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nightly ramblings…

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

in the previous post, i mentioned that the past 12 months has been a period of a lot of personal growth for me.  part of that came in the form of education, i went back to school and am now happily esconced at evergreen state college.  the program that i’m in has been examining the concept of work within the human condition, who does what work and how our current ideas about work has come into being.  i was really intimidated when i initially went to the preview in the fall, i had been out of an academic setting for so long, i hadn’t really written anything in such a long time, i wasn’t sure if it would work out, my confidence in myself was “iffy”, you could say.  i had lost my swagger and brass.  but i’m starting to recover it, a little bit.

we’ve had extensive readings, we’ve read:

the meditations by marcus aurelius, the human condition by hannah arendt, the tao te ching by lao tzu, moby dick, robinson carusoe, walden, uncle vanya, the odyssey, what is history?, the work ethic in industrial america, rights of man, john locke, marx, and it’s all been fascinating in different ways.

but the text that’s most affected me has been hannah arendt’s, “the human condition”.  it was incredibily difficult to begin the book, it’s dense and she packs so much meaning in a single paragraph, you have to reread and as much as i resisted it (possibly affected by her gorgeous prose) what she’s been saying has been seeping into my worldview.  i watch some of my favorite movies and i see them differently, which is why i’m online tapping out my thoughts online.

Recently, the movies that i’ve watched: watchmen, hellboy 2, pan’s labyrinth, the orphanage have taken on other overtones.  according to arendt, we’ve lost the ability to fully interact in the public sphere because we’re too busy taking care of private concerns.  the private has become the public and we’re all basically being turned into mindless, robotic laboring things.  which of course, brings all kinds of negative things with it but i guess what really struck me was the loss of the sublime.  what separates us from the animals? what is it that makes us human?  it began with i, robot when i thought to myself, “why are we really searching for the technological holy grail of AI?” in the movie, and in a lot of other movies that feature robots, they are almost always shown as a servant of mankind, their shown holding the shopping bags, drawing the bath, helping us cross the street and if they are shown in a job setting it’s in a position that would be considered “menial” (i’ve come to hate that word) and beneath our notice.  and if you were to ask someone what the role of a robot w/ ai would be in today’s society, you would probably get the same kind of answer, a helpmeet of humans.  but since the industrial revolution, our work, our jobs have been deskilled to improve productivity.  they’ve been deskilled so that if you need to be replaced, you can be replaced easily by someone else.  no spec ial training or skills involved.  there was a man, his name escapes me, who jumpstarted the deskilling by seperating the operations of a factory by tasks and then timing his employees to see how long it took them to complete the task.  there are photographic stills that have become a part of pop culture that were taken by him.  the goal being for a human to work like a machine but of course, we aren’t machines.  we get sick. we figure out how to slack off and not let the boss know.  we take days off. we can’t work incessantly.  i don’t think it’s a big jump to say that since we’re been deskilled and forced to work like machines but with all the failings that are human to say that as soon as they are able, we will be replaced by machines.  it’s already started with technology.  we know from history, that slave labor was incredibly profitable for the south and when they lost it, the south crumbled, and some would argue, to this day, still hasn’t recovered from it.

so the question has to be asked, what is the research into artificial intelligence really about? is it about helping us or about replacing us?

right now, i think work (or arendt would call it labor) is a detriment to the human condition.  we’ve become laboring animals and our concern is mainly for the biological and the mundane. and that uselessness, that working for a paycheck, drains us emotionally, psychologically and so we try to find our pleasures and passions outside of work.  but for a lot of people, by the time they get off of work, they’re exhausted and want to relax and sleep and then the next day the cycle begins anew.  i guess what i’ve been thinking in watching pan’s labyrinth and hellboy 2 especially, is that there is a fantastical world, within our own and we’re unable to see it because we’re so concerned with the mundane, because we don’t have the time and we’ve lost the inclination to see and experience the sublime.

if we lose the sublime, we lose our humanity.

i’ve lost my train of thought….time to go to bed.


From → musings

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