26 January 2011

Unquiet Desperation

Okay, over at the Partially Examined Life there's a little back and forth about the role of "technology" in creating "less work" and how we can reduce work without reducing our current capacities to enjoy the fruits of our technological lives. You can imagine my response to this. There's a comment string there that's fairly long and I had just written a book to post as a reply but I decided to do it here and spare that group of readers. Here's my latest in response (it will figure as comment #15, I think):

I'm certainly looking forward to your discussion of Emerson and Thoreau. It will be interesting to see how you guys wrestle with Emerson who Henry James Sr. complained of being "a man without a handle". It will be easy to be dismissive so be mindful...Thoreau presents, on the face of it, a more decisive front.

To extend my usage to other American authors of the mid-19th Century, Charles Olson says of Melville:

"Americans still fancy themselves such democrats. But their triumphs are of the machine. It is the only master of space the average person ever knows, oxwheel to piston, muscle to jet. It gives trajectory.

To Melville it was not the will to be free but the will to overwhelm nature that lies at the bottom of us as individuals and as a people."

I'm still having difficulty thinking of "technological fixes" or our "aids to the good life" as anything but actually overwhelming us as we seek to use them to overwhelm our natural circumstance.

Arguing this point is never easy simply because inevitably we come to the point where our technology has "cured" so many diseases, and "freed" us, and given us "opportunities" to "be" so much "more."

All of these kinds of qualitative statements should be interrogated as to the reality of their "good" effects outside of our narrow view in the US.

The Bergmann (and all I know is what you've said, Mark) above sounds like someone worth learning about. The examples are telling though as they beg a review of circumstance. Those without economic means to own stuff and have houses and land are economically impoverished and where they live is a factor in that situation. The urban poor must be very creative in their will to sustain themselves and have a good life of community sharing and working to sustain themselves outside the trappings of the society that has moved on a different trajectory with different ideas of success and "ease". Cities are hardwired to the "gifts" of technology and life without these material comforts is nearly impossible for most to even conceive...yet cities are ecological nightmares of disassociation.

The poor in this scenario need space/land to provide themselves with food. Moving from community to machinery is the hitch in this and it sounds like the ultimate idea here is that even the destitute can "fix" their situation with the right machine. But I see nothing in our current situation that would be evidence of this.

@Entrepreneurial grants--what is the purpose of seeking one's calling in commerce? That is an honest question. There are two options that might pop into someone's head (feel free to offer more), 1. make a widget to sell and 2. perform a small scale service. On the whole, those sound like the only options most of us have now anyway...but "serving" another for money is a denigration of the idea of "sustaining" oneself. You are only able to persist in this as a member of an "underclass" who "can only" shine shoes or mop floors or fix someone's too-complicated refrigerator-TV...although if these fabricator machines are used then the refrigerator can fix itself via its own internal fabricator. Then the only jobs will be fixing fabricators!

As for the draft--I think you continue to think in terms of the "larger" scale of federal involvement in order to think of ways to get things done politically and "motivate" a movement or reaction...is that correct? A draft would indeed be frightening, but only for the middle class (is there still one)? The poor have already been recruited and are currently dying and/or becoming mercenaries in the service of the global economy. The wealthy have never gone to war except as high level commanders and by choice. One has always been able to use money to get out of fighting and to no one's shame.

Subsidies--this is way too complicated to untangle in terms of "complaining" about prices. I think the most important thing to say is that we don't feed ourselves in the US with our overwhelming capacities to produce grain--this is simply another resource to fund other economic agendas. And the politics of this would outweigh any worry of "rebellion" over price hikes.

The Human mind of the "makers" among us "discover" and "make" as a kind of "breathing"...it's what they conceive of as their right--and it seems to be what we applaud in ourselves. Chemists manipulate atoms to what end? It is the means--the sheer "power" of that "making" that intoxicates us (and that is the correct term in all its connotations). Science discovers and manipulates and creates without wisdom. This is the unheeded lesson of every Good Book. Perhaps we are even less wise now than we were at the inception of writing (created, it seems, as a method of accounting so rulers could keep proper track of tributes).

Currently our inventions and obeisance to the technological fix serve only to bring more future difficulties into the world. And our ease and comfort and concerns over a work week are simply part and parcel of that system.

Work less, play more, freedom to create...what?

Apply to Africa, Indonesia, China, etc.

I think it's likely true that we could honestly "engineer" a good life for the entire world's population of humans AND not destroy other species in the process. But this means FORGETTING our ease and comfort (at least as it is now conceived) and it means WANTING the rest of humanity to live better lives--lives that don't end in starvation and water-borne diseases.

Perhaps it's simplistic but technology has only created in me a kind of dystopian perspective. We move further and further away from our "roots" in nature and that means most of us on the planet will NOT understand or "know" our technology but will simply use it and no longer possess the mind that can live in a world without that technology.

I think we don't need less work. We need to work more--we need to have our hands in the dirt and provide for ourselves--we don't sustain our living. Money does. We don't make food, or clothes or cars--name it--money does.

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