I recently listened to an interview about “autonomous technology.” The main message was that increasing automation means that more and more people are losing their jobs to robots. And apparently it’s not just assembly line factory jobs that are at risk. White collar jobs are being absorbed at a rapid pace as well. We don’t need to worry so much about all those jobs being shipped overseas; the real threat is the microchip.
The technology part of the discussion went into all of the predictable places: “It’s part of an inevitable and unstoppable process.”“Progress is irreversible.” “We can’t turn back the clock.” Etc.
Then the conversation took a rather unexpected philosophical turn, which began with the idea of providing a universal government wage so that the consumer economy could continue to function. We could easily provide a living salary to all persons in the country right now, and at a microscopic fraction of the defense budget. But the problem with providing a universal wage in lieu of actual employment is that people derive meaning from being gainfully employed, and without a job their lives would become meaningless. And what’s even worse, life without meaningful employment brings into question the true purpose of industrial civilization—and the whole meaning of humanity! What is at risk here is nothing less than a culture-wide slide into crippling nihilism.
So, let me see if I have this right. We need jobs, even mindless factory jobs, in order for our lives to have meaning. And without the meaning we derive from wage-slave employment, we would all suddenly realize that the whole thing—industrial corporate consumer civilization—has no human purpose?