Are We on the Brink of Utopia?

We are in the middle of a massive revolution of unknown proportions. Step by step, it has gone like this:

Background: People need to understand their god-ordained place in the system of things. All over Europe religion is re-designed to keep people in their place (both the highest and the lowliest), and remind (particularly the lowliest) that all they need do is labour hard and respect their betters and a place in Heaven will be assured to them. Oh, by the way, there is a new worst insult – lazy!

Step 1. The feudal system. The aristocracy own everything – including the common people, who are forced to live and work and accept their fate in the system of things. Escape is not possible, as other landowners will just send them back for punishment. Does this sound, somehow, familiar?

Step 2. The industrial revolution, the concentration of capital and the need to force the common people from tending the land (where machines are beginning to take their place) to go and seek work in the industrial centres. Workers are desperately needed, but supply outstrips demand, keeping wages at poverty level. Hours are long and working conditions abysmal.

Step 2a – The introduction of income tax. This was a big shock at the time.

Step 3. The IT revolution and automation. Automation frees many manual workers from incredibly boring jobs, but jobs all the same. Previously skilled workers have to seek work in other, often less well-paid service jobs, or suffer unemployment.

Step 3a – The introduction of VAT. Not only are we now taxed as we earn, we also get taxed when we spend.

Step 4. The robot revolution – this is happening now. Machines and software are becoming so sophisticated that they are replacing the lower levels of many high-end professions. Go to the health centre and you can enter your symptoms into a computer, and check your blood pressure at the same time. Go to the supermarket and go to the SCO (Self Check Out), it’s usually quicker and easier. Need a lawyer? Virtual software can help you there. These robot systems are now replacing even middle-class jobs that were once considered secure for life. The trouble is, people like the improvements! I’d much rather do my banking online, in private, than queue up at the local branch. Computerised online shopping? Brilliant! I love Amazon 🙂

Step 5. The huge question. Jobs are becoming fewer, but people need to eat and spend, so that these robot-made products can be bought. We must begin to question the entire system which previously had us climbing over each others’ backs to get the jobs. What happens when the jobs are so very few and the people are so very many? We are now reaching a very dangerous point in the equation. The government exists for the people – and they know this, deep down. If the people have neither money nor dignity, there is only one possible result – revolution.

But revolution is unthinkable, especially for the capitalists who have replaced all the workers with robots. We need to create an entirely new system where the results of the robotic labour are distributed fairly within the system. There has been talk of a Citizens’ Wage, but I feel it is way too soon for that. I work hard for my money, and the idea of contributing to a system that pays people for doing nothing is not attractive. That is because I am old-school. I was brought up to believe that people’s worth was measured by their labour (even though, when a teenager, I rejected this, tuned in, turned on and dropped out – skipping my higher education).

Life moved on. I grew a little, started working and enjoyed it. Of course, having had to catch up on my education later, I had become an expert at working very hard for very little, reinforcing my dislike of people being paid for nothing. However, I do see that we have got ourselves into a situation where even highly skilled professionals, such as engineers, architects and doctors, can now largely be replaced by software, with the humans just filling in the bits the robots can’t do – yet.

I really don’t have an answer to all this, but I think we will have to radically shift our focus away from work being the be-it and end-all of our lives, to a slightly more utopian concept where the machines do indeed do everything and we do … what?

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