Idling, the Way of Life

This article was written for the Idler bi-monthly magazine but didn’t make the cut for the next issue although they’ve promised to publish an edited version on their letters page. An edit will inevitably miss some important facets of the full article; hence it is published here.

I’ve been idling for a dozen years or so, but didn’t know it. I regarded it as work but work I wanted to do, rather than work for money. This work revealed the reality of our existence. My idling is a privilege derived from playing the game of life with relative success, so far.

As Guy Standing pointed out in the last edition of Idler, there is a pyramid of wealth and power in which a few enjoy the means to sustain themselves unconditionally. The rest of us, and especially the expanding precariat, are competing in the money game, merely to survive.

The money game has rules like any other and the rules expand the power of institutional hierarchy (governments, corporations, NGOs etc.) and accelerate misallocation of the commons (land, resources, knowledge and technology).

Money is merely an idea and its value isn’t related to what is essential for human sustainability. Money acts as a proxy for value and its numerical value has little to do with reality. Money is also the single point of failure underpinning the global economy. Financial collapse causes distress and hardship for everyone, even those near the top of the pyramid.

For most of our existence as modern humans, we sustained ourselves without money and continue to do so in families and small groups today, even though we use money to acquire resources beyond our immediate environment. We support those we love unconditionally, particularly the weak and vulnerable.

I share my idling with a global network of similarly motivated individuals and it is from these that I’ve learned about the reality of our existence. Our latest paper, The Money Paradox, explains the consequences of our reliance on money and how it is being displaced by direct value handling. In other words, a life of idling will become a reality for all, including the precariat. The game is changing from mindless competition for survival to a game of cooperation and mutual support to thrive. It is the game we played for most of our existence as modern humans and still play at home today; in the paper, we call this protosustainability.

With the technology and resources available today, by adopting this methodology rather than rely on money, we can organise ourselves to live in a world of miraculous abundance. Idling can become a way of life without having to take “bullshit jobs”, a term coined by the late David Graeber in an essay on the needless, abusive and destructive jobs done by so many.

The unprecedented success of corporations such as Facebook, Amazon and Google comes from their ability to acquire value from the unique capture of our needs, capacities, links, skills, knowledge and experience. Inevitably, because these corporations are players in the money game, that value isn’t shared but proxied into money (income and share value). Thus we are in a hybrid phase, a transition from money to direct value handling.

So how will this transition progress? Using co-creative methodology that revealed these truths is how open source software (which underpins the digital economy and those corporations such as Amazon and many others which have adopted much of this technology for their own benefit) created the tools to facilitate the protosustainability methodology across the world. Open, unfettered collaboration will accelerate and expand the adoption of direct value handling of reality and consequently, the practice of idling.

The world and much within it are far too complex to plan or manage but they, and we, can self-organise. There are simply too many variables in living systems and situations to be able to analyse and prioritise effectively; consequently, we tend to analyse a small number of variables based on erroneous assumptions; we use this analysis, often based on computer models, to make decisions and take action. The result is what we are living today… an expanding precariat, conflict, waste and destruction.

Nature doesn’t work by “command and control” but by self-organisation. Merlin Sheldrake in Entangled Life describes the distributed intelligence of mycelium whose networks can cover square kilometres. When a part of the network encounters a threat or nourishment, the information is disseminated across the network which then reacts accordingly.

Distributed Autonomous Interdependent Self-Organisation (DAISO) is already here although barely visible to most, not least because there are no financial incentives to publicise and promote it. When viewed through prism of money, DAISO has no value in spite of its potential to transform so many lives.

The tools that arise from and facilitate DAISO include blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT), non-fungible tokens (NFTs capture and authenticate unique attributes), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), nearline storage and processing, the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and Web3.

Many of the groups and individuals from whom I learn and with whom I share what I learn are reducing their reliance on money. For example, I’ve learned to bake sourdough bread and share the method and the starter (the fermenting base from which the process starts) with others in my network. Baking and eating one’s own bread may the ultimate in idling… and it tastes so good!

When there is no precariat and everyone is idling, the transition will be complete.