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Let's Make Waves!

Slave Wages, Wage Slaves, and New Waves

Special combined issue. We're doing a combined July-August issue of Outside: Speculative & Dark Fiction for several major reasons that have knocked us for a loop, including life's usual collision with a furniture van, like every day has been Monday for the past 6 weeks; the wedding of Brian and Gwen Callahan (applause) and their departure for their honeymoon in Europe shortly; the recent cancer of my mother from which she is thankfully in remission (age 75; leukemia); and some dark secret doings that we'll excitedly tell you when the September issue hits the Web. So enjoy this issue and stay tuned for more great stuff!

Today, let me play Futurian—I had a daydream in my car while driving to work the other day. The dog days of summer are upon us, and I'm feeling the urge to go lie down at the beach. Futurian is an old SF term—a Golden Age group of SF lovers and writers called themselves that. I was listening this morning to a discussion on PBS, about the world population. On one side was Dr. Sourpuss, who argued against doing anything about the problem for fear of lowering birth rates below zero and heading us toward extinction. On the other side was Dr. Smileyface, who kept mahvelling, just MAHvelling, at what it means to have six billion people on this world. It took until this century to put the first billion in place. It only took 12 years to put the most recent bil in place. I remember reading as a child in the 60's that there were 3 billion, going on 4. Someday, in the SF future, in 2001 and beyond, there might be standing room only. Well, it's 1999 and we're about to enter the brave new millennium. It is the future. We have arrived here, and when I see people driving on the freeway talking in their cell phones, I think science fiction has become real. Then I see Unhappy Red Meat Eaters Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything/Never Cognizant Of Their Own Many Faults (URMEWIANE/NCOTOMF) zigzagging violently on the freeway in their SUV's, cutting people off, and I realize it's still kind of the Stone Age. Dr. Joyce Brothers was right many years ago when she said that we are "Stone Age people living in the Atomic Age."

here's been a lot of debate about what this population explosion really means. Do we become Morlocks and Eloi, the one living underground as brutes, the other enjoying lives of genteel leisure while actually being fattened as food for the Morlocks? Do machines destroy more and more jobs as these people multiply, and do we wind up with Soylent Green type affluent fortresses surrounded by multitudes living in grimy, violent jungles? (or does that describe the modern city as it is today?).

Suddenly, in my ruminations, I burst upon a pleasant vision. First of all, I don't think machines destroy jobs; rather, they create higher-paying jobs for which more training is required. Right now, something like 66% of the world's population lives in coastal areas, many in danger of being flooded if warming melts more polar ice. The coastal seas are being poisoned by vile effluent from the cities. Many populations of fish are on the verge of extinction. Entire ecosystems on the ocean floor are destroyed, thousands of square miles a year, by huge nets that are dragged along the bottom to catch fish that are increasingly rare to find. By some accounts, 2/3 of the world's coral reefs are dying. On and on, a catalog of horrors. Now suppose that we are able to turn all this around. Suppose we develop clean energy sources. Suppose people stop dumping motor oil in their yards, so that the oil seeps down into the groundwater. Suppose we make a quantum leap forward and become a society that cares for its own, providing medical care to all? Suppose we do in fact develop a whole set of jobs related to cleaning up the planet, and keeping it clean? Plenty of jobs there.

I got to thinking about the very nature of work itself. In the Stone Age, it was a matter of day to day survival, much more literally than a first-world person with various social safety nets can joke about today. You had a rock and a wooden stick, perhaps, and had to hunt things to eat. You could pick berries, but not much protein there. Millennia later, as we have perfected the rock and stick routines to become our daily commute and so forth, most of us derive satisfaction from some aspects of our jobs, but we could take it or leave it. There was a time not long ago when one human being could own another and literally work that person to death with impunity. Now we joke about being wage slaves. We show up for eight hours (or 10, or whatever). We perform work (burn calories, move objects) in the social food chain, and receive symbolic markers that we can trade in for the objects we originally had to bag with the rock and the stick. Our bosses are not allowed to beat us, though psychological abuse still persists. Management frequently is not appointed on the basis of skill, but on having bully qualities that are useful in warrior groups when no particularly charismatic leadership is available. Somehow, we have landed men on the moon. Somehow, despite Congress, we deliver Social Security payments to Peoria.

As society (ours and the world's) democratizes more and more, two things begin to seem really anachronistic: the idea that we work for bullies, and the idea that during our hours of employment we are just legally protected slaves. It doesn't help that we Americans live in a society where half of our children have no access to medical care—unbelieveable. Our society has two basic options: to continue destroying people and ecology, and go down the path of the Anasazi, for example, who disappeared when their environment collapsed from lack of water; or we can become a more humane society that strives to save the coral reefs and preserve endangered species, and when that mindset really kicks in, we might even be kinder to our own race. And I feel it coming—one important symptom being that, for once, the civilized world stood up to a mass murder, mass rapist, and mass torturer, Milosevich, and his illegitimate regime of Nazi-style gangsters. It's a symptom that civilized people are finally beginning to really say enough to being led by bullies.

There will be no lack of jobs as we truly become caretakers of our world, as mandated in Genesis. I was daydreaming, of course, as I listened to PBS, and when I got where I was going and turned the engine off, the radio went silent and I could almost still capture a wisp of that insubstantial dream: a future in which each person works for him or herself, without all the stress, maybe in a lot of pleasant sunshine, and with no neckties. It's a future in which the work itself is vitally important, and it's not to benefit some bully, but for everyone's benefit. Maybe we'll wear deck shoes and a captain's cap, and, whenever we need to, nap in the sunshine. If there is anything about our lifestyle that is unpleasant, it's the unnatural fatigue we all feel, trying to get so much done in so little time. I mean, if your job is to keep coral reefs clean, what's the rush? If your job is to watch rainwater run off through scrubbers, while napping on rich thick grass, where's the stress? I can't quite put it all back together as it was in the daydream, but it sure feels good to remember what I can. It's almost like working our way back to Eden.


Website Copyright John T. Cullen as indicated on this label. Editorial content copyright John Kenneth Muir as indicated above