The Myth of Scarcity and the Root of Othering

Scarcity

Money doesn’t grow on trees. scarcity

Time is money.

A penny saved is a penny earned.

Since we were children, we were steeped in the idea of scarcity. There was never enough money, we were told, and so, most Americans developed a scarcity mindset around money.

This belief started at the level of the family, but it expanded to our worldview, too. Uncle Sam’s pockets were only so deep, after all. Meanwhile, that same Uncle Sam that won’t bail out consumers in times of need has bottomless pockets when it’s time to bail out a corporation or go to war against another nation—or even its own people.

With the belief of scarcity firmly implanted, we began to collectively agree: It’s unfortunate, but in any modern society, there will always be hungry and homeless people in our world no matter what we do. There will always be people who will go without. Winners and losers will always exist. It’s just life, we’re told.

If we want a more equitable society, we have to start by noticing, then disrupting, and then overturning, the tactics and influence of the status quo.

The concept of scarcity leaks beyond our checkbooks and into our hearts and minds. And suddenly, we believe: there is not enough love, success, happiness, or approval for everyone. We will have to fight for what we want. We will have to prove ourselves worthy, deserving. Blind ambition, ruthlessness, gambling, hoarding, grifting…it all emerges from the concept of scarcity.

Believing in the limitations scarcity imposes, we’re sent out into the world where we compete against each other. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, we’ve been told, and too often, we believe it.

Othering scarcity

This belief in scarcity lays the groundwork for a phenomenon known as “othering” — the practice of defining ourselves in opposition to others, of drawing lines between “us” and “them.” It creates in-groups and outgroups. This myth comes with the (very) intended consequence of keeping us all pointing fingers of blame at each other and/or living in survival mode so we forget about the puppet masters behind the curtain—the rich and powerful who are themselves immune from the myth—or the realities—of scarcity.

While we’re fighting for the tiniest increases in minimum wage for the working class, the elite class hoards wealth by the millions. While corporate CEOs are suggesting we eat cereal for dinner to save money, they are raking in money by the billions. Meritocracy and hard work can’t overcome intentional systemic barriers and inequality. Meanwhile, the uber-rich continue to thrive and flaunt their wealth. It’s a magic trick, where we’re constantly redirected, and while we’re distracted, more is stolen from us. When we notice, they tell us “they” took it, where “they” is anyone further down the hierarchy than we are.

One example of the tricks they play is “trickle-down economics” which, mind-blowingly, is still considered by some to be a valid way to redistribute income—even when evidence shows that it has only ever helped further enrich the already rich.

If we want a more equitable society, we have to start by noticing, then disrupting, and then overturning, the tactics and influence of the status quo. And we must refuse to accept a world where some are deemed more deserving than others, where anyone is simply collateral damage in a world in which there’s just not enough to go around.

Scarcity is one of the greatest myths of our culture and the one that works the hardest to keep us from coming together, challenge the power hierarchies, and make the world safer and fairer for everyone. Because we believe in scarcity, we accept millions of people going without basic human needs. Because we believe in scarcity, we allow people to live in loneliness or fear.

Abundance

As a spiritual teacher for many years, You might think I would come out now in favor of the construct of abundance, or perhaps manifestation mantras.

But abundance is a myth, too, one that can keep us from claiming our own power just as easily as scarcity. Take this quote:

“We believe (incorrectly) that the opposite of scarcity is abundance. This is the very trap we set for ourselves. By believing that ‘more’ will solve our feelings of inadequacy, we continue to enslave ourselves working ever harder against an unrealistic ideal so that we will achieve ‘more’ — further deepening our ‘never enough’ mental construct.”

~ Morris Berman, Why America Failed

The myth of abundance just pushes off the myth of scarcity. But neither myth is accurate, nor can they help us create a better world for all. Belief in the idea of abundance would clash with the reality that some people don’t have enough to eat, or are lonely, or have not found their dream job. What, then, do we do with this, other than assume they have not proven themselves worthy? The blame still exists, the division still holds.

Enough is enough

Instead of believing in either of these myths, we must embrace the concept of enough.

This is a radical idea in a world that is steeped in the ideas of more.

There is enough of everything in the world for everyone — enough love, enough resources, enough success, enough stuff. Once we believe in the idea of “enough” we won’t stand back and watch one more person walk this earth without the essentials a human being is entitled to receive. We’ll recognize that it is the distribution of resources that is at fault, not the amount of them. And so, we would demand that our institutions and leaders stop pretending that there’s always money for war but never for aid.

When we shift our focus from the scarcity/abundance polarity and embrace the idea of “enough,” we free ourselves from the endless cycle of striving and competing. And we certainly reject the notion of othering and instead embrace the inherent dignity and worth of every human being.

In a world where “enough” is our guiding principle, there would be no room for division or inequality. Only compassion, empathy, and solidarity — a recognition that we are all in this life together, bound by our common humanity.

 

 

 

2 Comments

  1. nicole on at 5:09 am

    I loved this so much!!!! I agree with everything you said. I truly believe there is no reason that ‘billionaires should be billionaires’ there is literally no reason for it. nobody needs that much money. meanwhile some parents cant put food on the table for their kids.
    one of my deepest beliefs has always been that there is not enough for everyone and some ‘are lucky’ whilst others are not. its a belief that takes time to de-programme from the psyche for sure.

    capitalism is one of the biggest cancers in the universe

    • Keri on at 11:39 am

      It’s crazy, but no other animal species would create a world like we have. Our “intelligence” hasn’t taken us very far, greed and shamelessness are unfortunately such big markers of who we are. Yes, capitalism as a cancer…oh, we must shout that from the rooftops!

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