On The Future of Labor (Day 5 of 30)

This is part five of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

What I love about film is that it combines physical work with mental/emotional work.
What I love about film — how it combines physical work with mental/emotional work. What I don’t love about it — how accurately the typical production (and general industry culture) often reflects American inequality.

Today is that day that was invariably going to come along, in regards to this project of posting here every day for the month on September. I’m not sure what to write about.

This make me slightly sad, because it’s Labor Day.

Am I glad to have a day off? Yes.

Am I proud to be an American worker? In a way, yes.

Do I celebrate the contributions of laborers more active and resilient than me? Yes.

Is one day enough, to make up for decades-long general trends that have made life more difficult for laborers, more complicated, even as those at the very top have continued to do very well for themselves?

No, I don’t think it is.

We live in strange times. It’s no secret that I’ve wondered at length about them, about what’s next, about where we’re headed, what it will look like. I think this is why I’ve gravitated back to science fiction, where I started as a young avid content consumer (reader).

What does a robotic future look like for labor? Likely, not great. Is anything going to stop automation from replacing manual work, in the real, tactile world? I don’t think so.

Given the choice, would we completely want to stop this from happening? I think that depends on who you are, and how you make a living.

Where is the line between accepting change and demanding your fair due, based on contributions of the past — that built the foundations of today? Do we still even respect legacy in this way?

I know the world is always changing, but it seems to be changing quickly, now.

Some of this change seems inevitable and, perhaps, ultimately helpful. Some of it seems short-sighted, greedy, or at least of the sort that could be checked, slowed, made to respect the potential or very real damage it can and does cause to human life and happiness at large.

I’m a knowledge worker, and a content creator, in today’s parlance. On the one hand, I am soothed by the fact that mine is a specialized skill-set. We’ll always need stories, and I’m a storyteller. I even believe I could be of use in the zombie apocalypse. Anyone who has survived past hour twelve on a film shoot would be of service in the zombie apocalypse.

But I do worry about these things, as I wonder about them.

I worry that there’s no turning back, or checking the rush of the tide of technological change, this time — if there ever was a way to do either of these things. I worry that as technology cheapens everything, we’re headed towards decay and dysfunction for the majority, in service of growth and ascension for the minority — of the increasingly other-worldly wealthy elite.

Labor Day is not meant, I don’t think, to be a day of remembrance. It’s supposed to celebrate the contributions of labor to our prosperity both then and now. This is still, of course, a worthy use of our time.

But I believe our workers, myself among them, deserve more. We deserve ongoing respect, both for what we do and what we endure, what we’ve done, and how those contributions have laid (continue to lay) the groundwork for future growth and prosperity.

A well-deserved day off is a good opportunity to rest. It can also be a good time to not only appreciate ourselves and our peers, but also to take some time to reflect.

We are all of us essentially equal — so says our social contract. I think it’s acceptable, if not crucial, that we not only celebrate labor’s role in securing today’s prosperity as well as tomorrow’s, but also question our role in that tomorrow, and how that role is influenced, diminished, or manipulated by those in control of both our livelihoods and our news.

Whether we like it or not, we may also have to think how we might both accept this reality and yet challenge its assumptions (and ours).

Change doesn’t only happen. We can also enact it. That’s the beautiful thing about working towards the future. We’ll never get there, but we can look back after a while and see where all the chasing after it has gotten us.

I guess I found something to write about.

Day 1: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 2: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 3: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 4: Circle Up and Laugh

The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback

Up is down and down is up.
I messed with this photo. It was fun.

About Those Lists

The year’s headed to a close. The lists have been coming out for a while now, already:

Here’s The Best _________ of the Year.

Here’s The Top 10 ________ You Missed This Year.

Here are the best movies. The best albums. Books. Pictures.

What did we miss? What didn’t we keep up on? What did we fail to consume? The list of lists goes on.

I’ve being a little harsh, but there’s a reason. Lists are fine. Measurements, subjective judgments, as to what’s “best,” as to what you should make time for in a world apparently low on time and definitely drowning in content — they’re fine too. They have some value. I mean that. I like lists. I think there are too many of them, and I don’t trust the motives behind many of the list-writers and think the listing has gotten a bit out of control in an overly Buzzfed kind of way — but I get it.

Looking back, in itself, is a crucial tool for learning. Looking back and organizing what trails behind us into value-tested lists helps us bring retrospective order and clarity to a year that, like all others, invariably, felt as if it was rushing by while it ran its course from January 1 to December 31. And so, here we are, facing another end, another pile of lists.

I don’t have a list for you. But I did notice something recently, in reflecting back upon this this year, that I believe is worth discussing.

The Shift

This year felt like a shift.

I often talk, both here and in general conversation, about the importance of Story to both art and society. As a writer and filmmaker, I obsesses constantly over Story. It’s the god I serve. However, in obsessing, as it often goes, I sometimes forget to reflect upon where Story comes from. In a word, as has been pointed out frequently and repeatedly over the years by artists more experienced and more accomplished than me (though we all seem to consistently forget it): Story comes from Life. Story, at its best, is a neatly ordered facsimile of something that is felt in the world but which begs further exploration and needs expression before any real sense can be made of it.

I realize that some of what I am about to say may be colored by the experience of my recent personal growth spurt (which has been well-documented in this space over the course of this year). But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I started to truly (and finally) mature as a storyteller and person as soon as I started making distinct, observable changes to my life. Neither do I believe it was so simple as deciding, personally, to embrace change on my own.

Before there can be change there must be readiness; before that, acceptance; before that, awareness; before that, willingness; before that, a sense of needing something to be different.

Up until very recently, I wasn’t sure many people, at least in contemporary America, ever got past this sense of need — to look at something that feels wrong, to acknowledge honestly that, for change to occur, we need to eventually explore areas of pain and dissatisfaction. In my mind — and to a degree I think it’s still an unfortunately common occurrence —  when faced with a feeling of wrongness, we almost inevitably (desperately) suppress the impulse to look at that feeling, to begin trying to figure out what’s going on inside us (and outside us). It’s “safer,” in the unspoken opinion of such people, to hold on to simmering pain, than to risk greater burns by exposing ourselves to potentially hard truths.

An Arc of Redemption

I can all say this because I used to be this sort of person — to a significant extent. As I have mentioned more than once over the course of this year, for a while I was saved by my impulse to pursue and tell stories. When that wasn’t enough, almost in spite of myself, I turned to life for answers. And that’s where I found it, more so this year than ever before. Not a formula or a prescription or a list or even an answer — but a common arc.

Thinking back on this year and those few preceding it, I don’t think it’s a coincidence, or entirely due to my own volition, that this was the year I began piecing together an idea of what I definitively have to do and why.

Something is happening out there. Something is happening here, in this country, in this city and beyond. I can feel it, can sense my part in it.

In our hyper-connected, fast-moving world — in a world of lists and ultra-divided attention — it can be easy to forget that everything worthy takes time. Healing takes times. Recovery takes time. Social pains that symptomatically erupt into our world, they, sadly, sometimes, have to inflict their damage before enough attention will be paid to studying their causes. Beyond this, even — studying can take us only so far. The pain must be lived, experienced.

And then it must be discussed, and then something must be done. Invariably, something does get done. I believe that, now. I don’t believe it excuses us from action, that change will come on its own without human interjection, but I believe in the inevitability of our collective drift towards redemptive change.

“In everything that can be called art, there is a quality of redemption.”
— Raymond Chandler

I’ve made no secret of my specific points of anger, in regards to American society in particular, in writing here this past year, or in writing and creating in general for the past many years. At several points, in the past, I was blind with anger. We all know this happens. We all know it’s bad when this happens, not only because it’s no way to live but because in blinding ourselves we miss things. Again, while I’m speaking mostly on personal terms, I know for a fact that I haven’t been, and am not, the only angry person out there. That’s part of the point I’m trying to make here.

In becoming blind, when this happens to us or when we let it happen, one of the most crucial things we consequently lose the ability to see and/or source out are our paths to redemption. For a long time, despite a sincere focus on and hunger for redemption, I could not see any way to it; not while I was angry. Now, I’m working on it. Day by day, I find myself feeling less resentful of past transgressions, and more grateful for the time I (and we) still have to make repairs.

A lot of this gratefulness has to do with the arc I’m seeing. It makes perfect sense that I would have missed this as well when I was still very angry, but still it has surprised me in recent months to discover that I have never been as alone in this “fight” as I have felt.

Something is happening out there. The pain of the last several years, and the resultant anger, is subsiding. People are moving again. In particular, young people are moving. The Millennial Generation, in particular, is moving — and quickly.

The Pushback

We, the young, haven’t forgotten our anger, but some of us seem to finally be using it for fuel. For lack of a better term at the moment, this something that is happening, this arc, seems to me at least to represent some early version of a long overdue pushback.

We’re underemployed, underrepresented, misunderstood and in many ways we are not adequately respected. We’re also not perfect, and perhaps we have struggled to shoulder or adequately embrace our responsibilities on social and personal levels in our early adult years.

I’m not sure that last part is entirely our fault, if it is our fault at all. But, either way, we as a loosely-defined generation have, in my opinion, begun to truly absorb the pain caused by the hubris and naivete of those few generations that immediately precede us. We’ve grown up fast, even if we have grown up late.

This is happening out of necessity. Someone has to fix this mess. If older generations want to help us — good. We can definitely learn from them. We can definitely stand to integrate some of the lessons and the time-tested values of the past. But preceding generations can learn from us, too. They’d do well to acknowledge this before it’s too late. We’re not keen on waiting.

The arc of 2013 seems like the beginning of the rise of a new power. This power is by no means mature, organized or specific. But it is accelerated by technology, its heart finds its locus from a mostly just place (if still a place that remains somewhat naive), and it’s growth is inevitable.

I don’t pretend to know where this power is going to take us in 2014 and beyond. I don’t know who its real leaders will be (if any ever emerge) or how well it’s going to handle the increasing influence it is inheriting and, increasingly, earning. I don’t even know how or if it will succeed in hastening or forcing some of the change that desperately needs to happen in this country and this world.

But I’m excited to find out. I’m excited to do my part. I’m still angry but I think I know how to deal with it now, how to channel it.

I’m excited, and ready, to push back. So are many others. Are you?

Thank you for reading, and Happy New Year. Let’s make this one count.