“What (If Anything) Can Justify Basic Income Experiments?”
Author and the Aurovillian
My humble intention is to inspire my readers regarding the possibilities, with the help of my individual point-of-view, community perspectives, and global narratives. I’ll be straddling freely between these three angles, frequently through the article. I have earnestly tried to be factually accurate, and any mistakes, omissions or misrepresentations are absolutely unintentional.
Finally, I sincerely hope Auroville serves as an inspiration towards realising the utopian idea of Unconditional Basic Income.
Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) and Auroville: Setting the Context
This paper enumerates the aspirational aspects of Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) and in doing so attempts to present Auroville as an exemplar to the outside world. Auroville has been in existence as an intentional community for more than 50 years now, we are however yet to implement a UBI in its truest sense. But, what makes Auroville a compelling context for UBI is its existence grounded on the ethos of unity in diversity, constant progress, and a research-centric futuristic approach. Each of these provides a fertile ground for a multitude of ideas to sprout and flourish, which can then be transposed to a larger context.
The ideals foregrounding Auroville are fundamental to humankind and therefore appeal to people across the world. Though a small community of about 3000 residents, it is represented by more than 50 nationalities making it a microcosm of the world. And, it all began with a dream. A dream of a spiritual visionary named Sri Aurobindo, who apart from being a reformer and educationist was also a poet and a prolific writer and sage whose vision of progress of human civilization, a world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all continues to guide the community at Auroville. Sri Aurobindo saw India as a spiritual gift to the world, a step in evolution that would raise humans to a higher and larger consciousness, and provide solutions to problems that have perplexed and vexed us since we first began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society. A dream so perfect that it first came across as a utopian idea, but was taken forward and built upon by his spiritual collaborator, Mirra Alfassa, fondly called ‘The Mother’ in the community, who worked tirelessly towards turning it into reality.
From the onset, Auroville has been about doing the things that were supposedly considered impossible. Conceived as a city to be built at a deprived location in south India itself was an impossible idea, but with the generosity and goodwill of early supporters, land was procured and the foundation of Auroville was laid on 28th February, 1968. From an arid and deserted piece of land with a few resources to building a city was like chasing a mirage. Yet, the pioneers’ labour of love in setting up initial settlements, and continued with the residents’ offering of work led to the fruition of the city in all its dimensions.
The aim of this publication is to provide a case for experiments related to Basic Income and how UBI fits into the larger purpose of Auroville. This article will probe into multiple aspects of socio-cultural, economic-political, techno-ecological life in Auroville and will illustrate how UBI can influence these and the implication thereof. Finally, we will highlight the immediate as well as long-term potential of UBI which has the potential to alter the discourse around questions of meaningful work and employment precarity – a global challenge by now.
The ideal of human unity
The magic of a vision lies not on grounded reality but in its grandeur, the one that truly inspires and promises exponential potential even while it stands to negotiate space for itself. Auroville, in that sense has always had a high ideal towards realising human unity in the spiritual sense, not to be mistaken for any physical, cultural, intellectual or mental oneness.
Aurobindo writes –
“With the present morality of the human race a sound and durable human unity is not yet possible; but there is no reason why a temporary approximation to it should not be the reward of strenuous aspiration and untiring effort. By constant approximations and by partial realisations and temporary successes Nature advances”1
It is this reality that stands central in Auroville and acts as perpetual encouragement for the residents to persevere. During all our meetings, deliberations and plannings, the participants are acutely aware of how vast and high our aim is, for “— in it must be found the means of a fundamental, an inner, a complete, a real human unity which would be the one secure base of a unification of human life. A spiritual oneness which would create a psychological oneness not dependent upon any intellectual or outward uniformity.”2
This global UBI movement, by aiming for an unconditional basic income for everyone, would facilitate the attainment of the aforementioned vision of human unity. For this vision to take root and act as a great unifier, we must think beyond borders and look at equality in the united sense. Its aim should not only be equality for every citizen, but also between nations and communities. The problems of the globalised world affect everyone differently, but surely, irrespective of the divides. Then, the solutions must also move beyond the divisions.
UBI thus becomes a crucial instrument to realise this goal of human unity, and the attainment of freedom therefore is indispensable for this purpose. But what does ‘freedom’ mean and how can it be realised for both the individual and in the collective life of a nation? How do we strike the right balance between individual freedom and the collective interests of a society or nation? Why does the struggle for freedom, fuelled by brave and inspiring words, so often end in a bloodshed and new kind of tyrannies if one were to examine historical moments of our human existence?
In the course of a lifetime devoted to finding answers to these questions, Sri Aurobindo gradually developed an integral vision of human freedom. For him, freedom was more than just ‘a convenient elbow room for our natural energies’3; it was an eternal aspect of the human spirit, as essential to life as breath itself. But he was also aware that even though Freedom, Equality, and Unity are the eternal aspects of the Spirit, the union of liberty and equality can only be achieved by the power of genuine human brother(sister)hood. It is the practical recognition of this truth, the attempt to get people to live from their soul, and not from ego, and it is that to which humanity must also arrive before it can fulfil itself in the life of the race.
Sri Aurobindo kept before him the ideal of freedom and knew from experience that true freedom has to be discovered within the human heart, through the acceptance of ‘the other’ as brother or sister, not just in theory but in practice.
An alternative way of life
The Auroville charter provides a new vision of power and promise to people choosing another way of life. In the pursuit of realizing human unity, it is not enough to do more of the same, or some of the new. There is a need to pursue a more holistic approach and that is where the charter works as a great guiding force, the north star. Aurovilians apply the ideas of the Auroville Charter4 in their daily life, in policy-development, and decisions, big and small. The Charter thus forms an omnipresent referent that guides those who choose to live and work for Auroville.
- Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But, to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
Auroville has been established as an experiment in human unity. The results could be wide-reaching and not limited to a particular geography or demography. Though it espouses non-ownership as a concept, it could also be viewed as a reposement of belief in diversity. This also encourages the individual to think beyond the self and to consciously cultivate the belief to serve the higher purpose of the collective.
- Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
In Auroville, we believe education is not merely for the instrumental end of securing employment but for the purpose of inner development. When concerns about livelihood and sustenance are out of the equation, learning has the potential to become an unending quest, a means for constant movement towards our higher purpose. This unquenchable thirst may lead us to live an ever youthful life.
- Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
Being in Auroville, one is expected to tread time and space eloquently. Discovering the past and deliberating the future becomes part of the course of life here. This does not happen in a silo though, residents also stay abreast with happenings in the world around, striking a fine balance with the experiences of everyday existence and inner spiritual discoveries. With the help of the learnings from these two realms, intuitions about future realisations are harnessed through.
- Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.
For actualising human unity, manifestation of ideas on ground are equally important. While articulating intelligently or making mental strategies is part of the process, it is extremely important to embody the concept by incorporating it as an essential part of life at Auroville. Before we go on to make a case for humanity as a whole, we ought to practice what we preach and in doing so we internalise and embody the idea in a way that our life becomes an inspiring lesson for others to emulate.
For Basic Income to be successful, the movement should have roots in diverse locations with wider humanity and the environment as intended beneficiaries. Here, constant learning and adapting should be part of the process., and long-term view and broader perspectives ought to be taken into account for every step undertaken. It is pertinent to say that any narrow or short-sighted pursuit may jeopardize the purpose. To enable meaningful implementation of UBI, it is proposed that multi-faceted research along with multi-dimensional lived experience to be adopted which can eventually be transposed for implementation on a global scale.
Redefining the meaning of work
Apart from the vision of realising human unity, Auroville is also inspired by the philosophy of Integral Yoga5, propounded by Sri Aurobindo. Integral Yoga focuses on the union of spirit and matter, realising consciousness through action. The concept proposes that any work, if done with concentration and purpose, seeking beauty and perfection, can lead us to higher consciousness, where work becomes meditation. Certainly, in striving for such unity, the nature, type, status of work becomes secondary when the striving is for union of form and substance. Fundamentally, it changes the way we look at work itself. It is no longer a chore, done out of necessity; not an assignment, ordered by someone higher than us in authority. It is not a task undertaken out of competition, nor a career, that one blindly chases. Here, work is not means to a reward but the reward itself. In Auroville, through this philosophy, the very meaning of work has been redefined as a source of joy, happiness and contentment. In our community life, we all pick up work that we connect with and that completes us while we accomplish it. As we choose our work based on our proclivities, we tend to apply ourselves and pursue perfection in the chosen field.
Even though the above-mentioned philosophy is supposed to be the ideal living model, for some, there are compulsions imposed by financial precarity, and they choose to work based on monetary rewards being offered. This is where some of us in Auroville believe that some form of basic income could bridge this gulf.
One argument against basic income is that people would be lazy and complacent when money comes free and without conditions attached to it. This itself emanates from the belief that we only work when there is a monetary incentive. However, multiple pilots and researches4 have proved that this cannot be farther from the truth. Our innate urge to do, be productive with our hands, and do something meaningful in life cannot be simply dismissed on based on misguided assumptions. Auroville’s past and the continuing present can be a great inspiration for critics to understand and redefine their motivation for work. Our trust in the collective good, faith in the human spirit, and belief in each others’ intention for work can infuse confidence and allay doubts related to the meaning of life.
Another constraint that stares us in the face comes with the conventional definition of work as something solely looked at from the economic perspective: the translation of time, skill and energy into its monetary worth, further, not accounting any (monetary) value to care work such as, a parent caring for their children and elderly, which is also a form of work but does not find any place in our conversations around “productive” work. Someone worried about nature, and looking at ways to restore flora and fauna is also work. An artist or a poet, reflecting on a society and imagining a better future is also a form of work and so is the one who is drawn toward academic research or scientific experiment, a critical mind that stands up to an authoritative regime and acting as conscience-keeper is also work. Freedom from the drudgery of working solely for individual sustenance, would enable us to look beyond the self and look after one another. The idea of equality, embedded in the Basic Income recommendations has immense potentiality to liberate us from the shackles of working for money, and to promote a feeling of fraternity among people on the planet.
Auroville for the last 50 years, is a living example and offers an alternative paradigm about the nature of work itself. The philosophy of Integral Yoga has inspired research and practice in multiple fields in Auroville, which shows how these ideas can be implemented on the ground. The following sections, illustrate through different examples, how the concept of Integral Yoga has taken shape in the fields of social, cultural, economical, political, technological and ecological terms.
Our way of life
The philosophy of literally tending to our own work has reaped immense results in the social and cultural aspects of Auroville. For a visitor, this is a clearly-evident dimension of our township. It is very common to spot a scientist working in a garden, an artist running a cafe, an accountant teaching, or a medical doctor making ceramics, etc. Here, individuals from diverse backgrounds, adopt Auroville as their new home, and engage in work that responds to their inner calling. With people from more than 50 nationalities, it is mutual love and respect for the larger community, and a quest for perfection in one’s work that unites the inhabitants of Auroville. Simultaneously, there is an appreciation for differences too. We all understand that our choice of work or interest may vary a great deal, to be balanced with time at hand and other responsibilities. We are also mindful of opposing perspectives, and co-exist in spite of our disagreements. Individuals differ with respect to interests, capacities, abilities, and tendencies, etc. These differences do not imply conflict; instead these varying beliefs further strengthened the organisation of society.
In the tapestry of our societal life, interdependence and cooperation are finely inter-woven. As our interests are rarely one-dimensional, we undertake multiple vocations and multitude of overlaps under different layers are inevitable. This essence of comity is not only among the residents, but also vis-a-vis the people belonging to the surrounding bio-region. Our social evolution doesn’t happen in a silo or in a secluded way. We work closely with the outside world and yearn for co-evolution. It may even sound like a very utopian way of life, but conflict is also an ever-present phenomenon. Cooperation and conflict are necessarily imbricated for the formation of society and must coexist in any healthy society. Conflict is a process of struggle through which all things have come into existence. A conflict free harmonious society is practically an impossibility. There is no denying the fact that any society for its formation and growth requires both harmony and disharmony, cooperation and conflict, a movement and countermovement. We at Auroville, have our own conflict resolution mechanisms and a local governance model, and we do not rely on the external state machinery. When everyone looks inwards and finds work that accords with them, extraordinary things happen in the collective evolution. There are takers even for jobs that are generally considered mundane, as some find meaning in carrying out those. They believe what goes around, comes around. People know they have themselves benefitted from others’ goodwill and generosity. A series of actions help things settle, and eventually the system works in unity. With time, our faith in the universality of actions and collective good grows and keeps us together.
Culturally, the idea of integrality has taken an interesting parallel roots. As the nature of work in itself has been redefined, the educational institutions which usually work as a feeder system for the industrial world, also stand fundamentally reformed. Auroville’s education model is called ‘Free Progress’ and each child is encouraged to progress at their own pace and are free to choose the subjects as per their liking. We do not have exams to qualify for the next, nor are we limited by time to achieve any preset goals. When the target is inner development, the limitations and boundaries disappear and the onus is on oneself to set and reset targets. It is in such moments that the margins of learning and work get blurred and the process of lifelong, unending, constant progress becomes second nature. We look at the holistic inner development through the enrichment of our physical, intellectual, mental, vital, and spiritual being: a wide canvas in itself.
Another important off-shoot is our pursuit of beauty and perfection in all kinds of works we do. The aesthetic sense of the society has expanded exponentially and creativity has become our way of life. When one arrives in Auroville, the underlying appreciation for beauty is hard to miss. There is beauty in the food we eat, houses we live in, clothes we wear, our gardens, our road signs, the city planning, and every other small thing. Of course, it goes without saying that we boast of a high percentage of our residents being art-inclined, like, architects, painters, sculptors, illustrators, writers, poets, ceramicists, dancers, singers, musicians, conductors, theatorists, actors, film-makers, printmakers, photographers, fashion designers, interior designers, landscape designers, etc. There is no doubt in our minds that when money is removed from the equation, the very nature of work transforms. When one does the work, which they love without bounds, the result can only be transformational for the maker and the audience.
Our take on power
We, in Auroville, view economic and political power quite differently from the outside world. The power of money has little or no influence over people who do not chase it. The ones who have it enslave the ones who need it. It becomes a means to manipulate and control the people whose basic needs are somehow yet to be met. People at the bottom of the pyramid do not have a choice but to get exploited knowingly or unknowingly. One could argue that if money is required for fulfilling a desire or want, it still can be foregone or postponed for the sake of doing the work that they like. However, in the case where money is required to take care of basic expenses for themselves and the loved ones, there is little choice in the matter.
This predicament related to money was clearly understood by founders well before the beginning of Auroville. Thus, while putting forward the idea of Integral Yoga, money was purposefully kept out of the equation. In the pioneering days, food, shelter, clothing and basic needs of all the members were taken care of by the extended community (initially Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville were conjoined entities) and everyone actively took part in the collective life. Later, when the community grew, providing for everyone became untenable. Nevertheless, we still have the concept of maintenance where people take up different jobs and roles, and irrespective of their experience, role or importance, everyone is provided a similar maintenance of little more than 200USD per month. It also comes as a mix of cash transfer, in-kind (financial capital that cannot be withdrawn as INR, therefore acting as a local currency), and ‘kind’ vouchers for home supplies and healthcare. In Auroville, if one is working within an Auroville Service, one could be a director or a guard, farmer or a town planner, front desk manager or a designer, they all draw home the same amount of money. The power of money is denuded and is put to its appropriate use – to serve us rather than we being slaves to it. Though, this is not the case, if someone is exerting these professions as a commercial activity registered as a social enterprise.
Another important concept that prevails in Auroville, is to devalue and discourage private ownership. It is worth noting, that non-ownership is also legally enshrined in the Auroville Foundation Act, 1988. The immoveable assets are the property of the Auroville Foundation, and collectively utilised by Auroville residents, may it be the land, buildings, enterprises, etc. A person can be a steward of a particular asset like a house or a enterprise temporarily, or to the max, till the end of his life. As we own nothing, there is no legacy to be passed on to the next generation. Even social enterprises that run under the banner of Auroville are all based on this model. One becomes an entrepreneur because they like the enterprising energy, not because it brings any big personal reward. This concept has unburdened us from the habit of accumulating, hoarding out of constant fear for the unknown tomorrow. In general, throughout the world, there is this sense of scarcity, amongst rich and poor, old and young, men and women, alike. Nothing is ever enough, as we tend to collect for the foreseen needs and unforeseen wants. This accentuated habit over time has resulted in extreme inequalities in societies world over. People have become self-obsessed, individualistic, narrow-minded, that there is a complete contempt for the ‘other’. The other could be a neighbour or a stranger, believer in other faiths or political ideologies, other race or nationality, other species or life forms. When one switches off this conditioning for ownership, a lot happens, organically.
When one doesn’t want to make more money or be lured to own something bigger, what good is the power of position. In Auroville, we gain power, rather influence by doing. And, this power is entirely internal. The power to do one’s work with an eye on perfection has no effect on others. The more one does for the community, naturally they raise their inner strength. The outer rise is limited to appreciation, respect and love. When there is no authority or monetary draw in the work, the quality and amount of work sets one apart from the other. We govern ourselves with this kind of intentional anarchy and it works. Hopefully, when UBI becomes a global reality, the power of money and position would subdue too. To imagine such a world where people are driven by compassion, camaraderie and care and concepts like competition, corruption and control would become obsolete is a sheer joy to conceptualise.
Our line of force
With liberation from the clutches of money, people in Auroville can afford to realign their forces with nature. Since its inception, our line of focus has been on reforestation, restoration, and rehabilitation as a primary mission. Ecology has been the centre of our radical living strategy. In fact, an old surviving banyan tree is the geographical centre of Auroville. A symbol that denotes how we’re pivoted around nature and our lives are woven with it, not over it. Fifty years ago, when Auroville came into being, this land was a barren deserted space. At the behest of The Mother, the master plan of the city was made in the shape of a circular galaxy. It was further divided into zones like residential, industrial, cultural, and institutional with the banyan tree and Matrimandir at the centre and a vast periphery of green belt around the galaxy. During the pioneering days, people chose to focus on first fixing the ecological situation. They experimented, toiled, and persevered, and today it’s a lush green tropical forest area. Many lives have returned to its original habitat and made it their home again. When people are close to nature, they understand the cyclical model of life. The notice, appreciate, and imbibe the sweet duel between independence and interdependence with nature. The linear assembly line of the industrial and machine world does not yet fully understand this. Some have started to talk about the circular economy, but the inspiration should come from the purpose and not diminishing profits.
As mentioned at the outset, Auroville being an intentional community, everything you see here as tangibly existent is an outcome of conscious effort. It is part of a human design and the result of a collective consciousness. When one looks at life and lives it with spiritual consciousness, it manifests beautifully as consciousness in matter. The inner affects the outer, and in turn the outer inspires the inner. One enters a blissful upwardly spiritual spiral, where, with light, love and truth, he or she happens to unpeel the layers out of larger and deeper questions like purpose of life and existence. Along with the closeness with nature, consciousness also influences all aspects of a day to day life. It makes us look consciously at the origins, production, consumption, stakeholders, and implications of each of our acts. Consciousness directs the kind of food we grow, transport and eat. The attire we buy and wear. The music we hear and the movies we watch. The way we travel and transport. The electronics and electricals we use. The way we build our abodes and live in them. The method of our communication and modes through which we connect with each other. Everything changes. The conscious choices we make, make all the difference in our world. And, freedom from money gives us that room for freedom of choices.
Luckily in Auroville, global technology fads have not implicitly gained footing. On the other hand, we have always been early adopters or pioneers in many alternative tech fields. We do not look at technology as an end in itself, rather as a means towards making conscious choices. During the initial years, electricity was a luxury and they had to find other sources through wind and solar. This way, Auroville has become a pioneer of sorts in harnessing alternative energies. This happened long before talks of renewable energy and recycling were fashionable. Transportation and mobility is another field where we’ve consciously adhered to non-polluting means. Our city has a wide and picturesque network of cycling tracks. We have also been early-adopter of electric vehicles and now have a whole range of electric vehicular options to showcase, right from motor-assisted bicycles, Ebikes, e-rickshaws, electric cars, and a fairly good public transport system. Apart from these, we have also made great advances in waste management, water conservation, sustainable farming practices, and numerous other small yet important innovations. We’re an early proponent of organic and fair trade practices too.
With UBI in place, one may pause the hectic life for a moment and take a deeper look at their life and other lives of our planet. It may rekindle people’s love for nature and in turn compel them to make conscious choices in their personal, public, and professional life. With insights from socio-cultural, econo-political, eco-technological aspects of Auroville life, we may now look at the further potential of unconditional basic income in Auroville or elsewhere in the world.
Experiencing overall true unconditionality
Unconditional is the first word of UBI. It is also the first commitment, a promise that support be provided unquestioned, unchecked, and unhindered. The only condition should be to be alive. Money should be given irrespective of the recipient’s gender, age, class, sexual orientation or preference, race, religion, etc. It should be given without any strings attached. Usually, money is paid in lieu of an offered work, making it an economic condition of exchange. When money is paid without it being means-tested, it compels us to change the way we think about these interactions. Politically, unconditionality may translate as an action that reaches out to all sections of the society. Our political conditioning may compel us to view it as an act of pandering to a certain class. However, we must rise above looking at these reforms as an electoral imperative and condition our minds to think positively with a long-term view in mind. UBI is not a freebie, or about giving doles, its intention is not to serve as a buyout package for influencing voting behaviour.
It is one thing to relook at our economic and political perspectives, but is that enough? Will it suffice to say to a person below the poverty line that ‘regardless of your work, your basic needs will be provided for’? We do know that one does not work only for money. There is a social stature attached to it. There is a cultural aspect to it. The emancipatory effects of work, sometimes reserved beyond the reach of the supposed lower castes may hold different meanings for different individuals. Women may look at work as a means to escape from stifling environments in their homes. For e.g. the UBI transfers should not perpetuate patriarchy in any form. Unconditioning must happen at social and cultural levels too. Traditionally, giveaways are treated as charity, aid or akin to giving alms. Unconditional Basic Income should be considered as the most basic of human rights, and not as a distress-support mechanism. Effectively, the argument should go beyond poverty alleviation and emancipatory narratives.
To experience complete unconditionality, one may have to learn to discern between working for wage, vis-à-vis, working for worth. Our individual conditioning, right from childhood is typically around working for a wage. The greatest leaps we need to make are in our minds and position it around working for a worth. Work which is worth the personal and familial satisfaction. Work which is worth the time and effort. Work which gives purpose to do, and also takes principles to do. Work which accords identity and pride, and not discord and shame. Work which makes us look forward to Mondays and not wait for Fridays. Work which provides meaning to life, over just money to live.
In Auroville, one gets a basic fixed monthly income depending on the availability of such compensating employment. Lot of work in Auroville is done either on a voluntary basis or in barter for shelter or lunch coupons. There are also many who are unable to find suitably compensating employment and struggle to meet their ends. There are a few who take up two half-employments to meet their requirements, as neither of the two had the financial strength to pay for full maintenance. Also, it is easy to find people who are employed in one work, but their heart is not there and they might do other voluntary work to keep their soul satisfied. There are also many who are stuck with work that pays, and over time, the work doesn’t entice them anymore. But, they continue for lack of other options. Even with the utopian philosophy and potential, in practice, reality seeps in and forces one to surrender to the pragmatics of the situation. In such a context, the need for UBI might be considered a much-needed intervention and no less.
At any rate, Auroville’s philosophy of Integral yoga or karmayoga may inspire others to look at work, per se, from a different angle. Taking a page out of Auroville, UBI can be pitched as a means to fulfill basic needs in life, so that we can focus on our deeper purposes. Work needs to be embraced unconditionally for its ability to synergize our spiritual energies into matter and channeled as means to find oneself. Working unconditionally may open many doors and influence others in countless ways and ultimately pave way for genuine human unity.
Peace via certitude as a basic target
Our sensibilities, structures and societies are laden with the fear of the unknown and is loaded with insecurities about one another. Alleviation of general fear and insecurities could be another great potential of the UBI. Belief in each other and the collective good is another basic ideal to build on. Many man-made challenges have risen in our midst due to the prevalent distrust and suspicion of motives. We may basically start from believing in others’ actions and motives and cultivate some sort of basic trust or faith in the people. We must believe in the intelligence and intuition of people who might receive this basic income and utilise it for their collective and personal progress. Taking a cue from the Maslow’s structure – though not to be mistaken as a chronological order – when the basic physiological needs are met of a human being, sense of security prevails. They start to seek out love and respect, and with time, dignity and self-respect builds. With this new-gained confidence and a congenial environment, the pursuit may be redirected towards self-actualisation and inner development. By paying for the basic physiological needs of human beings, peace could emerge as the greatest benefactor. When there is no strife and competition for survival, society has the potential to become less cutthroat and offensive in their actions. Simultaneously, trust must also be cultivated bottom-up to believe that the structures and systems would deliver.
Even in the Auroville context, a certain amount of fear and insecurities remain. While some may consciously choose to suppress such feelings and hopefully look towards a better tomorrow or some sort of heavenly intervention, the reality does loom large. Many have resorted to securing a safety net as a primary objective. There is this palpable, unspeakable discomfiture in air. The cushion of basic income may return the much-needed comfort of certitude to people’s lives. Certitude is the greatest gift we can give ourselves, to our communities and to people all over the world, and this shall in turn pave way for more power to peace.
Choice transformation through cash transfers
The third word and promise of UBI is ‘Income’. For recipients, with the surety of income, comes the ability of expenditure. Unconditional basic income will bring about a new paradigm where people may choose to do what they love to do. Income may fire up new passions and novel patterns of spending may emerge. As a society, we should not be afraid of the potential new outcome. Fear of frailties in human character due to new freedoms is unfounded and unsubstantiated. By default, change in the pattern of income should also be accompanied with the change in the pattern of expenditure. As much the UBI movement is involved in influencing the upper echelons of our society to change attitudes and policies to enact basic income for all, there must also be a complementing effort to reach out to the masses to change the mindset and create awareness about conscious basic spending. People should be made aware regarding discernment between consumption and conscious choice.
Market forces in general want to sell more and use multiple strategies to nudge people to buy more. We now clearly understand the perils of this greed and its grave impact on people and planet. The initial assumptions of free-trade practices and its liberal policies of completely transforming our society and liberating us from the imperial intentions and class divides has worked only to an extent and has largely remained short of its promise. We have further deteriorated our societies into extreme inequalities and the supposed trickle down effect has not actualised. In this climate, cash transfers have the potential to be transformational like never before. The result may well be exponential rather than incremental. In today’s scenario, where the economy is divided between capital control and purchasing power, the move of cash transfers should not be perceived as a tilt towards one particular side. The responsible redistribution of wealth should go hand-in-hand with conscious purchasing.
Consciousness in consumption and living style is another aspect of Auroville which may stand as a shining inspiration for the world to learn from. Consciousness doesn’t limit oneself to constraints. It is, in fact, contrary to the scarcity mindset. Consciousness is about experiencing abundance even within frugal means. We experience truly sustained joy, happiness, and satisfaction through compassion, experiences, and creation. And, not through accumulation, consumption, or excesses. Consciousness in each matter of our concern will transform the collective spirit. We must trust the intelligence of collective consciousness and spring towards future realisations.
Awaiting a new dawn
We all know the importance of money for our needs. Through this article, an attempt has been made to envision a world where work is not exchanged for money. The portrayal of life in Auroville as an inspiration for the outside world to pursue universal basic income comes from the honest aspiration for a better world for all. This is by no means to present a rosy picture of everything being perfect in Auroville. It is not. Auroville is a work in progress. Auroville is also not a homogeneous community and there are as many opinions of progress as there are people. Thus, I tried to position the argument from the vantage point of philosophy presented by the founders. There could be multiple interpretations of the ways to realise the vision, but the destination itself inspires us to keep moving towards our highest ideal. The ideas presented here are manifestly painted with a broad brush bereft of the details regarding nuances and other viewpoints. Each point in itself is so vast, and there are books written about them.
Perhaps one may wonder, how come we do not yet have a form of basic income, provided we’ve such a perfect backdrop. The answer is that the apprehensions that exist outside also inhabit our society. Some do worry about the fallout of free money and some about the influx of freeloaders. Even though it could stand true for a few individuals, the community at large and the pursuit toward constant progress cannot be held hostage to fear. Another significant aspect is how one looks at the ideals of UBI. Many in Auroville believe, the same benefits are achievable in large part through our community services. We are working towards a UBS model of Universal Basic Services, rather than UBI precisely, in order to achieve the ideal of “no exchange of money”. This aspect has led Auroville to conduct some experiments related to, and limited to food, shelter, mobility, health, etc. And, there are some, who believe in some form of additional complimentary UBI. Many researches around the world show that the future definitely belongs to UBI. It’s only a matter of when, not whether. As soon as the gutsy early adopters begin, the rest of the world would follow suit. This is where the UBI movement and the world to invest and establish UBI in Auroville makes absolute sense.
The major hindrance to application of UBI in Auroville is not the will, but the wealth. We earn our revenues through some social enterprises, a subscription fee from the residents, and donations. Unlike a country, we do not have the mechanisms at our disposal to raise more funds to support UBI. Like, redirecting from defence budget, or re-orienting social services, or raising tax slabs. We simply cannot raise the subscription fee, as it already is a burden for many, and a UBI might help us in abolishing it. Pushing our social enterprises to sell more to raise more money compromises our ethical value and we do not own any natural resources to earn rent from. The only available option is to raise more funds. We may raise internally as Germany did it through citizen funding, for BI raffles. We certainly have the possibility of seeking the private wealth of residents in Auroville for this purpose. But, the experiment of UBI can only be successful, when it is a long-term promise. Hence, the only sustainable way for this experiment to succeed in Auroville is by continual external funding. Then only we’ll be able to study the behavioural change and deduce any meaning. Through the experiments, run around the world in tiny pockets, we have enough credible evidence6 of what poor people will do with their UBI. Auroville is neither poor nor rich. By investing in Auroville, the world may study how UBI impacts middle-income societies. Supporting UBI and eventually sustaining it in Auroville would provide real-life evidence, which the countries from the world over may refer to and learn from.
To conclude, Auroville is a long-established international site of experiments and it is recognised by UNESCO for its contribution to peace. With residents from all over the world, it is an ideal place to study the effects on multiple parameters. Also, in the interest of time and effort, and the logistical impracticality to observe it in different corners of the world for everyone to reckon the phenomenon, Auroville is located ideally. For instance, an optimistic scenario of UBI’s application and experience in Norway may be discarded by China on the basis of cultural factors or demographic reality of a large population. An experiment in Africa or Nepal may be rejected by the West or advanced nations as a mere third-world solution. Or, success in Switzerland may be disregarded by Saudi Arabia citing political landscapes. Auroville represents people from different cultures, and the effect can be astutely studied on various groups on social and cultural basis. It has people coming from developed countries and affluent backgrounds as well as people from the so-called underdeveloped countries and marginalised segments. The economic impact and the level of self-governance in different subsets may provide us insights into behavioural change. We may also be able to notice the difference in the patterns and technology adoptions and resultantly the impact on nature. In a nutshell, the prospective of prosperity’s effect on people, and together, their impact on the planet, with the possibility of establishing worldwide partnership to achieve lasting peace. Auroville is called a city of dawn and we eagerly await this new UBI dawn.
1 Aphorism – 335, 336; CWM; On Thoughts and Aphorisms; Fourth Period of Commentaries (1969 – 1970) Karma (Works)
2 CWSA; The Human Cycle; The Ideal of Human Unity; The Ideal of Human Unity – II
5 The terms Integral Yoga’ or ‘Karma Yoga’ or ‘Yoga of Work’ are used interchangeably in our community
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