Humans Need Not Apply (Some Thoughts and Reflections)
One of the main themes of our more recent discussions is the need to “Break the Matrix,” that is, the need to get out of time-sucking unfulfilling jobs (that frequently teeter on the edge of the haraam), and at the same time generate levels of wealth that can enable one to raise families in decent environments, and have the means to travel, study the Deen, and be engaged in the da`wah. As for those Brothers and Sisters who seek to be full-time Students of Knowledge and future Shuyukh, then go for it–and don’t ever look back. On the other hand, for those Brothers and Sisters, who for whatever reasons due to circumstances, responsibilities, or capabilities may not be able now to be full-time seekers of knowledge, there is a need to prepare for the New Economy.
What is meant by the “New Economy?” It is the global, internet-based, technology-driven economy–wherein we have to compete with people from all over the earth. We have reached a point where change in our lives–because of technology–will grow exponentially (by that, i mean by looking at the various trends–we, of course, do not know the future). If we don’t make the necessary change in mindset, folks will simply be left behind. To bring this closer to the mind, 150 years ago more that 60% of the American workforce was involved in farming. By 1920, it was 30%. Today, it’s 2%.
Recently, i have been saying to folks in our Ciphers: “Would you encourage your son to become a farmer using old-fashioned conventional farming techniques–selling conventional crops?” I’m not talking about doing small scale organic farming using alternative technologies, for instance–and i didn’t intend to belittle the honor of farming; i am talking the practicality of trying to earn a sustainable living and raising a family off of ten acres of soil. The days of the small-scale farmer have come and gone in the USA.
After the era of agriculture, the US transitioned to heavy industry. In particular, the Brothers i know in Philadelphia can relate. Fifty or sixty years ago, a young guy could finish high school (or not finish), get a hook-up from pops or an uncle with a job in a union, and work at the factory making what would be today equivalent to $18-$20 an hour, and in a few years, he’d be making $25 and hour, have the means to buy a home, and raise a family on a single income–and if the wife did work, she didn’t have to work full-time. Like with small-scale farming, those days have come and gone. Heavy industry has been exported to China and elsewhere–and/or are being done by computerized robots. As for skilled trades (e.g., carpentry, plumbing, painting, etc.), we can see that these labor intensive jobs are being filled with recent immigrants–Latinos, in particular. With the loss of heavy industry and jobs and skilled trade work in many cities, many black males have fallen through the cracks, and are now being rounded up for the privatized prison industrial complex. This is what happens when folks don’t look ahead, anticipate trends, and make the necessary changes to prepare to meet ever new challenges.
Now we are in the era of “Cubicle Life.” But here too, we can see–given shifts in technology and communications–that many office jobs in America are going to be phased out. From an economic point of view, why would a company hire an monolingual American secretary, have to pay her $35,000 a year (and healthcare and other bennies), when the company can hire virtual office assistance from India or the Philipinnes and pay them $75 a week? The numbers simply don’t add up… in favor of the American worker. And as the documentary, Humans Need Not Apply, demonstrates, the loss of jobs in the New Economy isn’t only for those in the blue collar sector or lower end white collar sector. The New Economy means that accountants, nurses, teachers, engineers, and doctors have their jobs in jeopardy. The impications of all this is TREMENDOUS–and the majority of Americans are utterly clueless about the seismic economic shifts that are on the horizon for us (from what we can see from the prevailing trends).
What’s the solution? The first step is AWARENESS. We have to be aware of what is taking place. Secondly, we have to reassess our relationship to work. There are MANY people who are now doing work they LOVE and earning decent incomes–with plenty of time-freedom (to do more of what they love, do it well, and monetize it–which leads to an on-going virtuous cycle of high-productivity and increasing income). The 9-5, forty hours a week, 50 weeks a year work model is not written in stone. Farmers, hunters, and trappers of 200 years ago did not observe such a work schedule.
Thirdly, we can model (in what is halaal and good) those who are already ahead of the curve with the New Economy. Right now there is a subculture of “digital nomads,” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_nomad) who travel the world, while working remotely. This type of lifestyle could be very appealing to young Muslims. Among the books, which can help one develop a plan for living in the New Economy is Tim Ferriss’, The 4-Hour Work Week (http://fourhourworkweek.com/overview/). The first impediment one must surmount to attain this mindset is overcoming skepticism and doubt. Most of us have been programmed to work an 8-5-50. But it’s just that–it’s programming that came from people (and institutions) that benefit from keeping (most of) the masses busily employed… working for them. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are people who are working a quarter the amount of hours earning five times the income of the average American. They are able to do so because they are taking advantage of the technologies that are available. And as was said, these people are doing what they love–hence, their “work” doesn’t seem like work. They are doing what they would do if money weren’t a factor in their lives, and that’s not a bad place to be for a Muslim, who wishes to learn more and have more time for religious devotion.
We have moved into a thought-and-idea-based economy. And the technology enables one to put “meat” on those thoughts and ideas. This may require a radical shift in our outlook, but the fact remains: technology and robots are going to make MANY workers obsolete. These outdated workers will serve no purpose in the New Economy–and this is likely to lead to massive social instability. However, there is no reason for Muslims–especially, those of us in the West–not to be aware of what is happening, prepare for the changes, and take advantage of the technologies to benefit oneself, one’s family, the Ummah and humanity. Bi’idhnillah, it can be done–we just have to expand our minds to meet the challenges.