I - RULES OF NECESSITY
4. CHALLENGE OF ANARCHY
The creative imperative brings about new ways to work with Helots, with momentous consequences on the job framework, entrepreneurship and manpower participation. These in turn will modify our ways to govern ourselves and be ruled, because we may have, at last, all the "manpower at work"... but with so much more clout that it may well be "if it wants to work", when it wants to, and more often than not at its own price. We may end up with workers - and everyone is a worker - too cocky by half for their own good and ours. Freedom has its dark side also, which is anarchy.
The cocky worker
With increasing specialization, each of us will become more dependent on others than ever before. What is happening is that all workers in symbiosis with machines, hired or self-employed, will now become more and more unique, less "faber" and more "professional". The result will be to make each of these new worker/professionals harder to substitute, to make him one-of-a-kind, or at least a member of a more select and continuously dwindling group of "specialists". The whole of this complex society of ours will become more dependent on the indispensable contribution of smaller, and smaller groups of individuals whose bargaining power will grow tremendously because, as a group, they will be absolutely irreplaceable... It is another rule of necessity that, as members of a complex society, we must develop solidarity .
And it is not just numbers either; the i factors reflect the personality of each individual, so that the very nature of professional services tends to make each worker irreplaceable, not only in terms of his productive capacity as a symbiot, not only as one of the members of an exclusive club of experts, but even as a person. Any doctor is not your doctor, and any teacher is not your child's teacher. This personalization, together with professionalization, increases still more each individual's own bargaining power. Growing interdependence changes the rules, because everybody will be granted a lot more bargaining power and this means a more equal, but also more fragile, relationship among social partners.
Do not believe for a minute that the immediate impact of this new distribution of power will be to turn the table in the negotiations between the investors/machine-owners and the salaried workers. Labour unions do not hold all the trumps and it will not be the "dictatorship of the proletariat" for the asking. This particular scenario will not materialize, for two complementary reasons.
First, trying to take advantage of this change in bargaining power to the benefit the "working class" as a whole would be barking at the wrong tree. Since the day of the "Santa Claus Agreement", every last penny of the global profits of investors has been handed back to the worker/consumer, so the simplistic exploitation model hardly applies anymore. To change the criterion for distribution from "equilibrium between production and consumption" to "give more to those who have more bargaining power" would hardly promote more justice.
Come what may, "profit" already all goes back the way of the workers, so more demands from more powerful groups would simply create problems. Those with more bargaining power would get more, while others, through loss of purchasing power or otherwise, would naturally get less. Think, even to-day, about the middle-income bus-drivers on strike to "get more" from a State-owned Transportation Authority; is it really the capitalistic bourgeoisie that suffers... or mostly consumers in the low-income tier of society?
The complementary reason is that most major labour unions now represent a complete cross-section of the labour force, and so must reconcile the conflicting interests of their huge memberships, which makes "Peter vs Paul" largely academic in organized Labour. Labour leaders are themselves senior top-dogs in the Technostructure, who have learned the lesson of the "level of consumption income" and who most usually behave like the statesmen they are expected to be. Those who don't, get knocked down - or grounded - quite quickly...
The problem will not come from organized Labour, but from smaller and smaller groups of workers whose bargaining power will grow and become unacceptable. "Bargaining" is not at all an academic concept, when it changes the "terms of trade" amongst the working professionals themselves. As everyone becomes more and more specialized, unique, indispensable, we necessarily become as a group more interdependent. Simultaneously, everyone becomes more independent as a professional and more dependent as a consumer... and workers/professionals may drive a tougher bargain with the workers/consumers than top-dogs ever did.
"Worker/consumer -vs- investor/producer" might have been an obvious oversimplification but it was symbolic and could make sense. A more complex society, based on the exchange of services rather than goods, leads to a multidimensional and versatile pecking order, with the power flowing from one man or group to another; there is no easy way to simplify this type of situation. Whenever the worker/consumer - becoming the "professional" consumer - develops a serious case of "split personality", he may throw his professional Mr. Hyde at the throat of his own Dr. Jekyll the consumer.
No mention anymore of "class struggle", nor tunes of "Solidarity
Forever": the cocky and irreplaceable worker, the worker that circumstances
make it impossible or atrociously costly to replace, may become a class
unto himself and, once in a while, may prove to be pure, solid, egoism.
Whenever this happens, it breaks the Rule of Solidarity and it reads "tilt"
on the social evolution pin-ball machine.
The "tilt" factor
Society was born with the division of labour and is based on an acceptance of complementarity, the constraints on the development of which are also the practical limits to the growth of society itself. Some of these constraints stem from human nature and circumstances; people, for instance, may prefer some types of work - or not to work at all - irrespective of their aptitudes, while society will progress only insofar as those who can make it progress accept to contribute their efforts.
When the limit of the contributors' "goodwill" is reached and egoism prevails, it does not allow for growth in complexity through willfully accepted complementarity and the evolutionary process stops dead in its track. Egoism is a "tilt" factor that plays the role of a switch-off, bringing the consequent stagnation, duress and misery, until some more solidarity is learned by all the participants the hard way and progress may resume.
This familiar stop-and-go process towards complexity and civilization has always been going on and may go on forever. Creativity, autonomy and participation will grow by the day, from now on, in our society, and will modify the structure until their impact is blocked by human egoism... for the time required for the lesson of solidarity to be learned. What we cannot predict is the timing of the halts, how frequent and how long each will last.
The creative imperative makes us more interdependent, and thus makes us also more equal and more free. But free to do what ? It is a thin line between negotiations and blackmail by omission, and as we become more interdependent we must also become more responsible. This is the Rule of Solidarity. How long before we find, in each autonomous individual, the minimum sense of responsibility commensurate with the authority and power that circumstances blindly put at his disposal in a Creative Society? How long, this time, before we can safely trust that all participants have learned of interdependence and that their behavior will be up to the standards asked of members of the Alpha Brotherhood?
Do not think that egoism is restricted to the top-dogs and big winners. Usually, winners may be expected to part without qualms with the minimum of efforts and wealth necessary for the game to go on. The immediate danger rather lies with the collective and individual behavior of the "nouveaux riches" of leisure.
Collectively, their egoism may become a challenge to production. Few things in this world can be so irritating as the holier-than-thou attitude that glows in a collectivity of individualists condemned by fate to perform a task they consider below their dignity. Production, in our days of affluence, is so all-pervasive that it fades into the landscape, becomes invisible, and may appear to many as not having the importance it used to have. This is a very dangerous illusion, because our welfare, our lifestyle, our access to leisure, our chance to daydream for a while and to let our conscious thoughts address sophisticated considerations other than mere survival, all of this is obviously dependent on this affluence of ours, which itself rests on a production system whose importance must remain unchallenged.
If this is forgotten, like it was for a while by many in the Sixties, if the system is pushed faster than it can evolve, away from responsibility, personal commitment and work towards supposedly loftier objectives... this too is egoism and a break of solidarity with those who must keep the wheels turning. When we fall into this trap, we must soon come down to Earth, not only because the Big Production Machine must be kept running at all time, but also because it creates political tensions and an uneasy consensus on the ways to rule. A society cannot survive many bursts of this type of collective egoism. Beware lest we tilt the system...!
Then, there is individual egoism. For the new affluent and leisure-rich, the declining value of money in a service-oriented society provides the perfect occasion for solid egoism. We are not talking here about money losing its value through inflation, but about money losing its value as a privileged medium for exchange. Money was meant to buy goods; it was the universal exchanger that could time-delay and average values, and thus could make our society really one-track minded... But a universal exchanger is not as good for buying services...
The value of services will not be so easily averaged, because it is purely circumstantial. A service may be precious in certain occasions, worthless in others, and it is impossible to "save" services for future use. Services cannot be accumulated as wealth, but must be acquired when they are needed, sometimes badly needed, which is when their circumstantial value is highest. Therefore, unless the worker who has services to offer has himself some pressing need to satisfy, it is always basically a seller's market for services, a situation that is now compounded by increased specialization and the professionals' affluence.
The consequence is that not only the value, but also the price of services may get to be very high, if whoever can provide the required service happens not to be in dire need of anything in particular and is not in the mood for altruism. Suppose that the physician you need already has enough money, and that the marginal value of leisure, for him, is such that your "wealth" is not sufficient to motivate him to act. What then? The problem is that growing affluence will allow more and more people to resist at will the material lures of positive reinforcement. And this will happen at the precise moment when interdependence will demand more commitment than ever to the performance of the services that each of us may offer to society.
The problem is not one hundred thousand air controllers acting as a pressure group - although it might do for a start - but one hundred anesthetists, in Chicago or Los Angeles, acting on the faith of a tacit gentlemen's agreement, who could just stay home until they were begged to accept... one million? two...? accept what, if money is not that important?
Well, if not money, maybe you can offer other "services" in return. What do you have that he might want? Barter certainly does not look like an improvement upon a money economy, but it is not because it is undesirable that we should close our eyes and pretend it is not going to happen. In a services-orientated society that has reached affluence, the capacity to get what one wants will depend more on one's aptitude to offer services that are in demand than on the possession of goods of which so many may have more than enough.
This will mean a lesser role for money. Wealth as a symbol of power and money as a universal exchanger both will lose importance; what will become more important will be the possession of arcane knowledge, rare skills, influence... The new imperative brings forth a whole gamut of fancy wild cards for the power game. Influence, for instance, as a wild card, is already omnipresent with this "Do-not-bribe-me-but-owe-me-a-favor" way to do business, that prevailed first in America and then in other WIN's, and which now so confuses some of our foreign business relations.
Dealing with wealth was simple; bartering and peddling of I.O.U.s redeemable in services is not. When wealth becomes less important, people acquire prestige and clout in accordance with what they are and what they control rather than what they have; it means more relative importance for services rather than goods, which leads to lesser importance for wealth, which leads to more importance still for services... One of those beautiful positive feedbacks that make history for a while. But it is a puzzling game and quite a challenge when everyone has a joker in the hole...
A challenge to the present rules of the game, to the actual pecking-order,
to the social framework within which we work and, finally, a challenge to
the structure of power itself: the challenge of anarchy, as we begin to
wonder what will make people tick on time and behave like social animals.
Beware lest we tilt the system...!
Tyranny of the Individual
In a primitive society, interdependence led straight to negative reinforcement and to a power structure that imposed compliance with a social obligation to work and contribute to the common good. A creative imperative, however, precludes this alternative because of the very nature of the obligations that are expected from the individual: it is possible to promote entrepreneurship of a sort in a climate of repression - it is called revolt - but certainly not creativity, nor positive feelings. It is not possible to impose the type of work which is now required of the labour force.
When the unprogrammable becomes the only field of human activity, the kind of work that remains to be done can be done only in freedom. Scared as he may be, subservient as he might feel, the individual himself cannot blow his own mind nor can he, of his own free will, change his own feelings. The unprogrammable is, of its very nature, the un-controllable and the un-enforceable.
The type of work that cannot be imposed effectively makes for free workers, while interdependence makes for irreplaceable workers. Together, it means that our society faces a situation in which it may merely create the most favorable conditions for work, set up the the best framework, and "encourage" more self-motivation in workers together with a greater sense of responsibility. Coercive action is practically preempted.
This protects us from the real nasty solution of negative reinforcement, and it does it the way it really counts, making virtue all but inevitable. On the other hand, we have no solution to the problem of those who are not willing to put their shoulder to the wheel, or who are more than willing to abuse the situation. And this is only one aspect of a much broader question. There is a lot of talk about individuals being at the mercy of Society, but the truth is that a complex society cannot help but be continuously at the mercy of each individual.
At the mercy of each crackpot who may poison candies or throw bombs,
of course, but of each egoistic s.o.b. also, whom society has provided with
unique experience and knowledge, who may one day happen to be the "man
of the situation" for you, or me, or of us all ... and whom affluence
endows with a choice to "take it or leave it" when the time comes
for action. Therefore, I will indulge, just once, in the rare pleasure of
emphasizing what I believe to be an understatement and may become a prophecy:
"The greatest challenge our civilization will have to face, in
the first years of the Creative Society, will be the impending threat from
individuals, or small groups of people, who will abuse a situation of growing
The ball is in society's court, to act now against vandalism, terrorism, anarchy. It will be until the overwhelming majority of Do-not's are back in the fold. When it is done, then can we deal with the dark side of freedom? Can we cope with it? How brash and aloof may we all get, how far may we go before we fall prey to anarchy? Machines brought more equality in wealth, because it was in the interest of an effective majority to defend a system that would collapse if wealth was not distributed more equally. Helots from Cybernia will inevitably bring more equality in power, that is more freedom, because interdependence and the impossibility of efficient negative reinforcement leaves no alternative. People want more leeway, more freedom, more space to breath, to think and to create, they want less government... and they will win their case, because Helots make it possible and the new balance of power will bend to fit the rules of necessity. How can the State react to the threat from the dark side of freedom?
The social trend, now, is not towards more intervention from the State, more collectivism, socialism or communism, but in the opposite direction. The lure of the Left is now passé, so let nobody misread the new challenge which, from now on, will be brinkmanship to the Right: how much solidarity will our society be able to generate, allowing for how much freedom, individualism... and complementarity. How close may we get to anarchy and come back to tell about it?
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