A Critique of the Category of Employment

“Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”Will Durant

At the outset, I would like to point out that faith in the eternal nature of job-creation is just that; in fact, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to call this a professional superstition that is based on the experience of industrialization and its subsequent evolution: old jobs were replaced by new ones and humans always reskilled or upskilled themselves to perform the dutiful role of a cog in the machine of “progress”. The hyperspecialization and interdependence of the current era combined with accelerating automation could potentially lead to large-scale permanent unemployment. This means that “progress” would be possible without the people, not to mention the socio-economic impact of the dawning realization on these people that they were no more than accidental beneficiaries of a system that prioritized something else altogether. Will elections continue to hold the same significance when gigantic corporations running the most efficient operations on the planet control politics and culture?

One truly wonders as to what this “progress” is and where exactly it is headed because it has been clear for quite some time now that humans are racing towards a disaster of their own making (aka Climate Change). Of course, entertainment (education, media and sports included) is widely distributed to keep the delusion of progress going, and movies on the apocalypse along with inconsequential debates on Climate Change desensitize the public to catastrophe while also allaying any anxieties one might have about the unsustainable nature of “sustainable development”. As Slavoj Žižek puts it, “This is Ideology at its purest”.

It is also important to note that there is no evidence to suggest that jobs as we know them will continue to evolve in a manner consistent with our conception of employment, especially given the ongoing radical technological innovation; dissolution of the concept and social reality of employment is very much an expected outcome and hence the billionaires’ attempts at mollifying the masses with “Universal Basic Income”. In this background, I think we need to question the indispensability of having a job and the relevance of this contingent identity we call “job” to human life and society. Just because in the past people found ways to create and participate in different jobs, it is not obvious that the number of jobs will continue to meet the supply. This factor is even more important when we see that this supply of placeholders-for-robots is being produced from years of incarceration (aka schooling) and cultural indoctrination. Barring a few exceptions, universities and other educational institutions provide skill-training rather than education.

Moreover, faith in the reproducibility and sustainability of economic growth is based largely on the notion of the supremacy of consumerism and commodity fetishism, whose dictum it is to work as much as possible to buy as much as possible, and to repeat this with increasing frequency and intensity, all in the pursuit of “happiness” and “freedom”: Fast-Fashion being a case in point. Even a cursory examination of the human psychic apparatus exposes the fallacy of this proposition. If human desire were to be extinguished by its fulfilment, then consumerism would lead to sustainable prosperity as claimed. But since consumerism is based on the very idea of the impossibility of satisfaction, which is indeed the nature of desire itself, the (imminent) death of this system and its adherents seems inevitable.

I don’t claim to be able to see the future, but if current trends in technological advancement persist, everything about society and humans will change beyond recognition (& not necessarily for the better or worse). Even this change would be desirable or sustainable if and only if our species happens to survive Climate Change, which I reckon will be the final nail in the coffin of the Ideology of Consumerism and its deity of the consuming-human (propped up as a replacement for the gods of defunct religious doctrines), with commodities serving as sacrificial offerings. It is possible that humans will continue to have the option of udyoga, but a job is neither always desirable nor likely to be available in the future.