We just had another mass shooting in my country this weekend, this time it was a mall in a suburb of Dallas. Now some politicians are starting to blame our daily mass shootings on untreated mental health problems. As if we mentally ill aren’t already demonized. Statistically, a very small percentage of violent crimes are committed by mentally ill people. Mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than neurotypicals actually. I’m convinced it’s because many mentally ill live in poverty. Granted, some people I know claim that no one who has electricity and indoor plumbing is truly poor. Maybe in the 1920s. Today, over 80 percent of the world now has electricity. Of the eight billion people in the world, over five billion now have regular access to internet. I heard one of my elders saying “internet is a luxury” as recently as 2019. In 1999, that was true. A lot has changed since then. When over half of the world’s population has access to free education and news, a large percentage of whom make less than 5 dollars a day, it’s no longer a luxury. People used to think indoor plumbing and even being able to read and write were frivolous luxuries. Elders in ancient Greece used to complain that reading and writing were killing mental power and making people stupid. Things change and stay the same.
I am convinced that people are, by and large, more angry and stressed than we’ve been in living memory. Sure we have a world where 90 percent of the population isn’t starving. But the anger is still there because most people have only recently become aware of what is truly possible. Even an illiterate ten year old working in a cobalt mine in central Africa for only two dollars a day probably has heard of the Kardashians, Nicola Tesla, and Elon Mask if he has access to a smartphone or tv. Indigenous tribes in New Guinea knew who Neal Armstrong was back in the late 1970s and were asking visitors who was going to the moon next. People are very angry. Not because they are ungrateful, lazy, or not wanting to work. People are realizing how far below our potential we as a species are living. We no longer need wars. Even young men in Russia with their levels of internet and media censorship, realize that fighting a war in Ukraine is pointless and are voting with their feet. Young people in China are “Lying Falt” and “Letting It Rot” because they are realizing there is more to life than working and buying stuff you don’t need to impress people you don’t respect. Brad Pitt was talking this in the 1999 movie “Fight Club.”
I don’t like using the term waking up as the word “woke” has so much baggage in my country. But people, thanks for free information via the internet and universal literacy being a thing in even the poorest countries, are starting to figure out we can do better than we are. It doesn’t matter your race, creed, sexual orientation, age, political beliefs, or even economic ideals, the vast majority of humanity is not benefiting nearly as much from our science, technology, and education as is possible even now. I’m convinced it’s unrestrained greed that is the root of many of our problems today. I think unrestrained greed has always been at the root of most problems. Greed has been universally condemned by every major religion and legal code since the start of civilization. Greed’s even more dangerous now.
Banning books in libraries and book stores is becoming more common in my country than I can ever remember in my life. Sure, a lot of literature isn’t age appropriate for grade school children. Then again, neither are most parts of the Bible. Neither are some tv shows. My parents had no issues with me watching war movies like Rambo, War Games, and Red Dawn back in the 1980s. But The Simpsons and Al Bundy were completely off limits. Some states are starting to revoke tenure for college professors and scholars. Others are repealing some of their child labor laws. Some states are banning foreign social media like TikTok. Who benefits from these changes? As far as censorship goes, Martin Luther was excommunicated by the Catholic Church (meaning he was damned to burn in Hell forever) partially because he thought Christians should be able to read the Bible for themselves. Since the printing press had recently been popularized, it was only a matter of time before the Church of that era to lose their monopoly on literacy and information.
What is the internet other than the 21st century’s printing press? The most popular book to be printed on the 15th century printing press was the Bible. The second most popular were manuals about how to spot and persecute those who practice witchcraft and heresy. Some of the early explorers, like Christopher Columbus, were inspired by reading about the travels of Marco Polo. The printing press did lead to mass literacy, mass education, etc. But, problems came too. Some of the bloodiest holy wars, like the Thirty Years Wars (1618-1648) between Catholic and Protestant kingdoms of Europe and the English Civil War probably would have never happened without the printing press. Then again, neither would the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, rediscovery of mass democracy, rights for women and minorities, end of slavery, etc. Same can be said for the internet. I’m old enough I didn’t get an email account until I was 18. Personally, I love that children can do real time Google and Wikipedia searches if they think an authority figure is talking nonsense. Google and Wikipedia are what old codgers like me use. For all I know, some of these children are using even better sources of information that I am not aware of. Censorship ultimately failed after the invention of the printing press. Censorship will fail even worse now with easy access to information.
As much as I love the internet, it’s only the first of several breakthroughs that will define the 21st century to future historians. Advances that are only in recent years becoming commonplace include artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, regenerative medicine, renewable energy, etc. are already impacting the world. Just a few days ago, IBM announced they were laying off almost 8,000 employees and replacing them with the AI tech we already have. I’ve been saying this was going to happen since 2013. I am surprised it’s happening sooner than I thought. Naturally, there is no talk about retraining the displaced workers or even providing some kind of safety net while these displaced workers look for other sources of income. IBM laying off a significant chunk of their workforce is only the beginning. I expect headlines like these to become common faster than most people think.
I’m all in favor of allowing machines to take over some work duties as long as the proceeds get passed on to the public at large, whether it’s though reduced prices on robot produced goods and services, taxes on robot labor (which is favored by some tech gurus like Bill Gates), etc. But that’s probably not what’s s currently happening. And it won’t happen in the near term, at least not without serious social unrest. I’m not sure most people realize the parallels between our current Information Revolution and the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. I think we are still in the phase of unregulated greed and ambition. If we as citizens were smart, we would be electing senators and presidents in the mold of Theodore Rosevelt. I’m convinced he did as much to make industrialization beneficial to everyone as any politician of his times. I’m convinced he even saved capitalism from its own excesses. In our current world, we have hit the point where most of the world’s people see the possibilities of better standards of living for everyone regardless of what country they live in.
What’s truly holding us back is plain old fashioned greed. There is a fine line between self interest and greed. Unfettered and unregulated greed will do more to kill capitalism and democracy than kids reading Karl Marx or Mao Zedong. It will also kill life on this planet just as dead as any nuclear war if we don’t reign it in. And we are all guilty of this, not just the wealthy and powerful. Manufacturing wouldn’t have been outsourced or done with slave labor ever if people weren’t addicted to cheap goods. We could make all of our electronics and household items in our own nations if people were willing to pay higher prices and employers more willing to raise wages. Just today I saw an episode of Shark Tank and a young married couple were pitching a product that cost $15 to make with American labor and selling for $24. And it was making decent sales. But the “sharks” were saying they wouldn’t fund this couple because the profit margins were “too low” and they “should move their manufacturing to China.” This young couple was already profitable. It’s not like they were losing money. It just wasn’t enough for the sharks to provide any seed money. Greed caused this project to be held back.
Recently saw lots of articles that a majority of people under the age of thirty have an unfavorable view of capitalism. Naturally, some pundits blamed the education system being communist. But, the only capitalism these kids experienced is seeing their parents lose their jobs and houses in the 2008 crisis while Wall Street got bailed out. They saw a lot of businesses go under during covid. They saw the shortages in grocery stores and retailers with their own eyes. They see the homeless camps every day. They undergo live shooter drills in their schools. They see people carrying firearms in malls and churches. They see people have to file for bankruptcy for having to go to the hospital. They themselves are working more than one job just to afford food and an apartment. They have never seen a world where a father could own a house, two cars, and support six children on only one income from the factory or the mine. They have never seen a world where 80 percent of the population were either farmers or factory workers. They’ve seen their parents factory and office jobs get sent to China because of lower wages, no benefits, and fewer environmental protections. Now it’s automation that’s coming for their jobs. Jobs that employ millions of people like drivers, warehouse workers, accountants, much of legal, etc. are no longer safe from automation. The only reason those aren’t automated yet is because it isn’t cheap enough. Give it a few years. Even cheap labor countries like China are going heavy into automation. Too Big To Fail, profitable companies not paying taxes, state sponsored capitalism (in China), mass layoffs, etc. are these kids experiences with capitalism. They have never seen a world where most businesses were local and large corportate jobs payed livable wages and provided pensions. The Founding Fathers, Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises would have argued against this style of capitalism. Even Adam Smith talked about “enlightened self interest” back in the 1770s. I take enlightened self interest to mean don’t be a greedy jerk.
Human nature may not be completely changeable, but it can be regulated and restricted. The most free people in human history were Stone Age hunters. But even they had over half of their children die before they hit puberty. Giving up part of our freedom for the prosperity and stability that comes with civilizing ourselves is part of the deal. People today are angry because they know greed is slowing down our progress as a civilization and as a species. The old appeals of nationalism, racial bigotry, ideology, sexism, etc. were losing their appeals even when Carl Sagan talked about them in his Cosmos series in 1980, the year I was born. These are even less appealing to the mass of humanity now in 2023. Things like Occupy Wall Street and The Tea Party protests of a dozen years ago were only the start.