Welfare, and the Relevant Conversation We Need to Prepare Ourselves For

I like to try to approach things with an open mind, and learn and adapt when confronted with new data. It's a human foible to want to cling steadfastly to an idea, and I try to release myself from it whenever possible. In the last few years, I've realized that I need to adapt my way of thinking for a different human scenario that we are likely to be confronted with sooner than we think. And that has to do with the welfare state, and, as so much that I talk about, technology.

A theme that I harp on quite a bit is trying to live a balanced life in a world that is increasingly aslant. I've written several posts that revolve around that idea, and I'm sure I'm not done yet. Give me a topic and I'll yammer on, trust me. But essentially a few of the ideas for leading a fulfilling life in a world that is doing everything it can to distract us from that are: 

  • Try to move around every day. Depression hates a moving target. Do some pushups, do some squats, walk and run, jump rope. Any motion is better than no motion.
  • Create something physical whenever possible. You don't have to make a masterpiece, and as any artist can tell you, creation is mostly about failures. But the satisfaction of having something tangible will satisfy something in you that nothing else will. Hence my candle business for example.
  • Avoid creating an echo chamber that reinforces your own opinions. Seek conflicting information and try to learn. 
  • Read! It doesn't matter what. Read cookbooks if you want. Read science fiction (we all know I love it), find history books that engage you. Just read. It engages your mind, as does exercise, and helps fight off mental apathy.
  • Keep moving forward! Set goals and work towards them. If you don't, all of a sudden you'll realize 20 years passed without accomplishing anything. It's never to late to start making goals and growing. Make sure not to only set large ones, either. Set small ones as well so you are always seeing progress somewhere; that way you don't get frustrated and bored on the way to meeting large ones.
  • Move with kindness and compassion. Stand for your convictions, but remember everyone has arrived at different points in life due to a lot of circumstances, and be compassionate. No one ever looked good by berating someone who was in pain. Help others whenever possible, both through charity contribution and through charitable acts.
  • Surround yourself with intelligent people who motivate you and do good things. Understand that no one is perfect, but having people that inspire you to live a better life will help insure that you live a better life. I'm blessed to know some of the most inspiring people on this planet, and I'm not being hyperbolic. 

That's just a partial list, but it's a good starting place. It doesn't take a lot of reading between the lines to see that I'm someone who believes in working towards things. And as such, as you might imagine, I believe that government handouts and welfare are a two-edged sword. I absolutely understand that there are circumstances in which people are thrown off-kilter and can't get back on their feet alone. This life is not easy on any of us, but it's also harder on some. While I believe that it's essential to help others and be compassionate, I also think that large government offices established to fulfill that role are not ideal. First of all, I've been working in the government for the last decade, and can fully reinforce how much waste of funding there is when there's no capitalism involved. I've seen plenty of chairs filled for the sake of securing funding. 

The other problem with large government offices doling out....well, the dole...is the atrophy to the recipients over time. It's a truism of human nature that if we don't have to work for something, eventually, we don't appreciate it. Even if at the beginning we did. We start to see it as something that we deserve, and desire to give nothing back. That feeling is really a poisonous one, and I'm not blaming the people who fall into it. I'm not shirking the responsibility of the receiver here, but I really think it's just a symptom of depression, when we don't feel we're contributing. And it can make us selfish and petty. So I'm a big fan of welfare programs that also give the recipients a purpose. The New Deal building programs changed over time into something that I applaud less, but the initial programs that gave us dams, parks, schools, and much more, built by citizens who were crushed beneath the Great Depression, had a lot that I liked. People didn't atrophy due to lack of motivation; they could see that they were doing something for their community while they got off their feet. That was huge.

So where am I going with this? Well, I've realized something. I'm not the first or only person to think about it, but I like to talk here about things that are rattling around my brain. The last several years have had extremely heated conversations about "handouts" and welfare state behaviors. Belief that work and the feeling of contribution is essential to mental well-being obviously puts me on a certain side in the current conversation. But that conversation is about to go through a fundamental change. 

Within the next decade or so, humanity is going to go through another fundamental upheaval. The population of the earth has ballooned since the 1730s from less than 1 billion to more than 8 billion. As that change has occurred, simultaneously there has been a huge leap forward in nearly every aspect of life due to technology changes. We are quickly approaching a nexus yet again. Within the next one to two decades, most jobs are going to be able to be taken over by AI programs or robots of some kind. That's not just true of the assembly line and customer service jobs that we already see (and as we talk about raising the minimum wage, the rush is coming faster to replace lower skill jobs with cheaper robots that don't require things like healthcare). That also applies to many of the higher level jobs too. Drones will soon be in everything from package delivery, piloting aircraft, driving trains and our own cars. Even now programs are intelligent enough to write NEW programs that can outperform programs written by humans. There are programs that are intelligent enough to design and create music, too. AI is going to be able to out-human us in nearly every human endeavor. That's frightening, but quickly coming closer. Brave New World, indeed. Although a perk that I see is that the outsourcing problem America has had will most likely quickly go away. While human personnel in India and China have taken many production jobs from the US, that will become an obsolete problem. While currently paying an overseas worker much less to than an American to do a job has undoubtedly affected production stateside, the price difference between an overseas robot and a US based robot likely won't be much different (at least not for long), so perhaps we'll see a lot of production return home. I hope so anyway.

So the "welfare" conversation is about to change. Suddenly, instead of requiring people to "find work", even those who would seek work of their own volition, are going to have a hard time finding a role. And in that scenario, we can't just allow millions of displaced workers to starve to death because they refuse to find a job. There just literally won't be enough jobs. It won't be a matter of cross training or getting a new field. Workers won't be needed. So what do we do? Humanity will fundamentally change. It will be necessary to have a basic universal wage for all the displaced people.

What I HOPE is that we will essentially end up in a "post-economy economy", of sorts. In the utopian view, it would be a situation in which people figure out how to adapt and happily live when their work isn't "necessary". My recommendation is that we all look into how the nobility of England occupied themselves in the 18th century. Learn languages, learn to draw, take exercise...maybe the waters at Bath, haha....read and write. Engage ourselves. But what I worry about is that we'll basically just stay heads down and argue on the internet even more. 

The stigma of "not having a job" is going to be much more universal before we know it. And we'd better learn how to adequately prepare ourselves for that era. Learn to be happy and make work for ourselves that doesn't result in wage, but satisfaction in other ways. Because those days are coming. Hopefully we can adapt and become more balanced, rounded, and embrace that change. The conversation will need to.


Post script for further reading: If you'd like an interesting book to read about rapid technology change and its implications for what it means to be human, I highly recommend "Future Shock" by Alvin Toffler. It was written in 1970 so it's not 100% accurate anymore (there have been even more leaps since then), but it's a good jumping off point for contemplation. "Brave New World" is a good cautionary tale about how to be the wrong sort of leisure class, but it is disconcertingly easy to think about it going that way.

Society's shift away from forgiveness, and its repercussion on human interaction

Gonna get a little bit hairy in here today. Of course, if you get down to it, it's a hairy era in general, so I'm really just blending in.

There's plenty in the news these days to aggravate and inflame people, and it sure seems to be doing its job. Every other person I interact with is desolated, and the ones in between are enraged. It's a rough time for humanity. Not in the creature comforts, survival sense. Plenty of studies back up the fact that overall, violence and sickness and every other awful way of dying are on the decline. I'm speaking of our spiritual, cerebral facets. 

It's such a confusing time for Americans. In the last few centuries, the entire scope of culture has been flipped upside down. What are we here for? Who do we claim fealty to? And in the next few decades, this will likely get worse, as more of our life becomes automated, and more of us are left with too much time on our hands to spin ourselves up in a tizzy.

So what do we turn to in order to blow of our steam? It used to be family, God, the church, and hobbies/making things. But those are becoming more scarce as outlets, and we don't know how to deal with it. So we apparently turn to allowing our Id out online, with nary a Superego in sight. Hopefully this is just a growing pain (and everything feels permanent when you're in the middle of it), but it's hard to tell.

Here's what I do know: Bullying, hatred, and judgement are the order of the day right now. Particularly in the social media realm. And I think the biggest red flag I see is the total lack of forgiveness.

In Western society, Christianity has been the moral compass for most of the last couple thousand years. There have been missteps and miscalculations and errors along the way, but essentially it was the law of the land. As we move further and further into the "Science as a God" era, the human morality tenets of Christianity are being left behind. Obviously there are plenty of implications and discussions to be had with that little thesis statement, but I'm going to leave much of that to other posts and focus on the compassion, hypocrisy, and forgiveness areas. (And before you get worked up, I absolutely endorse science most of the time. I just don't find it provides all the answers for me, and that's where my religion steps in). 

Now I don't automatically accept the thought that all Christians are the good ones, and all non-Christians are bad. There's plenty of nastiness to go all over the place, trust me. After all we are all flawed humans fighting battles; some winning, some losing. But I will say that the basic premise of "Love one another", and "forgive", are really being lost when we have no outer moral code to help guide our consciences. 

Every day I am seeing the mob of online thought drag humans through the mud for missteps, some of them decades old. I do believe that some crimes are offenses that shouldn't be forgotten (murder, rape, crimes against children etc etc), but that's not what I'm talking about. It's not decades old grievous crimes. It's decades old "things said in passing", or decades old opinions, or things of that nature. And the online mobs are completely prepared to pillory anyone for something said in the past, wrecking lives and families and livelihoods, oftentimes for statements that have been disavowed. And this really bothers me.

I am not sure if students are still encouraged to read 1984 or Brave New World, but it sure doesn't seem as though enough people have taken lessons from those books to heart. As we grow ever closer to every single moment of our lives being captured by technology and stored, and our lifespans are already being predicted to reach 150 years before too much longer, I just wonder what traps we as a society are setting for ourselves. "Thought crimes" are very much a reality these days; perhaps the government isn't very much into prosecuting them yet, but the individual has so much power that the judicial system can be totally sidestepped for punishment, and the lynch mobs are more than ready to take it over.

I'm not saying people should be allowed to say awful things; if you hear someone say something terrible, call them on it, right then. But I don't understand how in an age where we are meant to accept plenty of things that were taboo before, all of a sudden for a misquoted phrase, we expect the speaker to take a long walk off a short plank. Why? And who made us all such moral superiors? 

Humility was something that used to be taken as something commonplace, a virtue that we were expected to uphold. I recently visited the Midwest and was reminded of how nice it is to be around people who are "down to earth". People who do their jobs, live their lives, and are pragmatic. That is definitely NOT something you see often in the DC area, and it's something I most miss about home. The ability to own mistakes, the ability of others to forgive, and the ability of all parties involved to move on. I never hear this promoted any more. These days so much is about self promotion, envy, and the tearing down of someone on the other side. 

The internet has done many great things (I just had Christmas presents delivered to my house on a very windy and chilly day, thank you Amazon), but it sure hasn't done much for human interaction. Echo chambers and self-righteousness are detrimental and exhausting, unless you're online where they are commonplace.

I think it would be good if we tried to remember that just because someone says something we disagree with, doesn't mean we should never forgive someone in a spirit of contrition. I know the First Amendment is meant to protect free speech from government interference, but I'm starting to feel it isn't enough anymore. The largest threat to the individual and their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is no longer the government overreach. It's been supplanted by neighborly overreach. Next time you see an online effort to totally wreck someone from holding different beliefs than you, try to remember that that person is a human who has foibles and should be forgiven. We shouldn't have the power as individuals to decide whether someone is guilty of a crime. That momentary feeling of purposeful elation, isn't really worth it. When the mob moves on to its next over-righteous lynching, the wreckage of a life will be left behind, and we all forget about it.

We can do better. Think of the worst things you've done, or said, or felt. I know I've had plenty of opinions over the years that have been annealed and changed over time. I'm grateful that they are mostly lost to antiquity, but that won't be the case for much longer.  I know I'm in no position to judge anyone for any statement they made decades ago, particularly if they don't hold those opinions now. Are you above that self-judgement? We are all flawed and imperfect, and most of us try to do better tomorrow than we did today. So let's try together.