas. The capitalist, to a socialist, does not give away capital goods as the only way to earn money. Yet that is true of my system. The capitalist does not work hard to feed, house, and clothe the least wealthy of people according to the communist yet that is what the capital owners in my system are doing. Similar problems exist for the two dominant political parties in the U.S. called Republicans and Democrats. Of course both parties would reject my ideas since my system pretty much eliminates political parties. They may call my system anarchy. The Republicans would surely call my system “liberal” and the Democrats would be less organized but might call my system conservative or a giveaway program for the rich in that taxes are eliminated. These labels likewise bring a smile to my face but the smile is a sad smile. The problem is that none of these categories of people (whom I have labeled in this section) have read my novel nor do they understand what I propose. Therefore, they don’t even know what they are labeling. And I find that troubling.
What does this all have to do with physical object money or POM? After all, POM does not force the mind to think in categories and labels. That way of thinking existed long before agriculture developed and the first commodity monies came into existence. True enough. But human beings employ POM in the context of a mental process which uses those labels and categories. And POM does shape how those categories and labels are associated, what emotions and expectations are attached to those labels, and what actions those labels are likely to evoke. POM exists in a context of labeling and labeling exists in all nations in the context of a POM. The two influences interact. Now we have to think well in order to survive in this world. Otherwise we would fall off things and wander out into traffic like small children who are just beginning to understand the world. So we can’t get rid of labels. We can get rid of POM. And if we get rid of POM that context for our labels will, of necessity, change. If that context changes what can we expect to happen to our labeling and categorization processes?
Here’s where it gets interesting. In a POM context we are forced to suspect everyone of wanting our money. After all, our POM can be taken from us against our will and unless everyone wants our money how can we expect other people to accept our money in trade? In addition to that suspicion, we also have the zero-sum game relationships which POM falsely simulates. We are, as a species, mutually interdependent. A sea turtle hatches out of its egg and is fully equipped to do what it takes to survive. True, most will never survive to lay eggs or father a host of little turtles but those babies are on their own to survive or die trying with no help from the other turtles or mom and pop. With many birds, after hatching, the parents provide food and some protection while the hatchlings grow and strengthen in preparation for becoming independent and on their own. So that period of dependence after birth is but a few weeks. Moving on to human beings, we are completely dependent at birth and for years thereafter. Eventually, most of us would be able to survive alone in the woods for a few days with any luck. Of course, we could not survive months alone in the woods on our own unless we entered the woods with many pounds of supplies and equipment. It seems that with human beings, we are each dependent on the actions of other human beings. We are able to think (using words) because we learned a language or several languages from other people. We wear clothes made by other people. We live in structures made by other people. We create and build using tools made by other people. When we are injured or unwell we get medical care from other people. In fact, in the absence of other people most of us kind of go crazy. That’s why solitary confinement is considered to be a cruel and unusual punishment. We don’t like to think of ourselves as dependent. That image of the Marlboro Man, tough, independent and virile appeals to most men. That image of the mom who can cope with anything is appealing to most women. But being truly independent? Forget about it.
Why are we so resistant to the idea that we are all dependent on one another? What’s wrong with being dependent? First off, if we are dependent on someone that gives them power over us. We seem weak by comparison. If that someone has power over us we can be exploited. Now why would they exploit us? Because they can get our money, our work, our bodies against our will if we are dependent on them. They can gain money, POM, by exploiting us so that gives them a powerful motive to exploit us. Look at how tempting that is. So, of course, we don’t like to think of ourselves as being dependent. On your income tax forms the only people who are dependents are children, the elderly, and women. Men are not supposed to be dependent. Men are supposed to have jobs and take care of themselves. “Manly” just doesn’t go with “dependent.” That’s a second reason why we don’t want to think of ourselves as dependent. A third reason is that because every human being is interdependent, the idea of being independent is a relative one. One can be less dependent than others and thus think of oneself as being independent. Because the term is relative, we would feel more dependent if the label could be applied to us.
But given that we are mutually dependent upon one another, the illusion created by POM that we are independent, and that we can gain at the expense of other people, causes us to make some really serious errors in judgement and in actions. If we’re mutually dependent, that which harms my neighbor harms me. That which reduces the productivity of my neighbor reduces my wealth. That which makes my neighbor happy should gladden my heart as well. This is what a non-POM system does. If the only way one can gain more money is to do something which results in net benefits for others (and this is the implication of the free market even in POM economic theory) then what should one expect the behavior of our neighbors to be? Obviously, we should expect them to do good things for us, to help us, to promote our interests, to be caring. The word neighbor is a pretty positive label for most people. If one is neighborly, one does help out when needed, for instance. But the term can also refer to people who live far away. Remember Mr. Rogers asking if you wouldn’t please be his neighbor? His audience was all over the nation. And with a global non-POM economy one’s neighbor is everyone else in the world. In other words, if anyone does something good for you, they gain money as a result with a non-POM. So when you think of other people, your expectations will become positive, favorable, and even happy as a result. The outsider, the foreigner, the “other” will no longer be considered a threat. Picture an argument between a statist and a libertarian in a non-POM economy. The statist can accuse the libertarian of being a liberty lover. The libertarian can accuse the statist of loving order. So far, so good. The statist can point out that the libertarian is no longer needed to struggle for freedom since everybody’s free. The libertarian can point out that the state no longer exists except as a line on the map so the statist is no longer needed. What insulting categories can either person use? The whole basis for the attacking labels that such persons use today would be missing. About all that would be left to them is going to a sports bar and gambling drinks over the outcomes of the games on the big screen TV. Insulting labels would be difficult to come by.
So what would people argue about to replace politics? Religion? Since government is gone there would be nothing to argue about there. But religion would still exist. Why would there not be aggressive and attacking labels in religion? The reason takes us back to that “everybody is trying to be good to me” feature of non-POM. We hate only that which we fear. If we have nothing to fear from other people, the hatred goes away. Think about what would happen to the pay of a minister, priest, or other kind of spiritual leader who was able to get his followers to attack or harm other people. He would soon have little or no income. Also, the followers would likewise find their incomes reduced or eliminated. This outcome would result in a falling away of support. Such congregations would rapidly diminish and disappear. Their leaders would serve as object lessons to other people of faith. Besides, the members of that church would be receiving gifts of food, clothing, housing, education, and medical care from those outside their faith. It’s hard for most people to be cruel to those who treat them kindly. Therefore, with non-POM the various religions would no longer fight against each other since their members would no longer fear each other. It’s hard to get up angry emotion in a religious debate when there’s no fear involved. And other than “you don’t believe what I believe” what could the categories or labels refer to? “You aren’t as nice to people as I am?” “You don’t earn as much money as I do.” Yes, it does sound ludicrous.
Naturally there are insults that relate to sex and sexual practices. But there will be no more sex for money businesses (as we know them) with non-POM. So that whole category of insult will no longer work. One can accuse someone else of liking sex but that’s only human. But let’s say there is some kind of insulting label that could be used. Such labels hurt. They are just as harmful in their way as physical assault. So the use of such labels, particularly in the mass media or in highly publicized speeches, would be to cause harm and therefore reduce the pay of all who use the terms or broadcast the speech. This would result in people watching what they say and being courteous. Does this sound like being “politically correct?” To me it sounds like not being insulting. It sounds like avoiding group slander. I see no redeeming social value in insulting large segments of the population. What about freedom of speech? Oh, non-POM has freedom of speech but if you use that freedom to harm others it will reduce your future income. Also, those who put speech on the air or on the internet will lose money for spreading that slander. So someone like the politicians of the left and the right (we all know who thrives on insults) who insult many categories of people with lies and suggestions that those categories are evil would find their message expensive and few if any will spread that message. Perhaps this will reduce the entertainment value of the evening news in a non-POM economy and perhaps it will reduce the number of books defaming religious, ethnic, racial, and gender groups but overall, I don’t think many people will notice.
What about categories of people who are given advantages? We think of white protestant males as being the norm for what happens in the U.S. Of course, most people are not white protestant males and they have a tougher time of it. You, perhaps, recall what I was writing about earlier when I described those subconscious emotions attached to the labels we have for people? Well, they are subconscious. We are not consciously aware of them. So they operate without our even being aware of them. There is bias and discrimination in all aspects of our society with the consequences showing up particularly in our economy in hiring and job performance reviews and in our politics in elections. The federal program called “affirmative action” was an attempt to compensate to some degree for this bias and discrimination. Of course it didn’t work. Those whose duty it was to enforce the law also had their biases and discriminated. So today we still have great amounts of discrimination but we don’t talk about it as much.
Comparing what we have in a POM economy with what we would have in a non-POM economy, we find that there is still bias and discrimination with non-POM. Our economy and society will be composed of human beings, after all. We all are biased and we all discriminate to one degree or another. But the non-POM economy has far fewer opportunities for bias and discrimination to play a role. No one hires or fires anyone else in a non-POM economy. The power to make decisions is far more dispersed or distributed in a non-POM economy. And there are far more decisions made on objective grounds rather than subjective grounds. But perhaps most important of all, the decisions are made in a free market environment. If the pay for farm labor is not enough, there will be a lot of crops not harvested. If the pay for maid service is not enough, people will have to clean their own rooms. In other words, the pay will have to be enough to make it worth the effort of those who perform the work. Just because the people doing the work are from some traditional minority group does not mean that they can be paid less than the free market value of their work. They are not enslaved by custom or anything else. And you will note that no affirmative action coercion has to be involved to bring about this bit of justice and equality. The free market itself brings it about.
Those who would maximize their own income will try to eliminate any discrimination not based strictly on job performance. The feedback of the monthly earnings will help keep producers on the path to objectivity in dealing with others. If you refuse to work with anyone who is not of your group or category then you will be reducing your own income. Other people will not want to work with you as a consequence which will still further reduce your income. So you can maintain and continue your behavior of exclusion, fear, and hatred but it’s going to be expensive and you will see others who do not entertain your fears making more money while doing the same kind of work because they will be more productive than you are. To use a sports analogy, picture yourself as a white basketball player refusing to play on any team that has black players. You may be a very good player but you will have so limited your teammates that you will be on a relatively weak team. This applies to all kinds of work. The only true test of how well a person can do a job is to see them do it. You can’t tell by how they look or how they pray or how they sound talking or what kind of music they like or their gender or … well, you get the idea. So while non-POM will greatly reduce discrimination, it can’t end it: But it can reduce discrimination to the point that it will be very hard to find, and one can make money by helping others find and eliminate that discrimination. (Remember, discrimination is based on unconscious thought processes so we all need help to get rid of our internal biases.)
Have you noticed that some people are just worriers? (That’s another label, isn’t it?) No matter how well things are going they keep imagining worst-case scenarios. As a parent I worried about my children. As a coach I worry about the health and well being of my players. So it is inevitable that with a non-POM economy there will still be lots of things that people will worry about. What might those things be? I am confident that at first people will worry “will the system really work.” That’s a natural concern, because people have tried all sorts of things to make POM economies work over the last 10,000 years without success. It’s only natural to picture something like the Mississippi land bubble that brought down the French government in 1720 or the real estate bubble of 2007. There have been massive frauds again and again in POM economies so we old folks have every reason to be wary. As time passes and things keep getting better and better rapidly (things are so bad now that the improvements will be dramatic at first) the fears will diminish and people will worry about natural disasters far more. There are lots of things we can do – and need to do – to minimize the damage from things like hurricanes and earthquakes and global warming. People who worry about all those things the scientists keep bringing up. People will worry about the infrastructure and its vulnerability to natural disasters such as solar flares destroying our power grid. The list of worries can go on and on, but in every case those people who worry about potential problems or existing problems can earn money by doing something about those problems. That isn’t the case with our present POM economies. In fact, people today can make money making things worse for our future prospects. Many of our current problems are consequences of just such behavior. Remember tobacco, fossil fuels, overuse of antibiotics, and high fructose corn syrup? Use of those products harms us, yet people are nonetheless making POM producing and selling those products.
Finally I would like to note on this anniversary of the tragedy of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (written 9/11/2015); that the fear and hate revealed by those attacks has its origins in the very nature of the money we use. Without the context of physical object money, those attacks would not have been motivated and could not have been carried out. Our completely inappropriate response to those attacks, namely the killing of thousands of innocent bystanders in Afghanistan and Iraq, would also not have been motivated nor carried out were it not for the context of physical object money. POM creates enemies where none should exist.