Monday, 14 October 2013

Mass Unemployment

Poul Anderson's The Snows Of Ganymede (New York, 1958) lists reasons why the Psychotechnic Institute was unable to counteract social problems that led to the Humanist Revolution and to the outlawing of the Institute. The reasons include:

"...mass unemployment on a scale never seen before..." (p. 49)

This would be a problem if it caused mass poverty on a scale never seen before. However:

" one starved, a citizen's allowance was enough to assure living quite comfortably..." (p. 50)

So what is the problem?

"...the genius class which could still work and get extra money was hated and envied." (ibid.)


"It is not good for a society when most of its citizens have no vested interest in its smooth operation." (ibid.)

But they have a vested interest. They are living quite comfortably. And we have already been told that the economy had recovered and society had improved because of factors that included:

" which, for the first time in centuries really fitted the needs of the individual and of his society..." (p. 48)

In these circumstances, such an education would not produce a population wanting but unable to find paid employment. Instead, after at most a single transitional generation, the educated world population would understand, appreciate and enjoy leisure with its opportunities for recreational and cultural activities. I write "activities" because recreation need not be passive. It can involve not only watching drama but also amateur dramatics.

Historical and moral education would also inculcate the understanding that irrational hatred of a minority is socially destructive. The other factors mentioned would help:

withering nationalism;
population decline;
rational economics;
sane penology;
psychiatric care;
critical thinking (pp. 48-49).

A story set earlier in the series describes what a robot sees as he walks among men:

"...houses which practically took care of themselves..." (Cold Victory, New York, 1982, p. 16);
"...giant, almost automated food factories..." (op. cit.);
"...self-piloting carplanes...quietly overhead" (op. cit.);
a colorist, a composer and a group of engineers;
a short standard work period;
a picnic, a dance, a concert, a pair of lovers, a group of children;
" old man happily enhammocked with a book and a bottle of beer -" (op. cit., pp. 16-17).

The general conclusion:

" - the human race was taking it easy." (p. 17)

People who not only are able to take it easy but also whose education has equipped them to understand and appreciate their situation have no reason either to envy the few who contribute more or to resort to violence. (We do not fight for the air we breathe but might if we were down to the last oxygen cylinder on a space station.)

Despite all this, there are:

"Anti-robot riots; the lynching of technies and scientists; the election of intellectually corrupt representatives..." (The Snows Of Ganymede, p. 50)

Riots and lynchings? In the social conditions described, any fanatical minority that wanted to perpetrate such atrocities would be dealt with by the "psychiatric care" and "sane penology." They would not be able to communicate their insanity to wider numbers whose education would equip them to appreciate the contributions of scientists and technicians and to value the social wealth and liberation from drudgery represented by robotics. "Critical thinking" would counteract any tendencies towards intellectual corruption.

Anyone who replies that most people would be unable to make creative use of leisure is thinking of people as they are now, not of a new generation growing up and socially trained in a qualitatively different environment.

Thus, I think that Anderson presents both a utopia and a dystopia that are mutually inconsistent.

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