Work and the Lack Thereof
A Brief History:
Work is important to Humans.
Incredibly important, in actuality. Work has definitively defined the existence of the majority of humans since they first decided that it should be done, sometime around 11,000 years ago.
Most workers were farmers, originally, as it was necessary for the human population to survive. But, as humans became smarter and figured out how to do new things in a more efficient manner, craftsmen quickly became prevalent in the workforce.
In fact, a vast amount of modern English surnames are simply the etymological remnants of the occupation of a distant ancestor.
Baker, Cook, Fisher, Miller, Potter, Shepard, Smith, Taylor, Weaver: The list goes on, Ad Infinitum. These were all, at one time or another, dedicated crafts and vocations.
And prior to widespread education and the diversification of the workforce (a recent development, mind you), the chances were, that you did what your father did and that was, in turn, what his father did and his father before him, and so on and so forth.
Your trade was something inherited through generations of laborers. It was more than just your job, it was a persistent and ongoing family tradition. The idea of what a person does being directly tied to their social identity is as old as history itself.
Then, with the dawn of the industrial revolution, massive factories replaced the small workshop. And Working conditions for the poorer humans were, in a word, unfavorable. Men, women, and children (yes, even children) worked in dangerous conditions in manufacturing facilities, foundries, and mines.
All throughout history, workers had little to no rights until as recently as 150 years ago, when skilled and unskilled workers bound together in the form of Labor Unions. They gained their rights by protesting unsafe conditions, and fighting to secure legislative protections for themselves and their families.
How things are going
In a more contemporary lense, work still holds an incredibly important position in the daily lives of many humans. It is actually one of the defining features of many of the dominant cultures around the world. More often than not, being linked directly to the character traits and morality of the individual.
To extrapolate, it is expected of youth to plan their entire lives around the type of work they wish to perform. They pursue specific training and education, socialize with a goal to build a network of like-minded individuals, and categorize their knowledge and expertise into specific specializations. All in a grand and forever on-going attempt to find work that suits their lifestyle.
It’s fairly common practice for a modern human to devote their entire life to work. For many, it is a point of pride. Many cultures promote a society dictated by working long hours, striving to make as much money as possible in the name of the company, and even ignoring personal and familial needs in order to gain favor with an employer.
Modern humans are also greatly influenced by work in a social capacity. Typically, one of the first questions asked when meeting a new person is related to what work that person performs. Based on the response to that question, most people will form an opinion on the quality of the character that individual.
For instance, If a human is unable to find work, chooses not to work in a gainful capacity, or performs a work of a certain quality, they can often be treated as inferior by their peers.
This cultural stigma is problematic.
The ability to automate tasks will inevitably become easier and less costly to implement. As a result, an increasing number of humans will fall into one of those three categories. And Automation is truly inevitable. And as it becomes more and more prevalent, there will only be less and less applicable human work required to satisfy society’s needs of production.
As humans are displaced, those who are no longer able to find employment in the category in which they chose to specialize in will often resign to a position beneath their qualifications in order to survive. There is also the possibility that they become unemployable, and after a frantic, lengthy search, they may surrender hope altogether.
This begs the question. What are the options to explore when there is not enough work left for humans?
Option A: Ignore It
Maybe it will go away
The typical response to modern hardship is along the lines of “That sucks, but it is also not my problem. Good luck overcoming adversity, fellow human, but do it over there so I do not have to see it”.
But really, why should you care what happens to anyone else?
While thoughts, prayers, and good vibes have been perceived as an effective method for an individual to address societal problems in the past, that is not an applicable solution to this burgeoning issue. Humans require a means to support themselves and their families.
Basic necessities, if you will. Food, Shelter, Water, Electricity, Transportation, and more recently The Internet. Things needed to function effectively as productive members of modern society. In the modern era, these needs are largely met through hard work and gainful employment.
However, without the ability to work in a gainful manner, humans lose the ability to support themselves and their loved ones. These men, women, and children (yes, even children) are often forced to face the harshest elements of homelessness. If they do survive, the burden of their survival often falls upon the state… via welfare programs, medical facilities, shelters, and the criminal justice system.
The impending threat of homelessness has been known to lead to engaging in increasingly risky behavior. This means a substantial increase in the manufacture and distribution of illicit equipment and substances, as well as an increase in other less savory criminal activities.
Interestingly enough, it is fairly well documented, dating as far back as the Roman Empire, that there is a direct correlation between poverty and criminal activity. This is because a majority of humans that make the choice to live an unlawful existence, have done so strictly because they have no other viable options for survival.
The underlying fact is that if humans are unable to survive under the current system of governance, they will, without fail, subvert that system of governance. One would suspect that this is because most humans refuse to die quietly. As basic logic would dictate, impoverished citizens are the primary cause of civil unrest.
As history has shown over and over and over again, civil unrest is bad news for most parties involved. As more and more citizens in a civilization find themselves unable to thrive socially and economically, civil unrest spreads with fervor. While it typically begins as peaceful protest, if adjustments aren’t made and needs continue to not be met, tensions will rise.
Those protests can quickly break down into tumultuous riots and aimless destruction. More often than not, heavy-handed attempts to quelch the violence by the powers that be will come with a great deal of collateral damage. This only serves to alienate the public-at-large, promoting conspirators to organize an armed resistance force. That is the birth of a violent insurrection. A civil war in which both sides lose.
So why should you care? Because chances are that your job is the result of a functioning and cohesive society. What is the value of an occupation if civilization has collapsed? Your money only has value because the grand collective of a society gives it value. Without a functioning and prosperous nation to substantiate that currency, the paper scraps and electronic digits that dictate your value to others will become meaningless.
Therefore, ignorance is not an option.
Option B: Embrace It
What’s the worst that could happen?
The other side of this argument is that humans, as a collective organization of living beings acting out of mutual self-interest, should utilize the gains in productive efficiency from automation to support the people displaced from the workforce.
But how can that be feasible?
Well, thanks to innovations in technology, we are becoming increasingly able to satisfy the needs of society with the efforts of a tiny fraction of the total population. This is something totally unprecedented that has never happened before, throughout all of human history.
What would happen if we were to put an end to poverty? To raise the baseline of humanity so that everyone was fully able to perform to the best of their ability?
Well, for starters, the burdens placed on the state via crime and homelessness would be greatly lessened. In fact, it would be largely non-existent. This would mean a safer and healthier world for everyone in it.
A system such as this would also place value on less profitable forms of work, such as child-rearing, volunteering, and building up one’s community. Things that have been proven to be mutually beneficial to society as a whole, even if, in terms of revenue, there is little to be gained.
There is also the truth that humans are exploratory by nature. If we were to sever the ties between labor and living, people would still seek to stimulate themselves economically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. What everyone would ‘do’ is largely based on the interests of the individual.
An entrepreneurial type may want to start a new business. Creatives may pursue a new and unique artistic venture. Innovators may immerse themselves into some unforeseen realm of an amazing, new technology.
And some people will make entertaining videos on the Internet.
This would lead to the foundations of a New Renaissance. A time of unprecedented creation. Breathtaking feats of Art, Music, and Literature. Exciting breakthroughs and innovations in Scientific Research and Development. New Business Start-ups that find better ways to compete, by developing more efficient systems and practices for satisfying the needs and wants of the people.
When everyone can prosper, everyone prospers.
What does this all mean?
Any rational person can see that Option A isn’t really an option at all.
Unfortunately, one of the most challenging ideas for a human to swallow is the thought of another human getting something for nothing. And it’s a completely understandable and justifiable opinion to hold. It makes sense. Someone else getting something for free invalidates all of that effort I put into earning what I have.
Doesn’t it? No. No, it doesn’t.
It’s a fairly long-established sentiment and likely one of the oldest codes of ethics still in practice today: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat”. — It’s a recurring mantra that has made appearances all throughout human history. It was first noted in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, then repeated by John Smith during the foundation of the Jamestown Settlement in North America, and then again by Vladimir Lenin in Russia during the establishment of the quasi communist Soviet Union.
The phrase is often regarded as a basis for deciding who is entitled to what based on contributory factors. But that isn’t exactly an accurate interpretation. In relation to the circumstances of the time periods, it would be better read as “If we don’t work together, we will not have the resources to survive”, which is an objectively more true statement.
It’s important to reevaluate where we are as an intelligent, adaptive and evolutionary species. We aren’t just now discovering the basics of agriculture, or attempting to carve out a foundation for civilization into the unforgiving wilderness. Humanity, as a whole, has grown far past that need for mass labor and toil as a necessity for survival.
“But Mr. Cabbage!” you might be grumbling at your computer, tablet, or mobile device. “If people didn’t have to work then they wouldn’t work at all! Everyone would just sit around and smoke marijuana, eat snacks and play video games all day”
“Allow me to ask you, my Humble Consumer” I might reply with a raised brow. “Is that what you would do?” “Why I would never! That would be so boring. I find ways to be productive with my time,”.
And what is it exactly that makes everyone else is so vastly inferior to you?
Is there some unique mutation that you and only you possess? Because if so you likely belong under observation in a laboratory somewhere so we can unlock your secrets to success.
Or perhaps, just maybe, you aren’t that special. It’s much easier to compare what you know about yourself to what you think you know about total strangers. Hubris is the most effective blindfold for judgement.
And even if people chose to do nothing, they would still be consuming goods as customers. Stimulating the Economy. Why not take advantage of that fact? Become a titan of the capitalist system! Invest in a business that sells pot, snacks, and video games and seize your fortune. You know you want to earn it. So what is stopping you?
Surely, you have some anecdotal deadbeat in mind, perhaps a cousin or a neighbor, who does nothing but leech off of loved ones or “Cheat the System”. But those types of people already live those lifestyles today. So establishing a better system that enables everyone to succeed, but allows a few people to continue how they are currently living is a still a net gain for society.
The standards for change are not “Perfect or Nothing”, but “Perfect or Better”.
An analogy, if you will.
Imagine a building. A building that is on fire. With 1,000 humans in side. 999 of the residents are complete total strangers to you, but the 1 person you do know that lives in the building, is a person that you hate. Everyone will die if you do not call for help.
Do you call for help and save the strangers even if that means you will also help a person that you hate? One would hope so. Most people would find condemning the lives of a massive amount of people that you don’t know over a grudge that you have with one person to be morally reprehensible.
Unfortunately, this is analogous for our situation right now. And equally unfortunately, many people are choosing to let the building burn. Most aren’t even aware of the fire, and a large amount of the people who are aware are convinced that it isn’t their problem and it won’t affect them. But as we covered in Option A, it very much is their problem.
You see, most courts and legislative bodies operate on the principle of “Innocent, until proven guilty”. This is because a person who did nothing wrong losing everything is far a more severe consequence than a person who did do something wrong getting away with it.
Many innocent people are in total danger of losing absolutely everything at no fault of their own. How could one possibly argue that it is morally right to leave them to their demise just because you know one lazy guy who would benefit from helping the needful masses?
If you do nothing to help those in need of help now, then when you are one of the many stuck in the burning building, no one will be around to help you. Presumably, because no one will want to help a person that they hate, you happened to be their neighbor.
What is needed is an effective and efficient safety net. One that makes sure no one will fall through the cracks. And it is needed quickly as the fire has already started and it is spreading rapidly.
A safety net is much less useful once you’re splattered on the pavement.
A quick re-cap
Work has been and continues to be an incredibly important aspect of how humans perceive themselves and other humans throughout the vast majority of human history, including well into the modern era.
However, we have already begun displacing humans from the workforce and prohibiting their ability to work gainfully in the current system. We are unable to stop displacing humans in this way and we do very little to provide the basic needs for those displaced. This is a big problem.
The current systems in place to combat that problem are unsustainable at best. This will inevitably lead to a societal collapse as the problem becomes more and more severe. We need a better solution and there aren’t any real steps being made.
If we make sure people aren’t homeless, starving, or otherwise destitute, that will free up their time and their minds to work on other productive things that benefit society, but are not necessarily lucrative in the traditional sense. Cleaning up neighborhoods, making sure kids grow up to be productive and loving members of society, making new beautiful and amazing things for everyone to enjoy. That kind of stuff.
Unfortunately, this is a hard pill to swallow for many people. Thousands of years of being conditioned to either work or die has made many people blind to the changes in the way the world turns.
Waiting for these people who are unwilling to adapt to die out isn’t an option. Realistically, we have to convincingly change their minds that something needs to be done. And that is titanic task without a doubt.
You see, we don’t have the time to wait as it will be way harder to fix this problem if we don’t stay ahead of it. Ask any Mechanic or Doctor. Prevention beats Reaction. Every time. And this will always be true.
So let’s do the smart thing. Set up a system that protects the people from ruin, prevent civilization from collapsing in on itself Les Mis style, allow people to pursue their interests and take the right step in creating a better world in which everyone can thrive.
It’s the right thing to do, not only for yourself, but for everyone else, too.