James Cameron shared a delirious vision of a potential future in which war-fighting robots and omnipresent, malevolent computer programs rule the Earth while humankind clings, barely, to survival in the ruins of our once-great societies. The series is one of my favorites. The Wachowski sisters channeled psychology, philosophy, and technological progress to share a similar parable, and though it has its many critics I remain, staunchly, a fan. Ridley Scott tossed his two cents in the bucket as well, along with John Carpenter and so many others. These films constitute my favorite genre of fiction, speculative, dare I say cautionary, fiction. Many of the tropes used date back to the dawn of modernity, however you want to use the term; from the Allegory Of The Cave to the Luddites in England to the Marxist economists in mid-century America to the frenetic postulations of Postmodernist philosophers in the second half of the twentieth century, all of them tried to warn us. Some of them got it right, some of them were mistaken or overly cautious, but all of them touched on one specific thing. We’re fucked if we don’t think about what we’re doing and where we’re going and, most importantly, why?
The future that is truly on our horizon, however, isn’t one of existential war, a romantic tale of human grit and persistence outlasting mechanical precision and efficiency; it’s one of unemployed masses, starving children, and aseptic factories producing goods for the very, very few. All of the people living in luxury in this post-proletarian future won’t have earned a single thing over their entire lives; and that wouldn’t be a bad thing if they didn’t use the mythology of hard work and bootstraps to convince the majority to willingly give up all of our power in exchange for vacuous distractions and fleeting entertainments during the current crises we are facing.
My brother is a plumber. It’s pretty cool, he’s a full blown badass when it comes to pipes and shit, and it’s even cooler that he learned it the hard way on the back end of losing everything he ever had to addiction, so it’s really the increasingly rare tale of redemption through virtue and sticktoitiveness. The thing is, he thinks his job is secure in the long term. It’s not. He isn’t a mindless laborer, he does an awful lot of improvisation and problem solving, between the million dollar custom homes he builds out and the hundred-plus-years-old homestead houses he repairs, there are a lot of novel implementations he has to come up with on the fly. If he were just a pipe layer (funny joke goes here) it would be easy to imagine a machine talking his job, and he’s even said as much, but he believes he’ll never be replaced by a robot. It’s awesome that he has such an engaging and fulfilling job, and it’s right that he should take pride in what he does; but it’s misguided to think that within the coming years his salary will be cheaper than a plumb-bot 5000.
I’ve had several jobs in my life, some very complex and engaging and some very menial and tedious. Two of the most complex jobs, I think, were being a corrections officer and an instructor at a boarding school for troubled youth. It’s not hard to imagine these jobs being automated, much as I want to believe that’s not the case; every aspect of those jobs can be boiled down to a decision-making-chain, taking available information and responding with the prospected best course of action. I had some profound experiences, and I like to believe that I added value through my own unique qualities and abilities, that I truly connected with and helped some of my students I know without doubt. But, let’s be honest, employers are less concerned with the human element than they are with efficiency and revenue. I am incapable of imagining any job, commercial, industrial, or otherwise, that will not eventually be replaced with a robot under the current global economic arrangement. I can absolutely envision a future in which every human is gainfully and meaningfully occupied, where machines assist and enable and abundance provides for all, but that world doesn’t include business or profit or private wealth, that world is what has heretofore been dismissed as Utopian, despite the fact that we currently possess the tools and technology to bring it to fruition.
The future we most likely face is one more like Soylent Green than I think anybody wants to admit. The very, very few have all their needs, wants and whims provided for while the huddled masses starve and languish in obsolescence and agony, and eventually we eat each other, one way or another. The ending of that movie was deliberately inconclusive, it was a call to action, and it fell on deaf ears. We’re fucked, make no mistake, we are living through an inflection point, and it’s up to us to defend our future. You can choose to wear your drip and buy the newest, dopest phone from that draconian factory, eat your fucking avocado toast and snap pictures of your toes to your friends, our you can choose to get the fuck up and fight the status quo; not just because you’re angry, not just because you’re tired of the oppression and exploitation, not just because you’d rather steal shit than work for it (being good at stealing is hard work by the way), but because we’re possibly the last generation of humans who stand a chance at preventing the factories full of terminators from starving us to death. The people in charge know this, and they don’t care. They’re comfortable. They know that they couldn’t possibly spend the vast fortunes they’ve plundered from the laborers of the world and they know that very soon they won’t even need us anymore, they’ll have automated us out of the equation.
We are approaching a new Gilded Age. The real ability to provide for the needs of every citizen on this planet is within reach, if not already here, but the very few folks running the show have a different idea; a fusion of feudalism and fascism that would make all the autocrats of our past blush. Fascism has always been one conclusion of capitalism, the one that makes the most sense if we’re being honest. The boom and bust cycles inherent in Capitalism build to a point where democracy becomes too expensive to maintain and the men at the top choose wealth over everything else. Fascism is nothing more than Authoritarianism wrapped in a robe of Nationalism dripping with misplaced economic anxieties. I wouldn’t be the first to argue that we are living through the birth of our own American Fascism right now, and I would say the same about the UK and parts of Europe, all to a lesser or greater extent. At the other end of the spectrum we have a post-capitalism world that resembles the utopias imagined throughout history, one where all needs are provided for and all reasonable desires are free to be pursued.
One of my favorite conspiracy theories is that of a Breakaway Civilization. It comes in many shapes and sizes, sometimes it’s Nazis, sometimes it’s Lizard People, sometimes it’s Stalinists, and sometimes it’s too complicated to pin down to one thing, but it always involves an incredibly wealthy ruling class sacrificing the mass of humanity for the benefit of the very few and either leaving the planet behind somehow or retreating inside a hollow Earth. The real risk is that of a Falling Away society, where the proletariat and the poor and the dispossessed lose their wealth and their ability to generate new wealth due to the lack of human jobs until they have nothing left at all and either become dependent on what paltry social safety nets are provided by the ruling class or simply starve to death without any impact on those in their fully automated future-space towers.
I’ve been on the fringes of engagement for the majority of my life. I’ve always leaned to the Left, but I always had too much to worry about to really do anything about it; paying bills and dealing with health issues and striving for personal growth and goals and all the other things that constitute modern American life. I have been to a handful of protests and demonstrations, I have given a very small amount of financial and material aid to those within reach, and I have ostensibly supported the cause through slogans and music and t-shirts and art, but I have always known that there is more that I can be doing and I have time and time again chosen to ignore these things to focus on my own little problems. I get it, it’s not easy being broke and trying to do the right thing, but if we all keep living this way none of us will even have a chance in what is coming next. Make no mistake, we are indeed fucked, the winter that is coming isn’t Whitewalkers, however, or T-800s, or Matrix robots, it’s empty cupboards and unemployed billions and Amazon drones, and we’re all sitting back plugging in to our preferred forms of distraction while our prospects grow ever bleaker. I don’t know what it looks like, but I know that I cannot allow myself to idly enable our coming demise by wringing my hands and saying “Yeah, it’d be nice, but I just can’t do anything about it right now.” and then rolling my sleeves up and getting back to work, work that is becoming less lucrative with every passing year. I don’t know what it looks like, but I know that every single one of us is capable of doing more, even if that is simply choosing not to ignore these things, not to push them to the back of your mind and justify it with bills and due dates and bullshit, those are the tools that the ruling class uses to keep us docile. I know that rather than going to brunch and downloading that new song and buying those new Forces and getting too drunk to fuck, every single one of us has the power to go outside and find someone that needs something you have or organizing at your job for worker protection or talking to your family members about these things. Every single one of us has the power to do something, and if every single one of us makes that choice there is nothing on Earth that can stop us.
Thank you all so much for your time and attention, I apologize for being a shitty writer, I hope that some part of what I was trying to say came through here. Go do something worth doing!