Scribbler’s Saga #32 – Cons and Fairs May Save Us

Posted: May 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Just a few days ago, I conversed with another writer about my general support for a Universal Basic Income as an inevitability over the next few decades. I cited one of Robert Reich’s video blogs from sometime last year where he defended the future usage of the UBI using this paraphrased syllogism – “in the near-future the 3D printer, the autonomous delivery truck and automated factory will kill many jobs. The successor to this iPhone in my hands, the iEverything box, will become the citizen’s point of contact with that distributed manufacturing culture that will reward the product designer and the owner of the 3D printer or robotic factory, but not the now unemployable factory workers. This iEverything box will still cost money and resources so that the designers and companies controlling those designs want to get paid. However, they will be marketing this iEverything box to a population that is largely unemployed and thus unable to legally acquire this technology to access this creativity economy. Therefore, a reasonable UBI set at a level that takes care of necessities – rent, food, continuing education, reasonable healthcare copays – would also allow citizens to buy the iEverything to participate in the economy to the benefit of everybody because corporations need customers to justify using the electricity to run the factory or 3D printer.” 

The reply – “so, your point is that society will change us from being workers to paid consumers.”

Yes, absolutely.

I went onto state that we would have to become designers, writers, composers, artists, scientists, marketing specialists if we A) wanted more money than allotted to us under the UBI and B) wanted to create the conditions that might make it possible for citizens to be happy in a post-work economy. Nearly everybody writing on UBI cites the assumption that homo sapiens as we currently understand ourselves self-defines according to the things we do.

Aristotle asserted that happiness was “the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in lives affording them scope.” Fancy speak for novelists write books and then try to reach their audience. Or any other nouns dropped in to replace novelists and books in your personal version of that sentence.

This is a good time to take a 45-degree tangent from the retelling of the incomplete verbal discussion with the writer that sparked this discussion to read Yuval Noah Harari’s similar take on The Meaning of Life Post-Work posted today (5/8/17) in The Guardian. Mister Harari suggests that people in the absence of work will retreat into a variety of what are essentially virtual reality systems to find meaning. Whether it be a VR game like Sims, Second Life or some kind of religion, whether a new faith or an old classic, meaning comes from an internal space where we apply rules and order from within.

Mister Harari correctly asserts that the creators of such virtual systems will remain gainfully employed likely forever. Another word for creator in the context of a blog column called Scribbler’s Saga…WRITER. Even L. Ron Hubbard was a writer. Jahweh (or the Hebrew priests and kings that made him up) made his/their point in writing. J.R.R. Tolkien (the subject of many MMORGS) was a writer that created a world we regularly visit between our ears.

This next part of my argument didn’t fully come out in verbal conversation (why we really invented writing), but I went on to say that society will have to change to teach people to be creative. My conversation partner replied with – “I don’t like a democratic culture, I want a curated culture.” On the surface, I agree. Crap can be king in the absence of editors, agents and other gatekeepers.

But, you’ll notice I said society must change to teach people to be creative. Basically, my assertions presuppose a massive overhaul of educational content away from a system originally designed to create the very factory workers losing more of their jobs each year, first to cheap foreign labor and then to robots. Said educational system has only managed to mutate into a dumbed down system to churn out Wal-Mart greeters.

Creativity, as we know it, has been a complete afterthought for much of the past century. People who aspire to more had to fight the forces and lure of “cut your hair and get a job” for much of that time. This emphasis on these now disappearing jobs led to people like my father, who most frequently asks me the – “where do you get your ideas?” – question that I referenced in a previous post.

As a child, I remember being fantastically creative. In one example, I would sit with friends in my room and wax craptological on things like Battlestar Galactica 1.0. Baltar made a Faustian deal for the Fires of Hell to destroy the refugee fleet (all versions of the show later succinctly pitched as Exodus in space). Satan only gives Baltar half those fires because cool like Heaven, just ain’t no good, Baby. We also played roleplaying games to scratch that itch.

I’m the only one in that group that went out on the writer limb. True, they became doctors, engineers and scientists channeling creativity in other ways. These fondly remembered moments tell me children are naturally creative with their own virtual worlds to callback to Mister Harari’s essay.

And bringing this back to my father that reads, but swears he’s not creative, how much of that was because he didn’t have to develop the creativity muscle? He always knew he needed a job, so he learned to sell insurance as ethically as possible. Dad’s exercise of vital powers.

But, what happens if he needed to write a book to avoid going crazy with inactivity? Old and current system, Dad dies on the vine. Hypothetical new system, someone teaches and encourages him to write his book, paint his paintings, or blow interesting glass objet d’art for people’s coffee tables.

Society is changing such that we won’t have the factory, Wal-Mart or the Army to siphon off people striving to find out what their vital powers even are. Education will change with it even if it must dangerously flirt with bumping into George Carlin’s famous observation that – “the real owners of this country only want people just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork, while still being passive enough not to realize how fucked they are.”

In small ways, I was a victim of an education that selected for jobs and security instead of creativity. My Tenth Grade English teacher, Mr. Holmes, was a total dick to me talking to me about my writing. My Eleventh and Twelfth Grade English teacher (electives only, the teachers for the required classes were also assholes), Berkeley Blatz, wasn’t. The small hook needed to be writer, even with an agonizing need to get it right.

I’m basically thinking all of this writer backstory as I’m talking to this guy, but not as articulately as I should (again, why we invented writing). I’m hearing what is basically a nasty form of elitism that he doesn’t want crap flooding our cultural headspace. Neither do I, but we all sort of have two definitions of crap. One is work released before the effort to make it good takes place. The other is work so far from our personal comfort zones that we react violently to it.

The gatekeepers my conversation partner espoused would help greatly with the first category of crap. However, editors and other gatekeepers have the same passions and prejudices as the rest of us possibly explaining how good writers with offbeat stories got crushed by traditional creation models. The answer is more creative people from all backgrounds to serve in those gatekeeper roles.

And I suddenly realized after we’d packed up to go home after our shared conversation and productivity session, that our current social media driven widely dispersed culture model is only “democratic” in the sense that he used the word if you take into account that our education process hasn’t caught up to preparing citizens for the new frontier. Educating more creatives also means educating more gatekeepers with similar skills who can be paid by the first artist to supplement their UBI money providing services, while the artist recoups from the sale of that art.

The neither fish nor fowl state of things as they are today seems virulently “democratic” because we haven’t educated more of those yahoos posting variations of you suck to really use their words and write reviews. The worst resort to vicious attacks from all sides because they don’t like things that fall outside a narrow band of acceptability, whether it’s “Major Kusanagi can’t be white, you’re racist!” – or “Wonder Woman isn’t feminist enough because she shaves her pits!”

But, does this virulently “democratic” culture expression change as we educate more creative people, some of whom will make a living helping other creatives be better? Do we get more comments online that express opinions without crossing the line into attacking? This is a fine distinction between well educated creative and critical thinking citizens who understand the basic Golden Rule of “write the review I want to read about my own work” and just letting everyone have a cell phone with a Post button. I honestly believe that, yes, more creative people will breed more curation. The perceived problem takes care of itself and we don’t have to pine for models that will never pass this way again.

My last major subheading in this imperfectly realized conversation is that writers really become salesmen chasing readership of which the money is a secondary reflection. This means we go to conventions and fairs dedicated to our preferred product line to personally convince the people on the other side of the table to part with a little bit of money and a lot more time experiencing our attempt at communication. As a byproduct we become the ultimate entrepreneurs engaging in the classic small scale capitalism that tells us “greed is eternal and can be good.”

So part of our education to survive in No Job Land will include going to meet other people, potential buyers one and all. And this social interaction will also answer the age old question – what motivates us to get out of bed and live in the absence of traditional employment? Writing and selling books for those of us who don’t heal, design or explore scientific mysteries is one perfectly valid survival plan. I’m ready-ish, are you?

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