III - THE NULL-P. ORBITS
8. HELOTS FROM CYBERNIA
Lingering threats have gathered more momentum in recent years, and what has been a perverse crisis from the start looks now more alarming then ever... Let us summarize the situation. The Age of Toil ended some forty years ago, when the labour force in production began its terminal decline, right in the middle of an economic boom and without any harm to our prosperity. This meant that material needs were globally satisfied in the Western Industrial Nations and that our society would find new goals. The new demand of the population, the thirst for goods being satisfied, was for the "high services". Services that machines then were unable to provide.
A transition period would be necessary for society to take that new tack. The social order of our society - indeed of our whole civilization! - rested on wealth invested in machines. A power structure based on the production of industrial goods could not satisfy a demand for high services, unless machines representing wealth were to remain an essential factor of production of these services, lest the whole system disintegrate and positive reinforcement be replaced by tyranny or anarchy.
In the Forties, machines as essential partners to men in the production of high services ("perfect slaves") were just a sci-fi dream. Until they would become a reality, more high services could be produced the old way, but it would not really satisfy the demand, they would remain scarce, and too many efforts in that direction might even defeat the final purpose of symbiosis between Man and Machine for their production.
Therefore, until the perfect slaves would arrive, there would be a lull in the demand for work and there wouldn't be much real use either for all the wealth that had accumulated. The strategy to cope with this situation would be to do the utmost to keep manpower at work and wealth productive at null-production, "in orbit", so to say, busy, but not accomplishing a fraction of what might have been possible, if it had been our objective to produce.
It was done with considerable success, but transition could be only temporary, and with manpower and wealth orbiting in null-production for the last 40 years, we have accumulated a backlog of nagging problems: a large portion of the population is alienated from our social goals, money rests on a very shaky base... and the "old spirit" is ebbing away. Anyone of these three threats can mean catastrophe, until the day we accept to jump out of the null-p. orbits, and manage to land on our feet in the Age of Creativity.
Alienation and Revolt, Bankruptcy and War... and, most of all, Decadence... We must be aware of the fact that our standard of living is not improving at all but has remained stagnant for the last 15 years. Decadence, but also most of our other problems are related to the fact that work is on the way out, and these problems will all get worse as jobs disappear. Time-bombs ticking...
We did a good job to smooth transition, but it is now urgent to bring wealth and manpower down to earth, for the time-bombs are ticking fast. Consequently, since the transition began when people placed a "tall order" for services, the real question to-day is whether or not we will soon have the "perfect slaves" that will let us jump into the new Age.
If we have the perfect slaves in time, all the human "i" factors to which we referred earlier will develop in symbiosis with machines that will represent "wealth"; wealth will remain productive, making it possible to fit work, ingenuity and creativity in a stable social framework. If we do not have the perfect slaves in time, if machines do not get smart enough to allow for a multiplying effect in high services pretty soon, then work, more than ever, will be for the few... and there are these time-bombs ticking.
Disquieting? Rejoice people, for we have made it! Right when it seemed to become a toss-up whether our society would self-destruct with the bangs of war and revolution, or quietly go with the whimper of decadence, we made it! We have found these perfect slaves that we were looking for to make re-entry acceptable: Helots are here
In Ancient Greece, Spartans had a curious breed of slaves that gave them an advantage over other Greeks: Helots. They were not real slaves; they were vastly more intelligent than horses or Barbarians and could even speak Greek. They were more than biomachines - terminating one was called "killing" - but they had somehow less rights than real human beings. Spartans loved Helots, because they could pass over to them every chore, including administrative chores that required some brains, and spend all their time getting tough and waging war against their neighbors, which is what Spartans really liked to do.
From the heathen land of Cybernia, we now have gained access to a new breed of slaves: Helots, robots, automata that merge the muscles of machines and the brains of computers and can really handle high services. Not all high services, not yet, but enough to make the costly robot a worthy multiplier of many high services, and enough to make Capital an essential factor of production of enough high services for our social structure based on wealth not to disintegrate. This ends transition, and manpower and wealth can now prepare for re-entry; but re-entry in a new world, with new ways to work and new ways to rule.
First, since wealth can now be diverted massively to the sector of services, we must suffer no more constraints in consolidating industrial production. We must come down from orbit and do to-day, for industry, what we did for agriculture 40 years ago. Industrial production in America accounts now for the same percentage of manpower (18%) as did agriculture at the beginning of the Forties; 15 years later, this percentage in agriculture was down to 10%, now it is less than 4% and still diminishing. As a consequence of this mechanization, the major economic strength of the U.S. since the last World War has not been high-tech production but simply the extraordinary productivity of its agriculture!
Unless we accept once again to play the card of productivity without constraints, and to do it NOW in the whole industrial sector, "helotizing" (robotizing) our industry, high standards of living, in a generation, will not be in North America but in East Asia, from Korea to Singapore.
Second, get people to participate. As we move out of transition, after millennia of work that were a long quest for leisure and a brief interlude during which work was artificially made desirable, the labour force will find no dearth of work to do: we have other needs to satisfy, which have been neglected and must now become priorities. The new activities however will not mean "work" in the manner we have been accustomed to think of work... and they will not be "jobs"!
There are above the Prestige Barrier, needs to be satisfied and wishes to be fulfilled, whereof we are not even conscious, because we have been conditioned to feel that their satisfaction was less important than the production of goods, that providing them would be too time-consuming for anybody to expect society would do it, or that they required so much dedication that the initiative was better left with individuals.
In fact, the main reason these needs were ignored was that the proper answer for them did not fit the framework of industrial society: it called upon the "i" factors - interaction, initiative and imagination - more than the standard jobs would allow... and it is "jobs" that were needed, jobs that linked workers to machines and to a wealth-based power structure. But now, the day of these exclusively human "i" factors has come.
Because the Toil Age is over and that jobs will not be back, it does not mean that our society will grind to a halt. It will catch its second breath and will strive once again towards more worthy objectives. The old flame will be rekindled, if we adapt and get some simple facts through our stubborn brains: work is not a blessing, it is a curse; it is a social obligation for all, not the privilege of the few; there will be less and less of the type of work we have known and we should welcome this trend; from now on, we should just work to produce, never "produce to work" anymore.
Most of all, we must recognize also that the WINs have achieved Plenty. The essential difference today, between us and the rest of the world, may well be that we do not expect more happiness to spring forth from our assembly lines and arrow-diagrams. Our civilization knows, and most of all our YOUTH knows, that the answer to our philosophical Angst about the purpose of life does not depend on a further increase in material well-being. So we better adapt fast, because the new challenge, in the coming Age of Creativity, will not be to have everybody working but everybody thinking... and this is a brand new game.
It is the moment of truth for Homo Sapiens. Civilization was born of "leisure for the few" and unfortunately grew out of the misery of most men. Our society's responsibility, now that circumstances have freed us from the burden of toil, is to take the necessary steps to liberate the creativity of everybody in our affluent society and to accept the challenge to think. It is now Goodbye, Homo Faber and a chance for Homo Sapiens, but we need new rules for the new game.
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