Might as well get this crush of Not School-related posts up in one wash so we can get on to other things…
In our Marx episode we talked at the end about what happens after technology makes all of our jobs obsolete. I purposefully cut that line of discussion short because we’re planning a whole episode on it, which will involve either reading works by or (if I can make it happen) interviewing Frithjof Bergmann, the U. of Michigan Nietzsche/Hegel/existentialism scholar who’s dedicated the bulk of his professional life to this project. It appears that an English version of his 2004 German-only book Neue Arbeit, Neue Kultur will soon be released, and the first 50 pages are now available online. I’ve glanced at it, and it seems like a hoot, so I’d like some folks to jump on and read it with me during July and have a recorded discussion at the end of the month so we can see if this would be a good reading to have PEL cover. Should be a lot of fun. I’ve just created a proposal to this effect that you can go sign onto if this sounds enjoyable, and if I get even a couple of folks to join me, I’ll create the group itself within the next couple of days (though I’m open to persuasion to push this off until August if that would be better for a lot of people).
As an undergrad, it was Bergmann’s influence that got me into political/ethical philosophy, and I continue to think this issue to be much more important for us to engage than other contemporary moral problems studied in philosophy classes (abortion, just war theory, etc.), much less abstractions like social contract theory. As interesting as it is to figure out what would justify us in condemning torture, or deciding on principles to resolve controversial moral dilemmas, or even studying things like how we make choices or how political groups work effectively, in all those cases I feel like I’m engaging in an academic exercise. On the flip side, I find most political battles just too theoretically simple, where the opposition (sorry, conservatives) arguments are laughable and knee-jerk enough such that while it’s a social problem that they won’t just be less stubborn (no, Obamacare is not tyranny), political action becomes intellectually unchallenging.
But this issue, for me, is what it’s all about: the thing about our society that is most damaging to us as individuals, does more to crush our spirits and our creativity and our will and ability to do much of anything that would really matter to us. It matters less to me whether we’re actually on a path to inevitable, massive unemployment brought about by automation as many predict. To me, it’s enough that technology has already made it so that WE COULD restructure the job system so that each of us is devoting much less of our day to making a living if we just recognized this as a desirable and attainable social goal. (Disclosure: I got a gig working from home, setting my own hours, without which I likely could not put energy into PEL, and before being in this situation had even basically given up playing music for a couple of years.) I should point out initially that none of this entails getting rid of capitalism as the means for producing goods, which is much more efficient than the alternatives, though it would be facilitated by decommodifying as many of the essentials as possible, e.g. through nationalized healthcare. The focus, I think, needs to be at this stage on elaborating and spreading the vision of how cool a society we’d have if this change successfully took place rather than committing whole-hog to any one policy step one sees as necessary. The bigger problem politically (the reason that Bergmann basically gave up on the US and has been involved more in Europe and the third world over the last 15 years) is that liberals now fight only defensively, to put limits on particular corporate abuses, and the culture doesn’t even allow anything that smacks of utopian thinking just because some particular social experiments of the past didn’t work out, as if the abuses of Lenin and Stalin and Mao have ruined things for all reformers everywhere for all time. This is a task for philosophy to take on.