The Friday Otago Daily Times is, for me, obligatory reading. There is always Chris Trotter’s column ‘From the Left’, almost invariably good; then there is the Faith and Reason column – at best, erratic; and there is frequently a piece of thoughtful journalism, often ‘World View’ by Gwynne Dyer.
This last Friday all 3 columns serendipitously held together. Trotter lamented the departure of David Cunliffe from politics, lamenting the utter inability of the party to ideologically reposition itself in the wake of the global financial crisis. In 'Faith and Reason' Richard Dawson mourned the loss of hope in the young generation, pointing to the consequences of a society drained of spiritual vision and consequently prepared to accept the gross inequalities of wealth and opportunity we see about us. It was Gwynne Dyer who pulled the threads together in his astute little reflection on the troubles of Uber: pointing out that the rise of driver-owner-operators in this little market will be short-lived as the development of self-driving cars will abolish almost all driving jobs in the next twenty years. He cites research in 2013 by Oxford economists Carl Frey and Michael Osborne that foresees in America about 47% of jobs will be lost to automation within 20 years. Radical thinking is required to manage this kind of change.
Historically the great change prior to this was the huge shift in social organisation and ways of living brought about by the Industrial Revolution – and that was a messy transition, accompanied by urban uprisings and class warfare. What the future holds now is less easy to predict.
Some folk may remember one of the influential books of the 1970s – Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. Much in Toffler’s old essay reads very pertinently now. He argued that back then society was already caught up in enormous structural change and was shifting from an industrial to a super-industrial society in which accelerated technological and social change left people feeling stressed, disconnected and disoriented. Familiar institutions disappear (e.g. Churches, post offices, department stores); professions change – e.g. doctors, engineers – goods become disposable, designs outdated, e.g. rapid transition of computers and smart phones, new generations emerging before others are sold! Jobs change, markets change and workers become migrants – moving to find new work. This has a huge effect on communities. People change professions because professions become outdated – may have many careers in a lifetime – we become transients/nomads!
Gwynne Dyer pointed out – I think quite accurately – that in this rapidly changing situation “the real task will be to find ways of providing a majority of our citizens with money and self-respect without the jobs they would previously have expected. Some form of guaranteed minimum income is probably the answer”.
As a theologian, this is the area I think we need to be working in. We are looking for a new kind of society – and I come back to Richard Dawson’s comments on vision: “Our spirits need something that helps us to live beyond ourselves, our needs, our desires - that enables us to be more selfless in some way. This is one ofthe reasons Jesus said ‘those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’ ” Amen to that!