Ambitions of the Post-Scarcity Left

R. Salisbury

What are the left's highest ambitions now? While the right seeks increasingly radical & ambitious change, such as Silicon Valley's quest for human biological immortality and general AI, or the neoreactionary accelerationist fringe's desire for an AI that will become godlike and destroy all the boring notions of humanity, completing the project of capitalism in an eschatological end of human history. The left (which many would argue doesn't even exist as a coherent faction), on the other hand, is very much on the defensive: We are merely reacting to the right, trying to stop further immiseration, trying to engage on the interpersonal and symbolic level, and #resisting Trump. Though there is a growing movement towards engaging on the level of political and economic power struggles, the ambitions of that faction are still fairly modest; at the most reformist, there is the fight for 15, which is a great achievable goal for the here and now that everyone on the left should support; at the most ambitious, there is the universal basic income, which happens to enjoy nonpartisan support (although much of the support from the right comes from its promise of eliminating other welfare programs).

If we are to build a movement for leftism, for liberation and democratized power, it needs to do more than exist simply in opposition to fascism or capitalism. We can leave the stern, joyless, puritanical goals of moral purity and politically correct status quo for the right and the identitarian liberals. We need genuine, visionary, positive ambitions that will invigorate people and make them excited about what the left has to offer. These ambitions should range from what is immediately achievable to what is, or at least seems, unachievable within our lifetimes. Let's list the immediately achievable goals of the left in general:

  • An increase in the minimum wage to something that we can actually live on, such as $15 or more.
  • A single-payer healthcare system administered on the federal level to provide affordable or free healthcare for all.
  • A reform of the university system to make it accessible to anyone at low or no cost and the cancellation of existing student loan debt.
  • A universal basic income.

These are all great goals that appeal to a wide range of people, many of whom would not consider themselves left thanks to the reputation we've gained as harsh, highfalutin academics who only care about identity politics and the middle class. However, these are tactical goals, not strategic ones. Once we've gained political and economic power through these achievements, we'll need to continue pushing forward to ensure that these achievements don't get destroyed in another reactionary period. The post-scarcity left has many more of these strategic goals:

  • The reduction of necessary working hours and eventual elimination of undesirable work through the liberatory (as opposed to capitalist) use of automation technology.
  • The improvement in the quality of life for all people by changing the rules around the distribution of property. This can be achieved by fulfilling more needs & wants using public services rather than personal property (e.g. tool libraries and public automated manufacturing).
  • The establishment of democratically self-governed, networked municipalities, which together create a dual-power scenario that challenges the hegemony of the nation-state in order to decentralize and dismantle the power held by capitalists and other bureaucrats.

With sufficiently cohesive political power, this is something achievable within the lifetimes of young people. Socities have transformed insode of a generation many times in history: For example (though there are obviously parts we do not want to repeat), the transformation of Tsarist Russia, an agrarian peasant society, into the USSR, an industrialized, bureaucratic state socialist society, which would have seemed utterly impossible in 1916. As another example, within the lifetimes of most of us, we have witnessed a complete transformation in our personal, social, and work lives as well as in global political economy, by computers, the internet, and mobile electronics. Rapid, large-scale changes that most people believe to be impossible are, in fact, very much possible, and if we want anything like that to happen, we need to keep them in mind as potential outcomes of social change.

I think we can go even further; our goals can be not only strategic but visionary, appearing to cynics as "pie in the sky fantasies" and totally unachievable. This is what people thought about flight, space travel, liberalism, instantaneous long-distance communication, and the eradication of common diseases. This is what people now think about biological immortality, artificial intelligence, and communism. We should have more than the ambition to have a basically good life (which shouldn't even be considered ambitious but realistic), we should have the ambition for everyone to be able to achieve greatness to the degree that they wish to. We need goals that may be unachievable within the lifetimes of anyone alive right now; here is what I propose:

  • The overcoming of aging and achievement of biological immortality. I have mentioned this as a goal of the right, but this is explicitly for all people, and not simply those who are wealthy or powerful enough to afford it.
  • The elimination of obligation: Deploying automation and restructuring work and industry to such an extent that no person on Earth does anything for any reason other than desiring to do so themselves*.
  • The expansion of human civilization into space, especially other planets and solar systems. This was a common vision of the future in the mid-20th century and it has seemed to have disappeared today, being replaced with the dreary mission of exploiting asteroids and the Moon for profit. Anyone should be able to go to space if they wish.
  • The revitalization of the Earth's ecosystem to beyond pre-industrial/pre-civ levels: The return of megafauna and great forests with centuries-old trees and dozens of meters of topsoil; the transformation of human spaces into ecosystem spaces, including the integration of human technology with nature. Breaking the boundaries of evolution as an unguided, emergent process, into one that utilizes the capacity for intent that it produced with the birth and ascension of the human species.
  • The merging of human thought into a species-wide network of consciousness and perception. We will experience not only our own lives, but all existing lives. We will have not only our individual skills and expertise, but that of all individuals. We will be able to communicate with friends, family, and all fellow humans through the direct experience of their thoughts, feelings, and memories. This will create a new form and level of empathy previously unknown to us that will, I hope, eliminate once and for all the desire to control or harm others for personal gain.

These goals seem impossible, and that's the point. We should not only dream of what seems possible, but what we "know" could never happen. Utopian dreams capture the logical conclusion of an ideology's set of principles. They communicate to others what our eventual goals are. Anyone without a utopian dream will accept the status quo. This is how we go beyond mere motivation and actually inspire people to work with us for more than just utilitarian self-interest. When someone asks why they should join the left, we will have not only giving you $15 an hour, but also freeing you from jobs to do what you want, giving you access to any human product available, giving you the option to live as long as you want, getting anyone who wants to go into space, and letting you experience other peoples' lives as if you were them.

Those other factions want none of that. They want you to work until you're privileged enough to spend a couple of decades in retirement (or longer, if you're one of the 0.0000001%), or until you destroy your body and die. They want the ordinary standard of living to be available to only a certain class, while the rest of us get crappy, processed foods, no vacations, no nice things, no chance to stop working even if we're sick, and only a few hours of free time a day if we're lucky.

Making society crueler out of resentment is a much harder sell to normal adult humans than making society better out of ethical principle and self-interest. Having the loftiest possible goals gives you a very strong position to bargain down from, and refusing to settle for less keeps us moving forward. We should not settle for anything until we have fully-libertine, collectively-conscious, immortal, gay communist robots in space. Your utopian vision of the future much more clearly communicates your politics and says more about where your heart is than support for any particular policy, candidate, theory or performative wokeness. Centrists can claim to be "progressive" and anti-racist and so forth all they want, but in the end, they have no utopia, so the only progress they'll ever really make is incrementally placating the people whose anger they choose to respond to. The left, on the other hand, will never be satisfied with the status quo and will always have hope for a better and brighter future.