Compersion as an Organizational Form
Updated: Apr 6, 2022
Alan Johnson explains that the logic of patriarchy is one that follows the pursuit of control and is controlled by the fear of losing control. This fear of control works out because control is a zero-sum game. it runs on scarcity and makes anything less.
Control is the foundation upon which our economy is built. Indeed, the broad definition of economics is "the study of how society manages scarce resources". If we agree to equate management and control we see how the fear of losing control lies at the foundation of capitalism. This makes sense, most of our social systems were sexists before they were capitalist.
Jealousy as many other control mechanisms of patriarchy kindles the flame of the fear of losing control over someone. Jealousy hurts, maims, and kills. It drives people to inflict inexcusable actions. To fear and hurt whom they love.
Growing up I hated the idea of jealousy. I felt it was wrong. Why would I need to feel control over someone? Why should I feel angry for them not wanting to be with me? Why should I try to control? Jealousy was just one of these things I could not get.
This week I might have learned a way of making what I felt explicit. I learned the word compersion. Compersion is broadly defined as the opposite of jealousy, a feeling that I can wholeheartedly fall behind. The opposite of jealousy means the find joy in others' joy.
It builds on deep logic. Or at least logic that felt true to me even when I was twelve. In The Little Prince, the author with the Frenchiest name has a Rose explains to the protagonist that "love is the only thing that grows when shared" Antoine de Saint Exupéry was right, share your love and it will grow. But so does joy. At least the joy of those whom you love.
When I learned about compersion, I heard of a simple thought experiment. Imagine a child who just got a puppy as a birthday present. Can you picture the little dog? Can you feel the joy in this child's belly, the warmth in his heart? That is compersion. You could call it empathy, sympathy, or compassion. But there is a difference.
In compersion, you are happy for the other. You share their joy. Your heart is in theirs and you experience that feeling. There is no zero-sum game. If they lose joy you lose it too. And joy is the only thing worth accumulating. At least according to everyone's guru Deepak Chopra.
So, what are the economics of compersion? Is joy even a scarce resource? Often it feels like that. Or at least I accept to feel that it should be scarce. That joy is not something we can have a lot of. That one has to somehow exchange labor for joy. Joy feels a privilege. My belly feeling is that joy is scarce and thus one can use economics to create capitalist patriarchy to manage it.
How did the puppy look like? For me, it looked like a baby cocker spaniel. With mocha curly hair. A warm and pink belly. The kid looked at it and looked away. It search for its parents to believe this joy was true.
Scarcity. Scarcity means that someone owns the thing and it is hard to make it. But joy does not work like that. At least not outside a system of jealousy and patriarchal control. If I can just conjure joy within myself. And I can build joy from my loved ones' joy, then how can we manage these processes?
For once, I have no idea. As all in my profession, I was indoctrinated to imagine a world of scarcity. I would need to use science fiction as support to think aloud. In Star Trek, the prototypical post-scarcity society, money does not exist. The shows' motto is "where no [hu]man has gone before". I believe there is something there. Curiosity can be a driver in a joy-based social order.
I can say this from experience. As a young boy, I shun anger from myself. I saw how these feelings hurt my aunt and cousins How anger hurt everyone around it. I followed my dad in choosing to step away from a path of anger. But I had no idea what to do. At that moment curiosity appeared. I push myself to learn new things, solve new puzzles, and gain knowledge.
It might seem disconnected. But behind every puzzle lies an experience. When was I was in high school and finished my math assignments, my teacher would give me hard puzzles to solve. Two were the longest. The first was solving magic squares. The odd-numbered ones were easy. But the four by four square took me four years to solve. Four years of finishing early and not being able to solve a baby puzzle.
Eventually, I did. After this, I could Google the answer. I learned how kings and sages all over the world worked on these puzzles and many carved the set of 16 numbers in their tombstones. My curiosity connected me to a world of problem-solvers across history and nations. I could imagine the joy they felt I felt it myself. My curiosity paid off in droves.
At no point in this story, did I ask for help or was jealous of others who solve the problem before me. I knew I was just a kid. I knew that it was trivial but after working on this puzzle I learned so much. Don Carlos Valverde, my math teacher in that simple act showed me how to be a scientist, and how to use my ingenuity to understand a new form of organization.
Well. Not new. But science, the ethereal scientific system, not the social cut-throat and underfunded luck-based meritocracy, is a form of organization based upon curiosity. Let me share an example. In 2018, humanity took a picture of a black hole. It was a paramount event. It was in my opinion, the biggest thing we had done. It was a hard thing to do and it had no value whatsoever.
No economic value. But joy oh joy how glorious it was. Now, if you have not read Einstein's Shadow. Click here and buy it. I will reimburse the first 10 people who ask me to. But if you have. Thanks for reading. In this book, we hear the story of Shep Doleman. Shep is amazing. He managed to convince people all over the world to point the most expensive pieces of astronomy to imagine one point in space.
I know it seems trivial but there was no reason to do it. No one wanted to do it. But Shep was curious. And his curiosity was contagious. This contagion is not very hard for people who live in the rush of scientific pursuit. The knawing feeling of, "but what if Shep is right" led to the image to be taken. It allowed people in all continents to organize themselves in the pursuit of knowledge and the joy that comes with it.
It might be frivolous to try to incentivize a curiosity-driven system. A system that cares not about scarcity but compersity. But do we have a choice? Can we just continue to create tribes and fight each other in fear of being controlled? Can't we just do better and just share our joys?