While saving various links to a notes file over the past week or so, what was percolating in the back of my mind was something along the lines of my roundabout on mediocrity, not least because this, too, is about whole-personhood and its thwarting. Instead, as the title suggests, here are six links followed by one final, the payoff.
I understand the need for growth – and not just economically. Even on a personal level, it has always been my philosophy to try to be a lifelong learner, to always be growing in some way, and I certainly won’t fault small or medium-size businesses for trying to grow their companies. But beyond a certain scale (like for a hypothetical example, if you were a billionaire VC), I like to imagine that there are more productive things to do than to find the next big thing you can exploit to grow your slush pile and maybe think about how you can help make sure no one is unnecessarily left behind by all this growth.
Will that be enough? I’m afraid I’ll always feel the influence of the inescapable capitalism that without a doubt will corrupt the way I see myself doing or not doing things. This makes it especially hard to think about the concept of achievement fatigue: is this my own self yelling to stop and think, or is this some kind of trick to motivate me to keep on pushing forward and doing more? Despite having achieved quite a bit (according to myself?), a little voice tells me I could have done so much more in the time that was given to me but now is squandered.
“As traditional faiths have receded somewhat, we’ve filled the gap with the faith of work – for meaning, our identity, our place in society, and as the focus of how we interact with each other. And work has its true believers,” argues Benjamin Hunnicutt, professor of history at the University of Iowa, and author of Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream. Less than a decade ago he faced death threats in response to writing an article proposing the introduction of a UBI in the US. “Work has even become the primary way in which we judge each other, a focus of our morality. Society instils in us the belief that if we work hard, all sins are forgiven. If you toil hard enough, you can ignore your children’s piano concert, or whatever. ‘Having to work’ excuses anything. And it’s been so long it’s hard to imagine a realistic moral alternative to work. So, there’s a fear of leisure.”
Like, we live in a capitalist society – I am definitionally not being paid enough to risk anything for my employer, because unless you are working for an employer who doesn’t know how to do capitalism right, your very time is just as much a commodity to your boss as that package of Ding-Dongs. They count on getting it at a cheaper amount than you’re apparently able to get for yourself so they can extract the surplus value. As an ambulatory package of Ding-Dongs that’s able to run a cash register and mop floors, why am I risking a beat-down – or, to be frank, the moral disfigurement of doing violence to another human – for the sake of an actual package of Ding-Dongs? If you’re going to commoditize my labor – my time, my life – please don’t add insult to injury by demanding I internalize your owner-class interests at the expense of my own physical and moral wellbeing.
I think that is probably a better indication of where the problem lies. What twisted logic makes us think that work is something we can use to feel good about ourselves, something we can use to impress. Almost as if it were the most valuable part of our lives, the forefront of our reputation towards society. Why isn’t it acceptable for us to answer with other facets of our life? Is it because we feel people are not interested about the tomatoes I grew in my garden this summer, or the fact that I have finally been able to talk myself into getting an appointment with a therapist? I feel like these should be much more valuable human accomplishments than having a good position at a well known company.
Ancient Romans had (a lot of) slaves. Ancient Romans only allowed a tiny number of men, specifically, to vote. Ancient Romans imposed a violently enforced extractive empire around the Mediterranean and beyond. A philosophy that arose from those conditions might give me pause to emulate in a modern setting — at least, as someone who believes imperialism to be evil, slavery in all forms to be unacceptable, sexism to be harmful to all, and actual one-person-one-vote democracy to be the most reliable way of allowing some measure of self-governance by the people.
At this point, a question arises: if these people are working with technologies they believe to be dangerous, why not simply alter their own behavior voluntarily? After all, they are in the best position to control the development of AI software, certainly better than a perpetually deadlocked Congress populated by conspiracy theorists and addled octogenarians. This contradiction is likely a result of opportunism and hypocrisy on the part of many individuals, but I think it points to a deeper truth. These powerful CEOs feel incapable of controlling their own creation because the AI apocalypse has already happened. We are all already stuck in the clutches of an algorithm that determines our fate with total indifference to human needs or values. That AI is known as the market.