Utopias of community
Let me introduce three ‘utopias’ and how they might become our future.
The documentary film After Work by Erik Gandini will be released in cinemas on 27 October after being shown at several film festivals this year. The film addresses technological automation and what happens when more and more people become unemployed. Millions will lose their jobs when machines, robots, and artificial intelligence take over – and this doesn’t just concern unskilled workers but also educated individuals, such as accountants, lawyers, authors (remember ChatGPT), teachers, and academics. After Work mentions the large group NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) – where, for instance, Italy is at the top, especially among those aged 20 to 30. The film also shows, via statistics, that out of the roughly one billion people in permanent employment worldwide, only 15 percent are emotionally engaged and positive about their job. The remaining 85 percent are either disengaged or belong to the group that feels frustration, anger, or has a very negative work experience.
This summer, I interviewed the film’s director at the Biografilm festival in Italian Bologna, where I confronted Gandini with his somewhat utopian or naive belief that a large portion of these 85 percent would not have to work in the future. He replied that we still base ourselves on a work ethic that is 350 years old – from the industrial revolution. The world has changed. In an interview with NY TID, he claimed that if these people were free to choose to work, we would truly see what people prioritise in life.
In the film, we also see Elon Musk, who is positive about universal basic income. However, when asked, Gandini told me that yes, the American magnate would prefer that the state took responsibility for those he laid off – as with the takeover of Twitter.
After Work reveals that 578 million hours of accrued vacation in the US each year – i.e., 66,000 years of holiday time – go unused. Some Americans are simply too busy for it. The film also mentions ‘Western’ tech-producing South Korea, with the world’s highest suicide rate and the highest number of stomach cancer cases. Gandini believes we need to move more from doing to being. So maybe we should consider living a quieter and simpler life?
It’s certain that societies worldwide face massive challenges, riots, and wars if they don’t address refugee flows, which are increasing due to climate change, economic inequality, and unemployment.
In the film, Gandini often asked, «If you had money every month without working, what would you do?» Few had an answer, but that doesn’t make the question any less important. The international community simply cannot ignore those who fall outside (NEET), those who don’t have money, or stateless and lawless people, as Giorgio Agamben has discussed for years with the term Homo sacer.
«If you had money every month without working, what would you do?»
Another utopian future scenario is when the larger global community finally recognizes the destructiveness of how the military industry operates today – especially considering how actors like NATO/USA or Russia keep choosing the path of war-mongering without respect for human life. Or where war destroys entire cities, leaving massive reconstruction to the international community.
Modern Times Review has consistently been critical of the military-industrial complex. Last year’s proposal from the EU conferences, The Future of Europe (Citizen Assemblies) envisioned a united European military apparatus that could also be useful for civil society’s natural disasters and emergencies.
This time, we print an excerpt «A converted military industry» from Ingeborg Breines’ new book Peace Culture. Utopia or Security Political Alternative?. The longtime peace activist and former leader of the International Peace Bureau, like Gandini, is optimistic: «Military defence can be changed to environmental defence.» As she mentions, several countries already use the military to help in crises and emergencies. Also, 50 Nobel laureates in 2021 proposed that UN member states reduce defence expenditures by 2 percent annually. The money could be placed in a fund to combat climate change, pandemics, and extreme poverty. This would amount to 1000 billion dollars over five years – almost a Norwegian pension fund. Others have proposed a 10 percent annual military reduction – clearly at odds with NATO’s military industry leader Jens Stoltenberg, who constantly uses the rhetoric of fear to persuade countries to increase military budgets.
Breines recommends that Norway be a pioneer in establishing ‘demilitarization technology’ and change competence. As an arms producer, Norway is now almost as big as the USA per capita. In the book Peace is not the Best (2017), Dag Hoel criticizes that the society in Raufoss is ‘dependent’ on the jobs at the ammunition and weapons factory. I can suggest that Norwegian military technology expertise is converted to sustainable environmental technology.
Well, with the escalation that many predict where Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands will soon send F16 planes to Ukraine, the quote from the International Trade Union Confederation leader is apt: «There are no jobs on a dead planet.»
The new BRICS collaboration
So how utopian is it that the international community changes its politics from the dog-eat-dog competition society, where inequalities increase, or realises how destructive it is to cheer for an arms race where no one truly wins? Battlefields have consistently shown human brutality, where hundreds of thousands or millions die. Where is the international community that can change this? It doesn’t seem like the West possesses the wisdom required, as the US ideology permeates Norway – with the people’s doctrine of more weapons to Ukraine as the ‘solution’ (90 percent and a unanimous parliament), compared to, for example, Italy’s 30 percent. See the article on the nuclear threat.
The Global South does not believe that weapons lead to progress. Now, the new «utopia» of a community, as well as a geopolitical breakthrough, is being realised. In Johannesburg, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) has now expanded to BRICS 11, with members such as Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Argentina, and Ethiopia. This means that 36 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) will be in this community, which is larger than the G7 countries. With potential new members next year (Venezuela, Algeria, and Kazakhstan), BRICS will control the majority of the world’s oil and gas – an energy supplier the world must pay attention to.
But what does this massive new united community with nearly half of the world’s population mean? Will they (and we) have the tools and the will to take care of people, such as implementing a basic income and restructuring the military apparatus?
BRICS is now introducing a monetary system outside the dominance of the dollar, possibly leading to a common currency («ecu»?) in the future. This shifts power to the south and east. Will this potentially create better global communities, or will it establish new oppressive power structures?
In any case, we are facing significant shifts. After Work concludes with Peter Russell’s book The White Hole in Time (1992): Instead of everyone fighting against each other or creating «manufactured» enemies, we can alternatively develop a more attentive community. The alternative to Western individual independence and xenophobia is interdependence instead of independence – exactly what Gandini told me in Bologna.