The Spectre of Uselessness

In the London Review of Books John Lanchester takes a look at a couple of books on the robotisation of the economy. He concludes by saying that “it says a lot about the current moment that as we stand facing a future which might resemble either a hyper-capitalist dystopia or a socialist paradise, the second option doesn’t get a mention.”

But the second option does get a mention in other places. The Novara Media crew have made the phrase “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” a little bit famous, for example. So it isn’t that the second option doesn’t get a mention. It just doesn’t get a mention in the books that the London Review of Books chooses to review. If this sounds like sour grapes from a disappointed author, that’s because it is.

In The Magic Kingdom I wrote:

Material production needs far fewer of us than it once did. Our current rulers respond by turning the shared world into a casino. Images of personal liberation overlay the lived experience of debt and low pay for the majority and spectacular wealth for a ruthless or lucky few. The production of celebrity incarnates the lie that we too could have had a life worth living, if only we had tried a little harder, had believed in ourselves a little more fervently. By contrast, public status gives us the means to exchange what Richard Sennett has called ‘thespectre of uselessness’ for work in which we secure both personal emancipation and the common good. Such work is only
possible if we reconstitute the state on republican lines.”*

*I didn’t quite write that, because solecism. Whenever I manage write something interesting, I like to put a big fat thumbprint of an error somewhere in the middle of it.


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