There was this Michael Douglas movie back in the early 90’s- Falling Down, where an out of work defense worker spirals downward after he is let go by his company. In their words, his skill set and position were no longer economically viable for the company to continue employing him. In the 20 years since that film was made, in one variation or another, this has become an increasingly heard line. Computers, AI, automation, efficiency, downsizing, up sizing, globalization – whatever the term, the reality for many is that their job is longer there, and probably won’t be in any human form as this trend continues. As we continue to innovate and upgrade our technological capabilities, we have been able to downgrade our workforce. We can do more with less, a lot less, and in many cases, those less no longer have to be human. What happens when even many of our skilled trades no longer need to be staffed by a human agent? What happens to our workforce, our population, our economy? Corporations don’t have to pay robots and networks, and the increase in profits that they realize from the improved efficiency and lower labor costs will eventually be overtaken by the reality that their customer base is no longer employed. Sure, as science, technology and society progress, there will be new vocations, new disciplines that will employ some people, but that come close to employing our growing population? I don’t think so. I think we will need to answer these questions, and sooner rather than later. At a time when the United States cannot even bring itself to admit that their government and economy are anything but pure democracy and capitalism will now need to answer questions that make such things passe’ in comparison. I am still young enough that, one way or another, I may live to see the answer to the question as completely relevant…
Prophetically, I saw Falling Down as one of the last movies shown in a perfectly good movie theater that has remained unoccupied to this day.
I remember the day that I found there were fewer physics jobs in all of America than the number of graduates that year. Economically nonviable indeed. The Astronomy students were worse off. These are real, solid subjects. True disciplines, not Chicano Studies or creative basket weaving. Brilliant mathematicians must work as clerks or invent their own jobs. A wise man should work for himself, as one cannot trust a boss. We both on once worked for a man who threatened to close all his businesses and put his money into mutual funds because they had a higher rate of return. That year our branch of his business made about thirteen percent.
Michael Douglas’ character was just a law abiding man trying to make a small journey, when he was buffeted and changed by bad roads, indifferent business, and increasingly evil criminals until he finds himself asking, ‘When did I become the bad guy?’ Each step towards his destruction seemed innocuous. The insane people who provoke his fatal reactions are less severe than those we actually see these days. The Nazi yokel with his empty can of Zyclon-B is less of a threat to our culture than an Army doctor shouting pious ‘Alahu Akbar’s as he shoots the fellow soldiers of Fort Hood whom he has sworn to his god to preserve and cure and ‘first of all, do no harm.’
Dan, you frighten me. Every step that we Americans have taken as a group the past sixteen years could look like his journey. Less than a third of us in the job force. Pouring money like precious water in the eastern deserts while our lands lie parched. People honestly believing that marching in the streets and starting fires or forbidding invited speakers to address paying crowds by physical violence are GOOD things. The best economic news of 2016 was the growth of a cannabis industry. Heck, I remember when race riots were a thing of the past.
Finding a good path may require more wisdom than I see in our self-declared leaders. Still, I see such wisdom in some of our citizens.
He asked, “When did I become the bad guy?” only at the end of the road, never while he was on it. Self-reflection, asking the hard questions of himself and those around him, was never something he did. He demanded answers, he demanded satisfaction, but he never demanded insight. I’m not sure he would have heard the answers over his own self-righteousness, which is a very apt parallel to today.
Race riots were never a thing of the past, they just changed venues. It became literature, music, art. The anger is there, alive and well. Racism continues to infest the country, even if we have spent the last 50 years saying it ain’t so.
People taking action is a good thing, even if the action they take leaves us scratching our heads. It takes time to build up a decent social revolution, especially since we’ve been out of practice the past few decades, made indolent by our relative success. We’ve also become a victim of the victors – those who write and teach our history. To hear them tell it, racism was mostly confined to the south. Civil disobedience was mainly some marches and sitting in some seats. We no longer talk about the hangings, the mutilations, the rapes and worse. We don’t talk about the murders and the assassinations anymore. We don’t look at why Dr King and Malcom X were hand in glove, not separate visions. We’ve been disarmed by false notions of the past.