UBI: Work, Purpose, and the Worth of Human Life

A big thing that I think can get lost in discussions of Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the way that UBI allows for a re-definition of how we think about work, purpose, and the worth of human life. Especially UBI combined with a universal healthcare system uncoupled from full-time work.

  • UBI allows the homemaker that raises children to be valued for their contributions for more than the money you save on daycare. It lets the caretaker parent be more involved in their children’s lives.
  • UBI allows the twenty-year-old that has to drop out of college or trade school to take care of an elderly or sick family member or other loved one and can’t work regular hours to be able to get by and do that critical labor.
  • UBI allows the aspirant creator to dedicate themselves to improving their craft without needing a menial job to make ends meet. How much faster could a new musician become experienced and skilled enough to play professionally if they don’t have to work 40 hours a week in an office job to get buy?
  • UBI means that if you’re a writer, you wouldn’t necessarily need to have a “real” job to get by. You could be a writer that also teaches storytelling to kids. Or a writer that helps out at their church or local school. Or a writer that provides for their family by cooking wonderful home-cooked meals? Those are all ways of contributing, and in a functional UBI system, they can all be supported and valued.

UBI means that we can continue the trend of letting people spend more of their time on hobbies, civic engagement, caretaking, enjoying life, and being fulfilled. There’s a strong cultural dictate that says that life has worth because of work and “contribution to society.” Thanks, Protestant Work Ethic and/or Capitalism. In the US/Developed nations, we were trending toward people having more and more leisure time, because productivity was increasing due to improved tools, better systems, etc. But wages didn’t keep pace with productivity.

In a UBI system, everyone benefits from increased productivity and efficiency. The office administrator can work 20 hours a week and still keep everything flowing. They can use the other 20 hours a week to spend more time with their family and friends and to develop their passion for painting or volunteer at a local community center. And so on.

I think it’s very important to consider and get excited about the ways self-fulfillment and ideation are a contribution to society. Why do we value work at a job you don’t care about as being more important to societal well-being than taking care of family and/or playing music at a faith center or teaching kids how to draw with crayons or running an after-school program and on and on? Capitalism is the thing that values selling your labor for the good of people that own systems of production. Capitalism is not inevitable. It is not intrinsic to humanity.

What is intrinsic is our community orientation. We’re social animals. We need physical touch and shelter and the chance to continually discover who we are as people more than we need to labor for someone else’s profit. We need sunlight and physical activity and love far more than we need a job title and quarterly reports.

If you’re a happier, more whole, more fulfilled person, you’ll be a better friend, neighbor, partner, etc. A better citizen.

This, for me, is one of the biggest, most important things about UBI. It allows us to move humanity forward past a scarcity mindset into an abundance mindset. It can strengthen civic society. Family ties. Political engagement. And on and on.

This is the future I am fighting for. A future where living a fulfilling life is the priority more than selling your time to survive. We don’t have to live in a subsistence, scraping-by paradigm anymore. We can all live better.

Disclaimers and answers to expected questions:

  • Of course no system is perfect. UBI would have to be very carefully implemented to not just re-create or enhance various systems of inequality.
  • Yes, I am a hippie utopianist. That’s my whole deal. That’s what being a speculative fiction writer means to me: imagining better possibilities.
  • No, this won’t lead to a huge % of the population just being leeches on society. See the resources below.

Further reading on UBI, including a variety of perspectives:

Studies on UBI
UBI pilot program in Kenya
UBI in Ontario, Canada
The Alaska Permanent Fund
The Conservative Case for UBI”
UBI in Finland
“The Wrong Kind of UBI”
Universal Basic Assets
“UBI: The Answer to Automation?”

Light a Candle

Things have been pretty scary the past few weeks, even within the hard year that 2017 has been. We had a family health scare just a little while ago (all better now), plus the ongoing garbage fire that is US politics.

So I wanted to spend a bit of time focusing on things that have been bringing joy and light into my life, in case these things could do the same for you. At the bottom, I list some resources I’ve been using to stay up to date on politics with a minimum of hassle/frustration.

Sources of Joy

One of the things I do to relax is listening to podcasts. I started listening to podcasts over ten years ago when I was out in Oregon doing my M.A. in Folklore. Back then, the only show I listened to was Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing. These days, I’m a part of two podcasts and subscribe to many more. The two below have been particularly helpful for me this summer:

Friends at the Table – A marvelous actual-play tabletop role-playing game podcast with great players, engrossing worlds, and amazing music by composer Jack de Quidt (who is also one of the players). The current season Twilight Mirage is especially engrossing, telling the tale of a far-future utopia in crisis.

Waypoint Radio – The home podcast of video game website Waypoint. They focus less on giving games scores and more on story structure, design, and the political dimensions of games. They sometimes also talk politics (esp. labor and health policy) and are clear and open in their progressive leanings.

When I’m not listening to podcasts, I am often chilling out with my wife watching TV or watching something in the background while I work on this or that. Here are some shows and video series that have brought me joy the past few months:

DuckTales – The original show was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid, and the 2017 remake on DisneyXD is very amusing so far. I am a total sucker for anything that plays in the ‘modern multi-genre pulp’ mode where mummies and vampire and Atlantis and so on are all real.

Breakfast & Battlegrounds – This is a video series on Waypoint comprised of recordings of the game Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. Breakfast & Battlegrounds is complete with a (funny, loose) continuity, special music (boat jazz!) and fun special guests. Austin & Patrick from Waypoint play as father & son team Crowbar & Sickle, in search of the elusive Chicken Dinner of victory. The most fun I’ve had watching a video game in some time.

Killjoys – A fun, sexy, space-based action-adventure series which starts with great episodic stories and builds to a cool metaplot. The showrunner is the same as the urban fantasy series Lost GirlKilljoys is about a pair of space-age bounty hunters called Killjoys who travel The Quad (four planet/moons bound together by a corporate-owned government).

And of course, since I’m a gamer, here’s a recent game I loved playing:

Pyre – The new game from Supergiant Games, who created Bastion and Transistor. It’s a cool fantasy combination of a visual novel/choose your own adventure and a magical sports game. The biggest draw for me in this game is the cool characters and their evolving relationships with one another. Also, you can complete a play-through in about 10-12 hours.

Podcasts
Pod Save America
 – Ex-Obama staffers break down the news and snark along the way. Unabashedly Democrat-leaning & progressive, a bit bro-y, though not gross.
Pod Save The People – Activist Deray Mckesson provides a grassroots view on politics, with a strong focus on the impact to and organizing by communities of color.

Website
What The Fuck Just Happened Today? – Trump-focused digest of American political news.

Birthday Reflections

It feels weird to have a birthday and focus on joy with the current political climate, but the concert I went to last night was 100% what I needed. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Pulse events present orchestral music in a fresh, accessible way, and last night they played alongside Lake Street Dive.

I listened to classical pieces (new and old) that I’d never heard and got to lose myself in the richly textured performances. Next was Lake Street Dive themselves, a band of classically-trained performers who have found solid success in popular music, thanks to technical skill, great songwriting, and a lead singer with a truly singular voice. This set was far more rocking than the festival show I saw several years ago as they were starting to break out. It brought me so much joy to see them pack and captivate a 2,000+ person room.

And then, after 100 minutes of amazing music performing each on their own, the BSO and Lake Street Dive combined for a short set of LSD’s songs with 20 performers on stage. Lake Street Dive’s music is already textured and dense, and with 5x as many instruments, the magnified effect was transcendent.

But it wasn’t just the music that made the night. Before the show, there were local food vendors and local performers, like a mini indoor festival.Food, drinks, and then unforgettable music.

But that wasn’t the end.

After, we got to go backstage.

The friend whose +1 I was knows one of the bandmates, and so we got to meet and chat with each of them. I found out that the guitarist and the guest keyboardist are both SF/F fans, so we talked science fiction, the differences between prose and music, writing across media traveling for work.

The whole night was a magnificent, life-affirming event that reminded me of the power of the arts. I’ve spent so much time these last few months on the day-to-day short-term resistance – calling, sharing info, etc. All important stuff. But to keep from burning out, I need to resist through art as well as the day-to-day. To celebrate & remember what we’re fighting for.

So the birthday gift I need to give myself is permission to rotate off the front lines and make art. I’ll still make my calls, but the last few months have been utterly exhausting, reacting to every new indignity and making dozens of calls per week to rouse my reps to action. I’ve been recovering from surgery, which has kept me from the protests, but I’ve been no less active for it.

It would be easy to focus entirely on art, but I want to fight the short-term and on the cultural level. As with many things, balance. So that’s my goal for this year. To find and maintain a balance. To live fully without burning out or hiding behind my privilege.

Kameron Hurley, a brilliant fiction writer and one of the sharpest, clearest voices in SF/F, has talked about her strategy for getting through the Trump era – she talks about how she imagines herself 30~ years from now, looking back on who she was and what she did to get through all of this. And then she tries to figure out what it will take to get through to that future.

What we do right now will be remembered. Not just personally, but by our families, our friends, our neighbors, and by the world. Most of us would prefer to live in peaceful times, to never know a massive upheaval. But that is not the world we live in.

So this year, I will fight, I will live, I will laugh, I will love. I will make art and phone calls, I will go to conventions and to rallies. I will geek out with my friends about comics and share information about executive orders or legislation.

This push for balance is not some revolutionary new idea – activists and civil rights advocates have had to find this balance throughout history. I’m just a bit late to the game, like many of us are. But we’re in this together, and there are people who have been fighting the good fights for many years, people we can support and learn from.

So if you need permission to take a break, like I did, this is me giving you permission. As the resistance shifts from the rage of the inauguration and the flurry of horrendous initial actions to the sustained opposition and campaigning for run-offs/special elections this year and the big races in 2018, we’ll all need to take care of ourselves and one another to make it through this.

Because we can do this. The DJT White House and the GOP have abandoned their duty to the American people, but we’re still here, we have the numbers and the tools to protect the vulnerable, and if we can survive to 2018 with elections about as fair as we had in 2016 (noting that the 2016 elections had major problems in voter suppression, gerrymandering, and voter intimidation), the resistance can win, and can hold DJT accountable where the GOP won’t.