(STEEMED) So as you should all know by now, I have been promoting the idea that jobs=slavery.

It is something of an oversimplification to say all jobs are a kind of slavery, though. There are some jobs that count as work as I understand the definition. So, how to tell whether you are enslaved, or whether you are engaged in work?

I have devised a thought experiment that determines the answer.

Imagine you have been given your very own ‘Robo-you’. Robo-you is a humanoid robot with two key features: It looks like you, and it is programmed to do your job. It is deactivated at the moment, but if you should so choose, pushing the button on its back will turn Robo-you on, and when the time comes for you to commute to your place of employment, Robo-you will commute there instead, and do your job for you. But who gets the wages? You do. Yes, that’s right, Robo-You goes off to work every day, and does your job, and you get paid.

If you had a Robo-you, would you press the button? Would you have this android version of yourself do your job for you, while you spent your time doing something else instead?

If your answer is ‘no, I would not want Robo-you to do my job’, then congratulations. Your employment provides you with genuine work. You think of your job as productive, meaningful, and rewarding.

If your answer is ‘hell, yeah, send Robo-you to do my job, I got other things I would rather be doing’, this goes to show that you are a wage-slave, somebody who derives little to no reward or pleasure from their job, with the paycheck that comes every now and then the only incentive for turning up every day.

My educated guess is that most people would rather have Robo-you do their job, which means most people are wage-slaves. I base this guess on the observation that most people think the best days of the year are weekends, bank holidays and vacations, and the worst day of the week tends to be Monday. Oh, and the observation that number one on the ‘list of things to do when I win the lottery’ is ‘quit my job’. Not everybody thinks that way. A few really like their jobs and can hardly wait for those annoying days off to end so they can get back to doing what they are passionate about. But most do not think that way at all. Most don’t like their jobs, hence monday is the worst day, days off are better, and winning enough money to buy your freedom is best of all.

This goes to show that (rare exceptions to the contrary aside) most jobs are not personally engaging and fulfilling. They are ‘miserable temporary necessities’ Why necessary? Because these jobs need to be done in order to provide the products and services we want, which means somebody has got to do them. Why miserable? Because, while we want all the stuff of a runaway consumerist culture, we tend not to really want to do all the horrid jobs required to get all that stuff into our homes. Why temporary? Because one day robots that can do those jobs for us will exist.

The reality, for now, however, is that such robots do not exist, at least not robots sufficiently skilled enough to replace all wage-slaves. So the fact is that jobs are a miserable necessity. But we do not like to admit that, do we? We would rather pretend that jobs are great. That if we had no jobs life would be awful, and totally lacking in purpose.

Imagine this story, which might be true for all I know. For all of human history, pain and surgery have gone together. If you had to have surgery, you were going to experience pain. In order to deal with this miserable situation, we invented reasons for why pain should accompany surgery. ‘Without pain, how would we ever truly know pleasure?’ ‘Pain is there to strengthen moral fortitude!’ We convinced ourselves that pain was necessary and good.

Then, one day, somebody goes and invents anaesthesia. Now, it is possible to have painless surgery. But we have indoctrinated ourselves with the delusion that pain is necessary and good. This results in people rejecting the idea of painless surgery.

Robots are like anaesthesia. Jobs are a miserable necessity and we have dealt with that fact by convincing ourselves that, actually, jobs are not miserable. Jobs are synonymous with work, vital for a healthy mind and spirit. But now that robots are coming to liberate us from our jobs, this cultural baggage so many of us carry, the attitude that all must have jobs, is a serious impediment to the flowering of a better way of life.

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  1. That’snice and all, but the reality will be that some investors will derive income from automation. Also – I have not been working for decades and I am now funbctionally unable to do most forms of work, being completely unshackled from “discipline” in my mind. Even if offered a fun job, I’d screw it up because I am utterly lazy and unmotivated. This is not a pleasant experience or lifestyle. I get bored a lot, increasingly so, and am so “hospitalized” I can’t do much about it. This problem will strike billions in the coming decades – how do you derive joy from an utterly unstructured existence?

  2. Oh, good point. Very good point indeed. I know you have been formulating the same theory over and over again, and putting your thoughts in words in ever-so-slightly different ways, but this article of yours seemed to have hit the spot!

    In my personal case, I would probably say — ‘no, because no robot can actually do my job’ 🙂 But in a what-if scenario, assuming that robots could be clever as human beings, then I would definitely reconsider my choice!

    I have a long time ago (maybe 30 years? I don’t know…) determined that the activity I most like is to write. Unfortunately, I don’t write well enough to get paid for it. So I have to go through my life doing other odd jobs and pursue writing as a hobby. Those jobs would definitely be good enough for Robo-You to do!

    Currently, however, I figured out that there is a way to write and earn some money from it: publish academic papers 🙂 Alas, they’re not so fun to write… but it’s perhaps the closest I can come to a ‘job’ that I’d consider fulfilling and engaging.

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