A cure for alienation


I would estimate that anywhere from one-third to one-half of modern jobs are mostly or entirely pointless. This is obviously a problem for the people doing those jobs, who must be aware on some level that the net effect of their labors is, in terms of the welfare of humanity, a big zero (if not negative). But no discussion of this Treadmill of Pointlessness would be complete without considering the exact opposite: namely, the hunter-gather lifestyle.

Animistic thinkers are at home in the world. Children and hunter-gatherers are not necessarily happy, of course – but they have a relationship with the world: they are not alienated. Animists are watched over, controlled, protected, and also punished, by the sentient powers that constitute the world. […]

By contrast, since the invention of farming, modern life has become a state of siege, a small gang of family and allies against a mass of hostile strangers, an island of order surrounded by overwhelming forces of chaos – planning is essential, yet most plans will fail. The world is not an unconditionally nurturing parent but must be coerced into producing the necessities of life, survival is a hard bargain, failure an ever present threat. For the farmer, the natural world is neither unchangeable nor ‘giving’ – it is raw material for the production of food and other necessities and luxuries. Production entails prolonged, dull, repetitive tasks to force nature into new and different shapes.

Alienation is hardly new. The problem isn’t the Information Age. It isn’t even the Industrial Revolution. It’s agriculture. The invention of farming and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.

In all seriousness, the cure for modern alienation may be some sort of a return to a primitive, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Is there a way to do this without also returning to Paleolithic population levels and standards of health care? Perhaps when all the “jobs” are automated out of existence, human society will naturally revert to its pre-modern, tribal shape, but with better technology; call it the Paleolithic 2.0.

We will live as our ancestors did, squatting around fires in animal skins, while our crops are harvested by robots and our iPhones are made in huge, unmanned subterranean factories.

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