Note: I need to make it clear that the reason why I use the phrase mankind to signify the human race is because I find it far easier than any of the modern phrases that has come in to replace it. Please forgive me any trespasses.

We are currently living in crisis in our societies. Whether it is in a metropolitan area like New York or a city like mine, Oslo in Norway, there is a feeling of something being on the edge of collapsing. Now this may just be a sense that every generation has. We all want to feel special after all and there is no more special feeling than being at the end of things. But I do think that there is something more to it.

Motivator for action

While I was reading Congo by Michael Crichton, I started to think about the way we treat our fellow human beings. In a chapter in the beginning of the book, Crichton writes about the early Skinner experiments, or more projects inspired by the famous behavioralist BF Skinner, where pigeons were used as a workforce on simple sorting in a factory. This was quickly closed down by animal rights activists for being cruel and unnecessary. That might have been good and all, but no such protests were registered when humans were introduced to do the same task. They were compensated after all.

Now those that know me and my writing can immediately see why I might have a problem with this idea. Material goods are not always a great or complete motivator for human actions. I am not saying that people should not compensated for your time, we live in a capitalistic society and it has been the most successful and stable system we have ever produced, to the great chagrin of the socialist left. Money is a great tool to get the peace of mind through the acquirement of resources you need, but as I said in a Twitter exchange recently having it in combination with fame as the main motivator, can lead to a hollow existence.

This was however not the point of what I wanted to explore here, it is part of it and often used as a reason for why you should just take the money and shut up. If you get paid, then you should be happy. Your basic needs have been met and anything above that in Mazlov’s hierarchy of needs is up to you. A good example can be found on both the right and the left of the political spectrum.

Universal Basic Income

Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a hotly contested topic these days, especially since several jobs will slowly disappear because of automation. UBI has been introduced as a way of combatting this technological revolution. People like Elon Musk and Andrew Yang has spoken very positively about this type of program, while Jordan Peterson has pointed out the problems of handing out money. There has also raised by economists the worry about inflation that UBI might bring about. Giving the bare minimum to certain citizens might increase the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

What the critics of this type of system I think get wrong is the human need to drive themselves forward. They will argue that by giving them money without producing anything of value, the recipients of UBI will just longue about all day, playing video games. Now this might be very true for some people, but I do believe that the reason why a lot of people go into that kind of world is because they often have to deal with a large bureaucracy that gives them no hope and does not encourage them to get back into something that gives them meaning. In fact, it often punishes them for it.

Punishment for good behavior

A good example of this is my own country of Norway. If you are on any type of support from the government, you risk losing all support if you take any initiative to improve your own state of being by trying to work while receiving benefits. I am one of those people who happen to be between two chairs in this case as I am an independent contractor and during Covid was also registered as a student. I therefore lost all rights to governmental support. I do not like using myself as an example, but it is a good example of punishment for something that might seem like a positive by a lot of people. I am trying to build up my own business and improve myself by studying on the side.

And this is kind of my point with this little essay. We are punishing people for the behavior we want to see and rewarding the behavior we do not want to see. The reward is often seen in the way we treat people on social media. Granted there are rewards given by people who agree with you, for instance the ideologue who will give a like or RT on Twitter for an opinion that is agreed upon, like the “fact” that a person that belongs to the other side is a bigot or moron. But as a culture we do not reward the behavior we want to see and it is tearing us apart and also destroying an otherwise winning team.

A cruel culture

I had a discussion with Alexander Hellene, a fellow author and friend. We were talking about all the people who complain about the entertainment from Hollywood and other channels of media while not doing anything, or very little, to support the people who are outside of those channels. Both of us are independent authors and have published books that do not pander to any ideology, woke or anti-woke. The main complaint of ours is that people spend far too much time critiquing those who pander to a side and not enough time to actually raise up all those who do not.

One of the reasons why I think this is cruel and tears us apart as a culture, whether it is American or Norwegian, is that the reward system is often based upon the attention that a person gets. Humans are very social creatures and, dependent on the personality, responds to the social attention that they get. A story I like to tell to my corporate clients when we talk about communication and culture is the story of Jürgen Klopp, the manager from my favorite football club, Liverpool FC.

Jürgen Klopp

When he took over the club, he was surprised to find that no one in the playing or coaching staff knew all the names of the staff that would cook and clean for them at Anfield and Melwood, the stadium and training center. He then spent the evening learning all the names of the staff, from the kit manager to the cleaning staff, all in all 80 people. The next day he took the coaching staff and players into a large auditorium and introduced every one of the people he had learned names of, what they were called, some minor part of who they were and what their responsibility was in the structure.

This was the first thing he did. Not talk to the star players, but embraced the nameless people within the hierarchy to show, both to them and the staff (coaches and players), how important their work was and that they mattered in the grander scheme of things. Imagine that sense of importance these people now feel when they see the German manager, or they are greeted by name by players or staff. They matter to this great team, who have five years after this won 4 trophies and is still going strong.

No one is an island

This is how you create a winning team. You let people know that they matter and you create a culture where they can become as great as they can be, no matter how trivial their task might seem to an outsider. No man, or woman, is an island, and if we want people to have meaning in their lives, they need to feel like they matter. The view that every person is replaceable gives every person in a structure the feeling, especially if excellence is not rewarded, that it does not matter what they do and they will start not giving a shit and it will be broadcast to the outside world. If that behavior then is highlighted as a standard, it will seem as a reward and people will worsen their behavior.

We need to start rewarding the behavior we want to see in the world. If we see someone chasing their dream and you see how fulfilled it makes them, help them in any way you can. Give them a kind word or a helpful hand. And I would even say that giving them tools like money or fame could be the correct way of doing just that. I do think this is one of the few ways we can start on an individual basis get together to try and fix this world. At least I will do my best to do so.

JH Lillevik is a writer of sci-fi and fantasy. He writes screenplays, novels and short stories. He also works as a writing consultant for upcoming writers. His specialty is mythology, world building and psychology.

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