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Will Automation Finally Vanquish The “Unvanquishable”?

By blinds-made-to-measure, Jul 1 2017 02:00PM

“Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number-

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are many-they are few.”

Jeremy Corbyn used Shelley’s words at Glastonbury recently. But “the many” mightn’t be so “unvanquishable” in future. People, who enjoy power by their very nature probably have other plans well in advance already.

To understand the psychology of such people maybe we should first acknowledge that there’s a bit of everything that’s human in all of us. It’s a matter of degree, so let’s not get too sanctimonious. I know people (albeit too few these days) who love giving and doing for others. They melt my heart, regardless any any other faults they may have. On the other hand we’re all aware of the greedy and selfish side to humanity in evidence recent decades with sentiment such as, “There’s no such thing as society”. It seems too that some people are happy being controlled. Blithely, they accept the status quo until the corruption and tyranny becomes unbearable. Then they wake from their slumber to join the swell of discontent.

History is littered with uprisings. Shelley’s poem was about the Peterloo massacre. It’s worth while looking it up to keep us on our democratic toes, but, all down the chain of command they needed humans who were ‘just doing their job’.

So, will there ever be a time when Shelley’s “unvanquishable number” becomes vanquished? The answer to that question might be in automation. I don’t just mean control of the “means of production”. That’s already in the bag, but even cheap abusable foreign labour is under the threat of automation. It’s coming on fast and ‘the many’ seem typically in slumber. I went for a pee yesterday and a gated machine barred my way until I coughed up 30p (soon to escalate, no doubt). Then I went to the supermarket and I was invited to put my local potential customers’ jobs under threat by using the automated checkout rather than the humanly operated one. I say potential customers because if they don’t have a job they won’t be able to afford what I have to offer.

Well, what about an automated military? It seems to me that a time will come when they no longer need people to fight wars. Maybe that time is here already. Aren’t drones merely automated soldiers? They might still need humans to operate them (albeit from thousands of miles away in the Nevada Desert, perhaps), but does anyone imagine that that will always be the case? People with power are no different from the rest of us. They don’t like taking the blame for their misdeeds and if they can blame their underlings they will. Better still if they can pass the buck to a computer, which can’t litigate – (even if legal aid were still available).

I call it responsibility dumping. Governments (elected or not) do it at every opportunity. It seems the first thing they learn when they take up their plum positions is how to avoid taking responsibility for their policies.

The maxim, ‘Don’t listen to what they say; watch what they do’ comes to mind and apparently they already have drones/robots that can make arbitrary decisions about who deserves to live or die. We might also question why government would dispense with legal aid. What is the real reason for privatisation? (“Debt incumbent home owners don’t go on strike”, perhaps). Look at the laws they pass that just happen to simultaneously curtail our already diminishing rights. Look at the laws they bring in purportedly to deal with austerity and terrorism. How many people are aware of the ‘bail-in’ laws? We need to distinguish between policy decisions and “the art of the possible”.

When I see the way drones are developing, I think of fragging. Mainstream media and our history books hardly mention it but fragging is US slang for when the rank-and-file assassinated their officers during the Vietnam War. History is littered with mutinies of which we seldom hear. Apparently, the end of WWI was expedited by German seamen striking. French soldiers mutinied too. Ordinary people get sick of bearing the brunt of what might largely have corporate imperialism at its root. War has always been very profitable for the few. Major General Smedley Butler’s essay “War is a Racket” is a very interesting read for anyone interested in hearing it from the horse’s mouth. Often “the many” wake up to what’s really going on and say, ‘enough’, which is no doubt inconvenient for “the few”.

Ah but, with drones, there would be no need for pandering to popular support. What do we do about that? Do we decide it’s too difficult, too dangerous to speak out? Do we leave it for future generations to deal with, along with the sovereign debt, which just happens to hamstring elected governments? Do we Baby Boomers take refuge in the thought that we won’t be around long enough for it to affect us? That’s not only selfish, it’s also dangerously naive.

What does any sentient person imagine that the Health and Social Care Act of 2012, or the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (‘Snoopers Charter’) is about? Acts of Parliament have purpose and despite the impenetrable officialese we need to be vigilant. Do we “question everything”, as Noam Chomsky suggests, or do we blithely trust the authorities do do what’s best for us?

There are many laws and contingencies already in place of which few people are aware. These laws seem to sneak in the back door but they all have purpose and anyone who thinks that draconian change will always be stymied by public opinion should note that drones don’t vote – yet.

The following passages from Jeremy Corbyn’s Glastonbury speech are most interesting to me because he’s essentially admitting that he has no power to effectively represent us without the popular support of Shelley’s lions awakening “after slumber”:

"We have a democracy because people laid down their lives that we might have the right to vote, because women laid down their lives that women would get the right to vote at the time of the First World War.

"That determination of the collective, won us, won us all, the principle of healthcare as a human right for all of us.

"Nothing was given from above, nothing was given from above by the elites and the powerful, it was only ever gained from below by the masses of people demanding something better, demanding their share of the wealth and the cake that's created.

"So it is about bringing those ideas together, it is about the unity that we achieve and we achieve inspiration though lots of things.”

Howard Zinn reminds us of the power the many have over the few: “When people stop obeying, they (the authorities) have no power.”

That’s all very well but machines don’t need sleep. They won’t rise from slumber; they don’t slumber. They neither feel guilt nor do they fear retribution. There will be neither fragging nor mutiny and I suspect there are already contingency plans well in advance to deal with the, perhaps erstwhile “invanquishable, number” if we don’t shake our chains to earth soon.

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photo credit: <a href="">AhmadHashim</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>


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