Nanuki - Joose Digital Photography


posted in: WORDS ON CHANGE

Surplus feels like it is somehow at the core of the 3 c’s – civilization, culture and creativity. In the sense that if there is no surplus each person would be engaged in providing for their own survival, that is, fully occupied in providing for their own basic needs of food and shelter. It’s only by some, creating a surplus, that others can buy/trade/barter that surplus and be freed of the responsibility of producing. Something simple like bread, how much wheat is needed, how much ploughing of fields, tending, harvesting, preparation and baking – a labour investment upfront – for the possibility of simple bread to eat months later. Hardly seeming worth the physical demands, time and effort, but … done by someone else, to provide a surplus, frees others to use the time the surplus creates on other pursuits, maybe also creating a surplus of something else which then frees anothers’ time for other pursuits.

From surplus we get the possibility of specialization; time to create artisan expertise, and release; allowing others to conduct roles which have no tangible or visible (survival) product – eg lawyers, philosophers, writers, painters, poets, musicians, historians et al.

It stands then that if there is no surplus, then the 3 c’s are potentially compromised. If everyone is ‘busy’ providing for their own survival, and creating no surplus – then where does the capacity for the roles/manpower for the 3 c’s come from?

Interestingly, thinking about the importance of surplus, to creativity, at an individual level, it helps to unlock some understanding of why it ‘feels hard’ to create when the stuff of survival sucks all time and energy – when there is no surplus – creativity is hard.

If surplus is so critical to creativity and culture, how can we create more of it? Essentially when stripped right back, without the people dedicated to ‘core’ production of survival commodities, clean water, food, shelter, power and such, we would all be tied to these self sufficiency roles. In a simple form, without the farmer there cannot be a philosopher, without the manufacturer can their be a musician?

Am wondering how far to take the theory of surplus – does it mean that if we produce lots of cheese we have the potential for more dancers or writers. Is one tied to the other? Does a countries culture or creativity really hinge of producing a surplus of more basic commodities first?