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It Doesn’t Have To be Like This

December 9, 2010

Author James Howard Kuntsler has a post today at Clusterfuck Nation called ‘The Jobs Picture’. Kind of a boring title, but what caught my eye was his statement:

The hardships of today do not represent a dip in some regular cycle of financial push-me-pull-you. This is a systemic, structural change in the socio-economic ecology of human life.

Quite right.

John Cage said around 1985 or so: “US Corporations moved into Puerto Rico and destroyed the local economy. Now the unemployment rate is 50%. The problem is they only did half the job.”

Tristan Tzara

Tristan Tzara and Richard Huelsenbeck in their 1918 Dada manifesto called for “2) The introduction of progressive unemployment through comprehensive mechanization of every field of activity. Only by unemployment does it become possible for the individual to achieve certainty as to the truth of life and finally become accustomed to experience.”

In Mechanization Takes Command Giedion points out that before the industrial revolution, people worked but didn’t have ‘jobs’. So measuring unemployment with current criteria in 1500 would show nearly 99% unemployment since most people didn’t work for wages.

Richard Huelsenbeck

In the U.S., last time I looked, about 1/3rd of the working population worked part-time. So in some sense, these people don’t have ‘jobs’, they have multiple work locations. And clearly most people now expect, and are expected by employers to exist in a fluid labor market. These things, along with the decentralization of the industrial manufacturing process are clearly moving us closer to a pre-industrial model. Updated, of course, but clearly not the present system.

An inventor in Japan has demonstrated a robot that is faster and more accurate than a human at picking strawberries. Good.

Human beings have been slaves to their conquerors since the adoption of the agricultural economy and became wage slaves in the industrial era. Now for the first time it is possible and preferable as far as I’m concerned, for the production of goods and the accumulation of wealth to occur without human labor. The trend since industrialization has been toward the devaluation of labor (and humanity, btw). This is now nearly complete, making ‘labor’ superfluous.

A 10% unemployment rate means a 90% servitude rate. The problem is not the lack of jobs, but lack of a way to live without one. “We must make the world safe for poverty” said Cage. “When can I go into the supermarket and get what I need with my good looks?” asked Ginsberg.

“How do we find a new way to value human beings, now that they are worthless?” I ask. Or, “I don’t want a job, I want a life.”

Kuntsler envisions a neo-agrarian society, but I can’t see it. When we evolve we never reclaim the past, but a new structure emerges directly from the attributes of its predecessor.

As Debord says “It is obvious that ideas alone cannot lead beyond the existing spectacle; at most, they can only lead beyond existing ideas about the spectacle” (Debord, Spectacle, 203).  We can conjecture all we want, but no ideas that we now have can possibly describe what a new social and economic structure will be like because we haven’t made that move yet.

But what we can say is that it hasn’t always been like this, it doesn’t have to be like this,  it can’t continue to be like this, and whatever happens will come from this.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 15, 2011 11:00 am

    Good post.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of The Venus Project and The Zeitgeist Movement, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on them.

    Like you I feel that the way through this is not to construct via planning and imagination some preconceived model we must then reach come hell or high water, rather it is to highlight radically new priorities. My thinking and reading has led me to the expression, “Demote money, promote wealth,” since it is a re-prioritization without destination; it is means, not ends. Things like guaranteed income, demurrage, money spent into existence, optional ‘state’ education, etc., would be part of this.

    And yes, we need new ways of valuing what we are and how we contribute to society, since our labour clearly is not needed any more. Making labour necessary, forever forcing it upon ourselves simply for lack of better ideas, is incredibly destructive. I think a new source for value might be our capacity for joy, play and creativity. The more of each we spread, the more there is for everyone. Infinite growth made possible.


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