State of Insecurity

My father keeps insisting that I read “The Art of Love,” by Erich Fromm, the German sociologist. (Apparently), Fromm argues that modem love is an invention of the Industrial Revolution. As social mobility grew, class and family structures broke down, and people migrated to the cities, we invented falling in love as a way, a sort of excuse, to integrate and couple beyond usual social circles. Prior to this, coupling was made possible through more formal introductions between families and limited to predetermined social strata. My father believes that as we now enter what many call our third great Industrial Revolution, we are reverting back again to pre-Industrial Revolution courtship and falling out of love. We date through interview and intense digital vetting prior to meeting in the analog world. These changes in courtship culture are symptomatic of a greater shift in our cultural hegemony: how we construct the self. Life is but a fleeting moment, there is no second chance. We are mortal, all too mortal. In Dostoevsky’s epic novel, one of the Brothers Karamazov, Ivan, says that love is against nature. If it happens and went on happening among humans it is solely thanks to the belief of humans in their own immortality. Once they lose that faith, “not just love will dry up, but all that vital élan that promises them to stay alive. Moreover nothing will then be immoral.” This is far worse than moral decay; this is a culture of detachment where anything goes because everything passes. As Satan says to Ivan in his nightmare, “Love will have no time to dwell. It will lose its duration; it will gain its intensity. It will burn more dazzling than ever, aware of being doomed. To be lived through and used up in a single moment and right to the bottom, instead of spreading flatly and thinly, as before, over eternity and the immortal life of the soul.” Anyone can fall in love, not everyone stands in love.

I have been thinking a lot about the effect of our “Third Industrial Revolution,” in a broader sense, after reading some papers by MIT Sloan’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee as background research for offender employment program development in California. The two wrote a book “Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy.” We are in an age of wealth without workers and in a state of technological unemployment. Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue that governments should be more responsible in explaining current states of unemployment and underemployment to the public, especially for those in service and administrative support sectors, not just factories. There are no jobs, not because of outsourcing and off-shoring, taxes and regulation, but because these jobs simply do not exist anymore. These professions have been made redundant by robotics, computers, and online markets.

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