Signs of Change

Abstract: This article looks at cultural changes taking place today that are in line with visions that have been discussed earlier in Optionality Magazine. The article looks into issues such as unemployment, education and economics, to conclude that there are indeed cultures emerging that are vastly different from established cultures such as capitalism, communism and nationalism.

A. Cultural Change

Visions of better Worlds is one of the slogans used by Quintessence to show people what Optionality Magazine is about: presenting visions that describe how society can be improved. One such vision is Don Paragon's Vision of the Future. But there are many others, such as Libertaria and Voluntaria. Years ago, Optionality Magazine presented an article by Marion, called A children's Tale, in which the traditional ingredients of a fairy tale (Kings, princes, castles and farmers) were adjusted to fit more modern ideas, such as abolition of master-slave relationships and more respect for creative thinking, as opposed to traditional discipline. Another vision that dates back many years is the Parallel Society, which argues that cultural change does not so much take place by means of dramatic revolutions, but instead that a new culture will emerge that will for a long time co-exist in parallel with the dominant culture, until that dominant culture collapses and the new culture becomes the dominant one by default, rather than by means of a planned take-over.

The next paragraphs will give some more background on DonParagon's Vision of the Future, admittedly Optionality Magazine's most favorite vision. But importantly, most such visions will have some simularities. Moreover, Optionality Magazine endeavours to find a variety of visions that fit in with, incorporate or otherwise support optionality. Inherent with optionality is that no one single vision should be presented as the one and only valid one. The very idea behind Optionality Magazine is to present, compare and discuss different visions. This article looks at signs of change that are in line with such visions.

B. DonParagon's Vision of the Future

Throughout history, the cultures that were dominant at one specific time, eventually were replaced by other cultures that could better adapt to new conditions. Today, such new conditions are created with overwhelming impact by new technologies such as in computers and communications.

Just imagine going back in time to an agricultural society. Few people could afford to escape the wrath of physical labor. Most people worked on the land. Even if somebody had a bright idea, it was hard to implement such an idea and to make other people accept a new way of doing things.

So, most people continued working on the land, even when they knew that their efforts made little difference; after all, they did not know what else to do. There were signs that things were changing, but few people acknowledged these signs.

Today, the proportion of people working on the land has decreased to only a few percentage points. Few people are surprised when the son of a farmer decides to follow professional education and settle down in the city. But let's not forget that once there were few alternatives for a son but follow in his father's footsteps.

As anticipated in DonParagon's Vision of the Future, manual labor will continue to decrease in importance. DonParagon pictures a vision that for many sounds hard to believe. The situation is similar to the farm-hand who had become obsolete at the end of the agricultural era. Few people knew what was going on, few had any idea what this industrial revolution was that was taking place.

DonParagon pictures a revolution that, in many respects, will have an even bigger impact than the industrial revolution. Don argues that the way society is organized at the moment forces many people into work that they do not like to do. Instead, more and more will people's activities be driven by their desire to act in the way they choose to.

C. Signs of Change

There are many indicators of change. Today, few people work on the land. Yet, most people do not starve to death. In the agricultural era, this situation would be regarded as impossible, yet today this is reality.

Similarly, could it be possible that, one day, few people will work for an employer, as is so common today? DonParagon thinks so and argues that changes are already taking place all around us, but that few people are aware of this.

Remember the farm-hand who had become obsolete due to the industrial revolution. The farm-hand could not understand what was going on. Similarly, many people fail to understand what changes are taking place today.

Let's look at some of the signs. According to a recent report by the Australian National Tax and Accountants Association, people on an average wage would pay about half their earnings in direct and indirect taxes this year. This included things such as sales tax, land tax and charges levied by the Government on bank transactions. Separately, a recent report by the Institute of Chartered Accountants concluded that, in Australia, a family on welfare was better off financially than a similar family earning $30,000 a year. Tax statistics reportedly show that 70% of workers earned less than $36,207.60, while the real average wage was around $27,000.

Not surprisingly, unemployment has been close to 10% for many years in Australia, despite many efforts by the Government to move people into education, early retirement and on subsidized programs. The main source of income for every one in three adults is a government welfare payment.

Yet, the Australian economy is doing fine. I cannot recall a period in the last 20 to 30 years, when you've had such a fortunate conjunction of low inflation, falling interest rates, expanding growth, strong business investment and falling Budget deficits, the Australian Prime Minister said recently.

D. Are Workers Obsolete?

People spend more and more time in education, before they fully enter the 'workforce'. Furthermore, people become older and older, thus extending the period without work that is sometimes referred to as 'retirement'. Being retired implies that one's has retired from work, indicating that such people sadly have little identity other than that they have previously worked. In fact, many people over forty years of age will have difficulties finding work. They often buy themselves into small businesses with the money they earned from their previous work. Most tragically, many such small businesses are not profitable - one could draw the sad implication that such people would have been better off keeping their savings and 'retiring' early. While people who do work may still work for as many hours as people did many years ago, the proportion of years that people work has clearly decreased. One sad conclusion that many people draw is that many workers that still work, are in fact redundant, while those who are looking for work, are in fact obsolete.

Does this mean that many people are no longer welcome in society? Unfortunately, many people think this way and look down on the unemployed. Many also argue that immigration into, say, Australia should be restricted because 'there is no work for immigrants'.

But this is exactly the mentality that has to change. What goes hand in hand with the cultures of the past is the mentality that people who are not employed, even stronger, that people who do not move their hands on command are parasites. This is looking at the world from the same perspective as society did in times of the Industrial Revolution, when the farm-hand was regarded as someone who had become obsolete. Of course, the farm-hand was still welcome in society, as long as he stopped calling himself a farm-hand.

Many people seek full employment. Many look up to a full-time job as something precious. But they do so because they are stuck in old-fashioned cultural values.

The education system is largely geared to prepare people for future employment. But as the number of people who will actually work declines this becomes a farce. As some argue, tertiary education is a hidden scheme to keep those occupied who would otherwise be unemployed. What makes this situation even more farcical is that it is less and less common for those who do find employment, to work in the area in which they were educated. Even those who do find work in the area of their education, will more and more admit that their education has not really prepared them for the challenges of their daily work. Add more pieces to the puzzle and the full scale of the farce becomes visible.

E. Conclusions

The conclusion is not so much that workers are rapidly becoming obsolete. Instead, the conclusion is that the place that employment has in society is decreasing in importance. As full-time employment loses its glance, other things come up that are more important in people's lives. People will start to take up all kinds of activities, not become a boss tells them to do so, but because they want to themselves.

At present, many such activities that people undertake are not appreciated by others. The situation is that people who are in full-time employment are seen as hard-working, industrious people, while those who are not in full-time employment are looked down upon.

Remember that there were times when women were not seen as doing important work. There are still cultures where this is the case. Work such as looking after children, preparing dinner and cleaning the house is still looked down upon, except if it is done under the cloak of employment. A professional childcare worker has status, so has somebody who works in a restaurant.

The signs are that in future, employees will decrease in proportion, just like farm workers who were once so dominant have declined to a proportion of a few percentage points.

The conclusions is that the future is bright for those who have ideas, for those who want to do all kinds of things, but find it hard to do so, due to their current work commitments. The future may not look so brights for those who continue to live in the past and keep glorifying the status of full employment. But just as there are still many communities that are predominantly rural, these people will find places on earth to gather and isolate themselves from the future.

For most people, the future will be bright, as products and services become available at ever lower prices. People will have to spend an ever decreasing amount of time on the basics of staying alive. The majority of time will be available to spend in the way people actually want it. This means that, instead of working throughout the year to save enough money for a two week vacation abroad, life itself will be like a holiday.

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