Some thoughts on the world as I see it today, in 2021, from my privileged vantage point as an old white guy in the USA.
Let me underline that I have a very privileged viewpoint. I am white, male, and old enough to be retired. I’m far from rich, but we have enough put away to live well, and the money might even last until we die. We have health care. Cops don’t pull me over for driving a nice car in a nice neighborhood, and if they do pull me over, they never shoot me. My life is good.
But I’m not blind, nor deaf, nor am I wearing blinkers and sound-deadening ear thingies. I see what is going on around me. Perhaps not as clearly as some do, probably not as clearly as I should, but I do have a clue.
In the USA, and in the world at large, we seem to have a significant increase in authoritarian leaders, fascist leaders, downright racist I want to say nazi leaders. What is worse is that they have followers, enough followers to win elections. In the USA, they sort of won in the previous election, and narrowly lost in the recent one.
I’m not clever enough, nor educated enough in this area to truly understand all the motivations, but it seems to me that there are a few core beliefs that these people have that cause them to follow these demagogue leaders. I’ll make little or no effort to express these scientifically or even in an unbiased fashion.
- Other people should do what I think they should do;
- Other people shouldn’t be given anything they didn’t earn;
- It was hard for me, it should be hard for them;
- I may not be well off but I can be better off than people darker than I am;
- People who are different from me are probably bad people;
- There sure do seem to be a lot of people around who are not like me;
- People shouldn’t be allowed to come in here where things are good, it’ll make things worse for me;
To a large degree, all this seems to come down to a kind of zero sum thinking: there isn’t enough good to go around, so I have to hold on to the good that I have and make sure that no one, especially no lesser person than I am, gets any of it.
Now, I’m an unabashed techie, a reader and believer in science–and science fiction–and I believe that there is more than enough good to provide all the good we need and want. There’s more room at the top, and more room at the bottom.
As we devise better and better machines, including robots, we have the ability to do with one person, or zero people, work that previously took ten, twenty, or a hundred. The dark side of these changes is that people are “put out of work”. You can be dead certain that on the day an automobile can be built in a dark factory, the last factory worker will be “let go”. You can be sure that when the McBurgerBot can make all the food, the last Mickey D’s employee will be “let go”.
Right now, today, these are bad things. We demand that people have gainful employment, all the while reducing the opportunities for them to be employed. It has been going on for years. It will continue, unless we change our outlook.
Now, yes, there are new jobs opening up. Nearer the middle of the income spread, there are new jobs in robotics, from designing them, to programming them, to repairing them. It’s easy for some people–I had in mind another word–to say that people should “just up-skill” and take jobs in the burgeoning technical sector. Yes, well, that’s not a reasonable expectation for a 55 year old factory worker, nor for a 20 year old mother of two kids. Those up-skilled jobs go to different people, not those who have been “let go”.
The trend is clear, it seems to me. As a society, a people, a species, we are working toward a time when most of the physical work is done by machines. There will be knowledge work for a while, I suppose, at least until ML gets smarter than I am, but there will be essentially no physical work available.
There will probably be room for craft and art. But even there, machines can do a lot. Chris Bathgate makes interesting and strangely beautiful metal sculptures. I have a very small one: the larger ones sell for thousands. These wonderful items are, I hope, providing a decent living for Chris. But even these items are in principle capable of being manufactured robotically, in whatever quantity is needed. There will come a day when someone like Chris needs only to specify the items, and the machines build them. Either way, Chris’s is a job for a few people, not for many.
But in the foreseeable future, I think there will be a place for unique art, and hand-crafted items. But these jobs, again, are for a few people, not for many.
And, probably, there will be knowledge work, at least for the next few decades, or few hundreds of years. It may be a long time, or forever, before machines can invent new machines or new drugs or new products, all on their own. Some, however, will argue that it will be quite soon.
Where does this leave you and me, relatively normal human beings? There will be no work for us to do. There may be hobbies for us to engage in, but I can tell you that few if any are paying money to see me engage in my hobby here on the internet. Frankly, I think your collection of attractive rocks from seashores around the world will be even less lucrative than my public programming persona.
How will we eat?
It seems obvious that we need to change our outlook, as a society. We need to recognize that a few of us can create everything that is needed by all of us, and we should get down to the relatively simple process of arranging that all of us have access to all the things we need–and even most of the things we want.
We need to accept that most of the things we presently work for, society as a whole can, and should, just provide. Lots of it, without direct compensation. Maybe we should “pay” extra for extra nice food–and maybe not–but decent, good, nutritious food? In a reasonable world, the world would provide it.
We have the ability to do that, and we are trending toward doing that. In my view, we must do it.
And that leads me back to subject of authoritarian, racist, sexist, us vs them thinking.
It’s All About Everyone
We need to recognize that every human life is valuable, so valuable that none can be wasted. Not because they’re rich, or white, or straight, or Christian. Because they are people.
Put down all your bullshit about you’re a better person because you make more money. Shut up with your crap about you’re better because you’re white. And definitely shut the hell up about being Christian, so long as there is a poor person, a sick person, a person in need anywhere in the world, and you’re not helping them.
Put down your carefully drawn normal curves showing how the average person who isn’t like you is, on the average, not as good as you. Accept that there are an infinite number of dimensions, and on some of them, anyone I can pick is higher than you are on that dimension … and even if there isn’t, run along with your childish superiority complex.
We all know what it means when someone goes on about how they are superior, a genius, whatever. It means they are insecure, and very likely correct to feel insecure.1
To me, this is why we need to be adamant in our refusal to accept any form of us over them thinking. Whether it’s rich over poor, off-white over beige, straight over queer, healthy over sick … I don’t care what it is. You might be better at something than someone else. I hope there is something you can do well enough to stand above average. Hell, if you can crawl under my kitchen sink and fix the disposal, I admire you for that: I can’t do that any more.
But that doesn’t make you a better human being than anyone else, nor does the fact that you crawl under sinks to fix disposals make you a worse human being than anyone else.
I do see the concerns with “cancel culture”. It is possible that some innocent person could get dogpiled by undeserved accusations, and their life, job, career, damaged. That would be bad.
But there are some positions, whether taken visibly, or merely dog-whistled, that need to be unacceptable.
And, as far as I’m concerned, the people who hold those positions, and are unwilling to learn to change … well, if they get cancelled … I think I can live with it.
I await the angry emails and tweets. Bye for now.
What I could never figure out is how so many people could not recognize inherent insecurity in a blustering rant, and somehow decide that Mr Bluster was strong, powerful, smart. But I digress. ↩