The American Revolution: Pages From a Negro Worker’s Notebook
Chapter 2: The Challenge of Automation
“Since 1955 and the advent of automation, overtime has been detrimental to the workers. Again and again workers have been faced with the decision to work overtime or not to work overtime, and the decision has usually been: ‘To hell with those out of work. Let’s get the dollar while the dollar is gettable.’ The amazing thing is that this has nothing to do with the backwardness of these workers. Not only can they run production and think for themselves, but they sense and feel the changes in conditions way in advance of those who are supposed to be responsible for their welfare. But with all these abilities there is one big organic weakness. Over and over again workers in various shops and industries, faced with a critical issue, only divide and become disunited, even though they are well aware that they are being unprincipled and weakening their own cause as workers. Since the advent of automation there has not been any serious sentiment for striking, particularly if the strike was going to come at the expense of material things that the workers already had in their possession, like cars, refrigerators, TV sets, etc. They were not ready to make any serious sacrifices of these; they would rather sacrifice the issue. Between the personal things and the issue, they have chosen the personal. Most Americanworkers have geared themselves to a standard of living that is based on a five-day week plus—either in the form of overtime or another job, part or full time. And any time this standard of living is threatened, it is a personal crisis, which means that more and more decisions are being personalized and individualized rather than collectivized and socialized.”
A “meta-intelligent” education means we learn from any sources available including “angry pamphlets” without worrying about the ideological blinders or fireworks because our desire is not to engage in polemics but to “extract signals” from a noisy world.
“In Durkheim’s view, traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. Furthermore, he argued that the division of labor that had been prevalent in economic life since the Industrial Revolution led individuals to pursue egoistic ends rather than seeking the good of a larger community.”
The sea is calm tonight. The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits; on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in. Sophocles long ago Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery; we Find also in the sound a thought, Hearing it by this distant northern sea. The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world. Ah, love, let us be true To one another! for the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.
The real question becomes the social rot and dislocatedness that allowed for the rise of the devilish leaders (and secondarily the leaders themselves). The anomie is the problem, the leader a symptom of the problem.
The term anomie—“a reborrowing with French spelling of anomy”—comes from Greek: anomía (ἀνομία, ‘lawlessness’), namely the privative alphaprefix (a-, ‘without’), and nomos (νόμος, ‘law’). The Greeks distinguished between nomos, and arché (ἀρχή, ‘starting rule, axiom, principle’). For example, a monarch is a single ruler but he may still be subject to, and not exempt from, the prevailing laws (i.e., nomos). In the original city statedemocracy, the majority rule was an aspect of arché because it was a rule-based, customary system, which may or may not make laws (i.e., nomos). Thus, the original meaning of anomie defined anything or anyone against or outside the law, or a condition where the current laws were not applied resulting in a state of illegitimacy or lawlessness.
The contemporary English understanding of the word anomie can accept greater flexibility in the word “norm,” and some have used the idea of normlessness to reflect a similar situation to the idea of anarchy. However, as used by Émile Durkheim and later theorists, anomie is a reaction against or a retreat from the regulatory social controls of society, and is a completely separate concept from anarchy, which consists of the absence of the roles of rulers and submitted.
Nineteenth-century French pioneer sociologistÉmile Durkheim borrowed the term anomie from French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau. Durkheim used it in his influential book Suicide (1897) in order to outline the social (and not individual) causes of suicide, characterized by a rapid change of the standards or values of societies (often erroneously referred to as normlessness), and an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for better or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life. This was contrary to previous theories on suicide which generally maintained that suicide was precipitated by negative events in a person’s life and their subsequent depression.
In Durkheim’s view, traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. Furthermore, he argued that the division of labor that had been prevalent in economic life since the Industrial Revolution led individuals to pursue egoistic ends rather than seeking the good of a larger community. Robert King Merton also adopted the idea of anomie to develop strain theory, defining it as the discrepancy between common social goals and the legitimate means to attain those goals. In other words, an individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately because of the structural limitations in society. As a result, the individual would exhibit deviant behavior. Friedrich Hayek notably uses the word anomie with this meaning.
Chris Hedges’ point is intriguing because it offers an unusual “flashlight” on the problem of “destructive charisma” in leadership styles where the socially diseased state of the society itself calls forth (i.e., “vomits up”) such leaders from Hitler to Trump.
The U.S. and the EU owe more than half the cost of repairing future damage says the report, authored by Civil Society Review, an independent group that produces figures on what a “fair share” among countries of the global effort to tackle climate change should look like.
“The poorer countries are bearing the overwhelming majority of the human and social costs of climate change. Consider only one tragic incident—the Cyclones Idai and Kenneth—which caused more than $3 billion in economic damages in Mozambique alone, roughly 20% of its GDP, with lasting implications, not to mention the loss of lives and livelihoods” argues the report. “Given ongoing and deepening climate impacts, to ensure justice and fairness, COP25 must as an urgent matter operationalize loss and damage financing via a facility designed to receive and disburse resources at scale to developing countries.”
An April 2019 report from ActionAid revealed the insurance and other market based mechanisms fail to meet human rights criteria for responding to loss and damage associated with climate change. The impact of extreme natural disasters is equivalent to an annual global USD$520 billion loss, and forces approximately 26 million people into poverty each year.
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, recently warned that the climate crisis is the greatest ever threat to human rights. It threatens the rights to life, health, housing and a clean and safe environment. The UN Human Rights Council has recognized that climate change “poses an immediate and far reaching threat to people and communities around the world and has implications for the full enjoyment of human rights.” In the Paris Agreement, parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledged that they should—when taking action to address climate change—respect, promote and consider their respective obligations with regard to human rights. This includes the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, the empowerment of women and intergenerational equity. Tackling loss and damage will require a human-rights centered approach that promotes justice and equity.
Across and within countries, the highest per capita carbon emissions are attributable to the wealthiest people, this because individual emissions generally parallel disparities of income and wealth. While the world’s richest 10% cause 50% of emissions, they also claim 52% of the world’s wealth. The world’s poorest 50% contribute approximately 10% of global emissions and receive about 8% of global income. Wealth increases adaptive capacity. All this means that those most responsible for climate change are relatively insulated from its impacts.
In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions, including the inundation of entire low-lying countries, the disappearance of specific ecosystems or habitat destruction, destructive floods, the inundation of low-lying farmland, and widespread water stress.
Nevertheless, the same companies and countries have pursued high reliance on GHG emissions, often at the expense of communities where fossil fuels are found (where oil spills, pollution, land grabs, and displacement is widespread) and certainly at the expense of public understanding, even as climate change harms and risks increased. Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell together are behind more than 10% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1966. They originated in the Global North and its governments continue to provide them with financial subsidies and tax breaks.
Responsibility for, and capacity to act on, mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage varies tremendously across nations and among classes. It must also be recognized that the Nationally Determined Contributions (climate action plans or NDCs) that have thus far been proposed by the world’s nations are not even close to being sufficient, putting us on track for approximately 4°C of warming. They are also altogether out of proportion to national capacity and responsibility, with the developing countries generally proposing to do their fair shares, and developed countries proposed far too little.
Unfortunately, as Kevin Anderson (Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the University of Manchester and a former Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) has said: “a 4°C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation,’ is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable.”
The report assess countries’ NDCs against the demands of a 1.5°C pathway using two ‘fair share’ benchmarks, as in the previous reports of the Civil Society Equity Review coalition. These ‘fair share’ benchmarks are grounded in the principle-based claims that countries should act in accordance with their responsibility for causing the climate problem and their capacity to help solve it. These principles are both well-established within the climate negotiations and built into both the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.
To be consistent with the UNFCCC’s equity principles—the wealthier countries must urgently and dramatically deepen their own emissions reduction efforts, contribute to mitigation, adaptation and addressing loss and damage initiatives in developing countries; and support additional sustainable actions outside their own borders that enable climate-compatible sustainable development in developing countries.
For example, consider the European Union, whose fair share of the global emission reduction effort in 2030 is roughly about 22% of the global total, or about 8 Gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2eq). Since its total emissions are less than 5 GtCO2eq, the EU would have to reduce its emissions by approximately 160% per cent below 1990 levels by 2030 if it were to meet its fair share entirely through domestic reductions. It is not physically possible to reduce emissions by more than 100% domestically. So, the only way in which the EU can meet its fair share is by funding mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage efforts in developing countries.
Today’s mitigation commitments are insufficient to prevent unmanageable climate change, and—coming on top of historic emissions—they are setting in motion devastating changes to our climate and natural environment. These impacts are already prevalent, even with our current global average surface temperature rise of about 1°C. Impacts include droughts, firestorms, shifting seasons, sea-level rise, salt-water intrusion, glacial retreat, the spread of vector borne diseases, and devastation from cyclones and other extreme weather events. Some of these impacts can be minimized through adaptation measures designed to increase resilience to inevitable impacts.
These measures include, for example, renewing mangroves to prevent erosion and reduce flooding caused by storms, regulating new construction so that buildings can withstand tomorrow’s severe weather, using scarce water resources efficiently, building flood defenses, and setting aside land corridors to help species migrate. It is also crucial with such solutions that forest dwelling and indigenous peoples be given enforceable land rights, for not only are such rights matters of basic justice, they are also pragmatic recognitions of the fact that indigenous peoples have successfully protected key ecosystems.
Tackling underlying social injustices and inequalities—including through technological and financial transfers, as well as though capacity building—would also contribute to increasing resilience. Other climate impacts, however, are unavoidable, unmanageable or unpredictable, leading to a huge degree of loss and damage. Experts estimate the financial damage also will reach at least USD$300-700 billion by 2030, but the loss of locally sustained livelihoods, relationships and connections to ancestral lands are incalculable.
Failure to reduce GHG emissions now—through energy efficiency, waste reduction, renewable energy generation, reduced consumption, sustainable agriculture and transport—will only deepen impacts in the future. Avoidable impacts require urgent adaptation measures. At the same time, unavoidable and unmanageable change impacts—such as loss of homes, livelihoods, crops, heat and water stress, displacement, and infrastructure damage—need adequate responses through well-resourced disaster response plans and social protection policies.
For loss and damage financing, developed countries have a considerable responsibility and capacity to pay for harms that are already occurring. Of course, many harms will be irreparable in financial terms. However, where monetary contributions can help restore the livelihoods or homes of individuals exposed to climate change impacts, they must be paid. Just as the EU’s fair share of the global mitigation effort is approximately 22% in 2030, it could be held accountable for that same share of the financial support for such incidents of loss and damage in that year.
The table below provides an illustrative quantification of this simple application of fair shares to loss and damage estimates, and how they change if we compute the contribution to global climate change from the start of the industrial revolution in 1850 or from 1950.
Table 1: Countries’ Share of Global Responsibility and Capacity in 2019, the time of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, as illustrative application of a fair share approach to Loss and Damage funding requirements.
The advantage of setting out responsibility and capacity to act in such numerical terms is to drive equitable and robust action today. Responsible and capable countries must—of course—ensure that those most able to pay towards loss and damage repairs are called upon to do so through domestic legislation that ensures correlated progressive responsibility. However, it should also motivate mitigation action to ensure that harms are not deepened in the future.
In the Equity analysis used here, capacity—a nation’s financial ability to contribute to solving the climate problem—can be captured by a quantitative benchmark defined in a more or less progressive way, making the definition of national capacity dependent on national income distribution. This means a country’s capacity is calculated in a manner that can explicitly account for the income of the wealthy more strongly than that of the poor, and can exclude the incomes of the poorest altogether. Similarly, responsibility—a nation’s contribution to the planetary GHG burden—can be based on cumulative GHG emissions since a range of historical start years, and can consider the emissions arising from luxury consumption more strongly than emissions from the fulfillment of basic needs, and can altogether exclude the survival emissions of the poorest. Of course, the ‘right’ level of progressivity, like the ‘right’ start year, are matters for deliberation and debate.1
The report acknowledges “the difficulties in estimating financial loss and damage and the limited data we currently have,” but it recommends nevertheless “a minimal goal of providing at least USD$300 billion per year by 2030 of financing for loss and damage through the UNFCCC’s Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM).” Given that this corresponds to a conservative estimate of damage costs, the report further recommends “the formalization of a global obligation to revise this figure upward as observed and forecast damages increase.”
The new finance facility should provide “public climate financing and new and innovative sources of financing, in addition to budget contributions from rich countries, that can truly generate additional resources (such as air and maritime levies, Climate Damages Tax on oil, gas and coal extraction, a Financial Transaction Tax) at a progressive scale to reach at least USD$300 billion by 2030.” This means aiming for at least USD$150 billion by 2025 and ratcheting up commitments on an annual basis. Ambition targets should be revised based on the level of quantified and quantifiable harms experienced.
Further, developing countries who face climate emergencies should benefit from immediate debt relief–in the form of an interest-free moratorium on debt payments. This would open up resources currently earmarked for debt repayments to immediate emergency relief and reconstruction.
Finally, a financial architecture needs to be set up that ensures funding reaches the marginalized communities in developing countries, and that such communities have decision making say over reconstruction plans. Funds should reach communities in an efficient and effective manner, taking into account existing institutions as appropriate.
Now normally we associate British industrialism from the 1760s or thereabouts as the launching of modern England with the transport revolutions (railways to cars and buses and subways and cars and planes) and the communications revolution (telegraph to phone to internet to cellphones) and so on.
The very distinguished English historian Christopher Hill shines an alternative light on this trajectory into the modern when he writes: “The England around which Daniel Defoe was beginning to tour at the end of our period (1720s) was very different from that through which James I rode in 1603. We are already in the modern world—the world of banks and cheques, budgets, the stock exchange, the periodical press, coffee-houses, clubs, coffins, microscopes, shorthand, actresses and umbrellas.”
“It is a world in which governments put first the promotion of production, for policy is no longer determined by aristocrats whose main economic activity is consumption. The country as a whole has become far richer. The amount raised in taxes has multiplied by twenty-five.”
In the 1720s of Defoe’s commercial travels in England, the techno-industrial revolutions are still far off. And yet Professor Hill states “we are already in the modern world.”
Lastly: if you see the miniseries on TV, Moll Flanders, based on Defoe’s novel, the phrase “the wheel of fortune spins again” is a motif in the series and one gets the feeling that the society is very changeable and “modern transitory,” where, as Marx put it, “All that is solid melts into air.”
Thus so-called “modernity” can be thought of as a “moving target” for our historical understanding.
We argue that one can only “parachute” in and out of a knowledge field by means of an “enchanting backdoor” and not by grim wrestling with a gigantic textbook alone. A textbook should be seen as a “dictionary” or reference book for a field and you dip into when needed as opposed to being oppressed by it.
Here’s a simple illustration of this:
There’s a classic British movie, The Stars Look Down from the forties starring Michael Redgrave. The movie tells the story of a poor boy from a Northern depressed coal-mining town who survives the downward drag of his bleak circumstances and winds up at a university based on his intelligence.
One scene in the movie shows him at a university debate where resources are a point of contention. He mentions the classic book by Jevons called The Coal Question (how much coal is there geologically and economically, given costs and prices). Jevons was a great 19th century mathematical economist. A would-be “parachutist” in economics reads this and then wonders how it might be applied to oil today factoring all costs, including ecological costs, costs of oil spills (i.e., the Exxon Valdez, etc.) and then looks up relevant pages if any in the textbook. This gives economics a context, a time, a place, a question, a “shape.” The student studies up on Jevons, say, using all this as a “backdoor” into both field and textbook.
The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines is a book that economist William Stanley Jevons wrote in 1865 to explore the implications of Britain’s reliance on coal.
“The nineteenth-century English economist William Stanley Jevons noted that more-fuel efficient steam engines didn’t lead to less coal consumption. Better engines made energy use effectively less expensive, and helped move the world to an industrial era powered by coal. The term, Jevons paradox, has come to refer to any situation in which efficiency improvements lead to more, not less, consumption—one reason why fuel-efficient cars can end up consuming more gas. Jevons paradox applied to information processing means that as we acquire more efficient means of transmitting information, like e-mail or Skype, we spend more, not less, time in transmitting information.”
Adding more roads to a road system can add to the congestion one expected to relive by attracting even more cars, a Jevons-type phenomenon.
It’s only by “going off” on a direction originating from outside the field (from movies to classic names and analyses to traffic other “congestion” phenomena, can one then “charge up the hill” of a field like economics, where you start with a kind of sense of enchantment and harbor such questions as raised by the movie, The Stars Look Down.
One “sneaks up on” a field one’s own way and sooner or later goes beyond the field asking how does this kind of thinking relate to other parts of a university…enchantment and more holism carry the student forward. Without these “twin engines,”” one is being processed by the grim “the knowledge factory” as opposed to becoming a processor and not just a processee.
school such as a college or university processes each student in the
administrative sense: obviously record-keeping means the students grades,
years of attendance, tuition payments, etc. will be recorded and kept on file.
is another level of processing, namely, school by definition means the student
expects to face a gauntlet of questions in quizzes and midterms, in finals and
exams, in the very entrance exams to get into the school in the first place.
school is a “world” of questions, a site of constant “processing.”
To flourish intellectually, which is the theme of this book, the trick is to flip this over and become the processor. One does this by circumnavigation of the campus “carrying” one’s own questions or mega-questions and thinking of the entire campus as the “answer zone” for one’s “homemade” questions. One’s own questions become a “countervailing force” to their questions in all the tests and exams and quizzes.
Jacob Bronowski is a world-famous educator whose TV series The Ascent of Man was an international success. In one of his books, Bronowski raises the question of cause and effect in history and social sciences and offers the reader a “mega-question” to carry with him or her to organize an overall campus experience, a kind of educational motif for life during and after school. Bronowski asks:
“England then ceased to grow enough corn (i.e., food grains such as wheat) during Blake’s (1757-1827) lifetime. It is one of a web of changes, no single one of them cause and no one of them effect, whose strands cross over these seventy years. It is certainly linked with the growth of population; with thirty-five years of war, piracy, and blockade; with mounting debts, taxes and poor-rates; with the rise in prices, and with economic let be (laissez-faire). And these in turn are linked with the enlargement of factory industry and of finished exports; with the enclosure of common land; with the decay of small holders and craftsmen, and the use of unskilled workers; with shifts in political power and loyalty, and with a changing social outlook.
“This is the web, bewildering in detail and overwhelming in the large, which goes by the name of the Industrial Revolution…
“To the end of the eighteenth century, woolen cloth made up one-third of England’s exports, and of her whole output. But cotton, the new staple of factory industry was gaining fast; and overtook wool…”
The student could then fortify his or her understanding of this “cotton-based new history” through Prof. Sven Beckert’s masterful book from 2015, Empire of Cotton: A Global History and understand wool-to-cotton and cotton manufacturing as a “deep engine.” In order to intellectually blossom and thrive and keep one’s autonomy and balance at a school, say, a college or university, the student must arm him or herself with one’s own “mega-questions” such as Bronowski’s “cause and effect” ones and the whole idea of his ‘web of changes.”
“web” in the internet sense is itself part of “webs of change” as is a spider’s
web and all of this “meta-intelligence’ allows the student to “process” the
school and not be simply a mindless processee. This book is about this transition to school-processor in a kind of “secret rebellion”
against the “blur” of normal education whereby the contents of a course are
almost completely forgotten days and weeks after the final.