Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: respect for workers

Challenging assumptions in science fiction: 3. Worth their weight in diamonds

This is the third in a series of posts that question some of the classic tropes in science fiction. This series was inspired by observations made while reading Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey.

The book is a really wonderful space opera, first in The Expanse series, which later inspired the creation of the SyFy Channel show, The Expansein its third season as I write this. But it does seem to accept unexamined some of science fiction’s time-honored (and, in my mind, outmoded) tropes.

In particular, my comments center upon Ceres Station, its population, and its governance, as portrayed in the book. I compiled a short list of outstanding reasons NOT to live on Ceres:

  • Human life is apparently cheap, and easily squandered with no penalty.
  • Freedom of speech is nonexistent, and so is freedom of the Fourth Estate.
  • The nutritional base is crap. Seriously? Fungi and fermentation was all they could come up with? Readers of this blog don’t need to guess what I think of this idea.
  • Misogyny is alive and well, but mental health care is not.

Last week I took issue with the idea that there would be abundant, expendable excess humanity available in the extrapolated setting and time span.

The primary reasons why humans won’t be that abundant are the difficulty of achieving a viable pregnancy in most space (or space-adjacent) environments, and the lowered rates of childbearing among well-educated women who can control their fertility, a reality we already have seen played out in developed nations for several decades.

Today, I’d like to look at the reasons why the humans who do get there won’t be expendable at all. ASIDE from the human rights angle, which ought to be the FOUNDATION of any discussion about the “expendability” of human lives, if we’re not going to have lots of excess babies in space, then Earth is probably exporting the vast majority of the people who live in space.

Every human being who is technically educated to the point of being employable Out Therethen hauled up out of the gravity well is going to be an extremely valuable commodity. 

Hauled up out of the gravity well” alone gives you one reason. In 2009, Michio Kaku explained the cost of transporting someone to Mars this way, in a Forbes article: “imagine your body made of diamonds.

The XKCD Web Comic gives us ALL the gravity wells (in the solar system, that is)!

Even now, it doesn’t cost as much to put a human in orbit as it did in the early days of the Space Race, and that cost will inevitably continue to go down. But I guarantee you it’ll never be so cheap and easy that “anybody can do it.” 

Nor should “anybody” do it. Space is dangerous. Learning how to survive there takes a lot of training and highly specialized (not cheap) equipment. Which brings me to my next point: the “technically educated to the point of being employable” part.

If humans are neither able nor inclined to breed like rabbits in the tunnels of Ceres, that means in space most of the “grunt labor”–and more of the advanced processes than you might imagine–will be done the way more and more of it already IS, here on Earth: by robotsRobotic manufacturing processes are already essential to the current aerospace industry, and this trend won’t go away. I examined this and related automation issues in a series of posts about the automation of labor that started last March. 

Who will manage, troubleshoot, and integrate those robots? That’s the role for highly technically skilled and trained humans. Humans with master’s degrees and doctors’ degrees, sure–but also highly skilled technicians, to keep everything running as it should. We’re already experiencing a critical shortage of skilled labor, and the push into space will only add competition to entice workers in this job niche.

Typically, competition for workers means good salaries, signing bonuses, enticements, and perks added to sweeten the offer. If you want a model for what the workforce of the future will look like, look at Silicon Valley and the current aerospace industrynot the coal mines and textile mills of yesteryear.

Skilled workers, designers, and more are needed to put Spacex rockets into orbit–and the need for such teams will only grow as human expand their enterprises into space.

Moreover, companies are going to have to treat their employees with respect, or those intelligent, educated people will find ways to organize for change, mutiny, or jump ship to sign on with a competitor. How has science fiction not figured this out yet?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Amazon, for the Leviathan Wakes cover image; the XKCD Web Comic, for the gravity wells size comparison chart; to Cerasis, for the photo of robots manufacturing something (I can’t tell what, though, and Cerasis author Adam Robinson didn’t include that information in the article); and to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, for the photo of the Spacex Team.

How sick are we?

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

I find it difficult to understand how people can disagree with this, but there’s a whole bunch out there who apparently do. And who also manage to sleep just fine at night. There’s got to be a better way.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Charlie Gaines’ “Union Stuff” Board on Pinterest for this image. Also to the late Cesar Chavez.

Consider this equation

The Artdog Quote of the Week

If all employers followed this advice, they’d be paying their people a living wage, and supporting their roles as family members in society through paid sick leave, parental leave, and/or personal leave.

And we’d all be better off.

IMAGE: Many thanks to WSI 15013’s “Right On” Pinterest Page and LinkedIn. Also to the late Stephen R. Covey.

Not perfect yet

The Artdog Images of Interest

In a perfect world, everyone would work at jobs they love, reach their full potential, and have a good life. If that sounds like socialist pie-in-the-sky to you, double-check your Kool-Aide. I’m paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

Unfortunately, we’re not perfect yet. We weren’t in 2001 when Mike Konopacki drew the cartoon above, and we’re not perfect now, either. We still have people who work hard at one or more jobs (if they can find them), yet still have no choice but to rely on public assistance to make ends meet. In my opinion, raising the minimum wage is a social justice issue.

I know the arguments against raising the minimum wage. We hear them each time the question gets raised. The Cato Institute lists the four most common ones, which I have listed below. I’ve also listed the Department of Labor’s answers to these objections, which are called myths on its “Minimum Wage Mythbusters” page.

1. It would result in job loss, because employers would cut back on employees. Not true, says the DOL page. Research shows “increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”

2. It would hurt low-wage employees, because because employers would cut back on employees. Not true, says the DOL page: “Minimum wage increases have little to no negative effect on employment as shown in independent studies from economists across the country.”

3. It would have little effect on reducing poverty, either because employers would cut back on employees, or because most poor people don’t make the minimum wage. Not true, says the DOL page, citing a survey of small business owners who say an increase “would immediately put more money in the pocket of low-wage workers who will then spend the money on things like housing, food, and gas. This boost in demand for goods and services will help stimulate the economy and help create opportunities.”

4. It might result in higher prices for consumers, because some prices have gone up in the past. While some prices might indeed go up, the DOL page categorically states that it would not be bad for the economy: “Since 1938, the federal minimum wage has been increased 22 times. For more than 75 years, real GDP per capita has steadily increased, even when the minimum wage has been raised.” In other words, prices go up all the time, whether the minimum wage does or not. 

Side question: if raising the minimum wage is a bad idea, isn’t the recent upward trajectory in CEOs’ compensation also a bad idea? Just asking.

As someone who has taught in a high-poverty school, I’ve seen what happens to families when there is not enough money to make ends meet. Students’ health, ability to learn, and many other areas of need aren’t met, either. There is often hunger, and there can be homelessness.

These kids’ parents weren’t lazy. It amazes me, how often rich people think the poor are lazy. I suspect they’re mistaking resentful for lazy. Most of the poor folks I’ve known worked several jobs, postponed their own health care to take care of their kids’, went hungry so their kids could eat, and worried a lot.

It’s not exactly the picture Thomas Jefferson painted, is it?

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Workplace Justice Project, for the Mike Konopacki “Poverty” cartoon, to The Times of San Diego, for the photo of workers marching for higher wages, and to We Party Patriots, for the Rick Flores cartoon about wages. 

Opportunities wanted

The Artdog Quote of the Week

What does this quote have to do with creativity? Everything, in my opinion. Our ability to be paid a living wage and occasionally get some time off to take care of our own and our families’ needs is directly tied to our ability to develop our creative sides.

Although today’s quote was written in a different age, many of those old battles are being re-fought today. In recent decades we’ve seen a shift of public opinion away from support of unions. Some of that has been due to overreach by certain unions. Some has resulted from corruption and ties to organized crime in others.

And don’t forget the unintended results from the union agreements hammered out during years of prosperity that later proved unsustainable. (Question: if both management and labor signed on to those agreements, why is it only labor that got blamed?).

Some corrections were inevitable. But today we live in a world where not everyone has bounced back from the Great Recession at equal rates, and where we can all too readily wince in acknowledgement of cartoons like these:

I live in a so-called “right to work” state, which, in the peculiar usage of recent rightist legislation actually means it’s no easier to get work, just a lot harder to unionize–which is what the second cartoon is all about. Unions are still regarded as “the bad guys” by a lot of people, which is why such erosions of union strength are still popular in more individualistically-focused, conservative regions.

But at what point can we agree that perhaps the pendulum has swung too far? If each one of us is a lone-wolf law to him- or herself, the only organized parties left standing will be Management.

Companies certainly are not going to decentralize: they’re headed the other direction, with mega-merger after mega-merger. Individual employees, working individually, stand little chance of changing large multinational corporations. 

As I sometimes caution my younger female (“we’re past the need for feminism”) friends, if we don’t remember our history we’re going to have to learn those lessons all over again. No, we’re not post-feminist. Not even close to post-racial either.

Rights taken for granted and not guarded are all the more quickly lost.

IMAGES: Many thanks for the Samuel Gompers quote to IZQuotes, via Quotesgram. Many, many thanks to Denver Post cartoonist Mike Keefe for the cartoon about the middle class, and to Texas Observer cartoonist Ben Sargent for the cartoon about the right to organize–both via The Daily Kos.

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