I originally wrote this piece in 2017 and am reposting it now because I believe the idea is critically important to the future of humanity and the survival of Earth and humanity. -Ed.
We should come to grips with the idea as soon as possible. We are, after all, heading for a rather dramatic shift in human thinking. We need to figure out how we humans are going to formulate our societies as soon as we have self-driving vehicles of all stripes, artificial intelligence running everything, smart grids that deliver all manner of clean energy, and robots that deal with all manner of work. We will be living in a version of the dystopian we’ve all seen in movies, but it won’t be quite so dystopian.
It will be a world without work.
Of course, that won’t happen overnight, and the way our future unfolds will come down to what we do as the human race in the next 20–30 years. Believe me, you, that’s not nearly as long as you might think. I turned around yesterday and was rather shocked to discover I’m 49! It seems only yesterday that I was watching Star Trek (well, it actually was yesterday, but that’s not what I’m getting at.) And it’s really Star Trek that forms the core of my ideas around what a world without work would look like.
A World Without Work, Not A World that Doesn’t Work
So, Star Trek. If you go back and watch all of The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, the theatrical films, you will… have watched a lot of media… but you will also have noticed something interesting. Every once in a while, there are discussions of money and jobs and values. Well, there’s a lot of talk about values, so mostly the rare bits about money and jobs are the important thing for this discussion, though it dovetails nicely into values.
You see, in the Star Trek future, Earth no longer has jobs or currency. Now, it’s important to note that there is no real discussion about how this arrangement operates (though such a discussion may exist in the books, which I haven’t read), so we really only have the glimmer of a wonderful future where everything is clean and safe and educated and includes space travel and science, and all manner of amazing things.
It’s actually rather simple, which is why it’s surprising that there is no visual Trek canon (cannon?) that covers even the basic details. Now, this is where it gets a bit knotty, because it’s all about democratic socialism, and I mean that in its purest sense. The Trek future of the Federation and most things are really good is because everyone decides that life is best managed when everyone shares in the growth of that civilization.
No Jobs But Stuff Still Gets Done?
From a deeply philosophical place in the minds of people who think for a living comes the idea that people organize, make things, make scientific advances, run restaurants, clean up garbage, create art and music, work in office jobs, manage stuff, and build things big and small because they are good at it and it needs to get done.
Here’s a hint: Take the money out of it.
First, go listen to Yuval Harari over at TED. He’s a fascinating guy and what he has to say makes a load of sense. (If you make it to the end, which I really hope you do, just know that I don’t necessarily agree with his ideas about drugs and video games.)
Now that you’ve done that, do you see it?! I think you do. That’s because money is a wondrous, danger-filled myth that creates the entire scope of power and control in this world, and it only works that way because we let it. This fiction, like so many others we have created over thousands of years, is very, very powerful. Yes, we all believe in money, but it’s not like a religion. It’s more like the air we breathe. And, much like air, if you take money away, we die.
So, we work.
Since money is the core tenet of our global belief in its myth, we must trade our sweat in order to get some. This creates another fiction; power or, if you prefer, control. Those with the most money have the most control and, as we can see today, that control is a very destructive force, so we need to get rid of it, but if we do that, then there’s no more work. Right?
Not exactly. Humans are resourceful and we have a number of inherent traits that guide us towards the sense of safety, contentedness, and fulfillment we all desire. When we are hungry or thirsty, we eat and drink. When we want to explore some new place, we screw up the courage and we set out. When we need to get across a large body of water to find what’s on the other side, we build boats. When we want to get from one continent to another, we build planes. When we want to find out what’s in that inky black over our heads, we build space ships.
We are, as a large group of like beings, insanely inventive and resourceful, and that is the key to a work without work. That former work will become desires, and there will always be people who will want to fill the roles we need to make society operate as a whole. You want a salad bowl? Someone will make one for you our of wood or pottery or glass. You want to design a new kind of space craft to get to Mars? Someone will learn everything it takes to do that for you, if you let them learn how without restriction.
It’s The Values, Stupid
The foundation of our success in a post-work global society will be values. We all need to get on the same page when it comes to how we will organize to produce everything we do now, and more, but without currency being the driving force. That brings us back to Star Trek. How do they do it, in this fictional universe of the future? They just do it. I know that sounds simplistic, but it’s really at the core of this entire argument.
There will always be people willing to do something, anything, to not be stuck at home watching TV or playing video games or taking drugs all day long. In universal basic income studies in more forward thinking countries that ours they are finding that the preponderance of participants who have all of their basic needs met, go out and get a job or volunteer instead of just sitting on their asses. So, yes, it’s true that some people will choose to do nothing, but even the smallest samples have shown that most people cannot.
That is a core value.
The shape of our societies won’t really change all that much. There are those fictions that are quite successful because they work, are inclusive of all people, and don’t rest on the idea that power is the only thing of value in this world. Universal healthcare is one such result, and it is common in most first-world countries on Earth, and even most second-world countries float some kind of healthcare-for-all.
But what do we do with people who make things? That’s also surprisingly easy. Let’s say Julia is an forklift operator at an appliance plant just outside of Riverside, CA. She gets up at 7AM every, Monday through Friday, and heads in to the plant to start her shift at 8:30. She works until Noon, takes lunch with some co-workers at a local sandwich shop, and gets back to work at 1PM to move around more large palettes of sheet metal. She wraps up her day at 5:30 PM, stops at the grocery to pick up her food order, and goes home.
At no point during the day did Julia ever pay anyone for anything and she wasn’t paid a dime for her work. Yet, that evening, she can go on a date with her fiance to a nice restaurant and go see a movie. How is this possible? It is possible through a sharing economy that involves zero money anywhere. Everyone she meets during her day has a nice home to live in, access to all the food they want, and no limitations on the kinds of recreation they can consume. There is no ownership, per se. Yes, Julia “owns” her home, but that’s because she selected the home she wanted to live in and it was available. She can keep the home as long as she likes, or choose to move somewhere else and live there.
No, It’s Not Communism
At its root, Communism is based entirely around money. In the old CCCP (that’s Communist Russia, to you Millennials), the government owned everything and “evenly” distributed it to the citizens. The reality was that there was no equality and there was an enormous amount of paranoia instilled in the populace in the name of control and fear, but that’s beside the point. A world without work where people do what they choose to do, learn as much as they want, and contribute to the betterment of society as a whole is not the same thing.
For our new society, we’d need to get rid of a few things for it to work. Here are some of those things:
- Inequality of all kinds
- The lack of access to healthcare for many, many millions
- Dictatorships and monarchy
- Ethnic cleansing
No, that doesn’t mean that we get rid of homelessness by getting rid of the homeless. We put them in homes. Voila! No more homelessness. Some of the other things will, of course, require more complex solutions, and there’s a lot of work to be done to start moving in this direction, but if we all just believe, we can make it happen.
So, now that I’ve realized I’m starting to ramble and this is my first essay on this new blog, I’m going to wrap it up here. What are some of the things we can start doing now that will lead us in the right direction for a more positive, inclusive, and constructive future where we follow our dreams and can actually have them come true? What are some of the six billion things I left out because I’m a monkey in a tree who only desires a banana?
Let me know, and share this around. It would be nice to see some of the ideas presented here start to infect more people :)