To anyone paying attention to current events, we have noticed a harsh, exclusionary trend sweeping across much of the West recently. Misguided opinion makers are taking advantage of social changes to fuel jingoism and anti-immigrant sentiments for political advantage. The dislike of the “other” is reinforced by some people’s strong sense of being extraneous.
Further feelings of insecurity come with the swift development of technology. Many highly skilled workers are being replaced by automation and robotics. The latest forecasts claim that nobody will be immune. Regardless of what you do for a living, you can eventually be fully replaced by some type of technology. Even the most basic human interaction, that of companionship, is in the process of being roboticized.
What is to become of us? Perhaps the most significant part of being a social animal is our drive to be needed by others. Some people in Europe and the United States believe immigrants are arriving to take away their livelihoods. Other people develop Luddite–anti-technology beliefs for the similar reasons. At some level these fears are legitimate. These fears often cause people to withdraw into small enclaves or even to isolate oneself.
I feel twinges of this fear by just writing about it. I went through the heartbreak of being made obsolete by automation. Throughout several years, I experienced my relationship in broadcasting becoming more and more dysfunctional. With the arrivals of each new piece of automation equipment, I saw my work being squeezed out and the necessity to rapidly learn new ways of adapting to frequent revolutionary change.
The technology “streamlined” the need for full-time staff members. Many of the jobs were increasingly filled by lower paid interns and part-timers. Eventually, my hard-won experience and skills were no longer needed. I joined the millions of people who were “downsized”. To this day, the two words, streamlined and downsized, sound like personal insults to me. I understand the West’s existential crisis.
We are blessed to live in this day and age. New developments have made our lives so much easier and interesting than any other generations before us could even imagine possible. The average American has a lifestyle that not even ancient monarchs could imagine enjoying. By most measures, we should be healthier and happier than anyone in history. Yet now we are in the midst of extreme dissatisfaction with life and displays of hatred of our fellow humans.
The Medieval saying “Idleness is the root of mischief” is apparently coming true in spades. A variety of regressive, reactionary political views have become dangerously popular. Scapegoating has become routine and civil rights are being dialed back in many areas. Opportunists are whipping these sentiments to fever pitch and forming political movements. These toxic ingredients are coming together to create a Hell on Earth.
It’s clear that people need to feel needed. We need to work towards a more compassionate world. Somehow, we must invent more opportunities for meaningful work. Everyone who is capable of contributing their skills should be able to do so. A compassionate society protects minorities and the vulnerable. Such a world need not be utopian. We must soon refocus our attention on providing education and training towards goals that enrich our lives in positive, constructive ways. We must have a society that needs everybody.
The effort will come from a combination of answers from social institutions along with thoughtful solutions we, as individuals, devise. The facts are, people will continue to move around the Earth in search of livelihoods, and technology will continue to become increasingly sophisticated. How can we successfully adapt to these conditions?
Instead of indulging in the emotional pain and negative emotions that lead to social isolation and violence, what can a person do to help? We can begin each day by sincerely asking ourselves, “What can I do today to appreciate the gifts that others have offered me?” We can further ask ourselves, “What gift do I have that will benefit someone else?” These are not abstract questions. We need pragmatic, practical answers to these questions.
The feeling of fear about being unneeded is real and scary. It is our duty to face this fear and bring about personal and societal solutions.