digging ditches: the ultimate human achievement?

How many Potential Einsteins, Hawkings, or Nabokovs or Woolfs or Monets or O’Keeffes are out there stuck digging ditches or scrubbing floors in order to survive? How much art and literature and scientific discoveries are the rest of us missing out on in favor of that floor being cleaned by a person rather than a machine?

We have the means to eliminate huge swaths of labor via robotics and AI. But with the current structure of our society focused so hard on earning money via labor, the elimination of those jobs would harm people rather than help them. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

Imagine you and your family live in a big house, and the only thing required of you to live there is to keep it clean and repaired. You wash the windows, wax the floors, fix any electronic problems, repaint the walls, vacuum, dust, sweep, mop, etc, and in exchange for all this work, you can live in some rooms in the house.

Now imagine you and your family invent a robot that can do all this cleaning for you. Cool! Now all the required labor is being done, and you can relax and use your time for other more meaningful, human activities.

Except that’s not what would happen in our society. The member of the family that just happened to have his name on the deed of the house would buy their own robot, and kick everyone else onto the streets and have their big empty house with no one living in it. Then they’d take the money they save from not having to feed so many people, and buy another house, also with no one to live in it except the robot that cleans it.

Our society is that family. We, most of the members of that family, work hard to keep the infrastructure running, to keep things clean and functional. We, the family that is our society, are also on the verge of inventing a tool to do all this work for us, to keep up the maintenance for us. But instead of celebrating this, we’re worried. All because our rich uncle feels we have to be working on the house in order to live in it.

When the robot workforce comes–and it will–huge numbers of people will be functionally forced out of society because there are no more floors to scrub. If we want to avoid this, we need to change the way we think about work and money.

We need socialism if we are going to survive our own technology. We need to change the mindset toward labor as a means of survival, and instead look at it as crude necessity that we are about to eliminate. We should enjoy the results of that elimination, not punish ourselves for it.

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