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Table of Contents


Status, Materialism, and Dematerialism

A Natural Political Economy

Can resource dominance be eliminated from human behavior?


Status, Materialism, and Dematerialism

Dematerialism is the progress of society toward a specific goal¹.  In the philosophy of Thomas L. Wayburn, Dematerialism is any process that transforms a materialistic society into a society in which every institution that makes materialism possible has been abandoned or abolished.  The terms status, importance, and materialism have technical meanings that are reasonably close to their meanings in ordinary parlance:

Definition (status).  Status is a person’s position in a social hierarchy based upon one or more of the following:

1.      Material wealth.

2.      Political or managerial power or negotiable influence, i. e., intellectual, personal, or economic influence that can be used to acquire wealth or to acquire more power or that has been acquired because one has status.

3.      Negotiable fame, i. e., fame that might be used to acquire wealth, power, or negotiable influence or has been acquired because of prior acquisitions.

Definition (importance).  Importance is a person’s position in a social hierarchy based upon either of the following:

1.      Influence over other people that can affect their attitudes, opinions, and decisions, i. e., non-negotiable influence.

2.      Wide recognition of excellence in a person’s character or achievements, i. e., non-negotiable fame.

Importance is distinct from and in opposition to status.  “Status” refers to (i) resource dominance, (ii) the acquisition of power over other people the purpose of which is to increase personal wealth, or (iii) fame that leads ultimately to resource dominance.  “Importance” and “recognition” refer to the sort of influence over people and fame that most of us would like – perhaps even seek – but do not result ultimately in personal wealth.  Importance does not alter one’s position in a resource hierarchy.  In a Natural Economy (described in the next section) in a post-industrial, decentralized, eco-community with a steady-state economy in the wake of Peak Oil that is not based on buying and selling, people might compete in a hierarchy of personal importance or the recognition of their own importance by the rest of the community; but, they cannot compete for status.  This accounts for so-called human nature, which may or may not be universal and immutable. 

Definition (materialism).  Materialism is the state of affairs attendant upon any political-economic system that has one or more of the following characteristics or the belief in, promotion of, or dedication to such a system:

1.      Competition for status.

2.      The use of status as a reward for achievement or good behavior or as a measure of success.

3.      Any institutions that permit people to influence the amount of status they themselves or anyone else (especially their own children) may accumulate, consume, or possess because of who they are or what they do or because of any aspect of their beings whatsoever.

4.      Differences in the amount or rate of accumulation of status whether derived from competition directly or not, e.g., inheritance of wealth.

5.      The existence of institutions by means of which wealth can be hoarded in the form of paper money, financial instruments, or ledger entries – usually in a computer.

6.      The acceptance of status as a reward for anything one does, gives, or says.

7.      Contingency upon something extrinsic and artificial (as opposed to the amount of rainfall) affecting one’s ability to live abundantly.

Dematerialism results in (i) equality of political power, (ii) nearly equal distribution of wealth, and (iii) a quasi-steady-state world with a stabilized or shrinking human population.  These can be achieved by (i) abolishing money and other instruments for hoarding wealth, (ii) abandoning business, trade, commerce, market economics, and other wasteful economic activities that do not produce food, clothing, shelter, health care, and other necessities, (iii) mandating worker ownership of the means of production, (iv) reducing the size of government¹ to practically nothing while replacing a corrupt and incomprehensible system of laws – based upon taboos, superstitions, and lies – with rational morals and abandoning the institutions of punishment and revenge, (v) replacing bosses and leadership - other than leadership by example, and (vi) establishing small, decentralized eco-communities that are practically independent economically.

The case for Dematerialism is based upon three propositions:

1.         The absence of materialism is a necessary and sufficient condition for sustainability and freedom.

2.         The three moral axioms of Dematerialism discussed in Chapter 3 of On the Preservation of Species satisfy the requirements of reasonableness, beauty, and utility.

3.         Whereas only a relatively small fraction of the population is needed to do essential work, most people will find something to do from among those useful activities intrinsically interesting to do even though no one is required to do anything to earn a living.

Thus, Dematerialism is a necessary and sufficient condition for wide-spread human happiness, since, in the theory of human motivation advocated by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, autonomy, effectiveness, relatedness, and security are the conditions for happiness, provided that food, clothing, shelter, health care, and the other necessities of life are available.  The conditions for happiness are logically equivalent to the conditions for sustainability, freedom, and morality according to the theory, except that effectiveness depends upon the satisfaction inherent in intrinsically motivated activities.  This foregoing is summarized in a fundamental theory that Wayburn claims to have proved in On the Preservation of Species:

Fundamental Theorem.  The abandonment of competition for status by all of society is a necessary and sufficient condition for sustainable happiness.  Any method whatever for achieving this is Dematerialism.

Nevertheless, Dematerialism is more than the method or process of abandonment or “letting go”.  It is the goal that is necessitated by the conditions implicit in the abandonment of materialism as defined in the theory.  A few words in support of the foregoing are in order followed by a few remarks in opposition to the theory:

When Dematerialism is complete, freedom is assured, because no one will have the resources to impose upon others except by main force, which is prohibited by constitutional law according to Axiom 1 of Chapter 3 of On the Preservation of Species; moreover, sustainability is assured, except for so-called Acts of God, because of Axiom 2 of Chapter 3, which protects the environment and regulates population.  Also, the mechanisms that have fueled unsustainable growth during recent times no longer exist; and, due to Axiom 3, it will no longer be possible to hide the plain facts of life in a finite world from the vast majority of people to enrich a few or to promulgate a religious faith.  This is how Proposition 1 is satisfied.  It is almost tautological.  Proposition 2 has been verified independently for each moral axiom in Chapter 3.  Proposition 3 depends upon the validity of the research in intrinsic motivation by Edward Deci, Richard Ryan, and John Condry as well as others cited in the special references at the end of Appendix III of On the Preservation of Species.

The proof of the Fundamental Theorem, which applies to the technical definition of happiness offered above, has been completed by the foregoing discussion of the three propositions.  Finally, the most reasonable criticism has been based upon evolutionary psychology, some of the findings of which show that Dematerialism is inconsistent with human nature according to its most severe critics.  Recently, the principal effort in Dematerialism and related theories has been a concerted effort to refute these objections.  Please see Essays on Psychology.  The theory of Dematerialism, then, depends upon three things:

1.      The validity of the theory of intrinsic motivation, which is well supported by research in motivational psychology³,

2.      the timely replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy in sufficient quantities to support essential economic activities, and

3.      the ability of people to replace resource dominance with less harmful and more direct paths toward reproductive advantage.

Even if the theory is valid it is necessary for a large number of people, perhaps an overwhelming majority, to embrace it, which, as we all know, is problematical.


1.      See Item 3 below.

2.      Elsewhere it is written that Dematerialism, which is the orderly abandonment of materialism, provides a path from fascism to libertarian communism.

3.      The sustainability portion of Proposition 1 is covered by a number of Essays on Energy, but the separate aspects should be summarized in a single paper.

A Natural Political Economy

In Chapter 5 of On the Preservation of Species, Wayburn describes a society that has abandoned materialism, that is, a society in which Dematerialism has already taken place.  This might be tested in an intentional community despite the obstacles presented by the materialistic society in which it is embedded or throughout which it is distributed.  The community would have the following features:

1.      A give-away economy with no monetary system.  Each economic actor¹ notifies directly the enterprises that supply his genuine needs, which, in turn, tell him when the item or items can be picked up or will be delivered depending upon which mode has the lower emergy costs.  Clearly, delivery syndicates will need to minimize emergy by solving optimization problems – possibly of combinatorial complexity – by computer, if computers are available in the wake of Peak Oil.  Otherwise, emergy consumption is not likely to be minimized, although it may be acceptably low.  Being too poor to afford a computer for each economic actor is another case of the poor communities getting poorer; but, even in the worst case, it will not be accompanied by the rich getting richer to exacerbate the situation.  These enterprises also report the emergy values of the item or items to each economic actor and to a public servant if the community deems this necessary until people have learned the lesson of minimizing their consumption.  Thus, the economy is consumer-planned subject only to the consumer's responsibility (a) to use no more than 1/Nth of the total sustainable dividend of the economy (measured in emergy units) where N is the number of consumers and (b) to reproduce himself only, to pass on his reproductive rights to another, or not to reproduce.  Life can be made discouragingly difficult for cheaters.

2.      Local economic enterprises owned by workers in the sense of custodianship.  Decisions are made by direct vote – one worker, one vote.  It is important that worker ownership not extend beyond the premises of the plant where the work is done.  Decentralization not incorporation.  Each enterprise integrates the plans of its consumers into a total economic plan for the enterprise and notifies its suppliers accordingly.  This must be achieved with negligible energy costs, probably with a computer.  The economic actor might organize his or her personal emergy budget well in advance, also with a computer.

3.      Public servants chosen quasi-randomly, somewhat as jurors are chosen, for limited terms that cannot be followed by another such appointment.  Recall is by direct vote of all members of the community whom I call citizens for lack of a better term.  The term fractal government denotes a system of small communities wherein every citizen belongs to a local parliament that is tied in a loose federation with other such communities in similar parliaments that are tied in loose federations to other parliaments of parliaments.  This is similar to fractal structures, except that a loose federation of the world can have only a finite number of sub-levels, as does every representation of a fractal in the real world.  Among a very small number of public servants are the members of local communities who sit in the parliaments that determine public policy for the community’s eco-region, which randomly selects members of itself who make policy for a collection of eco-regions.  And so on.  Every one of these “members of parliament” is subject to immediate recall by the direct vote of the body that chose him or her.  Thus, the only permanent members of the government are the people themselves who share political power at the community level in the sense of one-person-one-vote.  Naturally, some people will have more influence than others if they are widely respected; but, they cannot convert this influence to greater wealth.  Ultimately, this arrangement should evolve into no government at all.


Figure 1.  Fractal


Figure 2.  Fractal Political Structure


4.      The Fundamental Principle of Neighborliness in dealing with neighboring communities, so that the dependence of economic well-being on geography is minimized.  (Wealth flows always from richer communities to poorer communities or not at all.)

5.      Defense by citizen militias if necessary.  The decision to bear arms is up to the citizens.

6.      It is recognized that the federal government is likely to suppress any effort to form an intentional community (or reform an existing community) along egalitarian lines,  i. e., with a Natural Economy, unless collapse has already commenced, in which case the federal government will no longer be able to function because the most powerful people in government will have given up in despair and will be trying to save themselves - at least Dmitry Orlov has made a good case for this in “Closing the Collapse Gap”, which compares the collapse of the Soviet Empire with the very likely collapse of the United States American Empire.

Wayburn writes, “I regret very much employing the expression ‘natural economy’ because, if you google ‘natural economy’, you get 136,000 hits, and most of them do not agree with my definition.  My paper ‘Energy in a Natural Economy’ doesn't show up until the second page.  Fortunately, the first google hit is from the article in the Wikipedia where we read, ‘Natural economy refers to a type of economy in which money is not used in the transfer of resources among people’ and ‘German economists have invented the term Naturalwirtschaft, natural economy, to describe the period prior to the invention of money.’  The definition by Karl Marx is included too, which argues against a modern capitalist interpretation – as does the article under discussion.”

There is a slightly better description in Energy in a Natural Economy, which is listed in the hyperlinked table of contents at  It just begins to describe the Earth as a Garden as I envision it in a post-industrial, decentralized, eco-community with a steady-state economy in the wake of Peak Oil.  Such an economy should not be based on buying and selling; and, although people might still compete for importance or the recognition of their own importance by the rest of the community, they would not compete for status.  I take “status” to refer to resource dominance or the acquisition of power over other people the purpose of which is to increase personal wealth.  One could convert fame to personal wealth too, but that needn’t be the case.  I take “importance” and “recognition” to refer to the sort of fame and influence over people that most of us would like – perhaps even seek, but we do not want them for the money.  I picture a community where one can compete in a hierarchy of personal importance but not in one of personal wealth or power.  This accounts for so-called human nature, which may or may not be universal and immutable.

In a Natural Economy good citizens are trying to minimize their personal consumption.  They might even take personal pride in doing so.  Ultimately, they might welcome the animal kingdom back into the Garden, which will have become much more hospitable to nearly every species.  Some readers might find The Parable of the Shipwrecked Brothers illuminating.

The Earth as a Garden should have a number of easily-identified necessary characteristics:

1.         As in Erewhon, Samuel Butler’s version of Utopia, the manufacture of energy intensive inventions of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries should not be permitted.  This does not apply to energy-saving inventions that replace inventions of earlier centuries and are immune to Jevons Paradox.  This follows from Item A of Addendum 2 of “On Capitalism”.  “Every technological ‘improvement’ results in the exchange of one set of nuisances for another.”

2.         Banking, finance, fiduciary instruments of every sort including stocks, bonds, options, and money, in short monetary systems themselves, must be rigorously excluded.  Otherwise, the economy will grow and will not be sustainable as shown in Items B and D.

3.         The necessity of reasonable equality in wealth in a steady-state economy follows from Item C.


1.        An economic actor is a member of a community who makes decisions regarding consumption for herself and any dependents.

2.    Government formed by lottery is referred to as demarchy.


Can resource dominance be eliminated from human behavior?

Let us set aside, for a moment, the possibility of a benevolent deity the existence of whom would assure any reasonable person that resource dominance has no permanent place in human nature (theism); or, what amounts to the same thing, that the true nature of Man is inherently noble (humanism), so that resource dominance is merely an example of a temporary corrupting influence that will soon be corrected.  We are left with little more than the choice between Transcendental Idealism represented by the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and Transcendental Realism represented by the global-hidden-variables interpretation of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen gedankenexperiment as actualized by the experiments of Alain Aspect and his co-workers.  In case of theism, humanism, or Transcendental Idealism, resource dominance can be eliminated from human behavior by eliminating the corrupting influence, namely, materialism, or by the timely intervention of good fortune.

In the case of Transcendental Realism, we may retain hope for Dematerialism in all of the following cases:

1.         Resource dominance is not an intrinsic characteristic of human nature.

2.         Resource dominance is an intrinsic characteristic of human nature; however, it can be subverted by re-directing it toward more realistic ways to achieve reproductive advantage (i) by manifesting excellence in all of our activities so as to earn the admiration of members of both genders or (ii) by manifesting greater sex appeal than other candidates for the affections of members of the opposite sex.  This redirection can be achieved by education, indoctrination, legislation, or any combination of these.

3.         Our knowledge of human nature is insufficient to make a judgment either way.

4.         Finally, it is possible that resource dominance is an intrinsic characteristic of human nature that cannot be subverted – even by law backed by certain and severe punishment, in which case Dematerialism is impossible.

Houston, Texas

June 22, 2007