Yours is not the only response to George Packer’s Change the World that I read but it is the only one that moved me to respond. I am not sure exactly why. Survival of the fittest has long been part of our nation’s dialogue about social inequality and at least since the days of Ronald Reagan, commentators have hailed the values of trickle down economics. None of what you said is new but for some reason - it may have been your unbridled honesty - I was struck in the middle of the night to respond.
Speaking as a thirty something Brooklynite who has a law degree and comfortable life, I join you in your commitment to progress. I live in an apartment only slightly bigger than a postage stamp and work hard to make meaningful contributions to the world. Like you, I care far more about one of my relatives surviving cancer than I do about having a front lawn. The well-being of my larger community - on a local and global scale - is more important to me that the accumulation of personal property. Experts say that our generation is more concerned about achieving happiness than professional success. That sign of progress brings me great hope. You are right to point out that our generation is tasked with loosening the chokehold of special interests. You also rightly observe that “a few very important parts of life have improved over the last half-century because technologists have delivered on exactly the things we expect innovation to do.”
You made several valid observations but in a number of other areas, you made claims that hold little water in reality. It is not that your piece is not well-cited. Where it was helpful, you linked to articles and reports by entities including TechCrunch, The Heritage Foundation, Google and the New York Times. The real credibility problem is that throughout the piece, you presented your opinions as verifiable facts. We are a generation exhausted by the partisan politics of those who have come before. Just as we seek new technologies, we seek new ways of communication. We forge new partnerships. In the best interest of our generation, we try to avoid doing exactly what has been done before. Please Gregory, if you must pander to partisan ideas, try to come up with something new.
You claim to know for a fact that the only idea anyone in the labor movement has ever had to fight inequality is to stall progress. It would be helpful to know where you got that idea. How do you know? Who are you talking about when you say “unions”? Have you had conversations with people within the labor movement? What does “labor movement” mean to you? How did you come to develop this opinion?
I work as a neutral in the area of labor law. I have seen good and bad players on both sides of the labor-management equation. On a daily basis, I entertain debates about the need for collective bargaining. On a daily basis, I watch attorneys and experts who represent management, and some who represent unions, make crazy amounts of money instigating fires between labor and management. Some of these fires are set by the attorneys and experts. That is a fact. Because livelihoods are at stake, much of what happens in the American workplace is emotional. Attorneys and experts forgo logic for victory. However I have rarely, if ever met anyone from a union who believes that “the best (and perhaps only) way to fight inequality is to stall progress.” That is a fact. I have heard such statements from my baby boomer uncle, and I have heard such statements from conservative political pundits. Those players have mostly lost support of my generation so I take what they say with a grain of salt. You seem like a smart guy. Please Gregory, have the sense and intelligence not to pander to old-fashioned partisan ideas, and come up with something new.
Again, I assume you are highly intelligent. Especially because you are an engineer in Silicon Valley, Your post considers several angles of a problem but it is misses important parts of the equation. Including empathy. Webster’s Dictionary defines empathy as, “the power to enter into the feeling or spirit of others.” In the same way that technology is critical to our evolution as human beings, so is empathy. We live on a planet covered with billions of human beings. Because these billions are different, we feel like we live in chaos. It is impossible for one person or one idea or one industry to cut across these differences and to create order. I do not have the answers and you do not have the answers. Private robotic chauffeurs offer some benefits but they do not solve the algorithm of human chaos. They will not extinguish the human inclination toward violence and self-destruction. Attempts at domination have always, always, always resulted in war (in one form or another). The most important thing we can do, as free-thinking independent liberated individual human beings, is learn to understand our human counterparts and to develop a way to work with them. That is empathy. You should learn some. Your future, our future, and our technology depends on it.
If you are unsure about how to develop this important skill, start slowly. Look at your own life. You find yourself in the middle of a technological revolution. Like the industrial revolution did, it pushes forward, always and at all costs. That is progress. Human societies have adapted to the wild speed of progress by developing laws and institutions to slow it down. Labor laws are among these controls. They do not prevent forward movement, they just slow it down. In the same way that your future self-driving car will slow down to allow that elderly woman to cross the street without harm. Consider how these controls have worked in your life thus far. Think about how your life might have been different if the people who raised you - whoever they are - were not protected by labor laws. What would the modern American family structure look like if children still worked in factories and parents were forced to work all evenings and all weekends? Somewhere along the way, you - as a free-thinking independent liberated individual human being on this planet - have been supported by the American labor movement. That is a fact. Please, next time you write publicly about protectionism and social welfare, give these realities a thought. They will help you develop empathy. Again, your future, our future, and the future of technology depends on it.
And if you’re ever in Brooklyn, let’s get a drink.