In the middle of Doug Rushkoff’s book “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus” on digital economies and it’s synergizing with a fair amount of thoughts about guaranteed basic income – especially the inevitability of it, assuming we aren’t kept in the twentieth century.
Is there an inevitability to GBI? Does the automation and value extraction lend towards the practical necessity of GBI versus, say, more thorough structures of control and labor obligation?
Will automation lead to GBI? It can. Is that the likely route that governments and corporations will move? On the one hand, Google is doing what it can to free up certain labor so as to incentivize more data capital creation. Uber’s helping there. On the other hand we’ve got nearly half of the country that seems dead set against anyone gaining secured free time/leisure time. I’m reminded here of my humorless chuckle at a pre-eminent twentieth century psychologist, I think BF Skinner, predicting that one of the biggest existential problems humanity would face after the year 2000 is what to do with all of that leisure time.
There is no free time – you can’t even earn it now. It used to be an earned luxury, bought through hard-fought corporate or blue collar sacrifice. At this point it feels like you work to keep on working, which fits in neatly with Rushkoff’s point about how toxic the growth-at-any-cost model is. You work to grow in order to get to a point where you work even harder to keep growing. Or you drop off the face of the planet.
I’m curious to see how Rushkoff moves forward and, if it’s even covered, whether he thinks automation or growth and low worker standards will be the more dominant force. I’m even more curious to see what happens in the real world. Though more apprehensive as well. However it goes down at least the initial stages will not be pretty.
But things sure as hell aren’t pretty right now. The constant, dehumanizing nature of labor standards is detrimental to any real progress – societal and technological as well as political. We’re kept in check in large part to enforce the status quo – along the lines of Simone Weil talking about how grueling factory work heavily impairs one’s ability to think deeply, dream and project into the future, that one is merely sent through the wringer and comes out the other side with no other desire than to hear the factory whistle blow. Along similar lines is Edelson’s Law, which I first encountered thanks to Vernor Vinge. Edelson’s Law states:
“The number of important insights that are not being made is increasing exponentially with time.”
I’ve seen interpretations that tend towards Edelson’s Law meaning that the breadth and depth of our ever-expanding knowledge base moves more and more beyond the grasp of any individual human, but I see a darker side of it. As we’re all kept sweating and exhausted by busywork we feel we need to keep doing under the guise of an “ethic” the people who could fathom those technologies, the people who could help us discover deeper and wider, are increasingly cornered into subsistence living. Waiting for the factory whistle or the next gig or next paycheck we’re unable to take the time or gather the presence of mind to develop those important insights.
As someone staring down the barrel of moving back into conventional employment and having much, much less time to try and create insights there’s a keen personal component to this for me. It’s not that I don’t want to work – I love the work I do. And I do a lot of it. I just don’t think we need to work like we always have, and given where we are the dangers from continuing to subscribe to this model are, as stated above, exponentially rising.
And in another synergy, author Richard Kadrey tumbl’d a quote that dovetails cruelly with the above.
I’m no Einstein. A lot of us aren’t. But our contributions can amount to much more if we can just get a few moments to catch our collective breath and look further forward than rent day.