Utopia Lost: The Case for Radical Technological Optimisim
July 29, 2017 3:25 PM   Subscribe

"To understand how to defeat Trump, we must understand the relationship between automation, capitalism, and Western-style Enlightenment democracy." In a wide-ranging essay, cartoonist, writer, and educator Dale Beran (previously, previouslier, and previousliest) draws upon history, literature, and social theory to envision the future.
posted by zchyrs (69 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I guess I'm sympathetic to the aims of this piece but that was a hell of a lot of words and vague digressions to say "we need UBI and a social safety net" and maybe I misread it but I didn't see much in the way of advice for how to get there besides suggesting the left abandon civil rights campaigning in favor of economic issues. Am I being uncharitable?
posted by Wretch729 at 4:11 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


Admittedly a hot take, I'll go rfta next, but I was 100% on board with UBI until someone both wiser and more cynical than I pointed out it would just raise the baseline arbitrary fees on poverty-level services to absorb it in its entirety. You know, like for-profit colleges exactly absorb federal student aid.

Sure, you can try to legislate protections in with UBI but you already had a nearly impossible road to hoe and now you need to get consumer protections in right or risk whatever good you intended immediately becoming yet another payday for the usual rentier suspects.
posted by abulafa at 4:40 PM on July 29 [10 favorites]


Ah, another longform piece determined to avoid the elephant in the middle of the room labeled "bigotry".
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:56 PM on July 29 [15 favorites]


I've just started the whole thing, but I'm already shaking my head. I'll go back and continue reading, but I felt like pointing a couple things the author has wrong just in their initial argument.

Like, this:
How did nearly half the country elect someone opposed to America’s core values?
That's just a fundamental failure to grasp the whole whitelash thing: it's been demonstrated the Trump support was most strongly correlated with racism and sexism. He doesn't *oppose* American values, he embodies a significant - though no longer majority - set of values that have been a part of our culture from Day 1. It also skips past issues like gerrymandering and foreign collusion that must be addressed when seriously considering 'how'd we get here?'

And there's this:
For these reasons, I will argue that the only way to avert the disaster of Trumpism is to paint a positive alternative vision for radically changing society, that the Left must abandon its defense of the status quo (“liberalism”) and embrace instead a message that we as a people can invent any future we want for ourselves, that we can dramatically alter our society for the better.
The current situation with healthcare demonstrates that this just isn't true. That was a step toward a brighter future: 'let's none of us get bankrupt by medical costs anymore, okay?'

It was fought tooth and nail, often by the very people it would help the most. It's true that many of those people are coming around to it, but that was a teeny-tiny baby step compared to rolling out something like UBI.

This essay is just... naive. Technology can't solve problems without social buy-in, and someone who ignores that from the outset, (and misreads the society that needs to buy in so badly), cannot be expected to have helpful things to say about it.

I'll go have another look before I slag it any further because it's possible there are some useful ideas buried amid all that, but I'm not hopeful.

Upon preview:
tl;dr: Mostly what NoxAeturnum said, at first glance.
posted by mordax at 5:05 PM on July 29 [20 favorites]


It’s more likely that advances in automation will take power from the elites and put it in the hands of the people.

I am not sure this has ever happened in a sustained way....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:10 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Yet another guy who thinks Hilary Clinton is in power. If only we could get rid of the liberals, we would somehow have socialism! The Republican party simply doesn't exist! And liberals are the fools for worrying about fascism rather than adopting all the author's beliefs!

His analysis of Trump is a canard: that Trump voters wanted to "wipe away the unjust and seemingly intractable power structure of 'elites'". No, Trump voters were not downtrodden workers calling out for socialism. They favor 'elites'— they just want them to be like themselves: white and well-off and male. We make a big deal of Trump's low popularity, but it works the other way as well: an astonishing 38% of the population is just fine with what has turned out to be very traditional conservative governance. The populism that he showed in the campaign turned out to mean nothing, and the conservatives do not mind that it's gone.

That he "represents a total victory of business over politics" sounds kind of right— the GOP is the Money Party— but really makes no sense. Trump is a terrible businessman, a cheater and a bankrupt. What he's good at is being a candidate; that is, the pre-election part of politics. Businessmen do not all vote GOP, but those that do swallowed hard and voted for him, because they were more afraid of strong regulation and losing a Supreme Court cases.

There's no huge mystery about why the right wing surged in the 1980s: the Southern Strategy. Liberalism was enormously popular until it made a decisive turn to embrace civil rights for blacks. Good riddance to the bigots! Only it turns out that there were an awful lot of them, enough that liberals lost control of government. (Yeah, we've had Democratic presidents; they can't enact a liberal agenda when Republicans control Congress.)

I have a whole page on what liberalism really is. It's not "the status quo"; it terrified rich people. And rather than laugh at "1950s ideals", why not adopt the liberal, 1950s idea of a 90% top marginal tax rate? Then you could, you know, actually pay for your UBI.
posted by zompist at 5:10 PM on July 29 [31 favorites]


Middle to late 18th century, humans became slaves to machines, rather than slaves to the seasons, wildlife numbers, or warlords. For the human machine slaves, working in factories significantly lowered their lifespan, and completely degraded their quality of life. The automation did not work for the factory slaves, it worked for the factory owners. The automation did not grant new political rights, it created a route to autonomously make even more money, at other's expense.

There are still stone age people on the Earth. There are still iron age, and copper age people on the earth, herders who burn animal dung for fuel, herders who roam with their herds and live in convenient shelter, that is not automated at all. Many Navajo still live in mud and wood hogans, without running water or electricity. There are still virtually uncontacted Navajo in the American Southwest. Much of Siberia is without automation, in between larger towns. People live as they have lived hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Fascism was a response to the continued economic disenfranchisement of people, by the greed of successful petit bourgois capitalists. It was hopeless then as it is now. But now the mainstream media, and diy media, the web, are still run by the highest bidders who work full time rationalizing the robbery, and creating terror to keep people hopeless, frightened, hateful, and working still. Obama offered hope to those socially if not mortally disenfranchised by the color of their skin, by their youth.

When the great big money stream going into the pockets of the oligarchs, large and small, is diverted by social programs, or uppity educated folks who want to work for a better society, then more diversions come along to keep the powerful in place. Religion is a tool for keeping women in their places, not liberation. The prepper movement, is all about the promise of a new wild west or east where singular men with rule with guns, from tiny fiefdoms.

Shriven, selfless theocracy, oh please, that never happened. The religious aspect of this all is just more PT Barnum, with most of the sacrifice coming from women, and denying women control over their bodies so they can survive, and the children they want to have can survive. But no, women's bodies have been strapped to the wheel of capitalism to fund endless market base, endless workers, endless consumers. What is going to happen now, when robotics take over? AI has already taken over so much, you don't notice it. Downtown in Ogden, Utah is a 20 or so story high building built in the 40's style, and you can see the clouds through the old Wells Fargo tower, no one works in it. There is no one keeping physical records, no clerks, no ledgers, only air. I am, for the most part, my own bank clerk. So, the physical work, the manufacturing is on the way out. Anyway.

Most people in The Middle Ages had a block view, or a hovel view. There was no world view, there was no globe. Religion had little to do with view, it was just another industry that employed people, and spies. Religion was a business that did nothing but support their corporation in an endeavor that was essentially focused on its survival as business endeavor. Actually believing in the divine was for the marks and rubes.

So now the evangelical movement keeps people busy, the apocalyptic thinking keeps people in destructive mode, I see a huge gap between the religious right, the religious period, and the reality of living on the planet in a sustainable way.

I wrote this reply as I was reading the piece. A lot of people have worked a long time to bring us forward, in all kinds of ways, environmental people, socially responsible people, humanists, philanthropists, medical people, teachers, farmers, hunters, conservators of all kinds, and the wall is that even the language of our history implies that we are base, brutal, do not believe in sharing. Even that there were not enough resources in the middle ages, or during a famine, these are lies. While most people suffered, the organizers of the economy that served them, were fine. They ate, the priests ate, those living far out in nowhere, ate as they always have, or haven't depending of nature and fate.

Most of us are concerned about the block we live on. Most of us, are in the thrall of powerful local chieftans, tribal leaders, religious leaders, military dictators, criminal enterprises, poisoned environments, receding forest lands, usurped homelands, loss of agricultural lands for small farmers. All of this is traced to the few that do not care, but hold power because they are empowered by systems of belief, systems of survival, or tradition.

Another thing in play is history. In the west we talk of Alexander the Great, Caesar, Cyrus the Great, Ghengis Khan, as if they were truly great. While these models for war colleges everywhere did their damage everyone else was making a farm, a home, a little garden, a rug makers place, running some camels. We have survived in spite of our leadership, all the way along. I don't want to see the great American experiment go down. At all, I am enraged by nuclear brinkmanship, and the fact we have allowed it to go on, because it feels so real for the guys. We weren't supposed to get new members in that club.

The most populous cities in the world with the exception of two maybe three, are coastal cities. Is this from whence our new slaves, that we don't need, will come from? Mass migration from environmental disaster that it is inconvenient to consider for those with their eyes on the continuing prize? What is the prize, apparently it is charred steak with ketchup, ice cream, and pussy.
posted by Oyéah at 6:15 PM on July 29 [13 favorites]


It’s more likely that advances in automation will take power from the elites and put it in the hands of the people.

Yes. The common people will absolutely rule the soup lines.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:18 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


Kept reading longer, and just... wow.
For example, as we shall see in the next section, the thinkers who invented the idea of modern democracy (that people should rule themselves as opposed to being ruled by a king) were often technologists inspired by how advances in automation could grant new political rights.
Like, really?
Automation can be more rightfully considered a solution for society’s ills if we abandon the 1950s ideal of a society based on middle class jobs generated by a capitalist boom.
And the same engineer's disease thing of 'society would be fine if I just waved my hand and everybody agreed with me instead of having their own stupid ideas about how society is organized.' It's one of two bad, horrible, no good ideas threaded through everything I got through: the notion that people will fall in line because of a chart or a wordy argument that hinges on defining a lot of words and referencing a lot of dead guys.
Currently, the Left in the United States objects to much of what Trump does. But it has not offered its own comprehensive vision for the future.

It only reacts.
And this would be the other thing: as zompist mentions above, he's completely mischaracterized the Left. That's the line where I stopped reading, and will indeed never be interested in another word by this guy.

Up side, I get to say this: a sufficiently stupid and strongly held opinion is indistinguishable from trolling.
posted by mordax at 6:45 PM on July 29 [12 favorites]


I got to the first chapter past the intro and saw I was about 7% down the scroll bar. I figured there was little chance for improvement, and if it did it was buried under so much "I didn't have time to make it shorter," that I had to prioritize...the rest of my life.
posted by rhizome at 7:05 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I was 100% on board with UBI until someone [...] I pointed out it would just raise the baseline arbitrary fees on poverty-level services to absorb it in its entirety.

Sorry if this is a derail, but this position is based on flawed reasoning. Who's going to raise their prices by the exact amount of UBI payments? Landlords? Utility companies? Grocers? They can't all do it without coordinating to decide how much each of them gets to raise prices, which is both illegal and (because so many parties would be involved) highly impractical. Yes, the ownership class will do everything in its power to recapture that money, but that's true of literally any mechanism that redistributes wealth downward.

Implementing UBI successfully is likely to be far more complicated than just writing everyone a check every month, but that doesn't mean the basic idea is unworkable.

This recent UBI thread has a lot of faulty arguments, but also some good rebuttals. I recommend it to anyone who has (or is trying to form) an opinion on UBI.
posted by shponglespore at 7:37 PM on July 29 [7 favorites]


The two prongs in American politics are those who thoughtfully wish for a relatively classless society, and those who stubbornly resist change by believing that money will make them free, with no need for liberalism. And because liberalism looks like taking people's money and giving it away to the competition, it causes freedom-buyers even more anxiety. Enter UBI, which looks conservative for this reason, never mind that robots haven't eliminated work yet. UBI also replays their victory over welfare by simply showing off the cash abuses and making it politically impossible to support. Food stamps, however, were nearly impossible to wipe out, but not for lack of trying. UBI is outdated, both politically and by inflation. But what is never outdated is a digital method that instantly subsidizes approved purchases of food, clothing, rent, school supplies, and even tuition. Because proper accounting is maintained, both the seller and user risk losing the privilege when they are caught abusing the system. And nobody is politically scandalized for paying someone not to work.
posted by Brian B. at 7:52 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Here's some automation links:
1/2 of low-skilled jobs with another 1/4 going overseas.
Some generic hand wringing over automation.
And an oldie but a goodie to check your situation. Planet money from 2015.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:52 PM on July 29


And the same engineer's disease thing of 'society would be fine if I just waved my hand and everybody agreed with me instead of having their own stupid ideas about how society is organized.'

Engineer's Disease: not just for engineers anymore! This sentence seems to imply that anyone who finds fault in the way society works and has the audacity to suggest a way to improve it must be suffering from some kind of delusion.

It's one of two bad, horrible, no good ideas threaded through everything I got through: the notion that people will fall in line because of a chart or a wordy argument that hinges on defining a lot of words and referencing a lot of dead guys.

All right, so I'll admit I haven't read TFA yet, so perhaps you're reacting to Beran declaring himself God Emperor and demanding obedience from his poor readers, but it sounds an awful lot like you're saying people who use graphs, cite sources, or make complicated arguments are, ipso facto, arrogant jerks.
posted by shponglespore at 7:58 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


So in the Australian press there's been a bit of talk about how people in vulnerable positions often fall back on bigotry as kind of a fear reflex. I wonder a bit about people putting Trump's victory entirely down to bigotry because that's not a particularly intersectional approach; he talked a lot about good jobs and winning and being prosperous and sticking it to Ghina and Trump's message was relentlessly focus tested through repeating the things that got the cheers at rallies because Trump is vain as buggery.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the racism and sexism is a big problem but America should still bring back unions.
posted by Merus at 8:08 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]


My sense from the bit that I read is that he's doing that thing where you surf the tropes. He presents undefined terms and concepts as "the way things are" without support, kind of like "accepting each of these biased sources as true, what's going on is..." as an academically condescending explanation.
posted by rhizome at 8:09 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


And nobody is politically scandalized for paying someone not to work.
Heh, my facebook feed occasionally explodes in a bunch of assholes lying about watching someone use SNAP to buy beer, so the idea that "regulated and approved" subsidized purchases will avoid political scandalizing is a bit funny to me.
posted by xyzzy at 8:39 PM on July 29 [4 favorites]


All right, so I'll admit I haven't read TFA yet, so perhaps you're reacting to Beran declaring himself God Emperor and demanding obedience from his poor readers, but it sounds an awful lot like you're saying people who use graphs, cite sources, or make complicated arguments are, ipso facto, arrogant jerks.

Why don't you, I dunno, read the fucking article?
posted by mordax at 8:59 PM on July 29 [10 favorites]


And to expound on that point:

No mechanism is identified by which anyone *should* be persuaded by his arguments, which is what lands this squarely into Engineer's Disease territory. He offers no way to convince people who frequently obtain a great deal of self-esteem from the idea of working why they should not be filled with existential terror at the prospect of being replaced by robots and hoping for the best.

Further, he's factually incorrect in a number of key spots, some of them all the way down to grade school stuff. Oh, and he is completely ignorant about the goals of the Left, claiming they're purely reactive. Further, he's willfully ignorant about Trump, refusing to acknowledge the sexist and racist bent of 45's base, acting like any of us think having bigots among us is somehow an anomaly in need of a wanking techsplanation.

But again, I'm sure you would've known all that if you'd actually taken a look at the turd before delivering that hot take.
posted by mordax at 9:08 PM on July 29 [6 favorites]


Ah, another longform piece determined to avoid the elephant in the middle of the room labeled "bigotry".

haven't read the piece yet, have noticed more than just the one elephant in the room, America being an enormous room.

Why don't you, I dunno, read the fucking article?

Because somebody's playing the Alan Parsons Project way too f***ing loud.
posted by philip-random at 9:11 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is a shaggy dog essay. Author makes the point that a new vision of governance is needed. That it's very necessary. And not that difficult. Then after many pages we hit the last sentence of the essay which is unbelievably: "....the first and best way is to fully articulate our own better vision of the future, a beautiful dream that can supplant their nightmares."

Yes, yes it is the first and the best way. I say yes. Yes. Though what I'm saying yes to I haven't a clue.
posted by storybored at 9:21 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


Articulation. Concise analyses. Sounds like a great idea.
posted by rhizome at 9:27 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


I read the entire article, but as I did I argued with it, and decided to make notes to myself, as my comment. That is where most of my comment comes from. This guy says the left is just reacting, well they are reacting to all their gains willfully destroyed because of white bigotry, that is the tool of run amok speculators who have 45's ear and post their wish lists every other minute to willing tools like our interior secretary, and our energy secretary.
posted by Oyéah at 9:28 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


He offers no way to convince people who frequently obtain a great deal of self-esteem from the idea of working why they should not be filled with existential terror at the prospect of being replaced by robots and hoping for the best.

Objecting to a UBI isn't going to stop the advance of automation. It often feels like in these discussions the UBI is treated as a proxy for automation as a whole, and that by defeating the UBI so is automation defeated.
posted by Pyry at 9:55 PM on July 29 [3 favorites]


Objecting to a UBI isn't going to stop the advance of automation.

*sigh*

Okay, so my actual degree is in economics, and I don't object to a UBI. Quite the contrary: everything I was taught indicates that direct cash transfers are more efficient than ration coupons like SNAP, that means testing is a huge waste of time and that not taxing the shit out of our wealthiest people is causing us problems laymen would pick up torches and pitchforks over. Plus, it seems to me like EIC is a little baby step toward UBI anyway.

Pissed as I am at shponglespore's needless and rude comment to me, we're actually in about the same position here: it wouldn't be as simple as cutting checks, but UBI is technically feasible, just complex.

My problem is strictly with this shitty essay. The essayist has swept into a field he knows nothing about, (one I shed figurative blood, sweat and tears to learn about), failed to do even the most basic of due diligence, and is making a bunch of wildly inaccurate assertions like they're facts. I am unwilling to assume he's well intentioned because he's yet another white guy telling us that Trump is totes not about the racist appeal, and I'm at a point of 'fuck anyone who says that.'

As for your point: you are absolutely correct, there's no stopping automation. Jobs are going away. However there will be a strong movement to oppose UBI, much of it from the very people automation is poised to starve. I know these people. Hell, they're not all even conservative: I have socially lefty friends who believe the government is evil because that's the culture they're steeped in. That's a real problem, and... you know, I don't entirely know what to do about that. And to be fair, I wouldn't have expected the author to solve it either. He falls into the realm of 'delusional or trolling' not by failing to fix it, but by insisting that problem doesn't even exist and that people are somehow clamoring for his ideas. That is actual crazy person talk.

Anyway, I feel like I'm sucking the air outta the room, so I'm going to step outta this thread for now.
posted by mordax at 11:24 PM on July 29 [9 favorites]


this is a fun and well articulated marxist (and i mean that philosophically, not pejoratively) take on trump. but if liberalism is really just a superficial shell on a perverse anti-humanistic capitalist society, how do you explain the steady advancement of human rights from 1865 to today in the US? there must be something to be said for such progress under a Liberal society, no?

i am however sympathetic to the notion that tech is the driving force behind all social change and we are about to embark on technological change that will totally reinvent our culture. i think the author is right on there.
but i don't know what form the new society will take, and i don't necessarily think the old dichotomy of liberalism vs marxism is instructive. particularly since the author him/herself takes great pains to remind us that every society is myopic in seeing all problems thru its own unique, ahistorical prism...

but a good piece overall.
posted by wibari at 12:02 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


I'm going to echo a point here, because it infuriates me to no end.

From TFA: Currently, the Left in the United States objects to much of what Trump does. But it has not offered its own comprehensive vision for the future.

What the -actual fuck- does the Left need to do to get people to acknowledge that we have an agenda, ideas, plans, and so on? Hire skywriters? Shout it from the rooftops? Tattoo it permanently upon the foreheads of news anchors? Clearly referencing them in every debate, in interviews, on the campaign websites and so on and so forth is somehow insufficient, since this argument keeps being put forth by people.
posted by Archelaus at 12:06 AM on July 30 [14 favorites]


There are still virtually uncontacted Navajo in the American Southwest.

This is a pretty big claim. I couldn't really find anything to support that after a quick search. Can you please provide some more info? I would love to learn more.
posted by Dokterrock at 12:24 AM on July 30 [3 favorites]


Argh

The whole thing with this is trying to pretend progressive style American liberalism doesn't exist and also Futuristic socialism doesn't exist (which is older! Soft social Sci-fi novels radicalized Eugene debs) and also that the whole thing about automation will lead to the worker's paradise thing doesn't exist or that modern calls for fully automated luxury gay space communism doesn't exist, so....

This is basically an essay by someone who doesn't know anything about anything.
posted by The Whelk at 1:14 AM on July 30 [8 favorites]


(Seriously FDR style American Progressivism was literally a response to socialism and to give them a small S version to save their necks and it remains super popular (because it was big and fire everyone) and even that was super into technology )
posted by The Whelk at 1:21 AM on July 30


so many of my arguments about a new technocratic lesuire future come from 19th century socialist science fiction writers who imagined an entirely automated society

Like get on my level you dweeb.
posted by The Whelk at 1:28 AM on July 30 [3 favorites]


"uTrpm won because Democrats didn't do X."
"They bloody well did do X! Clinton wouldn't shut up about X! They had reams of policy information about X! HOW DID YOU NOT SEE ANY OF THAT."
"When you're as smart as I am evidence becomes superfluous and, let's face it, kind of tacky. If I were to constantly test my own theories against reality and back them up with independently-verifiable data it would be tantamount to admitting that I'm not completely awesome and didn't figure everything out based solely on first principles. Also, medium.com pays by the word."
posted by um at 1:33 AM on July 30 [13 favorites]


How do you explain the steady advancement of human rights from 1865 to today in the US?

What is called 'energy slaves'. The use of old ancient sunlight expressed as coal and oil. The labor of a fit male human in the upper body is 90 or so watts. A fit-ish human can pedal a bicycle to an output of 200 watts for 7-8 hours. At under $.50 a watt for solar panels you have the labor of a man as long as the sun shines. For 20+ years.

Another thought experiment: Take a gallon of gas. Get in your car and drive. When that runs out, find some human who'll push the car back to where you started for the cost of that gallon of gas.

so many of my arguments about a new technocratic lesuire future come from 19th century socialist science fiction writers who imagined an entirely automated society

And, just perhaps, they got that from either the Greeks or the 1920's vintage Technocracy party as both spoke of working only enough to get to the point of leisure. With the Technocracy people advocating mass production via automation. One of the shining stars of Technocracy came up with the idea of energy accounting - eMergy.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:52 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


Sorry if this is a derail, but this position is based on flawed reasoning.

I don't want to play the whole "Well, actually, I just wrote a book that is at least in part about this exact issue" card, because so much of what I put into that book I learned at the feet of folks hereabouts to begin with.

I will say, though, that the idea that in the absence of socially-provisioned housing, healthcare, education and mobility, any UBI will merely be siphoned back up in the form of user fees for those services is robustly supported by the available evidence. As people have pointed out in this very thread, specifically with reference to for-profit colleges.

This isn't some thought experiment. There's no "reasoning" involved, flawed or otherwise. There's simply attention to the consequences of forty years of triumphant neoliberal public policy. Private actors arise and evolve to more efficiently capture public disbursements. And we see this in every domain, from healthcare to educational assessment to prisons. Anybody who advocates a UBI without first accounting for these conditions just isn't paying attention. Despite whatever intention they may have to secure economic justice and universal well-being, they've announced themselves as useful idiots, and will wind up doing more harm than good.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:39 AM on July 30 [10 favorites]


My belief is that the theoretical underpinning of the entire argument is now under question as the dominant logic theorem begins to leak water globally. That is, this middle aged white man's perspective, utilizing "Western Enlightenment" as an ersatz state of Nirvana, and drawing a historical timeline going back to 10,000 BCE only to emerge with ONE world view of how things go down and what influences which philosophies, is in itself the filter bubble that is fundamentally a part of the original challenge itself.
posted by infini at 5:23 AM on July 30


Why do we even need the "I" in UBI, fund Amazon as a public resource, remove the "Cart" portion, hook in a really good ML module that takes input from the required Alexa and home automation sensors and just have automatic deliveries of what people actually need (with an small percentage of 'want' included in each delivery). Everyone Happy.
posted by sammyo at 5:29 AM on July 30


Because rent. Utilities. Movie tickets. Car servicing/repairs. Haircuts. Etc.
posted by um at 7:49 AM on July 30


Because rent. Utilities. Movie tickets. Car servicing/repairs. Haircuts. Etc.

Shhh, you'll only encourage them.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:07 AM on July 30


More seriously: though it is, again, a self-link, I encourage folks who are interested in these questions to read my book's chapter on digital fabrication.

Here it is in a nutshell if you can't be bothered. If you want to work toward fully automated luxury gay space communism, that's fine with me, but know that:
- we're a long, long way from addressing the real material and energetic constraints on digital-fabrication-as-distributed-means-of-production;
- the usual FALC calculus fails to account for the material heterogeneity of most useful things;
- the usual FALC calculus omits the cost of assembly labor, implicitly devaluing it; and perhaps most importantly...
- absolute material scarcity isn't really the pressing issue for most of us in the first place.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:17 AM on July 30 [4 favorites]


I guess exactly what Adam Greenfield said better possibly having been the original source of my reconsideration. I Do buy a certain transitionalist argument that this income could have a real effect on the borders between total wastelands with no business and urban business centers by creating a means to live without existing work centers in low-rent areas and actually use that as a springboard to establish resurgent business environments.

However, anybody reasoning from the ease of moving jobs or residences is falling prey to the same misguided rationalism that suggests anybody staying in a job where they are unhappy, exploited, or otherwise mistreated is somehow the problem. The notion that this is a slow transition ignores the immediate cost in favor of an unproven theoretical advantage much like the long-term inflation argument. Also, the rentier class both will not tolerate that inflation and is better suited currently to fight it from an influence, lawyers, and money perspective.

There are a thousand small knock on costs to relocating a residence, job, or any other part of life. For all the evolution and fast progression we've made I still observe the human reflex is to stay where you are, dig in, and try to make it all work until there's nothing left or you are so far in debt that the next move becomes one of desperation. Sure, this is often is due to the proximity of family for reduced-cost child care and other tendrils of the epidemic lack of any safety net, but that only demonstrates further that at the very least UBI needs to come with significant protections across lots of other entitlements and probably very strong defense against the simplistic and misguided urge to use UBI as a mechanism to leave it all up to the free market.

Sure, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but I stand by the evaluation that there is such an incentive mismatch and interest opposition to the network required to make this approach function in the US that at best it could be something like an experiment at the town, county, or in some utopian future maybe state level.

Although I recognize it's a ridiculous fantasy, I'd love to see a Colorado pot money funded UBI experiment as it might be one of the few places able to withstand the inevitable Federal backlash, defunding, and demonization party that would follow for any sizeable experiment of this nature.
posted by abulafa at 8:20 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


Starting in the mid to late 1700s, people figured out how to use machines to produce a startlingly vast amount of energy and work. We call this “automation” or “technology.” And the era it created, the “modern” or “machine” age, is profoundly different from all other eras of human history. In fact, it’s the most significant thing that’s ever happened to us.

And what else happened at the time that the lines on the charts started shooting upwards suddenly?

Oh, yeah. We started using oil as an energy source. And in two hundred years, we burned millions of years' worth of accumulated energy, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the environment.

That seems to be in contention for the "most significant thing that's ever happened to us" prize.
posted by MrVisible at 8:44 AM on July 30 [2 favorites]


(Let me apologize for the formatting of this, evidently my phone hates line breaks.) Wow. I'm genuinely surprised at how much vitriol this essay elicited. I knew (I hoped) there 'd be critique. It's obviously the farthest thing from a perfect argument, a little naive, and confused on some points. But I actually really enjoyed reading it, and thought it had some genuine value. Reading y'all's replies made me feel like a dummy. If that's true, so be it: I've been a dummy. I'm not close to an expert in any of these topics, but as somebody with a stake in the future of my country and my planet, I'm an interested party. My positive takeaway from TFA was basically: - Technological change drives political change - Technological change is inevitable - It's up to us to harness this inevitable change to improve society. (The implication as I understood it being that tech is never an unalloyed good. I have a hard time reconciling this with the idea that the author suffers Engineer's Disease) - It's imperative that we get on this RIGHT NOW and do not fall into the trap of being only reactive (I disagree, along with others here, that we/the Left has already fallen into the trap) I also was intrigued by the idea that Enlightenment values and Capitalism are intrinsically at odds with one another. I'd never heard that articulated before. Also, the story about his dad just got to me, and I thought it was a good metaphor for the overall point he was trying to convey. To those of you who had beef with the article, can you recommend anything to read that does a better job articulating and arguing for this kind of worldview (or critiquing it). I mean that 100% sincerely, not snarking! I really would like to better my education in this sphere. Thanks.
posted by zchyrs at 10:33 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


But technological change does not drive political change.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:34 AM on July 30 [1 favorite]


I find the argument that technological change drives political change compelling enough that I'm willing to give the idea some credence. That doesn't mean I think it's necessarily true. I'm definitely interested in knowing what the counterarguments are.
posted by zchyrs at 10:44 AM on July 30


Let me clarify that gross oversimplification, if I may, in a coupla bullet points:

- The kind of "disruptive" technological change we've all gotten so used to appears to leave entrenched incumbents intact.

- By contrast, the kind of political change you're looking for is the project of centuries, and if it's "driven" by technological advancement in any meaningful sense, I'd take a cue from MrVisible's suggestion above: gross redistributions of societal power seem to be roughly correlated with step-changes in the amount of free energy available.

- There does appear (to me, anyway) to be some sense in the notion that a massively distributed means of production, running on ultra-low-cost energy, would occasion a refactoring of sorts in the political calculus we contend with.

- The other thing that's going to refactor that calculus, however, and do so much more reliably and in much shorter order, is the hollowing-out of the economy by automation.

- I don't think we can make meaningful predictions about what everyday life or the political order look like in the aftermath of such wholesale reformulations, but I do know that the will to power is amazingly tenacious, as is the human desire to exploit and abuse other human and nonhuman beings.

- We cannot assume the conditions of justice will arise automatically at any technological epoch, but must organize and fight for them independently and with those conditions held as explicit ends.
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:45 AM on July 30 [5 favorites]


My problem with the essay is that it's part of a recent, yet well represented oeuvre in which the author ties themselves in logical knots, all in service to avoiding the acknowledgement that yes, our society is rather bigoted when you get down to it. Part of the issue is that he starts ff by trying to say that globalization is a synonym for global capitalism, when it isn't - global capitalism is part of it, sure, but there's also a whole social aspect to it as well.

There's also the issue that he seems unable to grasp that the left's objections to what far-right populism represents is actually framed in a positive worldview - we find sexual assault objectionable because we believe in a world where women are seen as people, not objects of sexual gratification, to give an example. The people who supported him didn't do so because he would wipe away the elites, they did so because he would make their bigotries acceptable again.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:28 AM on July 30 [6 favorites]


they did so because he would make their bigotries acceptable again.

And while this might work within the city limits of Mechanicsburg or whathave you, the minute you take all that technological change/progress/whatnot, you're half outside that world already and in touch with minds around the planet.

I expect heads will start asploding soon from the sheer dissonance of it all.
posted by infini at 12:53 PM on July 30


I also was intrigued by the idea that Enlightenment values and Capitalism are intrinsically at odds with one another.

I would make the opposite argument, having watched communism implode in many forms, in many countries. Supply-side socialism (aka communism), in owning production, was over-wrought and missing the point. In it's predictable failure, it then turned on itself, to where thought reform was a government priority. It ends as a repressive police state with one party, merely trying to live up to a failed prophecy made by a false prophet of doom (as they all are). Their mistake was to completely ignore distribution, the demand-side, where social goals are democratically achieved by simply taxing wealth or production in order to distribute the benefits. It is a golden goose, efficient as regulated competition, and it doesn't require a revolution led by pseudo-intellectual bullies.
posted by Brian B. at 1:40 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]


Yeah, from a business perspective, UBI is asymmetrical warfare that tells the rich *exactly* how much they can screw the poor over for. Not good.
posted by Yowser at 3:39 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I somehow managed to read most of that. Man the writer seems like a total crank.
posted by Yowser at 3:44 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


His definition of liberalism might be off. It also might be a clue for future progress. (Even though he doesn't believe in progress, he believes in disruption).

As a fan of disruption, he missed the historic lesson of the failure of Occupy and Tea Party to merge, mostly due to Tea Party bigotry.

If we're going to dislodge the oligarchs, we need to prepare for the next 2008 meltdown or 9/11 because those moments are where the boulder budges and actual work can get done.
posted by surplus at 4:31 AM on July 31


I wouldn't agree with "total crank," but I do think of his essay as sort of diagnostic of a deeper challenge running through our time, which is related to the ease with which just about anyone can position themselves as an "expert," and be taken as one.

Most of us who were around for the early web, I'm willing to bet, nurtured in our hearts at least some commitment to the radical democratization of knowledge, however inchoate or inarticulate. We believed that (what we mistook as) the horizontal topography of the network would drive a flattening of access to information, and therefore, eventually, a broader diffusion of expertise in the culture.

Now, this may or may not be in the process of happening — as I've indicated above, these processes take a very long time to unfold in full. (Apocryphal or not, the old story about Zhou Enlai's take on the French Revolution is germane here.) But what has definitely happened is that we no longer have any collectively-agreed-upon set of tools to assess expertise.

We can see this all over the contemporary sociopolitical landscape, from antivaxxers to the processes that gave us a President Trump. And one of the modes in which this rupture of consensus appears to us is in the appearance of a great many would-be experts, most of whom have little more to their name than a minimally credible website and perhaps a video of them giving a local TEDx talk.

It would be rankest hypocrisy for me to throw too much shade on this process, by the way, because this too is who (and all) I am myself. I have no credentials to speak of in my nominal area of expertise, at least none that would have satisfied the generation before mine. I'm honor-bound to argue, therefore, that the democratization of expertise is in general a good thing. My point is, though, that with that democratization inevitably comes a willed departure from any notion of quality control. This guy appears to be a beneficiary of that departure, and it's why his analysis is so infuriatingly shallow.

Finally! The reason why this is anything but a wordy derail is that any UBI done properly ought to lead to a further spike in people with enough energy and time on their hands to make themselves experts (or "experts") in whatever field they care to. If we ever get anywhere close to FALC, one of the downsides we can assuredly look forward to is having to spend a much greater proportion of our own time and energy batting down the offerings of the ill-equipped, underinformed and not particularly well-grounded. I, for one, would be happy to strike that bargain.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:46 AM on July 31


As a fan of disruption, he missed the historic lesson of the failure of Occupy and Tea Party to merge, mostly due to Tea Party bigotry.

Do you actually think this was even remotely possible?
posted by thelonius at 5:09 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, that came off sounding snarkier than I wanted. I'm genuinely curious if anyone thought merging Occuoy and the Tea Party was an actually achievable goal.
posted by thelonius at 5:32 AM on July 31


The commonality was Tea Party and Occupy discontent with the bailout and theft.

Viewing their differences as Social Conservatives vs. Social Liberals, a merger would never happen.

Focusing on the commonalities might have worked, if leadership on both sides had noticed the opportunity and the absolute necessity that they merge.
posted by surplus at 5:52 AM on July 31


But, if you accept that the Tea Party's seminal purported grass-roots outrage against consumer mortgage bailouts was genuine, how would they ever get behind, say, student loan forgiveness?
posted by thelonius at 6:12 AM on July 31


Consider this article today from The Guardian. I refuse to even put the headline down
posted by infini at 6:24 AM on July 31


any UBI done properly ought to lead to a further spike in people with enough energy and time on their hands to make themselves experts (or "experts") in whatever field they care to.

its not that bad over here in HEL
posted by infini at 6:27 AM on July 31


if leadership on both sides had noticed the opportunity and the absolute necessity that they merge

A, This strikes me as merely the bottom-up version of David Brooks's occasional wankings on bipartisanism, and worth just as much, but still more so...

B, "leadership"? Leadership? I mean...did you ever spend so much as a minute in any Occupy camp, meeting or activity? I could see referring to the Tea Party as having "leadership," because, as we know, it was only ever an astroturf initiative. But Occupy? C'mon.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:36 AM on July 31


And if this is coming off snarky, well, I may not intend it to be, but I don't precisely regret it, either. The assertion that there was or ever could have been a moment at which Occupy and the Tea Party might have merged strikes me as a concerted exercise in overlooking the nature of both formations.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:39 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


There is a lot wrong with this article, but when he weirdly veered off into a critique of the TV show Game of Thrones, he lost me entirely.
posted by davejh at 7:11 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


Nerds gonna nerd.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:30 AM on July 31


>> But, if you accept that the Tea Party's seminal purported grass-roots outrage
>> against consumer mortgage bailouts was genuine

I honestly thought their outrage was at governments bailing out the banks.

>> B, "leadership"? Leadership? I mean...did you ever spend so much as a minute in any Occupy camp, meeting or activity?

Well obviously I don't meet your gatekeeper requirements because the answer is NO I wasn't there. And yes there was a failure of leadership to emerge in any formal way despite the presence of many notable participants and influencers. Maybe that's a starting point for improvement, the next time we have a crisis.


>> The assertion that there was or ever could have been a moment at which Occupy
>> and the Tea Party might have merged strikes me as a concerted exercise in overlooking
>> the nature of both formations.

I disagree. I think Trump is in power because much of the Tea Party morphed into alt-right when there was an opportunity for the left to recruit the less bigoted Tea Party membership.
posted by surplus at 8:33 AM on July 31


And yes there was a failure of leadership to emerge in any formal way despite the presence of many notable participants and influencers. Maybe that's a starting point for improvement, the next time we have a crisis.

Um, no. Occupy was an avowedly leaderless, horizontal formation. Anyone asserting themselves as a "leader" would have been torn down, and deservedly so.

There's a line between legitimate ignorance of the facts and sealioning, and I'm doing my damndest to extend to you the goodwill of assuming you're on one side of it.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:36 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]


[Sorry, this is a derail, and I'm kinda threadsquatting anyways. Recusing myself now.]
posted by adamgreenfield at 10:05 AM on July 31


Please extend your goodwill to my contention OWS enjoyed an extensive list of esteemed speakers who could have encouraged OWS towards a structure with leadership.

The speakers needed to ask the crowd if they wanted to be a movement. Without direction, there is no movement.

It's relevant to this article to suggest that it will be a crisis, not a technology trend, that provides the next opportunity for the masses to dislodge the oligarchy. I hope we prepare better for the next crisis.
posted by surplus at 11:07 AM on July 31


There's a line between legitimate ignorance of the facts and sealioning,...

I had to look up sea-lioning and was not disappointed.
posted by Brian B. at 8:29 PM on July 31


fwiw, here's crooked timber recently on why opensource, commons-based peer production hasn't replaced capitalism:* Why Coase's Penguin didn't fly
In short – we need to distinguish between the rhetorical claims that technological change will bring openness along with it, and the (far more sustainable) claim that technology will probably only have openness enhancing benefits in a world where we are already dealing with the underlying power relations. The best recent account of this perspective that I’ve seen comes from Astra Taylor in The People’s Platform.[1,2]
openness alone does not provide the blueprint for a more equitable social order, in part because the ‘freedom’ promoted by the tech community almost always turns out to be of the Darwinian variety. Openness in this context is ultimately about promoting competition, not protecting equality in any traditional sense; it has little to say about entrenched systems of economic privilege, labor rights, fairness, or economic redistribution. Despite enthusiastic commentators and their hosannas to democratization, inequality is not exclusive to closed systems. Networks reflect and exacerbate imbalances of power as much as they improve them.
If BoingBoing socialism is ever going to approximate actual socialism (by which I mean egalitarian social democracy), these are the problems it has to deal with.
i guess i'm somewhat of a technocultural determinist[1,2] -- after being exposed to economic determinism in high school -- but reading gellner on the industrial revolution...
Industrial society is the only society ever to live by and rely on sustained and perpetual growth, on an expected and continuous improvement. Not surprisingly, it was the first society to invent the concept and ideal of progress, of continuous improvement. Its favoured mode of social control is universal Danegeld, buying off social aggression with material enhancement; its greatest weakness is its inability to survive any temporary reduction of the social bribery fund, and to weather the loss of legitimacy which befalls it if the cornucopia becomes temporarily jammed and the flow falters. Many societies in the past have on occasion discovered innovations and improved their lot, and sometimes it may even have been true that improvements came not as single spies but in battalions. But the improvement was never perpetual, nor expected to be so. Something special must have happened to have engendered so unusual and remarkable an expectation.

And indeed, something unusual, something unique, had happened. The conception of the world as homogeneous, subject to systematic, indiscriminate laws, and as open to interminable exploration, offered endless possibilities of new combinations of means with no firm prior expectations and limits: no possibilities would be barred, and in the end nothing but evidence would decide how things were, and how they could be combined to secure desired effects. This was a totally new vision. The old worlds were, on the one hand, each of them, a cosmos: purposive, hierarchial, 'meaningful'; and on the other hand, not quite unified, consisting of subworlds each with its own idiom and logic, not subsumable under a single overall orderliness. The new world was on the one hand morally inert, and on the other, unitary.
and plough, sword and book i think better frames power relations in terms of production, coercion and cognition and more generally/abstractly 'epistemic authority'. rifkin, for his part, i think has an intuitive handle on updating this -- if somewhat jargon filled[*] -- for our present situation. anyway, like, as much as technology and globalization are limited by politics, i also think they shape politics as well.
posted by kliuless at 10:43 PM on July 31 [5 favorites]


And continuing in the oeuvre of "tying oneself in knots to avoid discussing bigotry" with a side of Berniebroism, we have Edward Luttwak's hot take on a 16 year Trump dynasty.

I feel dumber for having read this.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:09 AM on August 1


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