Chapter 1: Turmoil and Progress
At one time, hunter/gatherers scoured the land in search of food. Small groups of people banded together in tribes, to pool resources. They lived a nomadic lifestyle in which they followed their food sources. Life was controlled by the seasons, and the activity of the animals that were hunted. It was a subsistence lifestyle, but one that provided lots of downtime for the individuals, when game was plentiful. It did no good to take more animals than could be used immediately, because the meat would spoil and rot.
If there wasn't enough food, people died. Draught, flood, blizzard, fire, or illness could wipe out an entire tribe in a season, or an instant. Starvation was just a week away. People learned to eat anything at hand – even each other in the worst of times. When times were bad, they were really bad.
Before the image of 'the noble savage' comes to mind, it is important to realize that life wasn't peaceful or tranquil. Small skirmishes were fought between tribes competing for land rich in game. The loss of even one hunter, often required the tribe to retreat from battle, since each hunter lost reduced the chances of a tribe to survive. It was often necessary for a tribe to remain small, but if it grew too small, then the tribe would die.
The tribe was the center of life for people living in hunter/gatherer societies. Individuals who could contribute more to the tribe were respected. They were given the first choice of food, shelter, and mates. Those who couldn't contribute as much were second-class citizens. The weak and infirm were last to receive anything. Those who harmed the ability of the tribe to survive were banished and usually died shortly thereafter. It was a time of might makes right. Life could be very brutal for the weak.
The founding of Eridu in Sumer marked the beginning of the end of hunting/gathering as the primary lifestyle of the human animal. Agriculture became the driver of the economy. However, farming requires land, and people to work the land. If willing people weren't available in sufficient quantities then slaves were brought in to work the land.
The establishment of communities brought civilization. Controlling people required the adoption of laws, and trade required the introduction of money. Consistent with a past in which might made right, laws were made by those with the greatest might and represented their interests. Of greatest interest was property and trade. The majority of laws were founded on property and assuring fair and equitable trade, at least from the perspective of the strongest. Of course, the effectiveness and reach of the laws were limited by the ability of the ones who made them, to enforce them. 'The law of the land' took precedence over 'might makes right.'
It didn't take long for the mighty to realize that the more land one controlled, the more money one made. Wars were fought to control vast amounts of land. Large armies engaged each other to conquer little slices of neighboring land. The wars were often quite brutal, and lasted tens of years. Kingdoms and then nations emerged from the process of claiming more land.
Once the boundaries of nations were basically established, and it became too expensive to fight a war that shifted a boundary only a few miles, nations seeking greater political power established colonies far distant from the centers of government. A colony gave both land and a labor force to be exploited. But, it required that the nation control the locals. Soldiers were shipped to far off lands to subdue and conquer.
The pace of life in an agrarian society was dictated by the seasons, the weather, and the rising and setting of the sun. There was a time of planting and a time of harvesting. Workload was limited by how fast draft animals could pull a plow. When a person wasn't in the field his time was his own. Of course, a good percentage of that time was spent taking care of the business of providing the necessities of life, and raising children.
Individuals at the lowest class had a tough life. They were the serfs, the slaves, or the peons of society. They had rights (expectations under the law), but those rights were rather limited.
Rather than being a direct measure of how well a person was able to contribute to the welfare of the nation, class was measured in terms of money. Those who controlled money were very unwilling to part with it. A few were rich, while the majority of people were poor.
As it always happens when social inequity exists, class warfare emerged. Those with little became willing to fight to overthrow those with lots of money. Revolutions, slave revolts, and riots became part of the political landscape. These were violent clashes in which massive numbers of people died.
The invention of the steam engine in 1763 by James Watt marked the beginning of the decline of the Agricultural age. A single steam engine could replace hundreds of horses, and it only needed to be fed when in use. It also allowed the development of machines that could perform the work of many men, at much greater speed than any amount of manpower.
Manufacturing rose to replace agriculture as king of the economy. A machine could produce more goods with less cost. Making a machine could be done locally, rather than in some far off colony.
It became necessary to control the sources of raw material and energy, but that could be accomplished by owning the land. The need to control the locals grew less, since labor was replaced by machines. The colonies were abandoned and puppet governments put in place.
People moved from working in the fields to working in factories. A new structure of power emerged – factory owners were over factory managers who were over factory workers. Greed led to a new kind of ruthlessness by owners over workers. Rather than owning slaves, they created wage slaves. It was a simple strategy of paying just enough to keep people working and not enough to cut deeply into profits.
The rise of manufacturing gave rise to schedules. Machines could work twenty-four hours a day, but they had to be operated by people. The result was that people had to work in shifts, and the rising and setting of the sun was not an adequate measure of time. Initially shifts lasted twelve hours, and people worked seven days a week.
Time began to be a central organizer of daily life. The clock was everywhere. At one time vendors sold from early in the morning until they ran out of goods. They now adopted fixed hours of operation. People started to wake according to the clock, and go to bed by the clock. Meals were served according to the clock. 'Time is money', became the mantra of the age.
Work was performed in factories. The insulation of the workplace from the outdoors, separated man from nature. The connection to the seasons and nature ... that had, until this time, set the schedule and pace of life ... began to erode. Seasons were dictated by the calendar, rather than the climate. September 22 or 23 became the first day of fall, rather than when the harvest was brought in from the field.
Life for people revolved around scheduled activities. There was a time to work, a time to eat, a time to sleep, and, if one was fortunate, some time was left over for family. Excessive work schedules did not last long, before workers rebelled. Strikes lead by labor unions, were the strategy used in the fight against factory owners, to reclaim some time for the people. Many of these strikes turned deadly, but the violence was of a different from than the slave rebellions in the past. If the owner actually died, then the business died with him. If the worker died, then a new one could be hired.
Where the hunter/gathers had tribes led by chiefs and the agrarian age had nations run by landed gentry, the industrial age had companies lead by captains of industry. The concept of a monopoly arose when one company could become the sole provider of an essential product, and controlled all those who relied upon the product. A new kind of warfare broke out, one in which hostile takeovers became the chief strategy.
These were basically bloodless wars, but lives and livelihoods were affected, nonetheless. More than one expanding company discovered that their victory was a pyrrhic victory. More than one hostile takeover resulted in the larger company folding up operations.
The introduction of machines into the workplace had another major consequence on society. Machines displaced skilled workers. Four classes emerged: non-workers who couldn't work, those who did simple labor, those who were managers, and those who owned companies. The lowest class had nothing. Those who did simple labor had bare subsistence wages. Those who managed had wages that were somewhat higher than laborers, but only by a factor of two or three.
The invention of the telegraph in 1835 by Samuel Morse was the beginning of the end of the industrial age. It took until 1851 for Western Union to become established as a communications company. It was a remarkably under-appreciated accomplishment at the time, but it was an accomplished that achieved a most remarkable purpose – the delivery of information nearly instantaneously. It would take a hundred and fifty years for the information age to supplant the industrial age.
The information age saw the captains of industry being replaced by brokers. Brokers produced nothing; they shifted capital around. Rather than owning factories outright, brokers owned parts of companies through shares of stock. Suddenly the need to have factories near where the owner lived became less of an issue. Control could be established and maintained by the expedient of sending a message that shifted money from one place to another.
The absence of a dedicated owner of a company led to a remarkable change in society. A new class of people was introduced: the executives. The executive ran a company on behalf of the owners in the cases where ownership of the company was distributed amongst thousands of shareholders. They controlled the company, but without the oversight of a dedicated owner. Shareholders disaffected with the management of a company, would simply trade their shares in that company for shares in what they perceived was a better company. The lack of emotional investment in ownership of companies changed the dynamics of the economy.
The social structure of society changed with the changing dynamics of the economy. There were now five classes of people: the welfare class (non-workers), the blue-collar class (labor), the white-collar class (mangers), the executive class (new class), and the rich (owners).
The welfare class emerged once the rich realized that the extremely poor made lousy consumers. Rather than finding ways for the poor to earn money, the expedient of shifting money from the blue-collar and white-collar classes to the poor was adopted. The distinction between the welfare, blue-collar, and white-collar classes became one of only modest economic differences, but extremely different social attitudes.
The differences in the lifestyles of the various classes far exceeded the minor differences in economic income. The welfare class included the uneducated, the criminal, the unstable, and the elderly. Most owned nothing and lived from government handout to government handout in houses provided by the government or rented hovels in urban slums. The welfare class never traveled, but had the most free time of all of the classes, while lacking the money to truly appreciate it.
The blue-collar class included the factory worker, the tradesman, and laborer. They earned money tied to hours worked by the clock, and lived the most regimented lives of the five classes. Most owned small houses or rented apartments. The blue-collar class might travel on a vacation, but were basically tied to the neighborhoods in which they were raised.
The white-collar class included the small business owner, and salaried managers in large companies. They were salaried workers whose income was tied to the job they did rather than the hours worked. Their hours were dictated by how much work had to be performed, and there was no overtime paid. They had the least free time of all of the classes, often giving up their evenings, weekends, and holidays. Their jobs often required them to travel without the advantage of actually seeing the places to which they traveled. They owned houses, cars, and recreational items that were just a little larger and a little better than those owned by blue-collars workers.
The executive class included politicians, chief executive officers, presidents of companies, and other titled corporate positions. They made many more times what a blue-collar or white-collar person earned. A yearly bonus of millions of dollars was felt to be their due. Their work and free time were integrated into a single lifestyle. An afternoon of playing golf was an opportunity to do business with another executive. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were business meetings that were paid for by the company rather than the person. Instead of spending their money on necessities, it was spent on luxuries. They traveled for work and for pleasure with time taken to see the sights.
The rich class constituted a thousand people worldwide. These were the billionaires who could buy and sell countries. The difference in income between a member of the rich class and an executive was just as great as the difference in income between a member of the executive class and a person on welfare. There was very little difference in free time between a member of the welfare class and a member of the rich class, but the rich had the money to truly enjoy their time. They were surrounded by luxuries, and by people willing to do anything for money. With a small 'donation', they could get private showings of the greatest treasures of history. No doors were ever closed to them.
True to the essential nature of humankind, warfare remained although much of the fighting was political and economic. Those who didn't have luxuries wanted what they were missing from those who did have them. As salaried workers, members of the white-collar class were not compensated for overtime and the executive class exploited that fact to an extreme. The welfare and blue-collar classes wanted more from the rich. The executive class made sure that the white-collar class was labeled the rich while protecting themselves from excessive taxes. The real members of the rich class moved monies on a global level and avoided taxes with great ease.
The white-collar class was in a long slow economic decline. In some areas, janitors made nearly as much money as engineers after taxes. The upper levels of the blue-collar class and some members of the white-collar class began working to get access to the same level of social services and advantages that were being given to the welfare classes. The money to pay for those programs further eroded the economic station of white-collar workers.
A new kind of economic war arose. Rather than a battle between economic classes, this was a battle within and across economic classes. Two ideological factions emerged: liberals and conservatives. The two factions had fundamental differences in their view of economics and society. The lack of common ground in the two views made the political and social battles nasty.
Liberals felt that society forced individuals into classes and trapped them there. Their view was that society was at fault for all of the ills of the world. They wanted to eliminate the differences between the welfare, blue-collar, and white-collar classes with the hope that all would rise to an equal lifestyle.
Conservatives felt that individuals were responsible for their own fate based on good and bad decisions. They accepted that the differences in social class would remain, but believed that programs easing movement between classes was the answer to individual woes. Anyone could rise to become president if they just worked hard enough. Those who failed to work hard enough would sink in social class.
The liberals employed social engineering approaches in their war using energy, ecology, and race as the banners under which they organized. The liberals wanted to change the mindset of the masses using education to teach their kind of right thinking, leading to the realization of their social agenda. All of the ills of society were brought up, and individuals characterized by wrong thinking were blamed. Virtual classes of people (capitalists, racists, militants, and war mongers) emerged as the villains and any individual who opposed their programs was immediately labeled as a member of those classes. The actual number of people who could truly be characterized by those labels, was less than 0.1% of the population.
While individuals of a liberal leaning might not believe it, the conservatives were much less organized than the liberals. Liberals had community organizations, environmental groups, and political action groups with thousands of members. These members would engage in protests, letter writing campaigns, and boycotts. With thousands of people participating, their actions were very effective at garnering attention.
On the other hand, conservatives had professional organizations that paid for lobbyists to influence government officials. Part of the reason for that was a result of the conservative mindset. Conservatives were basically more concerned with working hard to improve their individual standing in society than fighting the social agenda of the liberals.
The result was the appearance of greater liberal support than that which actually existed. The conservatives were stronger than they themselves understood. The impoverished and the blue-collar classes had more political power than they had believed.
The economy faltered and fed fuel to the emotions of the various factions. The forces were marshaled. The rhetoric rose in volume. Crowds took to the streets carrying banners proclaiming the evil of the other side. Elections were won and lost by each side. Although very few shots had been fired, a violent civil war was about to begin.
Then something changed.
The economy, which had been suffering, rebounded without affecting the high unemployment. The pundits were puzzled. What no one realized, was that the Information Age had been transformed, and a Service Economy was emerging.
Computer services replaced people. White-collar jobs started disappearing at an ever increasing rate. The tax base that had once fueled social programs disappeared. The impoverished became even more impoverished. What was no longer economically viable for employees to perform, the customers now did. Blue-collar jobs began to disappear.
The beginnings of this trend were relatively deceptive. It started with the general stores, and food markets. At one time, a customer would tell a store clerk what item he or she wanted, and the clerk would fetch it. In the supermarket, the customer wandered through the store, picking out the items without the help of a clerk. Store clerks disappeared, to be replaced by cashiers. This marked the end of company provided services, and the beginning of consumer provided services.
One day, soda fountains moved from behind the counter, to in front of the counter. Customers were now filling their own drink orders, being charged for the cup, rather than its contents. No one thought much about this simple change, but it was the beginning of an avalanche. ATMs appeared, replacing bank tellers. Self-service gas stations appeared, and gas station attendants started to disappear.
Technology added fuel to the engine of change. Desktop computers replaced secretaries. Automated cash registers appeared, and suddenly customers were now the clerks, cashiers, and baggers. Check in kiosks appeared in airports, and airline ticket agents disappeared. The internet, with its discount travel services, virtually wiped out travel agents over night. Robots replaced assembly line workers.
Jobs were disappearing at an incredible rate. Even in cases where technology couldn't replace a worker, advances that enabled existing workers to function more efficiently, allowed companies to shift more work to fewer individuals. CAD systems eliminated draftsmen and allowed engineers to produce more with smaller teams.
Companies began exploiting workers who had managed to keep their jobs. An oft repeated mantra around the job-place was 'You should be happy you still have a job.' It was as though a person was just a placeholder, until something better came along.
All of this had a rather remarkable effect on the liberal and conservative movements, although few realized it at the time. Basically, the fundamental tenants of both movements stopped being applicable to the world as it really was. Both sides would go point at some example to prove their point, only to discover that the example wasn't there anymore.
Liberals, who were striving for equality among the various classes, would soon come to realize that the classes were disappearing, but not in a good way for them. There wouldn't be much of anything left to equalize. The classes became the employed, and the unemployed. With the executive class making the rules to avoid paying taxes, and the filthy rich holding money in 'offshore' banks, who was going to pay for any social programs? No one.
Conservatives began to wake up to the fact that people weren't in control of their lives. It didn't matter how hard one worked, when a minor technological change could wipe out one's entire industry. After all, who, in 1980, could have imagined that a protocol to get computers talking to one another, could wipe out travel agencies? No one.
The Liberal and Conservative movements continued on for a while, but they were effectively impotent. They could pass laws, but the laws were ineffectual. There weren't any villains to stop. There was no one to blame, although every politician of any stature was blamed by one group or another. There was nothing of substance that could fix the problems.
In the midst of this climate of economic, social, and political upheaval, people tried to get by. It was hard because all of the rules had changed, and no one knew what the new rules were. Bewildered, people desperately hung onto what they had. They accepted abuse because the alternative was the unknown.
During chaotic times, events seem to conspire to push one individual into the public consciousness. Their names are written in the book of history because of their impact on the lives of others. Galileo, who in trying to understand the natural world, came to epitomize the conflict between science and religion. Luther, who in protesting the corruption in the Catholic church, altered forever the face of the Christian religion. Rosa Parks, who refused to move to the back of a bus, altered racial politics in America. Dexter James, who got fed up with his job, redefined how people were to treat each other. Were these individuals in control? No. Did things end up as they planned? They had no plans.
An Interview With Dexter:
Reporter: What advice have you given your children?"
Dexter: I haven't given them any advice.
Reporter: Why not?
Dexter: I don't know what to tell them.
Reporter: Surely you have some advice for them?
Reporter: You changed the world.
Dexter: I didn't mean to ... or maybe I did. I'm still not sure what happened.
Reporter: How can that be?
Dexter: It's a long story.
Reporter: I'm sure lots of people would love to hear it.
Dexter: I wouldn't know where to begin.
Reporter: How about at the beginning?
Dexter: No one would believe it.