There has been a lot of serious talk in progressive circles in the last decade or so about something called “universal basic income”, the idea being that if everyone is provided with a basic living they will be free to pursue whatever interests their hearts desire. This utopian idea, like many others, is an amazing concept that at first glance seems like a great idea, but is ultimately doomed to failure. In theory it makes perfect sense, yet when you consider other variables like human nature you begin to see the cracks in the armor.
Human beings are a strange animal. Unlike the rest of nature, we have an advanced capacity for reason and logic and an eye for the future. Our intellect and ability to create world changing technologies places us far ahead of any of the other biological creatures on the planet, yet deep within us still resides that primal nature that drove us out of the mists of antiquity and into the forefront of our planet. No matter how hard we try to deny it, we are animals just like the rest of creation; far more advanced and dominating, but still ruled by instincts we feel are no longer relevant to modern living.
It is this huge, underlying part of our makeup that makes certain seemingly perfect ideas dead on arrival. Any vision of a utopian future has to combat human nature, which by its very composition is directly opposed to any kind of completely peaceful existence. We are ultimately driven not by dreams, but by the competition of others. It is only in environments of conflict that we are able to truly tap into who we are and fully realize our potential. Whether in wars of physical violence or simply economic competition, it is the hunt that truly drives humanity forward.
Of course, this particular viewpoint is overgeneralized on a macro level. The Christian Bible describes humans as sheep to be led, requiring a firm yet gentle hand to get us to where we are supposed to be. It only takes looking back through millennia of recorded history to confirm this to be the truth. Time and again we see powerful leaders rising to the top of social structures to dominate their once peers, molding nations and sowing chaos and strife at the behest of their whims, their citizens happily going along with the insanity in the hopes that they would reap some reward off the ambition of the powerful.
If history has taught us anything, it is that true ambition is quite rare. The average human being is quite content with a reasonably comfortable life and will even suffer the restrictions placed on him by others as long as the benefit is worth the cost. It takes an unusually driven person to break free of the complacency of the existing system to carve out their own path, and there simply aren’t that many of them out there. They have the vision and drive to see a path to success that few others can, and it is this primal need to conquer that propels them forward into greatness.
For those of us without this particular trait, it is only when we are forced out of our comfortable lives that we find the drive to do more than just sustain what we have. Sometimes we are inspired by those who blaze a trail and it stirs up that primal urge to hunt, but most of the time the changes in our lives are driven by simple necessity. In our need to provide for our own lives, we are forced to become better and more driven, seeking more in an attempt to provide some sense of security and stability in the chaos that is human existence.
This is the insidious danger of a concept like universal income. It removes the requirement for the average person to seek out a means of survival, thereby eliminating any real external force that requires them to seek improvement. It is quite logical to think that if a person was free to do whatever they want they would seek some sort of self improvement or find a way to contribute in a meaningful way to society, yet human nature itself belies this unrealistic expectation. Some people might, but most would simply degrade into laziness.
If you need a real life example of this, you can simply look at the last decade of my life. Since I started my career in administration, I have worked for two companies which paid well but had little in the way of actual work for me to do. This left with with a great deal of free time to perhaps seek another degree or learn things that would allow me to invent something new or any other thing that might contribute to my life or others in a meaningful way, yet I have spent that time doing none of those things…until recently at least. The majority of the last eight years of my life have been spent watching YouTube.
At first glance, you might be confused as to why this would be the case, but if we pay attention to human nature we start to understand. I’ve been given a good living for basically no cost on my part. I haven’t had to work for it; it’s simply given to me. I have to come in every day, sure, and sometimes there are actually real things for me to do, but more than ninety percent of my time is spent sitting at my desk trying to find ways to pass the time until I can go home. There is no ambition, no drive to push beyond where I am, and no reason to change anything. I’m comfortable and mentally trapped where I am because I don’t really need anything more, so why bother?
Obviously I’m only one example, but the point is to illustrate how something like this works. If you look at society as a whole today and contemplate the sheer number of hours wasted on things like social media or television rather than accomplishing anything meaningful, my example looks a lot more reasonable. We live in a society today that has already been hamstrung by a lack of any real challenge in our lives, and without an external factor forcing us to grow, most of us will stagnate where we are.
Universal basic income is by default a terrible lie that will destroy far more people than it helps. Certainly some people will take full advantage of the opportunity and go on to do things with their lives they otherwise might not have been able to, but the vast majority of people will simply grow fat and lazy on their couches, watching inane content in an attempt to pass by their dreadfully boring lives while they wait for death. You may not like the way that sounds, but this is the truth of biological beings of any kind: most of the time we seek the path of least resistance. True value has to be forced on us, and that’s the only way our lives can find any meaning.