Offbeat 20 March 2015
I should be writing something about Independence, and the various levels of contentment that it has bought me, but there are enough people to do that, so I won’t.
Instead I will find my own tangent.
I smoke. I am making steady attempts to stop, at least in my mind, but the going is tough. When the stress mounts, I reach for the comfort of a cigarette, sit back for a minute or two and then get my head down again. It’s not pretty.
I smoke several brands, depending on what is available. Most smokers stick to the same brand, but I reason that if cigarettes were like cake, I would not want to be stuck with the same taste, day after day. No reason to die of boredom while I am flirting with death by lung cancer.
Although the way I light up is mechanical behaviour, my varying choices are my own, and not particularly mechanical. Most people, myself included, are mechanical in some or other way. Call it robotic.
Robots are OK, useful. The main benefit is that they are productive and predictable. I enjoy watching them beavering away at production lines, busy producing stuff that I cannot afford and don’t really need at all. Of course, there is a downside: they take human jobs. But perhaps the lack of variability is a benefit.
On the other hand, robots are also becoming a feature of warfare, and the days of Terminator robots are not too far away. Military scientists are beavering away at producing machines that are clever enough to identify foes and kill them, without the inconvenience of things like loss of human life (unless you are a foe), or the need to put aside conscience in the moments before the trigger is pulled.
The robotic future is dystopian, a place where there is little room for work, mercy and conscience. And the starry-eyed conception of a future where everything is leisure as robots do the work is somewhat naïve as well. All the money will go to the people who own and control the robots, not the unemployed and variable poor.
Robot owners will use their money to buy products made by robots owned by other people. Human sweatshops will become a thing of the past, and economies will become a bit more farcical than they are at the moment.
Robot thinking is of interest to me. The technological lobby, to greater or lesser degrees, sees the replacement of humans by machines, as desirable. It’s easy to infer that a bias predictable machines is a bias against unpredictable humans, completely dismissing the subtleties of the human mind, even if thoughts do have a way of going abysmally wrong a lot of the time.
What the technorati completely fail to recognise is that humans have their own predictability. People do things repetitively without much thought at all. Like smoking the same brand of cigarettes year after year, even though there is a choice. Like listening to the same music without thinking. Like doing the same job in the same way without ever thinking too hard about it.
Variability, change, is generally economically unprofitable. The chaotic circumstances that follow change generally lead to loss of productivity while everyone tries to figure out what their new roles are and how to make money.
A lack of variability works well in productive groups. Most individuals are happy to go with the momentum of the group, with not much though about the advisability of taking the easy route.
The easy route, however, comes at a cost: the loss of individuality or barriers to individualism. And so, from time to time, we hear the plaints of wannabe individuals, like the way I am plainting right here.
The dystopia lies between the two choices, the ease of the group or the ease of being yourself. At the end of the day, it’s the economics of belonging to a group or the value gained by being yourself. It’s a Hobson’s choice, one that is difficult to balance.
For now I am stuck with the discontent of being mechanical in most of what I do. I hope that at some stage I will be able to find my way. If you feel the same way, you have my sympathy.