Out of a rather winding and over-philosophizing public talk, I have extracted an answer of why we don’t already have that wonderful world of prosperity and leisure for everyone promised to us a generation or two ago and made possible by our technology. (By over-philosophizing I mean that David Graeber looses track of who the decision-makers are, which is as bad as not following the money.)
It is clear that we could build this great society right now and could have been well underway 40 to50 years ago. I grew up at a time when everybody I knew believed that we were on the verge of it, but it didn’t happen. The world has actually gone in the opposite direction, gone down the drain, gone to the dogs, slid towards a precipice throughout my entire adult life. What a horror this has been to watch!
Furthermore, I did realize years ago that the ancient Greeks could have created the modern industrial age some two millennia before our time (they were experimenting with steam engines and robots back then). They didn’t because the decision-makers had slaves. So what would they have needed robots for, other than mere toys? Their robots and steam engines therefore were just toys, not labor-saving machines; and so it never became a serious development. So, had it not been for ancient slavery, the industrial revolution could have happened 2000 years ago. It’s stunning to try to imagine where we would be by today.
In his winding talk, David Graeber eventually gets around to state that the same thing happened back in the sixties and seventies when we seemed on the verge of creating Paradise on Earth.
The decision-makers of that time, who in our messed-up modern world are obscenely rich billionaires and their political minions, also had no need for labor-saving robots – just like the ancient Greek engineers – since they had cheap workers and servants in abundance. Furthermore, the lords of the sixties and seventies could make their workers even cheaper by moving jobs overseas into the Third World, making investment in automation an unnecessary expense for them.
In addition, the lords of the sixties and seventies were scared of the social tensions that could have arisen from a wholesale displacement of people out of their jobs by machines at a time when people held a high degree of democratic political and trade-union-based power. To keep them pacified, the rich would have had to share their payroll savings and reduction in human working hours with the working class people, which – in their greed – the rich would not consider to do, and which they also worried might cause “restiveness” from idleness among the non-rich if they were not kept trapped in jobs or job-seeking unemployment. So, while many of the rich did kill off a lot of jobs by offshoring them overseas to improve their personal profit margin, they also invented a lot of guard jobs (jobs that function to keep other people from rebelling), credit for those who no longer earn enough, and busy-work to keep people occupied — preferably poorly paid to keep workers in line by dint of financial worry. Thus they have been holding many of us trapped in precarious low-pay jobs, debts, job-searching unemployment, precarious intermittent employment, and a growing gig economy.
They also worked hard on rigging democracy out of existence, so that currently we only have the trappings of it – a mere dog-and-pony show – while our government is now firmly controlled by them. Therefore, they now have found the courage to displace us with robots and kick us to the curb, since they figure we have finally become powerless to defend ourselves. Hence we are now seeing a boom of automation that promises (or threatens) to eliminate most jobs in the next one or two decades. A new wave of technological progress, including artificial intelligence, dramatically accelerates automation not only of manual work, like in the past, but of brain-work, as well. And while, in a just world, this would greatly reduce human drudgery, giving us all more opportunity to actually live our lives rather than toil our years away, as long as the old system of wealth for the few by robbing the many stays in place, all we will see is rampant poverty.
Therefore, I once again come to the conclusion that – in order to build the Heaven on Earth we have all the resources to create, and to avoid an even worse Hell on Earth(!) – we must depose the robber billionaires from their seats of power by creating a more equitable distribution of wealth and income where we all are asset holders of our countries and planet.
Here is the speech that simulated my musings of today:
(Note: if the video linked above gets deleted, you may search the Internet for the title: “David Graeber: On Bureaucratic Technologies & the Future as Dream-Time / 01.19.2012 @ SVA”)
To conclude, our current systems dedicate ever more of our resources and our labor for the dismal task of maintaining and growing our outrageous inequality. Thus the rich can stay rich and get even richer by continuing their antiquated scheme of creating prosperity for a few through the systematic stealing from the many. It is a nefarious strategy utterly unfit for modern times when the scarcity of prior generations has been replaced with the enormous productivity of modern agriculture and industry. Using modern technology properly, we could very quickly make us all free and prosperous. The only thing that stands in the way is the robber billionaire’s calcified old system of economic exploitation and co-opting the government through legalized bribes. Both must be brought to an end!
1.) Good point of David Graeber’s: In the U.S., we have “gotten rid” of the corruption problem by making it “legal. ”
2.) Another Good point of David Graeber’s (something I also noted long ago): We now live in a society where we are all trying to sell something. We constantly get slammed with advertisements, telemarketers, promotional deals, and so forth. I, too, currently have to try and sell myself to potential employers, pretending that I am eager to waste my life in bullsh*t bread-winning jobs that do little to nothing for society but – if I am lucky – pay my bills.
When I successfully complete this demeaning and time-draining search and do get such a treadmill job, I then have to sell my time, again draining my days of life. And even when I try to free myself from these treadmills so I could spend more time writing my books and articles, I have to try and sell donation options or my online science course to my audience. It’s always sell, sell, sell. Ugh!
All this sales frenzy comes from a desperate need for money, and this in an age when something like half of the world’s money flow goes to a handful of billionaires who have absolutely no need for money. This lopsided income distribution has created huge poverty when half the world’s prosperity, represented by the money flow, goes to the top 1% depriving everybody else — most fiercely those in the bottom half. If the money flow were fair and even, then not only would the world’s struggling and poor people get a lot more out of our economies, but – through their now enabled spending – they would fire up the economy to be a lot more productive. The desperate need for money would no longer exist, and we wouldn’t all be forced to sell, sell, sell.
As things stand for now however, with at least half the world struggling for sheer survival under horrible conditions, and with the rest of folks being so well supplied that most of the sales efforts go towards trying to sell them trivial things they don’t really need, we’re all stuck in this loathsome quest to sell, sell, sell.
Case in point:
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