Inventing the Future – Srnicek

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The Four Demands

  • Full automation – rather than fighting machines, aim for 100% automation of labour. This would mean the ability for wealth to grow without human labour needed. Our basic human needs would be fulfilled by machines. 100% automation will never be achieved, and that’s ok.
  • Shorter work week – moving towards a post-work future. The most effective way is to start by decreasing the working week, which will increase labour bargaining power, and force automation innovation.
  • Universal Basic Income – a non-means tested income for everyone. This celebrates the achievement of technology on human life and gives more power back to the labour force. It frees people up to choose whether to work or not, or follow less conventional paths.
  • De-glorify work – we have made work a central part of our self-identity. We look down on the people who don’t work, and pretend that we are all working “for more than the money”. “Wage labour” doesn’t give our lives meaning, human interaction, betterment, growth, does. It’s just that up until now these things have been tied to wage labour.

Core ideas

  • Fetishising localism – lots of movements today overly fetish the small and local because it is less complex than the global. What this often does however, is ignore the inescapable realities of the global and live in a sheltered reality of the seemingly local. “Small is beautiful” is the mantra of this vision, which forgets that if we were still small, the world would not be as “advanced” as it is today. Globalisation and connection have advanced humanity much further than small pockets of people could have done.
  • Neoliberalism – The reason neoliberalism is a difficult concept to grasp is because it is both a economic principle as well as an ideology. Neoliberalism is the all-pervading ideology that every aspect of human life can be treated as a market, and optimally a free-market. It has become a mode of our existence. The idea of “free” markets has moved outside the business world and into our private lives. We ourselves as a unit in competition for every aspect of living; work, relationships, friends, etc.
  • Folk-politics – this is the worst part of the book. They attempt to fight fetishising with fetishising. I’ll use someone else’s definition as this part is blocked from my memory. “An activist ideology that is small in its ambit, focuses on immediate, temporary actions rather than long-term organizing, focuses on trying to create prefigurative perfect ‘micro-worlds’ rather than achieving wide-ranging system change” – Uneven Earth
  • Cultural hegemony – They argue that neoliberalism has been successful because if planted itself over the years as a dominant way of thinking, a cultural hegemony. And that in order to move towards a post-work world, we need to create our own new cultural hegemony that dominates people’s common sense.
  • Breakup of the working class – in the past the working class was a strong force driving against capitalisms downward pressure. However, the modern working class with it’s weak trade unions, diverse gender, ethnic, and socio-demographic makeup cannot organise around shared ideas or goals. It has been fragmented to the advantage of the neoliberal capitalist.
  • Post-work world – The underlying idea of the whole book is that we should move towards a post-work world where work is no longer linked to wages. This means that people will be able to “work” on things that interest them, bring them joy, etc, rather having to do whatever will bring a wage to support their livelihood.

Criticisms

  • This book is extremely bipartisan. It encourages the “us and them” view of left and right politics which is what many “lay persons” have come to hate about politics. I think in order to really move forward we need to get past parties and attack ideas rationally.

Notes

  • Conspiracy theories are powerful because the answer a fundamental existential question: who is behind it all. They give order and purpose to a meaningless, chaotic world.
  • As the world becomes more and more complex (and our understanding of it) it becomes harder and harder to understand how our lives fit into the global narrative. Distinctions between good and evil blur and we become left with a pervading sense of confusion, emptiness, and apathy.
  • It’s so hard to read a book that is so bipartisan and polarizing. Despite the good ideas that might come out of it, I think that this type of “us and them” attitude is more detrimental to society than anything else mentioned within the book.
  • The idea of every citizen voting on every political issue via technology in a techno-democracy is ideologically flawed. Everyone would be biased by short-term thinking, local needs, and lacking expertise.
  • Drill into any socio-political topic deep enough and you will become inundated with opposing facts that make cognition, consensus, and action feel impossible.
  • “Localism is about ignoring the complexity of global issues”, but if there was a move towards local, wouldn’t some of the complexities from global diminish? They argue that local is ignoring complexity, but isn’t it reducing it?
  • Neoliberalism has become a mode of our existence. The idea of “free” markets has moved outside the business world and into our private lives. We ourselves as a unit in competition for every aspect of living; work, relationships, friends, etc.
  • Neoliberalism is the all-pervading ideology that every aspect of human life can be treated as a market.
  • “Synthetic freedom” is not only having the theoretical freedoms outlined by law, but more important is having a ‘material capacity’ to achieve them. “Being free to run for prime minister is great, but without the funds and social resources to run a campaign it is meaningless”.
  • The future will be “work free” but not “labour free”. The difference being that work is labour that is paid for. It is labour done out of contractual obligation. The distinction is vague and situations that challenge the division are easy to come up with. The important part is that people will still expel effort to learn, achieve, grow, but they will do it not under the context of work, but rather under the context of passion, joy, and volition.
  • Forget utopian fantasies, make utopian demands.
  • When decisions need to be made, people use the solutions that happen to be lying around at the time. Hence to steer future action, cultivate the current pool of possible, idle solutions.
  • The Overton Window is the range of ideas and solutions that can be feasibly discussed, considered by media, politicians, etc at any one time. As society progresses, the Overton window shifts, making things that were once unthinkable, become plausible.

Quotes

  • “Politics without passion leads to cold-hearted, bureaucratic technocracy, then passion bereft of analysis risks becoming a libidinally driven surrogate for effective action.”
  • “As a result, despite everything that has been written about capitalism, we still struggle to understand its dynamics and its mechanisms.”
  • “The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the problem of democracy today is not that people want a say over every single aspect of their lives. The real issue of democratic deficit is that the most significant decisions of society are out of the hands of the average person.”
  • “The problem with localism is that, in attempting to reduce large-scale systemic problems to the more manageable sphere of the local community, it effectively denies the systemically interconnected nature of today’s world.”
  • “It is likely that the ideal method of global food production will be some complex mixture of local initiatives, industrial farming practices, and global systems of distribution. It is equally likely that an analysis capable of calculating the best means to grow and distribute food lies outside the grasp of any individual consumer, requiring significant technical knowledge, collective effort and global coordination. None of this is well served by a culture that simply values the local.”
  • “Fetishising the small and the local seems to be a means of simply ignoring the more significant ways in which the system could be transformed for the better.”
  • “in a banal sense, all politics is local. We act upon things in our immediate vicinity in order to change larger political structures. We cannot simply reject the local. But today’s folk-political tendencies invoke a stronger sense of local politics: a retreat into the local in order to avoid the problems of a complex and abstract society; an assumption about the authenticity and naturalness of the local; and a neglect of scalable and sustainable practices that might go beyond the local. While all politics begins within the local, folk politics remains local.”
  • “a significant part of the problem with folk politics lies less in the particular tactics and practices it tends to adhere to than in the overarching strategic vision into which it is placed. Protests, marches, occupations, sit-ins and blockades all have their place: none of these tactics in themselves are fundamentally folk-political. But when they are marshalled by a strategic vision that sees temporary and small-scale changes as the horizon of success, or when they are extrapolated beyond the particular conditions that made them effective, they are inevitably going to be bound up within folk-political thinking.”
  • “We therefore make a grave mistake if we think the neoliberal state is intended simply to step back from markets. The unprecedented interventions by central banks into financial markets are symptomatic not of the neoliberal state’s collapse, but of its central function: to create and sustain markets at all costs.”
  • “Milton Friedman famously put it, ‘Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.’”
  • “neoliberalism has proved itself to be the single most successful hegemonic project of the last fifty years.”
  • “Neoliberalism has thus become ‘the form of our existence – the way in which we are led to conduct ourselves, to relate to others and to ourselves’”
  • “Crucially, the construction of everyday neoliberalism has also been a primary source of political passivity. Even if you do not buy into the ideology, its effects nevertheless force you into increasingly precarious situations and increasingly entrepreneurial inclinations. We need money to survive, so we market ourselves, do multiple jobs, stress and worry about how to pay rent, pinch pennies at the grocery store, and turn socialising into networking. Given these effects, political mobilisation becomes a dream that is perpetually postponed, driven away by the anxieties and pressures of everyday life.”
  • “Over the course of decades, neoliberalism has therefore come to shape not only elite opinions and beliefs, but also the normative fabric of everyday life itself. The particular interests of neoliberals have become universalised, which is to say, hegemonic.”
  • “Neoliberalism constitutes our collective common sense, making us its subjects whether we believe in it or not.”
  • “On this account, postmodernity is a cultural condition of disillusionment with the kinds of grandiose narratives represented by capitalist, liberal and communist accounts of progress.”
  • “In the first place, synthetic freedom entails the maximal provision of the basic resources needed for a meaningful life: things like income, time, health and education. Without these resources, most people are left formally but not really free. Understood in this way, rising global inequality is revealed as an equally massive disparity in freedom.”
  • “Such a policy not only provides the monetary resources for living under capitalism, but also makes possible an increase in free time. It provides us with the capacity to choose our lives: we can experiment and build unconventional lives, choosing to foster our cultural, intellectual and physical sensibilities instead of blindly working to survive. Time and money therefore represent key components of freedom in any substantive sense.”
  • “Work can be framed in contrast to ‘leisure’, typically associated with the weekend and holidays. But leisure should not be confused with idleness, as many of the things we enjoy most involve immense amounts of effort… A post-work world is therefore not a world of idleness; rather, it is a world in which people are no longer bound to their jobs, but free to create their own lives.”
  • “This means that the ‘proletariat’ is not just the ‘working class’ nor is it defined by an income level, profession or culture. Rather, the proletariat is simply that group of people who must sell their labour power to live – whether they are employed or not.”
  • “But, given that the height of the social democratic era required the exclusion of women from the waged workforce, we should in fact wonder whether full employment has ever been possible.”
  • “technology is not uniformly deskilling, and the increased demand for skilled labour over the past century testifies to that.”
  • “A programme of full automation would aim to overcome this as well, through measures as simple as raising the minimum wage, supporting labour movements and using state subsidies to incentivise the replacement of human labour.”
  • “The classic social democratic demand for full employment should be replaced with the future-orientated demand for full unemployment.”
  • “Work, and the suffering that accompanies it, should not be glorified.”
  • “The fact that so many people find it impossible to imagine a meaningful life outside of work demonstrates the extent to which the work ethic has infected our minds.”
  • “The denunciations of utopia’s fantasies overlook the fact that it is precisely the element of imagination that makes utopias essential to any process of political change. If we want to escape from the present, we must first dismiss the settled parameters of the future and wrench open a new horizon of possibility.”
  • “This class – para-digmatically comprised of white, male factory workers – was therefore predicted to become large, homogeneous and powerful, making it the vanguard of a post-capitalist revolution. But this did not happen. The working class fragmented, its organisational structures fell apart, and today ‘there is no longer a class fraction that can hegemonise the class’.”
  • “The internet has enabled everyone to have a voice, but it has not enabled everyone to have an audience.”
  • “A decline in the number of workers overseeing a process also means a concentration of potential power within a smaller group of individuals.”

sebastiankade

Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on sebastiankade.com

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