Uniting the People of the World in a Sharing Economy (Part 2)

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Share the World's Resources

Uniting the People of the World in a Sharing Economy (Part 2)

'The greed and indifference that defines our societies," writes Mesbahi, 'has been implanted and conditioned within us, generation after generation.' It's past time for a profound shift. (Photo credit: Flickr / cc / quinn.anya)

In light of the dramatic changes that lie ahead, any person who perceives sharing as an answer to converging crises should think carefully about the meaning of redistribution. This term has very evasive and controversial connotations, and can breed tension, stress and even violence if promoted in the wrong context. There is a healthy meaning of redistribution which is a result of right sharing, such as to redistribute a tonne of tomatoes from one region to another based on a system of fair and mutual exchange. But there is another meaning of redistribution, which entails forcing the rich people in society to surrender their personal possessions or wealth. That is exactly what communism tried to do, and it may inevitably involve a violent infringement of human free will.

If a government really wants to share the nation’s resources it should start by dismantling the machinery of war, otherwise the finances procured by raiding the coffers of the rich are more likely to end up back in the military budget than with the poorest in society, thus supporting further warfare and reinforcing the status quo. Why weren’t the richest people and corporations taxed sufficiently in the first place? Where does the money go once they are taxed, to social needs or perverse subsidies? And why were they given so much opportunity for amassing their enormous fortunes, while the government was playing games with market forces and commercialisation?

It was the system that allowed the wealthy to go so far in enriching themselves, and now the disciples of the same system try to coerce the rich people into redistributing their wealth. This is an old and divisive tactic born of the factious ways of the past. Communism tried, socialism tried, and now even capitalism has joined the club. It may please the populists who blame the rich for all of society’s problems, but it will never bring a solution to social injustice as long as the system itself is based on the interests of privilege and wealth.  

The surest way to bring about a reversal of extreme inequality is for a bulk of humanity to demonstrate on the streets, unceasingly through day and night, and with the vision of a united world to demand: ‘Enough of bailing out the banks, enough of austerity that doesn’t end, enough of aimlessly trying to tax the rich – it’s time to bail out the poor for a change through social transformation based on sharing, justice and common sense’. It is imperative that we look at these issues for ourselves with introspection and self-awareness, and no longer define our identities in terms of what we are against, such as capitalism or the rich.

Hence the implementation of sharing on the basis of justice must begin with a transformation in human consciousness led by our maturity and the reasoning of the heart. That is when a new understanding of sharing may arise in our minds, which may change our whole attitude to wealth and redistribution. When the nations of the world collectively act to end poverty in its totality, then the word ‘redistribution’ will fall into its right place and begin to assume a different meaning. Then we may begin to think in terms of a ‘just’ or ‘right’ distribution, and we will no longer need to use the word ‘fair’ in relation to global economic arrangements. These are important semantics to reflect upon, because it may help us to intuit what sharing has to achieve in its proper and holistic vision. Right distribution is aligned with right human relationship, but redistribution – even with the utmost good intent – can only arise in a society that is defined by legitimated theft, institutionalised injustice, and the endemic infringement of human free will.

Imagine if there were millions of people demonstrating for sharing across the world, then not even the rich would have to think about ‘redistributing’ their wealth. Nobody would need to confiscate their money from them, or coerce them into supporting an emergency programme to redistribute resources to the famished poor. A united voice of the world, all together for sharing and justice, will create such a force in society that people everywhere will follow its trend, including the billionaires. The wealthy are good people too, and many will come by themselves voluntarily at such a time and say ‘here it is’. They may not want to forcibly give up their wealth, but they may certainly want to share it once their hearts meld with an overwhelming call from the public to end hunger and poverty. They will not even hear the word ‘redistribution’ if they are standing with the people and sharing their wealth for the cause of upholding social justice. That is the stage we have to reach, which will mark the true revolution that only sharing can bring about.

Of course, the fair collection and redistribution of tax revenue is fundamental to just and democratic societies, and when resources are more equitably shared then there can no longer be such extremes of poverty and wealth. But in the creation of such societies we must respect the rich as much as the poor, even if many wealthy people resist the changes that are happening across the world. It may take time, but those people will eventually be left behind by the deafening cry for a new civilisation that is founded upon the principle of sharing.

Studying the meaning of sharing

In order to perceive for ourselves the importance of transforming society along these lines, we clearly need to think carefully about how we interpret the meaning of sharing in political and economic terms. For example, the idea that sharing means ‘to feed the hungry’ is, in fact, total nonsense. Who says it’s our food to share with the hungry? Only commercialisation does, with its diabolical cleverness that conditions our minds. What do we mean when we say that this food belongs to us, while some parts of the world have no food at all? How did we get that food in the first place, in a world with a huge surplus of food per capita?

To see the morality inside of this question, we will have to enquire into the unjust structural arrangements that have resulted in a world ridden with hunger and deprivation – the importing of food at a cheap price, the decimation of smallholder farming, the long history of theft from and exploitation of the poor, and so on. If we think ‘this is my food, and I am sharing it with the hungry’, it does not acknowledge or resolve the problem. How can we remain indifferent when we are told that people are starving in other countries, and then think that the food on our own plate is rightfully ours?

If we are straight and honest with ourselves, we will never think that this is our food to share. We will say: ‘The food in the world belongs to everyone, therefore I want my government to change its attitude towards poverty in order to end it’. The meaning of sharing is not ‘to feed the hungry’, but to irrevocably end poverty through implementing justice. Sadly, in the divided world of today where feeding the hungry is a matter of international responsibility born of emergency, an end to life-threatening poverty can only be brought about through a united voice of the people of the world.

The principle of sharing also has a tough side to its nature that is profoundly allergic to such words as charity, philanthropy and even altruism – words that have suited our collective complacency for millennia. Indeed, what is a philanthropist if not a ‘somebody’ with an ambitious and competitive mind who became rich by learning how to profit from an exploitative and unjust system? For how did the philanthropist make that money? As always it begins with discovering a talent for manipulating the system, or by inheriting wealth that is the product of a system based upon exploitation.

How else can the executives of large corporations be given millions of dollars in salary, bonuses and severance pay, while the army of workers who keep the business running are paid the minimum wage according to the law, often in overseas countries that offer no worker benefits at all? Then the philanthropist, in order to expand his image and reputation or salve his conscience, decides to give some money back to charity. He doesn’t ask the workers what should be done with that money. In effect, he makes money off the backs of the workers and gives a small portion of it away, at their expense.

We should ask ourselves: how can there be so much opportunity for making billions of dollars through commercialisation, when hundreds of millions of people are at risk of dying from hunger in other parts of the world? We always see the person who is making billions start to rub shoulders with the politician, and vice versa, but we never see the politician rubbing shoulders with the person dying from hunger.

Sharing as justice not charity

If the dictionary were to give an appropriately moral definition of the word charity, it would state: ‘an undignified act that results from complacency’. It is undignified because we can always do something to help achieve justice, but owing to our complacency we find it more convenient to give some crumbs to the needy. And once we give enough money to charitable causes, the establishment will eventually reward us in an honours list and give us a title.

Obviously no-one should advocate for an abolition of charity, which is a venerable necessity in our society when millions of people subsist in a state of dire poverty and desperation. Our hearts are essentially benevolent and caring, which is why we believe in giving to charity when we hear of humanitarian emergencies in distant countries. But why do such emergencies of Biblical proportions keep repeating themselves again and again, despite all the know-how and ingenuity of humanity? Because we are also complacent, and we often give without even thinking about justice. We do not collectively demand that our governments stop these preventable emergencies once and for all, whatever their cause.

When we give to charity without thinking about justice, then the act of donating has nothing to do with sharing the resources of the world. If sharing and charity were personified and met each other on the street, sharing would say to charity: ‘Who are you? I do not believe we have been introduced before’. The very existence of charity in a world of plenty symbolises the divide that exists between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots.

To be sure, if governments implemented the principle of sharing on a global basis it would signify the end of days for charitable giving. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone, enough resources to provide healthcare and housing for all, enough knowledge and technology to empower even the poorest country to meet its needs. No matter how much of the world’s resources we collectively share with the people living in abject poverty, there will still be more than enough to satisfy the basic needs of all. How did the affluent countries accumulate so much resources and industry in the first place? How much of the food, fuel, minerals and land in the world have we appropriated from the people of less industrialised countries? These are the questions we need to ask if we want to perceive for ourselves the simple logic of sharing and justice.

The way of sharing

We should not accept the above propositions unless we have fully investigated for ourselves the meaning and implications of sharing as a solution to the world’s problems. It may seem too idealistic to believe that the key to social transformation lies with the massed goodwill of ordinary people, and that nothing will change unless people power becomes planetary. We may become slightly more aware of the possibility of changing the world situation by thinking of our own complacency, but if something inside of us has not confirmed it completely then after a few minutes we may quickly forget and revert back to our old conditioning.

We are so influenced by our environment and bombarded by the thoughts of others that it requires a certain courage, determination and perseverance to think freely and to know oneself. We are all part of the process of commercialisation, and we are all ultimately responsible for its pernicious conditioning within our societies. Once the way of sharing is deeply confirmed within us, however, and we understand it with rage, with passion inside, then it will mould our character in such a way that we will never be fooled by commercialisation again. The way of sharing is universal. You and I, let’s be together. Let’s share. It’s as simple as that, and forever will be.

Intellectual theories about social change will mean nothing unless the people rise up, pushing out the old order and heralding the new. That is where the real meaning of our lives begins, and where true power resides. We may think of the powerful as those who lead huge multinational companies, who have the capital needed to raze the Amazon rainforest, who have such control over resources that they can take over people’s lives. But in spiritual terms that is not power at all, it is completely the reverse.

True power is togetherness and sharing among millions of people, which is unifying, creative and healing on a worldwide scale. Unlike the very wealthy who live only for themselves, power in an individual sense is non-divisive and non-destructive, and rather distinguished by humility, inclusivity, harmlessness and detachment. And from a planetary or group perspective, it represents everything that brings about justice in society and equilibrium within the environment, and gives energy back to creation as it is. When all the nations come together and share the resources of the world, when humanity brings about balance in consciousness and in nature – that is power in the greatest sense. All the so-called powerful people in our present-day society are sustained only by commerce, by laws, by ideologies and beliefs. But when we no longer bow to their authority and come together as one, then we will see what power really is. To repeat a slogan often written on protest placards: why are we frightened when they are so few, and we are so many? 

Mohammed Mesbahi

Mohammed Mesbahi is founder and chair of Share the World's Resources, a London-based independent civil society organization campaigning for a fairer sharing of wealth, power and resources within and between nations.

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