parallel economy and purpose

We do not quite grasp yet the ways infotech and biotech will shape humanity by the middle of this century, and we are already struggling to find a political model for the world of today. Those two observations taken together, project a somehow alarming view of our immediate future. It sounds like we are walking over a narrow railway bridge and we already see the train coming round the hill towards us.

The most shocking foresight confront us with a near future where most of humankind will be of no use to society. Where all we will need will be procured by thinking machines. And at best only few of us will be needed to get that wave started and moving. A world with an almost full unemployment is something no known culture, religion or political system is able to envision and to cope with.

If liberalism, nationalism, Islam or some novel creed wishes to shape the world of the year 2050, it will need not only to make sense of artificial intelligence, Big Data algorithms and bioengineering–it will also need to incorporate them into a new meaningful narrative.

“21 Lessons for the 21st Century”, Yuval Noah Harari

A world with almost full unemployment will also face the need to redefine currency; exchange will lose meaning if no one can be of use to society. If all everyone needs is provided for by a horde of autonomous machines, we will have nothing of value in our hands to exchange for those goods. Some higher authority will decide at some point what we get and what we do not get. 

So here we are, the last generation of a worldview that endured many millennia, saw many wars, reached unparalleled prosperity, and finally, was left in stupor looking at a future for what no explanation was available. No wonder we stick our heads under the ground—in diversion. In this state of bliss, let me adventure a model of economy for the end of the century.

Human centric professions and jobs will likely be needed, at least until we can develop affection with machines and we can be fooled to believe they correspond us. But apart of those, it is difficult to think of what professions may be required thirty years form now. Our needs satisfied, yet not clear how are we meant to pay for them, but restless like an early retirement nightmare that starts at the end of our education, if we need such thing any more.

Yet we will, once more, adapt and survive. We will start creating with our hands again. Craftsmanship will be reborn. And all that what we will do with our hands, rescuing wisdom of old, recreating old technologies and old methods long forgotten, will become value, will become currency. And our work will once more become our source of pride and will produce us pleasure. We will exchange once more goods. Goods in a parallel economy with an inherent value equivalent to the time and the energy we will put in our creations, but most importantly yet, the passion and love that we will put in them too.

there will not be a solution

…for a problem that does not yet exist, if we are bound to the behavior of a free capitalistic economical framework.

Normally the establishment does what the establishment is expected to do; they flood the media with arguments that undermine change by highlighting the yet unresolved problems that that change will bring to the light.

Here we go with all the doubts casted upon the management of battery recycling. Or with the question of where the electric power was generated and at what environmental cost. These two problems, aren’t quite yet problems, and therefore we haven’t yet solutions for them. There is no economical incentive to tackle those problems yet. But this does not mean that they cannot be solved nor that they will not be solved, come the time they need to be solved.

Staying put with internal combustion engines is preventing new problems to endure in the old ones, yet at a high cost. A mortgage for future generations.

Whilst the automotive industry is doing its best to slow down the transition to electrical mobility, other industries, with a smaller financial baggage, face problems head on. Once, a company told us we had a new huge, much bigger that electric vehicles, problem; we all want to have internet in our pockets. And do you know what? They even had a working solution on their way to the shelves!

factoring nature

Since the beginning of time, the environment was a threat that had to be tamed. Rivers had to be bridged, mountains meant death, floods and droughts too. Humankind scrapped a life at the most benign patches of the world, in the interludes between natural catastrophes.

With mechanization and later into the digital age, the ability of humankind to penetrate former inhospitable places and exploit natural resources has seen an unprecedented explosion. So large that nature has to begin to be considered in the equation of most human activities. Yet nature has no rights or protection other that a few NGO’s. Only very large corporations can mind nature in a honest move or a gimmick, in the best case the mindfulness of very few CEO’s or the opportunism of marketing strategists.

In the 50’s you would have possibly needed half of humanity working in the Amazonas to achieve the same level of deforestation that has been relentlessly achieved in the last few years. What a few years ago was unthinkable or practically impossible, is now only a matter of finding investors.

Now, we know that nature is not unlimited. We know that nature is a very complex network of influences and balances. We know that our survival depends greatly of this myriad of balances that we are beginning to understand.

In this manner, humankind faces nowadays a dilemma that may decide the fate of our planet. Some would posit that this is how it ought to be and humankind has to move out to other planets. Others will posit that a new economy can be envisioned that considers nature as an actor in the model.

our society is dying at the push of a buttton

Back in the first years of Apple, a paradigm change started a revolution. The term User Experience was coined. And with it all the complexity of a computer would be made invisible to the user in a turn of events that would give raise to the User Centered Design.

The User had only to bother pushing a button and a number of agents would take action to handle a complex amount of transactions between hardware and software to provide a response. In a sort of way, that was the end of computer programming for everyone. Nobody needed to bother doing that anymore.

But we are no longer just using computers. We are using computers to use the world. The obscured and complex code and engineering now engages with people, resources, civics, communities and ecosystems.

Kevin Slavin

The success of this model—at the time confined to a personal computer—has in the last few years spilled out of it and in our society. The User has only to push a button and a number of people, together with hardware and software, are magically set in motion. Very likely not in a way we would consider as honorable, would be know of it.

A cook, a bicyclist, a warehouse worker, a cab driver, a courier, a growing list of people are becoming a piece of living hardware connected to a button in our smartphone. A list that one day may include us all, in a huge “Amazon Mechanical Turk” that may turn our society into a dystopian nightmare.

scaffolding the corporation for the 2030

in still many corporations, young arrivals would, after a time, come to realise that the only way to make a career is to work up the ladder towards management. Yet not everybody can be or ought to be a manager. This is not new hence unfortunately many who today are shouldn’t be.

In the down of AI, many jobs that today still exist and busy thousands of people, (e.g. moving data from one excel sheet to another, from one database to another) will be one day no more. When a text line will suffice for AI to do all we need with data. And those people who have been shifting cells and making graphs for the last fifteen years won’t have it easy to still be able to add value to their organisations. Yet we find them in ageing swarms in our offices nowadays.

At the same time, we loose young talent because they see no ladder other than the management one. But eventually they would see themselves fitting in the role of an specialist, however no career scheme is today set for those.

Come the time of AI, will be those specialists who will be able to add value to their organisations, and will be those we regrettably miss, and even more regrettably we let go of them when we could have kept them, and grow them inside and in time.

Now more urgently than ever it is time to build the scaffolding of what our organisations will be in 2030. Otherwise we will find ourselves where now traditional banks start to find themselves: rapidly rendered inefficient by FinTech.

A career path moving toward specialisation that will grow towards mastery and end in a position not of management, but of organisation core competences, strategic growth and newcomers nurturance for a new generation of mastery.

This builds into an organisation with less people but more specialised and thus expensive people. Yet those organisations who choose to save money on their people and not foster specialisation, will soon have to close entire divisions out of asphyxia and with a high social cost. Still we have time to make a choice for the future, foster talent and be agile.

becoming invisible

In former times, the worst possible punishment a society could impose on an individual was being sentenced to invisibility. Ayla was thus sentenced by her clan in Jean Marie Auel’s “The clan of the cave bear“. Without the support of the cavemen society, life would normally meet an end for a social being as the Neanderthal were. Our strength lays in social interaction and thus our survival. It is hence no wonder that social isolation afflict us in a special irreflexive way today.

One widespread mode of social isolation is what elderly experience as they pass the age when they are regarded as “customers”. In a capitalist economical system—as well as the communist implementation that history records (E. Fromm), an individual may be regarded as a customer as long as this individual will actively engage in economical activities by exchanging money for services and goods. As long as each of us is seen as a potential customer we do enjoy social awareness and we feel part of the whole. But as soon as we come to fit into the type of individual that is no more seen as a potential customer, society will loose interest on us, up to the point when we will feel socially isolated. It is often for this reason that people reaching their retirement age will feel anxiety and look for workarounds to still feel useful and part of the society.

It is unfortunate and a sign of our shortcomings as a society, that we let our elderly live their life in anxiety. Those people who built the world we are now living on. That created the basement of what things we are today ourselves building. We should be reminded that this fate is waiting for all of us “customers” too, unless we start doing something about it now.

There is an untapped potential in our elderly, waiting for us to channel it. Our mobile and modern lifestyle rendered them away from the traditional family environment, but our technology can bring them back where they always belonged for a very needed role that our children today, as much as ever, long and need in order to grow as whole persons.

the stone and the rope

visiting an art exposition is an event that often struck something hidden in the back of our minds. Things are shaken that normally lie back dormant in a quiet pool. This time was a paintings exposition by Gabriele Münter in the Lenbachhaus art gallery in Munich.

The progressive theme-sorted display of paintings makes me reckon how much iteration, experimentation and discovery is visible behind those works. Makes me imagine how exciting a life of devotion to art can be, yet surely not exempt of hardships. Or for that matter, a life devoted to writing, or photographing or any creative undertaking.

At some point one ends reflecting on himself. “And how well I fare in this sense?” To come to maybe saddening thoughts. Thoughts of one’s own creativity being crippled by the almost unmovable machinery of industry and corporations. One would wish that one’s life would be like Gabriele’s—a continuous slope of experimentation and learning and of improvement of one’s work and the enhancement of coworkers and the world around. However often one sits on a nimble boat over fetid waters of politics and power-grabbing, a place where creativity would be rather seen as something that could go wrong and topple the statu-quo.

One would have a vision of corporations as rotting in the inside, not visible immediately but crumbling in the long run. We often see this increasing gap in creativity when we do travel from the splash of new ideas in the internet economy with the somber rudeness of corporation processes and tools. Sometimes we ever manage to put some patches but still the core is old and crumbling. Generation changes are too spaced. Fear of failure is deep rooted hence not trying is better than failing. Willing to ignore that failing is the antechamber of success. All for the short term. Now and here. This month, this quarter, just this status report.

“Let’s solve this now, and later we will think of a better solution. “ how often we hear those words. And we know that the truth behind them is that there will never be a later and that we will be again in the same situation in the near future, with only the old yellowing and cracking solution of old at hand. A thin sheet of gloom tell us that the next time we will be in a yet more precarious situation and that the old solution may not be enough this time.

Would be too easy to put all the blame on those who have to take decisions. Even if their own lack of imagination will doom entire teams or divisions, they are only the result of an industrial policy with a deep reformation announced one century ago and well due now. Erich Fromm confirms the common traits of the predicaments of the humanists of the beginning of the nineteenth century:

  • the need to aim the industry for the good of humankind instead of for its own sake,
  • to account for the environment in the industrial exploitation of resources,
  • that solidarity should prevail among people,
  • that the aim of any activity must be oriented to maximize the well-being of humankind,
  • that not maximum consumption but reasonable consumption is desirable
  • and ultimately that the individual needs to feel a contributor to the whole.

These, ring today with ever more remarkable actuality and urgency.

to be or to have

What do I want? I want to be happy. Fair enough. To be happy I need things. Yet my ultimate purpose is to BE happy and not to HAVE things. So far so good.

To BE happy I need first and foremost a healthy body upon I can live. I can be happy in an unhealthy or mangled body but it is much harder. Thus I need to HAVE the first thing. If I am lucky enough to have been born in a healthy body, now I just need to keep it healthy. And if not, I have to learn to BE with what I got and try to improve it if possible. For all purposes, the body is the first and most important THING I need to BE happy.

To keep a healthy body I need once more to have things. Possibly the most urgent and important, I need to procure my body with good nutrients (not antibiotics-infested meet grown in a farm I do not dare even imagine if I want to keep myself in a state of ignorant bliss-sanity). To procure good nutrients to my body I need to either grow them myself or buy them with money. Hence now I need to HAVE land and/or money. Secondly, I need shelter; a healthy space, dry, illuminated, spacious enough and protected from cold or hot weather. I need a medical insurance. Ultimately, to be able to HAVE all of this, I practically need to HAVE money.

Unless I am born in a rich family, I need to become somebody if I want to be able to HAVE money. I need to become useful to the society and through my usefulness seek a way to acquire money. Hence my task to BE happy is usually surrogated primarily to becoming useful to the society. And here I may get already lost in the way and forget the purpose of the trip.

Now that I have and can keep a healthy body, and if I didn’t get lost on the way, I need to figure out what do I want to do with it that would enable me to BE happy. I need now a purpose. But the purpose would be meaningless if it would only become the act of HAVING things. I need to BECOME someone. And here again I can easily get once more lost. And I haven’t yet started walking my path to happiness.

carts with broken wheels

That our politicians must in the first line protect our workplaces has become an unquestioned matter-of-fact. Even some are so carried away that have taken it as an electoral banner. After a first look it may seem a legitimate expectation, or not.

The images of abated people after a factory is closed down fill us with sorrow. Those images bring to us feelings of hopelessness, and fragility. Not to mention the family stress and consequences that those people will begin to suffer. Any effort aimed towards turning around such situation may seem an imperative and something politicians would have to employ all their resources we put at their hands to achieve.

The closure of factories or mines or offices or any corporation entity is often the result of the inadequacy of that organization to create something the society needs—or it has been made to believe that it needs. As the world changes and evolves, corporations have to reframe their products and services and change too. Some do it right and some do it wrong. To discuss whose fault a closure is leads nowhere and won’t bring the corporation back to life. If they are closing down factories it is probably too late. Focusing our resources on keeping those corporations going, for sake of workplaces, is a hopeless resources sink.

The cost of opportunity is even a larger; a continued sink, a bleeding wound. By focusing on keeping a broken organization running we miss the opportunity to invest our efforts in a new corporation, one that is more suited to our times. And it is likely that in that very same moment, another group of people, city, region, or country will take that opportunity. Out window of opportunity is then gone for ever.

What we may better want to request our politicians is that they create the grounds so that those opportunities can flourish. In this manner we can provide those families soon a new more suitable job. A job that will contribute to create something desirable and not something that only exist because of a subsidy, and that nobody needs. A job to feel proud of.

Effort put on fostering new opportunities would be like pulling a cart downhill, whether keeping something broken running would be pulling it uphill. To keep a constant speed we will have to sink enormous resources and some day, no matter what, it will stop. And every body else will be, by that time, much ahead on the road. By this analogy, we want to ask our politicians to build a road around the hill, as opposite to help us pull the cart uphill.

Spain is a constitutional monarchy…

…and exercises a parlamentiary system.

In this backdrop, approximately over two million people, a five percent of the whole country’s population, exercised or tried to exercise what they believe to be their right to express their opinion casting a vote in an illegal referendum. Presumably the vast majority of those who voted were aware that the referendum was illegal.

The referendum was certainly illegal under the constitution of Spain. The constitution being the most basic and fundamental set of laws that a country decide to abide by, the numbers above are too large to not cast questions about the inner workings of Spain.

Incidentally, this presumed five percent of population aren’t spread over the whole country but concentrated in a particular region: Catalonia, with its own identity, culture and language. Hence amounting to approximately one third of the population of the region. A region cannot possibly be expected to abide by a constitution if one third of its citizens do not agree with it. In one or another way, it requires urgent political discourse and eventually revision.

Unfortunately the Spanish government has resorted, in a moment of panic, to police brutality and to negate the dialog with the regional government of Catalonia on the basis that the referendum itself was contravening the constitution. Whatever legitimate, reasonable or unreasonable, aspirations those over two million citizens of Catalonia may have to act in violation of the constitution of Spain, the display of police brutality would in no way help deescalate the crisis.

If this situation needs to be solved within the current Spanish state government framework, the elected parlamentaria would have to bring the problem to the parliament, negotiate a solution, and propose legislation to be approved. Yet this would mean to negotiate with the support of only five to six percent of members of the parliament. It will unlikely lead to an agreement that the Catalan populace may see as fair. Hence the progressive escalation of opinions and polarization of the citizenship.

Moving the magnifier backwards to focus on Europe, this is not an isolated case. Often financial reasons are the trigger to separatist movements that have their deep roots in identities, history, and culture. A shift towards a wave of separatism is not the  solution to European countries’ problems, but a move towards homogeneity: To surround ourselves with people we perceive to be like us.

 without conflict, there can be no consensus, and although consensus leads to conflict, conflict also leads to consensus.

Ralf Dahrendorf, Wikipedia

Homogeneity starts with what could be a reasonable and legitimate scale of aspirations, but leads to the negation of all what the free world have achieved in the last centuries. We have a contemporary example of what the negation looks like in its most treminal form: Trump.

The challenge of our society is to see the monster waiting beyond the first green pastures of homogeneity. To demand of our elected representatives action, action now, and action for today’s problems, and not the possibly outdated solutions to past problems. Failing to find a solution to this issue is surrendering sovereignty over to the markets. And in this case the whole society will loose, in the short or in the long term.