The dream of technology is to free “us” from the drudgery of work. The “clean” version of this, as opposed to the way it usually works in practice, is supposed to be a world in which machines do all the drudgery, even including the drudgery of creating their replacements in a toxic “evolution.” This freedom “should” be spread around equably, so say the progressives; or smugly held for “our side” as furtively maintained by the retentives. In either case so much gets left unexamined. The entire enterprise remains firmly within the land of wishes, far removed from the way things are, no matter how the tenets of “efficiency” may insist to the contrary.
Who is us? Even if it were somehow possible for this blessed conclave to include all of humanity this system would have us live in a desolate wasteland in which every other part of existence would be strip-mined to attempt to sustain this fantasy. No one ever really believes it could possibly be otherwise, and so we all march off down the tunnel of deceit, neither looking left nor right, biting our cheeks to maintain a straight face, and numbing our minds and emotions so as not to understand or feel its implications. The “dream” retracts to some subset of who “us” might be. We scramble to keep up with the others, elbowing the slow or less compartmentalized aside to try to ensure we remain part of “us.” The slippery slope now fully entered, we slide faster and faster, working ever harder to maintain two sets of books and not get hopelessly lost. We judge our “progress” by whether we feel optimistic, or pessimistic. We praise anyone who helps us maintain the first, and shun anyone who might send us down into the other. Maintaining optimism trumps all! Truth gets left farther and farther behind. We attempt to equivocate that truth was highly over-rated, and who’s to judge anyway? Or we fixate on a single idea, something easy to keep in front of our faces, something that will let us block out any wider view of existence, and so maintain our belief in wishes. This allows us to know Right from Wrong, Good from Evil. With such certainties, what use do we have for truth?
Let’s back up.
Why do we want machines to do our work? It’s because we find certain work beneath us. We find it numbing and destructive, either physically or psychically, and would prefer not to do it. Do we put any effort into examining why certain aspects of what we deem necessity are so abhorrent? Not really, we shrug and say, “Life’s a Bitch!” Either subtly or bluntly accepting the premise, either looking off to a worker’s paradise of progress that will make it all better or towards an afterlife in which we win every lottery and watch our enemies roast in eternal torment for having crossed us. The present is left to fend for itself, only “not-now” matters. Of course we don’t call it “not-now,” the term our parents used with us when we made childish demands, we say, “The Future!” Or “Blessed Eternity!”
What else can we do? The question is mostly asked in sullen desperation. Its answer judged by its affects on our optimism/pessimism scale. The cycle continues until we crash into the limits of existence in some hard way. If we survive, it’s confirmation that, “Life’s a Bitch!” In which case we repeat the process, otherwise it puts an end to “us,” period.
What if we really meant the question, “What else can I do?”
Here’s a thought. Expand the “us.” If we see us as encompassing all of existence…. We could you know, there’s ample evidence. Then two things become apparent. First, passing off distasteful work to machines doesn’t remove it from “us.” Those machines are made from and powered by mineral, vegetal, and animal components of the broader us. They were already fully occupied doing what they’ve figured out how to do over the entire span of existence. The consequences of their wholesale diversion from those occupations creates tremendous disruption and destruction. Much of that destruction is permanent, or so long-lasting as to be permanent’s equivalent. If this is hard to comprehend, it’s a sign of just how removed from true necessity we’ve allowed ourselves to stray. Take a moment to literally describe to yourself how you can exist without the support, literal support, of the mineral aspects of existence. Where would you stand? What would you drink, breathe? If your answer is, “On concrete!” or, “purified H2O and filtered O2!” Take a little more trouble and find out where these might come from.
If it’s loathsome work for “us.” It’s loathsome work for those other parts of us too.
This leads us to the second realization. If we loath and hate such work, why do it in the first place? “Life’s a Bitch!” is again not a suitable answer. Here’s a clue. Civilization puts much of its effort into convincing us, against the better judgment of anyone not caught up in its clutches, that “Life’s a Bitch! And we better put up with it!” Again, if we’re willing to look, there’s plenty of evidence that’s not the case. The significant trade-off that needs to be made to escape this trap however is to develop an acceptance of transient difficulty and the inevitability of death. It’s the false promise of the suspension of these two rules that drives civilization. Our understanding, innate and intuitive, that civilization’s claims are lies, not true, is the first, or last, such realization we face as we enter, or are finally consumed by, that tunnel of deceit.
Does all of this add up?
If so, how can we continue to go through the motions of pretending all that crap is true? Or, as most now do anyway, pretending that if they continue to pretend, to behave in ways they don’t really believe in, they will allow the whole mess to slide along a little bit longer. Wishing, don’t mistake this kind of dishonesty with hope, they might squeak by before the final bill comes due, or perversely, working to punish their own guilt by promoting the worst possible outcome in the name of their idol.
When our parents said, “Not-now.” They meant to delay the confrontation until a later date when we might have grown into a more mature outlook and perhaps seen our demands as unwise. When we insist on postponing that moment “forever!” – another hyperbole children love to indulge in – we are just insisting that we reject any call for maturity. The necessity for maturity doesn’t disappear, it’s subsumed in a toxic simulacra, as devotion to some aspect of our preferred fantasy. And so we maintain our worth, not by actually living; but by subsuming life, our life, potentially all life, into the bargain we’ve made with civilization. Yet another way our rationalizations feed us back into the cycle…