I would like to look a bit deeper into what consequences the relationship between production and income have on us people. As debated in the last blog, when machines take over production, more and more income needs to be generated through service jobs. We invent whole new sectors and as a huge one of them, namely advertisement, is fully devoted to making these services necessary to us. We suddenly have new needs. Just a generation ago, who thought that going to a beautician every week was a necessity and who thought you could make a living as a ‘spiritual coach’ or even a ‘dog walker’?
As Jacque Fresco says in FUTURE MY LOVE:
“Humanism didn’t get rid of slavery. It was technology. Machines are cheaper and faster than slaves.”
I do believe that technology has the very real ability to free us from work, but it will take ‘humanism’ to change how we use technology. But to what extent did we really overcome slavery? What is a slave?
I find the different dictionary definitions of the word interesting: "a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold and are forced to work," or "one bound in servitude as the property of a person or household." Looking at the Greek origin of the word economy (oikonomos) – "one who manages a household" – and at the fact that our common household is our economy, the question is: to what extent are we bound in servitude and are therefore enslaved to the economy?
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
We have a growing need of service jobs to generate enough income. The word ‘service’ originates from the Latin ‘servitium’ meaning slavery, from ‘servus’ meaning slave…We demand good service when we are the consumer, and we are expected to provide the same when we perform work or duties someone is paying us for. Could we say that ‘the person holding money is the master, and whoever needs it is the slave?’
We can commodify pretty much anything. Good service is there to give consumers a ‘real feeling’, ‘real friendship’ or ‘real smiles’. When this service is provided to us on a bad day, we have several options: to lie and smile, or to alter our own feelings, or to learn to smile genuinely even when we are sad or angry. What basic human communication do we lose in this process, and how do we know when we get too good at this skill? A stranger who is nice to you can make your day, it’s an incredibly valuable gift. We should not take it for granted and be careful in what we do to be given it freely.
Are all of us uniformly enslaved by the economic system?
Or are some of us less subjected to its grip? If so, do any of us of have the choice to walk out? Is there anything we are not allowed to sell? Our smiles, voices, appearances, truths sold long ago?
I decided to speak to X, a colleague of mine who I deeply respect. She has a different perspective and a unique method to find freedom for herself as an artist within this system. Could what is often referred to as the ‘oldest profession in the world’ be a way to better understand the power relationships within the economic system at large?
Maja: What do you do?
X: I am a filmmaker and I also do sex work. I have a hard time seeing myself commit to any other profession – films I make all the time and sex work is how I make money.
Sex work is a part of my identity because it was something I was really drawn to for many reasons, but it was also a big choice for me to make. In the beginning I perhaps identified more with the movement and the struggle for better rights for sex workers than the actual work, but sex work is how I’ve been surviving the last three years so the actual work has also become a part of my identity.
Maja: How does it work?
Our ability to work is often described as what separates humans from other animals.
While animals live off what they find in their environment, humans have the ability to create what they need for survival. It is a unique ability to imagine what ‘could be’ or ‘could become’, and through work make that appear. However, when we work for someone else there is a separation between the ‘doing’ and the ‘imagined’. We don’t often work to create what we actually need — a table, the clothes we wear, etc.. Instead, we make products someone else imagined to satisfy consumer needs.
Essentially we make money, the products we create are just the means – and what we are actually selling is our time.
In addition to the displacement we might feel being separated from this creative process unique to man, when modernity progresses, this way of relating labour and income becomes a problem on a very practical level. We have too much stuff and too little time; how did that happen? How did having ‘more than enough’ become such a problem for society?
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
At the core of the economic system is the mechanism of ‘labour for income’, which means the system itself is completely dependent on us working for a salary. Today it's easy to argue that this need is completely separated from products that are needed or the services required in society in any real terms (I am yet to be convinced otherwise by any believing modern capitalist).
As long as there is some kind of balance between human needs and the salaries generated in meeting those needs, this might be a fair way of living together. But this is no longer the case. The more efficient we become in producing through new technology, the less workers are needed, and the lower the salaries get. We end up in an escalating rat race trying to make the salaries needed to consume the products and services these very jobs create. But man-hours can't compete with the productivity of technology, and we crossed this tipping point decades ago.
If money disappeared overnight, who would still go to work?
I for one would, and perhaps because I love to work myself I don’t find it hard to imagine that many other people would do the same. If everyone felt an active part of society, I believe there would be enough working people to keep society going even without a complete machine take over of labour.
But regardless of my beliefs, let's continue this thought experiment...
If there was no money many services would become redundant instantly. Anyone working at a bank with stocks and shares, anyone working with insurances of course, but also anyone working with accounts, sales, at the till in a shop, etc. But the impact would be felt far beyond the financial and professional services sector – which only make up around 14.5 % of the UK's GDP (despite just employing 7% of the country's workers (source).
Although money wouldn’t exist anymore, we would still need doctors, nurses, carers, and teachers to go to their jobs and we would need access to food, clothing, housing etc. We would probably still want to keep going out to restaurants, see plays, get our car fixed if it broke down and things like that. As far as someone would take pride and joy in their work he or she would probably still be there. For example, if a mechanic would feel that his or her work was one of the cogs that kept society running, this person would perhaps still be there to fix your car even without monetary reward.
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
But what if they didn’t want to? Would it be better to force them to work by monetary means, rather than to relieve them from the toil? Jacque Fresco says in FUTURE MY LOVE:
“In the future we will design cars that are not designed to break down.”
So if we can replace the need for a mechanic with better-built cars that don't break down, or could be fixed in a fully automated garage, why don't we? Because in our current economic model this is undesirable.
I had heard about countries where governments censor their artists and considered myself lucky. I was allowed to make anything I wanted.
I didn’t know I was censored. I know that now.
But the censorship I and other filmmakers and artists experience living in so-called "free market democracies" is different from clearly defined political censorship and, to a large part, we censor ourselves without even noticing. I'm not comparing ourselves to those suffering political oppression, but I want to take a moment to acknowledge the kind of censorship I'm experiencing.
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
In art school I had a freedom I might never find again. I'm sure many artists can identify with this, as we all had to meet the reality of making a living in a world where your ‘art’ also needs to be a ‘product’ if you are to survive.
I often hear the argument that humans are inherently greedy.
This is used as a way to express that a different kind of economy would never work. Such grand assumptions of what ‘we are’ and what ‘we are not’ should perhaps be made more carefully.
Instead of viewing the existence of capitalism as proof of the egotistical, competitive nature of human beings – could it be so that capitalism makes us that way?
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE, image courtesy of The Venus Project
Capitalism does not offer any grand moral statements (more than perhaps the protection of an illusive freedom which gives us the right to choose between the same salad dressings in every restaurant all over the world), it’s not a preaching philosophy.
But it has direct moral implications. Serve capitalism right and you are rewarded, serve it wrong and you will be punished. The ‘right’ thing to do in capitalism can mean making war planes or speculating with someone else’s savings – anything that makes money. The ‘wrong’ thing can be buying fair trade produce or taking care of your elderly mother – anything that costs you more or earns you less.
It took us over five years to complete FUTURE MY LOVE. In those years, awareness of economy changed dramatically.
In 2007, ‘economy’ was not really a hot topic and was mostly left aside for those who ‘knew what they were doing’. This surprised me because I feel so passionate about the subject. As if the economy – the way in which we arrange our physical existence together – didn’t have much to do with our daily lives.
I had started to understand how much our economy affects us, not just in our day-to-day affairs, but also in how we think and feel, and even how we deal with the way we love each other.
Still from FUTURE MY LOVE
At first I was looking for a different way to manage my own personal romantic relationships. I found the 'hetero-normative monogamous norms' too limiting and even destructive, but I was struggling to find what I would want instead.
I found that it was easier to tear apart and be against, than trying something new – to ‘fight for’ something. So when I found thinkers such as Jacque Fresco who tried things outside political norms, I identified with them. I was more than ready to learn about new perspectives from which I could revalue the way I lived personally.
Then things started to fall apart. The economy crashed, my relationships crackled, and the film I set out make was no longer the one I could finish. The economic crisis became a crisis for the film, but as these things go, it also became an opportunity to discuss ‘economy’ for what it fundamentally is; as a human relationship, not just a banking system.
How to sell ‘a world without money’?
How do we fund a film about a moneyless society? Can we all get rich enough so that we stop counting our wealth? Did warfare and waste become a value to us because it is valuable in economic terms? Is labour-saving technology still good for us if it makes us lose our means of income?
FUTURE MY LOVE is filled with contradictions and paradoxes, as was the process of making it. But within these contradictions and paradoxes we might also have our way out. Most of the problems we face today have a positive side. Let's go back to the basics of economy – how do we keep a household with our global resources and manpower?
Doesn't our problem with unemployment actually mean that we don’t all need to work full-time to satisfy our needs in society? Just as the fact that we waste enormous amounts of resources means that we still have a lot to play with – should we dare to manage our time and resources differently? There have been not just one, but several technological revolutions that completely changed the balance between production and working hours. Yet, we have not updated our economy to these new conditions. It’s as simple as that, at least in mathematical terms.
We don’t need to change the world, we need
to adapt to changes we have already made
We know we are caught in a rat race that is damaging the very planet we live on, as well as our own quality of life. We know it is not sustainable, it poses a real threat to us as a species. We should be scared, yet like a hamster, we keep spinning the wheels of the global machinery that is taking us nowhere.
Getting to travel with your film around the world and meet different audiences is a huge privilege. It could easily become a full-time job, and in a world without money, that job would be mine. But I can’t go to all the screenings since I, like so many of us, can’t afford not to earn, even when the drinks are free.
Still I manage to go to some of them but there is one screening I am particularly sad I can’t attend – the Frameline screening at the legendary Castro cinema on 26th June in San Francisco.
Founded in 1977, Frameline is the longest-running and largest LGBT film event in the world, with an annual attendance of 60,000-80,000 people. And I would have liked to be a part, not only for my own personal enjoyment but also because I would like to discuss economy within this context – queer economy, as I would have called it.
FUTURE MY LOVE is rarely branded as a gay film, and I have been surprised that there have been so few questions about the fact that two women embody the love story. Some conservative people have left the cinema and I have received some hateful emails, but that’s about it. I very much hope this is because other lesbians have made such headway in queer storytelling that I am able to use lesbian characters to explore universal themes (rather than the whole drama being about the fact that they are lesbians), something I think would have been impossible ten years ago.
Boston Logan Airport, 30 April.
As usual, my first opportunity to reflect on this mini tour is at the airport on my way home. I think most of my creative writing has been done in equally sterile and impersonal spaces – while waiting. Two weeks of screenings almost every day, and many conversations and interesting encounters later, I'm sitting here with new questions, or seeds if you like, given to me by an incredibly varied audience. From Mexico City and Morelia to Toronto, Canada and then to Boston, USA, I've been surprised both by the different reactions at different screenings of the same festivals, but also by the similarity of responses from different nationalities.
I can make no generalization as to what country or what age group my film is best suited for, but I can see a clear connection between those who usually stay on after the Q&A and share their life story, their own project or understanding with me. So to you who shared your thoughts and feelings, whether they were about personal matters or local activism – thank you, I am processing what you shared with me now and wish you good luck!
Moving on to Morelia, a beautiful colonial city in Michoacán, my mind has been put to ease both concerning the film's value for the 'young generation' as well as the fear that the poetic layer of the film might get lost in translation.
After a beautiful introduction by film writer and feminist documentary theorist Sophie Mayer to a full cinema, where she describes the film as being a ‘seed’ of thought for the viewers to take away and let grow, the comments from the audience were both insightful and encouraging. I was so captured by the discussion that I didn’t even stop when the room started to shake, and I only realised afterwards that it was an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale!