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Progress is the realization of utopias

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Aug 01, 2019

Ok. So the book is from a few years ago and, like me, you might be suffering from a light case of UBI (Universal Basic Income) fatigue. But this interview from last week between Ezra Klein (Vox) and Dutch historian Rutger Bregman is excellent nonetheless (available as text and podcast). They talk about utopia not as a dream destination in the future but as a way to think about where we want to go, about robots (or not), UBI, about being convinced people are basically lazy or intrinsically good, care jobs in the future, bullshit jobs, the 15-hour workweek, and lots more besides.

We know that every milestone of civilization — the end of slavery, democracy, equal rights for women — were all utopian fantasies in the past. So the point is to come up with new utopias: visions of a radically better society. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Progress is the realization of utopias.”

On people:

I believe that most people are pretty nice — that we’re generally a cooperative species, that we’re creative, that we like to make our own choices, and that we’re quite playful. There are darker sides, but the point is what you assume in other people is also what you get out of them.

Universal basic income is all about freedom:

That’s the most important argument for it. It’s about the freedom to make your own choices. It’s about the freedom to say “yes” to the things that you want to do, and it’s about the freedom to say “no” to things you don’t like — a boss that harasses you or a wife or husband that you don’t really like anymore.

Klein, on service jobs:

It seems to me that the future of our economy is going to be more deeply in service jobs. The question, then, is whether or not we’re able to value them to the degree that we should. Right now, we have a lot of jobs that do a lot of work for people, but we’ve cleaved them off from a sense of social status and respect and value. And we’ve attached that value to these other jobs that people suspect are not creating anything for anyone. It’s a sick equilibrium.