From Peter Sloterdick’s Selected Exaggerations, loc 1411-1416
Incidentally, there are almost as many horses today as there were in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but they have all been reassigned. They are almost all leisure horses, hardly any workhorses nowadays. Isn’t it an odd comment on today’s society that only horses have achieved emancipation? Humans are still work animals just as they always were, even if they are miserable jobless people, but the horses standing in German paddocks today are all horses of pleasure, post-historic horses. Children stroke them and adults admire them, and we feel very sorry for the last workhorses we see now and then at the circus and at racecourses. Some are used in psychotherapy for children with behavioural problems, but they are treated well and respectfully. All the other European horses have managed to do what humans still dream of –horses are the only ones for whom historical philosophy’s dream of a good end to history has become reality. They are the happy unemployed that evolution seemed to be moving towards. For them, the realm of freedom has been reached, they stand in their paddock, are fed, have completely forgotten the old drudgery and live out their natural mobility.
Bleak but plausible predictions from Nick Srniceck and Alex Williams in their Inventing the Future. From loc 2020-2035:
1. The precarity of the developed economies’ working class will intensify due to the surplus global labour supply (resulting from both globalisation and automation).
2. Jobless recoveries will continue to deepen and lengthen, predominantly affecting those whose jobs can be automated at the time.
3. Slum populations will continue to grow due to the automation of low-skilled service work, and will be exacerbated by premature deindustrialisation.
4. Urban marginality in the developed economies will grow in size as low-skilled, low-wage jobs are automated.
5. The transformation of higher education into job training will be hastened in a desperate attempt to increase the supply of high-skilled workers.
6. Growth will remain slow and make the expansion of replacement jobs unlikely.
7. The changes to workfare, immigration controls and mass incarceration will deepen as those without jobs are increasingly subjected to coercive controls and survival economies.
This leaves us with a profound contradiction of “a future in which the global economy is increasingly unable to produce enough jobs (let alone good jobs), yet where we remain dependent upon jobs for our living.”
An important reminder by Douglas Rushkoff in Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. From loc 198-212:
For many of us, the current system, however convoluted, is better than nothing, and changing to one in which we must create real value is frightening. Most people are not cultural creatives capable of launching a business on Etsy, programming a new iPhone app, or growing artisanal organic yams. We work in cubicles managing spreadsheets, calculating sales targets, and budgeting ad spends—or in retail stores, on factory floors, and in warehouses—doing jobs that may have no application or value outside that single corporate setting. We are simply fighting to stay employed, pay our mortgages, save for our kids’ college, and make sure we have something left for retirement. And in spite of the digital boom—or maybe because of it—it’s getting harder to do any of those things.
If we accept the likely impact of automation, even within the professions, it raises an obvious question: what will people do for a living? I had someone senior within a company at the forefront of automation argue to me that it will force some professionals to raise their game, others can become independent crafts people and the remaining ones who cannot adapt will simply be a societal burden. How widespread is this view? My hunch is that it might prosper as a convenient rationale for ‘disruption’ constituting a form of cultural evolution. It needs to be challenged.
This is an idea put forward by James Bryce, a British observer of the United States, in 1889:
This tendency to acquiescence and submission, this sense of the insignificance of individual effort, this belief that the affairs of men are swayed by large forces whose movement may be studied but cannot be turned, I have ventured to call the fatalism of the multitude. It is often confounded with the tyranny of the majority, but is at bottom different, though, of course, its existence makes abuses of power by the majority easier, because less apt to be resented. But the fatalistic attitude I have been seeking to describe does not imply any compulsion exerted by the majority. It may rather seem to soften and make less odious such an exercise of their power, may even dispense with that exercise, because it disposes a minority to submit without the need of a command, to renounce spontaneously its own view and fall in with the view which the majority has expressed. In the fatalism of the multitude there is neither legal nor moral compulsion; there is merely a loss of resisting power, a diminished sense of personal responsibility and of the duty to battle for one’s own opinions, such as has been bred in some peoples by the belief in an overmastering fate. It is true that the force to which the citizen of the vast democracy submits is a moral force, not that of an unapproachable Allah, nor of the unchangeable laws of matter. But it is a moral force acting on so vast a scale, and from causes often so obscure, that its effect on the mind of the individual may well be compared with that which religious or scientific fatalism engenders.
Are we seeing a generational resurgence of this in Europe? If so, what are the consequences for politics and social life? Understanding these dispositions are crucial to the cultural politics of automation: we can’t just assume that mass automation would lead inexorably to a certain social response because those responses are always mediated by a culture which is transforming through the same processes driving mass automation.
I’ve become ever more critical of Zygmunt Bauman in recent years. However I continue to see some value in his work and this passage, from his Wasted Lives pg 11-12, illustrates what I shall always like about his writing:
How different is the idea of ‘redundancy’ that has shot into prominence during the lifetime of Generation X! Where the prefix ‘un’ in ‘unemployment’ used to suggest a departure from the norm –as in ‘unhealthy’ or ‘unwell’ –there is no such suggestion in the notion of ‘redundancy’. No inkling of abnormality, anomaly, spell of ill-health or a momentary slip. ‘Redundancy’ whispers permanence and hints at the ordinariness of the condition. It names a condition without offering a ready-to-use antonym. It suggests a new shape of current normality and the shape of things that are imminent and bound to stay as they are.
To be ‘redundant’ means to be supernumerary, unneeded, of no use –whatever the needs and uses are that set the standard of usefulness and indispensability. The others do not need you; they can do as well, and better, without you. There is no self-evident reason for your being around and no obvious justification for your claim to the right to stay around. To be declared redundant means to have been disposed of because of being disposable –just like the empty and non-refundable plastic bottle or once-used syringe, an unattractive commodity with no buyers, or a substandard or stained product without use thrown off the assembly line by the quality inspectors. ‘Redundancy’ shares its semantic space with ‘rejects’, ‘wastrels’, ‘garbage’, ‘refuse’ –with waste. The destination of the unemployed, of the ‘reserve army of labour’, was to be called back into active service. The destination of waste is the waste-yard, the rubbish heap.