Episode 88 - The State Of Things

Just some thoughts this week on the current state of the world and the changes underway. Full transcript for this one below.

The world is always in transition, but it really feels different at this moment in time, doesn’t it? Are we finally shaking off the last gasp of the old ways? Are we on the verge of actually becoming more than the animals that we pretend we are not? Or are there cracks in the facade of civilization, and we are about to crumble back to the stone age?

Whether we are ready or not, there are other drastic changes coming, are we prepared? Though I write this from an American perspective, I also think we all need to consider how we apply social and technological equality throughout the world. We are not many peoples of many nations, we are one planet of humans, possibly the only sentient species in the entire universe. We shame ourselves by not living up to the implications of that thought.

Through all the shows I’ve done and all the angles I’ve looked at, I truly believe that capitalism as we know it is unsustainable. In my high school economics studies the law of supply and demand was one of the paramount guides of how economies work. But that only works when there is scarcity, and for the most part there is none now. We have as much of everything as we could want. Whether you can afford to buy it is another matter, but we aren’t running out of washing machines or basketballs. Two thirds of the American economy is consumer spending. We make stuff so we can get paid and then we go buy stuff so someone can get paid to buy stuff. How can this be sustainable or even sensible? Am I supposed to feel guilty that I have a 12 year old car and no plans to buy one anytime soon? Am I harming the economy by trying to save money and by buying less stuff?

There are slight hints this is shifting. I read more often about people buying used things, upcycling, and of course Ebay and Craigslist have been thriving for some time as resale marketplaces. And I have recently read about a growing number of people who are more interested in paying for experiences than in paying for things. While this still has an impact on the economy, it’s not the same as chain of materials and processes that exist in traditional manufacturing.

Ever since the first industrial revolution we’ve made more stuff with less man-hours of labor. In previous eras jobs that were disrupted by technology were generally replaced by new ones. But the full potential of AI and robots is different. We face a possibility that rather than create enough new jobs, there simply are no jobs. Sure, some new ones, but not nearly enough to offset potentially millions of displaced workers. How does capitalism work when you’re not paying employees?

From time to time I also like to consider the social and societal aspects of futurism, something I think is often overlooked in favor of the shiny technology. Recent events appear right now to be a rather large upheaval. I do believe, and hope, that the MeToo movement bringing light to systemic sexual harassment and abuse throughout our culture is a movement that will finally break the intentional and unintentional patriarchal tendencies we have. It’s one thing to change laws, it’s another to change culture. I began this essay long before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In the days since that event, the young people directly affected have risen up and made themselves heard. Perhaps another cultural change. We have a system in which decisions made by old white men affect us, perhaps for decades longer than these men will live. One may plant trees under which you don’t plan to sit, but it seems wrong to be digging graves for someone other than yourself.

Another cultural aspect at the forefront now is the widespread racism and bigotry that the election of Donald Trump has brought to light. Whether or not Trump and his White House believe any of this is not my point. His election has enabled anyone (particularly less educated white males) with a grievance against any other group to shout their discontent from the rooftops. I’m sorry, but there is no such thing as white culture, not in the way these people think they are under attack. If you want to celebrate whatever part of Europe you came from that’s fine, but your need to celebrate white supremacy is based on false assumptions and has no place in the world.

On the other hand, I’m disappointed in the total lack of civility from everyone, even people I might agree with. Maybe it’s not a majority of people, but it’s the people on social media making the most noise. There is far too much outright hate. Liberals think conservatives are evil racist dickbags and they should all die. Conservatives think liberals are all evil communist SJWs who want to ban all guns and they should all die. It’s too much, it’s gone too far, and honestly, if I had a magic wand that could erase the internet, I just might. I am not sure that the good outweighs the bad at this point.

As somewhat an aside, I’m also disturbed by the horrid state of spelling and grammar online. Language can certainly change over time, but our ability to communicate with any civility online, where we already lack a face to face human connection, is further hampered by a lack of clarity from poorly written words.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to fight back politically and then sweep this all back under the rug. We had a civil war over 150 years ago, and Civil Rights laws on the books for several generations now, but that didn’t wipe out racism. It’s been almost a hundred years since women gained the right to vote and yet they are still not treated as equals and are still treated as property by some people. I’m not sure a hundred generations would be enough for these baseless beliefs to die off on their own. If the country swings back the other way politically but we don’t get at the root cause, we are just going to have to deal with this all over again in 20 years.

This is a hard point for me to figure out. We want equality and freedom, but some views are no longer welcome in our civilization. Thoughtcrime isn’t a real thing, we can’t punish people legally for thoughts. We can shun them, but that doesn’t prevent them from passing their views to new generations or from convincing others to share their opinions. How do we have freedom and equality while eliminating biases that are detrimental to the good of the whole? Can we have both individuality and total equality alongside some method which we use to eliminate detrimental views? Can we actively do that without becoming the monsters we fear, or must we continue trying to live up to our ideals as individuals, be good examples, and hope for the best.

Most generations have had their interesting times that they live in. Perhaps we’ve all been complacent too long. In my lifetime the gay rights fight and the fight over reproductive rights have the been largest social struggles. But I don’t think either one rose to the same level of national consciousness as the civil rights movement of the 60s. Maybe it’s apples and oranges. Or maybe now, after trying to push gently and take small steps, the dam is ready to burst.

I have some hope that we’re seeing a new kind of change. I feel like the next best step for humanity will have to be something totally new. Biologically we might still be homo sapiens, but culturally we will be very different. For as many small steps on a long road we’ve taken, it’s still built on 10,000 years of what we used to be. I feel like we need a true, fresh break with the past, maybe even something sudden and drastic. It may be painful, but maybe we can end the two steps forward, one step back march of progress. It would be nice if we could stop being men and women, gay or straight, black, white, brown. If we could stop being jocks, band geeks, and nerds. Stop being Americans, Chinese, Kenyan, or Peruvian. Stop being whatever flavor of religion or non-religion we’ve picked. Can we stop all of that and just be human?