Permanent Education and its Perversion in a Jobless World

It is no longer possible to keep pace with technology. This by itself would not be an issue. But it is, because robots are taking people’s jobs. To address that, permanent education is becoming the rule. It is easier said than done. Moreover, it is less of a lofty and noble idea than it sounds. More importantly, what’s the point of constantly training into late adulthood if, sooner or later, you are going to lose your job to a robot anyway?

That, too, should not be as terrible a problem as it is. If only people had the money to live without a job, many—if not most—would happily settle for vocational occupations. Yes, it would be more of a hobby than a job, but it would surely save us the miseries and the pettiness of the modern workplace.

But most people don’t have that money. They work hard, and many indeed struggle, to make ends meet. And now robots come to sweep them away.

A special report by The Economist delves into one of the most urgent issues of the day: education. The magazine is spot on in its alarm about the upheavals that will be visiting upon the workforce. But all its proposals, from vocational training to “nanodegrees”—it mentions “shampoo technicians” or “Android system specialists”—are clearly desperate solutions. We are now throwing the tables and chairs at the advancing robots.

It is true, as The Economist says, that the “classic model of education—a burst at the start and top-ups through company training—is breaking down.” But what the magazine omits to say is that this model corresponds to the natural cycle of life for most animals, including us, humans (for all that we say about ourselves).

We learn in the early years of life, prove our mettle in our youth, for better or worse carve our own space in the world, work hard and then retire. It is against our nature—how we are wired after ages of evolution, how we age, how we lose certain skills as we gain maturity—to live in a state of “permanent education.” That’s perverse. It is a nightmare that only the likes of Trotsky or Mao would have dared inflict on people. What an irony that it is capitalism run amok that is dishing it out to us. As for a society of shampoo technicians and mobile phone specialists, well—let’s leave it at that for today.

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