A Capital Idea Part 44: Re-meming Resources
I recently have come to realize that we have a problem with the language of resources. This is not surprising, since language is created to reflect existing memes. To me, memes -- in other words, the way we think about things and the type of language we use -- are crucially important. As progressives, we must build and promote truthful, progressive memes which will help all of us understand the world more accurately.
Looking at the terminology of business, there is a tendency to use the word "commodities," which implies that everything has a price, basically. Wheat is a commodity, and so is lard, for example, or whatever a person might want to buy, animal, vegetable or mineral. Our skills are another form of commodity in the eyes of the business world. In short, they have managed to turn everything into a commodity, including sex. We need to get away from thinking in terms of "commodities," clearly. Let us think, instead, of "resources," to put the real issue into clear focus. Resources are what we work with, in order to have an economy, and work (or effort or labor) is how we make use of it. A commodity is an artificial construct based on the artificial resource called money. Let us understand that real resources, not artificial ones, are what counts and what we need to be dealing with, not commodities. Also, the use of commodities in conjunction with the capitalist economic system which uses the concept of commodities, encourages a delusional and unrealistic model of limitless growth and resources. It would be much more appropriate to refer to "finite resources," and "limits of growth," (including human population growth) rather than such terms as the "Gross Domestic Product" which is supposed to be ever increasing, or "sustained economic growth." These terms are relics of a time when it seemed that resources were essentially limitless, and economic success was merely a matter of finding and exploiting them.
Another example we talk about is the "conservation of resources." The word "conservation" implies that we are trying to preserve something which is valuable, which is fine, but having resources is not only about preservation. Rather, it is also about building and recycling resources.
We build resources when people learn valuable skills and knowledge. These are human resources. Thus, education and learning are basically resource building processes. Furthermore, I would say that we build resources when we build infrastructure, because infrastructure is the set of resources which we need in order to use our human resources. However, we also build resources when we replant forests, create new habitat for plants and animals, or build spawning grounds for trout and salmon, for example, which are natural resources. The key to our sustainable future is in recycling, along with making use of sustainable energy sources such as solar energy. We also need to recycle resources; in fact, we need to recycle virtually everything in the long term. We recycle plastics, metal, aluminum, rubber, etc., but we need to recycle nutrients, too. That means everything, including human waste, which sewage experts have cleverly begun to turn into fertilizer. Of course, we also need to recycle water, as well. In fact, even desert communities can actually keep reusing the same water, essentially, with existing technologies. The water can even be stored and filtered underground which results in a good, clean water resource. I would even say that in a sense, education is a way of recycling as well as building new, human resources. Thus, instead of repeating the often-used phrase "conservation of resources," I propose that we should talk about "resource building," and "resource recycling," at least in addition to conservation of resources.
Finally, as implied above, we need to recognize and differentiate among various types of resources. I have mentioned human resources and natural resources as two basic categories of resource. Human resources can be divided into such categories as labor resources, skills resources, nurturant resources, spiritual resources, to name a few which have been mentioned earlier in this series. Natural resources can be subdivided into living resources, and nonliving resources. Living resources include animal resources (ones we eat, ones we have as pets, or ones we like to see, etc.), and plant resources (plant foods, flowers, trees, etc.). Nonliving resources include water resources, air resources (yes, that free stuff that we breath), mineral resources, and the environment itself, upon which all life depends. This topic somewhat summarizes and somewhat overlaps with some of my earlier posts, but the salient point here is that -- in order to work toward building a sustainable, resource based economy -- we need to make terms such as these or others as yet to be determined, part of our economic vernacular, rather than relying on the language of capitalism supporting economists to define our economic world.