“Something wicked this way comes…” Shakespeare, Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 1)
Once upon a time in America, a man or a woman who wished to be their own boss had options and a reasonably high expectation of success… assuming they worked hard and were able to avoid criminal influences, natural and financial disasters, et al. Shopkeepers, grocers, craftsmen of all sorts, even small farmers, of whom there were many… they were all involved in what they perceived as an upward personal trajectory, a cut above working for wages. Even if they did aught else but maintain a reasonable living, they could count on a better life for themselves and their families.
Perhaps it was the Civil War that changed all that, by way of massive, sudden demands for war materiel to equip enormous conscripted battalions that sprang up as if overnight. The call went out for the production of weapons, uniforms, ships, cannons, tents, wagons, ammunition… all on a massive scale… enormous contractual demands that benefited… not the small businesses, but the larger ones who had access to capital and could always outbid them. And so they did, by the forces of economic advantage, political connections and the benefit of the modern methods of mass production, the factories and machinery that only a larger business could afford.
The smaller enterprises, small businesses and family farms, in their day and even in the shadow of the new industrial powerhouses, did well enough with local markets, but after the War, the bigger businesses, with the loss of their lucrative military contracts, took their advantages into those markets as well. Some of these industrial giants colluded one with the other to join forces in competition, driving smaller companies out of even those smaller local markets altogether. And when laws were enacted to outlaw the unfair advantages they held, they colluded again to influence legislation in their favor. Today? We have Wal-Mart and Amazon. Can you imagine how many small businesses were destroyed nationwide in the building of those corporate behemoths and others like them? Even the small family farm is an anomoly today, shut out by the competition of powerful agri-business entities in the corporate world.
Times change. Technology advances.
Moral imperatives can transform overnight accordingly.
All material things can be swiftly revised to fill new demands.
Perceptions and even principles can change.
People, however, do not.
My father was raised on a farm in Georgia. His father was a sharecropper and when the family, by circumstances that poor folk cannot control was forced to move to Alabama, they did so in a wagon. They grew their own food, slaughtered their own meat, baked their own bread and lived much as people had lived for hundreds of years before them.
My father was ambitious young man, left home, took advantage of military service in the heart of the Depression to educate himself and became an expert in what was then the latest technology, radar. After World War II, he left the Navy as a Warrant Officer and, as a civilian, took what he’d learned and made a decent career for himself in technology. Over the years, he continued to learn new things, ending his professional career as an engineer for NASA, building small computers for satellites. He was involved in the cutting edge micro-electronic technology that eventually served as the basis for personal computers, the device that changed life as we know it and launched what some people call, the Information Age.
In his lifetime, he went from that poor farm boy riding about on horseback through an agrarian subsistence to the launching pads of advanced technology. He saw elemental transformations in every aspect of life, cultural evolution that we can only imagine and he was part of the technical revolution that has placed humanity today on the edge of yet another new epoch, one that has yet to be defined, much less judged as beneficial progress.
But I can tell you this, that in his heart of hearts, he was no different in the way of his humanity than he was as a young man n that farm, retaining the rich values that formed his decent perspectives, unwilling and unequipped to be altered by the cynical and self-serving ways of modernity.
Times are changing once more and the people who drive our economy seem determined to render humanity obsolescent and superfluous in a strange new and sterile world. Science fiction in mid-century America was prophetic when it scanned future possibilities and found them frightening and the most frightening of all was the sterility and cold demands of robotic automation, labor-saving technology that today seems to threaten the labor itself and the laborer who supplies it.
Once upon a time the purpose of all labor in the earth was the benefit of all mankind, each man and women in their way taking part. What part will they serve, what role can they play in a world that no longer needs them, in a world that seems to place priorities and progress in the service of profits instead. Maybe it’s time for humanity to stop and take a deep breath, to step back and take a critical look at what we’ve wrought and where we are going… or more accurately… what it is that’s coming our way.
Make no mistake, something is coming our way and we’re not quite sure what it is and how it will affect us. Maybe it’s time for us to decide if we really want what it is that’s coming down that road. Maybe it’s time for us to pay some attention. More than ever before in the history of humankind, we need to be aware and informed.
Here is a good place to start, with an essay by William I. Robinson that paints a depressing picture in a graphic and realistic analysis of troubling social and economic trends. You can read the essay and judge for yourself by way of this link to the article on TRUTHOUT
Peoples’ Daily Brief by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.