Last week, writer, broadcaster and activist Aaron Bastani had the opportunity to speak on the BBC Radio 2 to Jeremy Vine and his listeners about his ideas for a form of technological utopia, or as he calls it “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”. His book of that title is not due to be released until January 2019, so it seems like the purpose of talking about the topic now is to push for pre-orders on Amazon.
The idea in his book though (or as it will be) is that “new technologies will liberate us from work, providing the opportunity to build a society beyond both capitalism and scarcity. Automation, rather than undermining an economy built on full employment, is instead the path to a world of liberty, luxury and happiness.”
Throughout the Radio 2 segment, I couldn’t help but think “it’s already here”.
The masses (for which I’m supposedly a part of) go about their daily lives as part of a system, doing what is required of them in that system; doing a job that needs doing, buying the products that are suggested to them through advertising, living lives in a way that are portrayed to them through a multitude of media streams, from what’s on TV and in films, to what’s shown in the news and revealed through various pieces of statistical research, mimicking the others around them within that system through peer pressure, what’s perceived as cool or acceptable, and how and what they’re taught through the education system… which is pretty much what the whole system is, it educates us in its ways, or rather, trains us. The system feeds us everything from food to information, and therefore the outcome is determined. Well, it’s as determined as it can be for something that, while being described in this overly simplified fashion, has a vast array of complexities.
The outcome of a system is generally to the benefit of whoever puts it into place and not necessarily to who operates it. Take a car as an example system; we might perceive that we buy and operate it for our benefit since it gets us from A to B – we are the operator – but we didn’t create that car, therefore the manufacturer is a primary benefiter since they get to sell you a car (although the system itself is what benefits). However, if we were to delve a little deeper we might consider why we chose to by a car, or why that particular car, and aside from the benefit of getting from A to B, what the downsides are.
Rolling a little bit further along with my car-system analogy reveals even more. Not only do we buy a car to get from A to B; that might be our rational assessment, but there is much that is irrational, or subconscious, in our decision-making and here things such as advertising and peer pressure play a part; we aspire to being the portrayal in the advertising, such as swooshing through the countryside in majestic fashion, and we’ll want our peers to be impressed. Nothing wrong with that, you might say, but a downside might be the pollution we cause, or the rabbits we kill, or it may well be the number of hours we have to work in order to pay for that car, and how much our lives suffer for that.
- “It’s okay, I can afford it”, or
- “I’ll take on extra shifts”, or
- “I’ll take out a loan”, or
- some other means
Point 1 illustrates various things; namely that you’re fortunate in your finances, but why not question where your money has come from? What things you have to push on and sell to others in order to acquire that money (therefore further fuelling the system)
Point 2 illustrates how you become a victim of the system, working to pay off the things, and into that very system that encouraged you to take on that extra burden in the first place.
Point 3 illustrates again either how much of a victim you are to the system, or your naivety. I don’t mean this in a derogatory way but many people are so lost in the system that they don’t consider how it works, and to whose benefit. Loans are to be repaid, either with interest, which means you have to do even more work for the system, or even if it’s interest-free, you will likely do extra work for the system to ensure you pay off that loan before the interest-free-period runs out. Either way, the system is making good use of you. By good, I mean you are of benefit to the system.
It’s not that all work is bad (although that might be a matter of perspective); some of us have jobs we enjoy doing, but we can still question things like why we do the work we do, why does such a job even exist, and what effect this has on the rest of the system that pays our way?
The only way to break out of this is to be above and beyond the system, or in control of it (which is a highly unlikely situation), and who are those that are above and beyond it? The so-called Elite. The top 5%, or perhaps less than that.
For them, fully automated luxury communism is here. The system is well-and-truly in place. The people beneath them go about their business, in a fully automated manner, carrying out what is required of them in order to provide the comfort and luxury to their masters. Slavery was seemingly abolished, but I don’t think so; just because we’re paid to do work doesn’t mean we’re not slaves, we might be well paid but this all relative to what others around us in the system are paid, and what the system defines as a minimum or liveable wage.
Really, even if you’re quite high up in the pecking order, but not in the top 5%, you’re still a puppet; millionaires frolicking about in their expensive cars are just tools to the system like the rest of us. Of course, on the one hand we can be a part of the system, whilst on the other using it to our advantage, or at least not using it to exploit others.
The only argument that remains from Aaron Bastani (that I will raise here at least) is that he would like to see this Fully Automated Luxury Communism “for all”. How then do you get from an existing system that functions only for the benefit of a very small minority, whilst using and exploiting the masses, to one where all can enjoy that luxury? I don’t think you can. His answer is Technology, that technology is what provides the “automation” he describes, whereas it is people that provide the automation. I think “technology” or “science”, is the answer given to those that are lost to the system. That “technology” will somehow fix our current system or all that is wrong with the world (climate change could be an example), when it is the system itself that created the need for that technology and the problems that have resulted. How has technology changed how wars are fought around the world? I think there would need to be an entirely different system, one where such luxuries as we mere mortals perceive them don’t exist, or where the level of “luxury” is at a mean average of what so-called luxury is today.
We don’t need to live in luxury, not material luxury at least, it’s only the existing system that tries to sell it to us in order to provide luxury to those at the top. Happiness doesn’t come from material luxury, but unhappiness can certainly be found by feeling like we are missing out or lacking something others have when they are portrayed as being happy in their luxury.
You can read more about Aaron Bastani’s ideas here: www.vice.com/en_uk/article/ppxpdm/luxury-communism-933