Two apparently disparate ideas are going mainstream that may shape our society for decades to come. Firstly, the growing evidence that our lives are strongly influenced by our genetics is – very reluctantly – becoming an acceptable matter for debate.
Although we do not like discussing such things, evidence of genetic predisposition and bounding limits on our abilities should, properly applied, have some upside when it comes to social policy. Though there is certainly a significant danger of inducing a self-reinforcing fatalism, it may lead to better direction in education policy and more realistic expectations of outcomes.
In a saner world, incontrovertible evidence of sexual dimorphism at the genetic level would also forever discredit the lunatic feminist argument that gender is merely a social construct. However, given that modern feminism is a weird amalgam of hysterical neuroticism and cold, ruthless opportunism, with, shall we say, a somewhat troubled relationship with reality, we would be advised not to hold our breath on that one. Finally, it should put paid to the arguments of those cold-hearted libertarians (that is, almost all libertarians) that poverty is always a moral failure rather than often an inescapable condition due to lack of inherent abilities.
This will be especially important if the robo-bores, myself included, are correct that an ever larger segment of society will be simplyunable to work as their jobs are automated away. Perhaps this emerging understanding is providing the intellectual momentum behind the second important emerging idea – that each person should receive a universal basic income. A fascinating, if at times unintentionally hilarious, article was recently published in The Guardian on the subject, featuring the almost caricature leftist “No Jobs Bloc”, demanding full automation and the right not to work.
To be fair, in an earlier article The Guardian offered a powerful and practical critique as to why a universal basic income may be a utopian dream. Ultimately, however, it misses, or perhaps simply does not wish to acknowledge, the central dilemma we face: a highly redistributive society needs very high levels of social cohesion, so that those at the top with the ability to grasp the opportunities of the new Robot Age are prepared to work like Trojans in order to fund the enforced idleness of those at the bottom, who in turn understand their social obligations to contribute what they can.
It is true such a society can be made to work: Scandinavian societies put up with almost communist levels of redistribution successfully for decades. The desperate problem we have in Britain is that we have – courtesy of the ascendency of metropolitan liberalism – been strip-mining social cohesion for decades. Family breakdown, multiculturalism, mass immigration and globalisation have denuded our society of the very high levels of social capital the Robot Age may require. We maybe about to find out just how costly that will prove to be.
(Image: Bruno Cordioli)