The Shakers, a religious sect started in the nineteenth century, did not believe in copyrights or patents. They believe knowledge was given by God for everyone. It is only when we commodify life that we need to secure our credit or rights on our creations. Life is not a commodity but a gift from the stars or God take your pick. If we believed this we would not hesitate to offer healthcare or social security to those who currently are in need. But listen to the language we use for offering assistance. We use terms such as ‘deserving poor’. And what we mean is if we can commodify you we will. And if your commodity does not measure up we will not give you assistance because you are a commodity. We want to use you to make our lives in society better. Your life has no inherent value in and of itself.
This does not mean if you have something to give we want you as a part of our community; ask the slaves, chain gangs, coolies, Native Americans, Hispanics: they will tell you differently. No our society will use you but we do not like it if you need to use us back. We have Hispanic farmworkers who toil in our country all their lives and one of our big worries about them is they might receive social benefits from our government. We even have myths of large amounts of non-citizens such as these Hispanics somehow are getting on Social Security. This is not true but it is a myth because myths are often manifestations of our fears.
If we did not commodify each other we would not rate our economy by Gross Domestic Product but by quality of life and happiness. If we did not treat each other as units in an assembly line we would not say we had full employment at 3% unemployment or less. We would not be debating whether to have a minimum wage but we would be implementing living wages.
But for time immemorial we have been putting prices on the heads for people. Jesus price’ was thirty pieces of silver. But this trend, this way of living has exploded with the success of the free market. And the free market would be great if greed and power did not become the heart of so many in the system.
The Shakers were quite the proud entrepreneurs. They are responsible for many inventions. Their industry brought about many inventions a partial list follows Babbitt metal, the rotary harrow, the circular saw, the clothespin, the Shaker peg, the flat broom, the wheel-driven washing machine, a machine for setting teeth in textile cards, a threshing machine, metal pens, a new type of fire engine, a machine for matching boards, numerous innovations in waterworks, planing machinery, a hernia truss, silk reeling machinery, small looms for weaving palm leaf, machines for processing broom corn, ball-and-socket tilters for chair legs. Shakers were the first large producers of medicinal herbs in the United States, and pioneers in the sale of seeds in paper packets. There were other innovations but they did not keep patents and other people borrowed their inventions so that their contribution has been lost to time. Gail Borden’s breakthrough, life-saving invention of condensed milk, was inspired by watching Shakers boil fruit.
Now I know we all do not want to be celibate as the Shakers were but I do know the inhabitants of a Shaker community had better quality of life than their peers. And this was because the wealth of the villages was shared with everyone in the community.
I believe we will always have poverty in America when we allow each other to be treated as a commodity and not as fellow citizen with whom we are to share the wealth of our nation. Amazingly work ethics according to studies show that with the simple practice of treating workers as family or part-owners the quality of their work improves.
Anyone who lives and works in our country, citizen or not should benefit from the fruits of our economy. If we start with this premise everything will change including those undeserving poor. But if we keep commodifying each other we will see the economic divide increase and anger lead to more shootings, riots, and maybe even revolution.