ParEcon Questions & Answers
Diversity in Parecon?
Economies affect the range of options that any individual or group encounters or enacts. Do we see personalities manifest as they are intrinsically oriented, and even beyond, or do we see a steady homogenization of possibilities? Do we retain a wide range of options, experimenting, perhaps, with some as primary, but keeping alive the possibility of others, in case needed, or do we constantly narrow choices seeking the lone best one, or just the lonely okay one, keeping alive no alternatives? In disputes about paths forward, or choices of organization, or about what to produce or consume, do we fight them to a singular answer, jettisoning all else, or do we think maybe one option better than the rest, but modestly preserve and even simultaneously test alternatives? Does the economy allow large populations to maintain incredibly varied characteristics, or does it give large collectives of people common traits and options despite and even trampling their individually different attributes? Does human preference and activity span human potential and even experimentally extend it, or does it hunker down into acceptable patterns defending against intrusion by the unknown? Do we preserve options, guarding against bad choices, or put all our eggs in one basket, to go down in blazing glory if we err? Do enjoy the many pursuits of others, their different values, methods, actions, their explorations of realms and ways we ourselves can't travel or have no time to travel, or do we find behavior other than our own threatening and resent it, for being other, different, beyond us in some way?
In the polarities above, the first in each pair is what we mean by valuing diversity – and it means economic life, by its organization and dynamics, will foster a wide range of preferences and choices as often and as insightfully as possible, rather than the reverse. It is not a very controversial value. Only the very boring entity who prefers homogeneity would argue with it, presumably.
For reasons of vicarious benefit as when we enjoy other people doing things we can’t do or don’t have time to do, and also as a hedge against placing all our eggs in one wrong basket, everyone easily agrees that diverse and varied outcomes are generally better than homogenous ones. We don’t want to create a massive investment project ruling out all other possibilities without exploring and even being prepared to create parallel endeavors in case we were in error about our priority preference or in case there are diverse preferences not met by the preferred option. We don’t want to regiment life in any respect, cultural or economic.
People vary, on the one hand, and thus benefit from varied options. And on the other hand, without diversity there is a huge probability we will make egregious mistakes, traveling down a single path that turns out to be inferior to others that we failed to explore. Thus, assuming equal attention to other values, surely one economy will excel above another if in fulfilling its functions it also promotes and supports greater rather than lesser diversity. Homogenization of tastes, jobs, life conditions, material outcomes, and thought patterns is not a virtue.
As time passes, the tremendous variety of tastes, preferences, and choices that humans naturally display are truncated by capitalism into conformist patterns imposed by advertising, by narrow class delimited role offerings, and by coercive marketing environments that produce commercial attitudes and habits.
As a result, within capitalism we seek best sellers regardless of the quality of their impact instead of seeking a wide range of sellers with as desirable impact as possible.
We seek the one best method (generally for profit) instead of many parallel methods (for diverse preferences), and we seek the biggest of almost anything virtually always crowding out the more diverse instances that could instead be favored to much greater and more widespread personal fulfillment.
In contrast, good institutions for production, consumption, and allocation not only wouldn’t reduce variety but their operations would emphasize finding and respecting diverse solutions to problems. A good economy would recognize that we are finite beings who can benefit from enjoying what others do that we ourselves have no time to do, and also that we are fallible beings who should not vest all our hopes in single routes of advance but should instead insure against damage by exploring diverse parallel avenues and options.
Interestingly, this value too, like solidarity, is entirely uncontroversial. Only a perverse individual would argue that all other things equal, an economy is better if it homogenizes and narrows options than if its diversifies and expands them. So we value diversity, not homogeneity.
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