We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up
Monday, February 13, 2017
Are humans like horses?
The narrator alerts us to some very real issues facing humans regarding the ever advancing improvements in technology. In this 15 minute video he compares humans to horses to illustrate how the latter became obsolete with the appearance of autos, trucks, etc. There are now relatively few horses around especially in the technologically advanced nations. Like most metaphors, this one is also limited in its aptness--far more than what its creator intended. I think that it reveals the ideological blindness of the creator (and narrator).
The creator/narrator of this video along with the vast majority of Americans like fish in the sea don't see the system or the water in which we all swim--capitalism. This system is an artifact created by humans, but it was made by only a certain class of human who saw the potential benefits of profit and power that such a system could give them. They simply and deceptively extrapolated the system of feudalism in which aristocrats and monarchs owned all the land (which their ancestors had conquered) and claimed ownership of most everything that peasants produced in their new system of capitalism. The new class of capitalists now claimed "ownership" over the products and creations of workers who became essentially wage slaves.
The new system of capitalism was widely known and discussed in most of the West until the last half of the 20th century. In an effort to prevent people from examining the inequities of capitalism, our masters, the ruling capitalist classes, since then have disappeared the word from most of their writings, their history, etc. As a result, most people, like the narrator, simply take for granted that the system is an immutable reality; thus it has almost disappeared as a topic of discussion.
Now let us return to the metaphor the narrator uses--humans as horses. The metaphor seeks to expose the problems for workers given the advances of technology where most of them are no longer needed. This is accurate and poses a dilemma for humans. However the metaphor fails to provide an understanding of the class-based exploitation that the system of capitalism imposes on the vast majority of humans. Did horses invent cars, trucks, etc? Of course not. But human-workers did invent them along with all of technology. The problem is that the benefits of their activity did not go to the workers, but to a tiny class of capitalists who claim "ownership" over everything the workers produce and create--and this includes technology. The metaphor hides this glaring fact.
Instead of a blessing that could free workers from not only mindless tasks but more complex tasks, under the existing system technology is now threatening their very existence. With a new system that distributed the benefits of technology to everyone, humans could be free of the necessity of spending so much time in activities to meet their material needs of existence. This could free them to engage in the tasks of making decisions about production, about what they want to produce, about issues of relations to each others, about questions in our relations with nature, about refinements to the new system that they created, etc, etc.
As you can see, this is in marked contrast to today's world where only a tiny minority decide everything--and for their exclusive benefit. In such a new system humans would need to spend a lot of time in education about the world in which they live. Thus technology could free all humans to develop their fullest potentialities. It's hard to imagine what humans could be become under a system that was designed to serve all of them.