The end of the world? No... just the next day.
Where is it all leading?
Published on November 24, 2004 By Lotherius In History
The more I study history, the more I realize that we aren't quite as perfect as we thought. Everyone has a feeling that the world is getting better, and that things are better here and now than they ever were. In some cases, that might be true. In other cases though, it isn't. Are we freer than ever? We're definitely more free than a 19th century slave on a southern plantation. But we aren't as free as a mountain man on the frontier. Do we have a better government? We certainly have more influence in our government than the Soviet citizens did under Stalin. But our government is still controlled by big money, and this has been the case around in many different countries for thousands of years. We simply have the illusion of having more say in government than anyone who came before. There are examples in history, however, to show us that even that illusion is not true.

Yeah, the United States of today isn't a bad place to live, but it isn't utopia either. Socialism has its own problems, and Communism even more. Unbridled Capitalism failed too - it's not what we have now either. We have regulation of business and government control. We call it capitalist simply because the government control is less than it could be. There have been times in history where nations were much more capitalist than we are now. And it caused a lot of suffering. Communism isn't the answer either. It is clear that centralized planning in the hands of a few can never represent the needs of the many.

And despite all the ways that we have improved the world for the better, there are many dangers facing mankind's future that have not been dealt with and are just across the horizon. Our technology threatens at most our very existence, and at least, our identities. Technology exists now that can wipe mankind off the face of the earth if it got into the wrong hands. Technology is being developed that could do that accidentally. Even if our technology doesn't get out of control or in the wrong hands, just the byproducts could cause untold suffering in the next few centuries as global climactic shift sets in and famine and water shortages lead to a new age of global warfare, where our technologies will allow destruction and suffering on a scale never before imagined.

Even if we manage not to destroy ourselves, we will have to change. We are still living like non-technological beings in a newly discovered world of technology. Mankind doesn't fit yet with the things we have available. We are experiencing wonder and fear daily as new things are created. We still have in living memory times where technology didn't make a lot of difference in daily lives. A lot of people still live that way in some parts of the world. It won't be long however - a generation or two at most in the industrialized nations, a couple hundred years at most in the least developed - until there is nobod left alive that doesn't depend on high tech for a large part of their daily existence. And soon after, the times of low-tech will fade from racial memory.

That technology will change us. When we no longer even have a sense of what it is to be out of contact at any moment, we no longer have a sense of what it is to not be able to find out information almost instantaneously, we will have a completely different worldview. The current catch-phrase is "Information wants to be Free". It does seem like Capitalism, as it applies to information, might actually get pushed out in the future. If big corporations don't let go of control from the top, which they probably won't, the masses of people liberated by technology will do so from the bottom. Increasingly there are legitimate sources of free "information" on the internet. GNU Software, various OSS licenses, etc. Project Gutenberg. "Free" Music is beginning to show up legally even, and will probably be a big deal. If people can entertain each other through this new medium, they no longer need to pay anyone else to do it.

Automation will eventually eliminate many of the remaining physical labour jobs as well. We are already seeing this happen, and are told that these people will have to move to service. But it is very likely that even service jobs will fall to automation. Employing a platoon of pimply teenagers to run the local McDonald's is expensive, and as people grow more accustomed to technology, we'll see more and more of those types of establishments go fully automated. The technology is there already. All that is required is for it to become cost effective and accepted by people.

So what happens when information is "free" and the labor market is much larger than the amount of actual physical or mental labor that needs done and is offered pay for? Well, we either have a hell of a lot of unemployment, or society will need to restructure. And if society doesn't restructure, the massive unemployment would likely lead to a revolution from below.

Current methods of structuring society are based on Industrial Revolution ideology. Before the industrial revolution, economics didn't define society in the way they do during and after. Marx believed that power within a society rests in the hands of those who control the means of production. In capitalism, in both theory and practice, that would put power in the hands of the wealthy. It does seem like this is the case. A republican form of democratic government regulates that power to keep it from becoming too strong. Under communism, that power supposedly rested with the worker. Lack of a way for the worker to excercise that power effectively led to political abuses. Both systems are based, however, on theories of economics best suited to the Industrial Revolution. Capitalism depends on the promise of social and economic mobility to survive. Communism (in theory) depended on all members of society having an equal stake in that society. Neither seems suited to the kind of world we're headed toward.

We are looking at a new revolution. This new revolution has to do with the lessening of the importance of the individual in the economic process. The individual, whether he is worker or academic, will be essentially economically worthless on average. I don't see this being an easy transition. We are conditioned very strongly to see a person's value and worth based in their work. Sure there will always be some work, but with both population and automation increasing, and with a levelling of the worldwide standard of living ahead, there will be many without it.

What economic model will serve to hold such a society together?

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