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Phenomenal piece. I love your point that technology does not liberate us rather propagates around us and forces us to keep up. The problems (mental, physical etc) that this causes will also have their technical solutions e.g. counselling via apps and perhaps even transhumanistic physical alterations to enhance one's capacities for speed (if we look into the future and if Musk gets his way with Neurolink)

I was reading Ellul (The Technological Society) today and he makes a similar point to you: "man is only a machine for production and consumption. He is under obligation to produce. He is under the same obligation to consume. He must absorb what the economy offers him." - and now we are told to do these things at a rate that Ellul could only have dreamed of (but probably foresaw!).

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Really glad you like it Hadden. Great points on the apps etc. You're describing the classic case of 'solutionism' - this ideology that sees the world as just one long series of problems to be solved like Rubic's Cubes through technology. In this frame, all the new problems unlocked by the previous 'solution' necessitate new solutions to be found. This vibe is deeply entrenched in tech startup culture, where everything is framed as some kind of forward moving puzzle-solving process gradually edging towards utopia, but in reality just means a world where literally everything is quantified, automated, and commodified, and thereby made controllable.

I must definitely check that book out!

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Thanks Brett, yes solutionism is everywhere when you know what to look for and is a form of the Stockholm syndrome you touch upon here. Wendell Berry also highlighted this in his essay The Reactor and the Garden: "big-technological solutions solve a single problem by causing many." and he linked this to economic growth in that the problems become avenues for new growth economies created to clean up the mess/fix the problem. Thus the positive feedback mechanism continues.

The Technological Society is a great but very, very dense book - full of very circular French philosophy - but there are some absolute gems to be discovered and when one considers that the book was written in the 60s Ellul's foresight is phenomenal.

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Great - thanks for these leads!

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Rather than edging toward utopia, we are skidding into hell.

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Oct 13, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

Ellul, Illich and Mumford essential reading!

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Oct 4, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

Great article, Brett. You touch on some important points around sustainability. If we accept that a growth-based economy is inherently unsustainable, it makes the loss of physical currency a real concern - there's no better way to lock ourselves in a system than leave ourselves with no way to operate outside of it! Thanks, Brett, for continuing the fight for the bicycle :)

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Glad you like the piece James, and thanks for the comment. I think fighting for balances of power in our system is absolutely crucial, and I think we need to fight for the proverbial 'bicycle' option in all industries

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Linux is the bicycle option in the world of operating systems and I'm glad it exists.

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For sure!

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Oct 4, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

Brett Scott aptly describes the New World Order of neoliberal capitalism with its intendant consumerism and thirst for transactions. The best foot forward is to repudiate this system from top to bottom.

I am reminded of the meal chants in American Zen temples, zendos, and monasteries: "Desires are inexhaustible. I vow to put an end to them." As Mr Foote points out, we don't need all this stuff; not only is it damaging to spiritual health, it is materially too expensive. We cannot afford it.

In regard to digital cash, the crux is who owns the system, just as with robots and AI. In private, profit-seeking, rent-seeking hands, digital cash spells disaster. In public hands as in China, digital cash is an economical and convenient alternative.

Buddhists are not communists, but we live as communists and see that a system built on socialist principles reduces human suffering. With a few tweaks, socialism can reduce environmental suffering as well.

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Thanks for the comment Tedder. There's certainly a Buddhist-tinged strand in many of my views (and really interesting to hear about the meal chants). I do agree that it matters about who controls/owns the digital cash infrastructures, and that there are better and worse arrangements, but I'd also argue that there are principles (or 'affordances') to physical money that stand in contrast to any form of digital money (whether public or private).

I also suppose that I have more of an anarchist inclination in much of my thought, where the aim is to create meaningful counterpower to any one particular system, but I would agree that in our current economy communitarian principles are downgraded and undervalued to the detriment of us all

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Oct 4, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

A Buddhist monastery strives to be a perfect communist system and strives to be in harmony with its environment. [As a historical note, Zen (Chan) survived in China because its monasteries and temples were simple and self-sustaining–the monks worked.] Every practicer has an equal opportunity for Attainment, and while there is a hierarchy, it is not deep nor cruel.

Money is both simple and complex and has a fascinating past (and present).Anthropologist David Graeber's 'Debt: The First 5000 Years' offers the best account I know. In short, money essentially builds on the "tally-stick" credit system that occurs in all Neolithic societies, then due to militarized warfare becomes institutionalized. Gold was adopted as coins because of its durability, malleability, and attractiveness, but its fault was scarcity. The Chinese invented paper money perhaps a thousand years ago; now we invent digital money. The purpose is the same: transfer of energy and an automatic system of accounting.

Just today I purchased some bolts and washers at ACE Hardware with cash, and then I bought some beer and salad with a credit card at the supermarket. The sad part is ACE gets full value while Piggly Wiggly has to pay a service charge to MasterCard. The latter is what is wrong with private digital money.

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If you want to go deeper into the case for cash, check out my Luddite's Guide to Defending Cash https://brettscott.substack.com/p/the-luddites-guide-to-defending-physical-cash. Also, I did this tribute to David Graeber a while back https://brettscott.substack.com/p/the-anthropologist-in-an-economist

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Oct 5, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

You are a peach, Brett! I am glad I discovered you. Reading the Luddite piece, I was reminded of one argument against cash, which is the cost of printing and minting. It occurred to me that the digital system also has a cost, and one that is constant and not amortized over many years. Has anyone calculated the energy cost of the digital economy?

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As far as I know, nobody has ever actually truly calculated the literal monetary cost of the digital payments system (and who knows for the digital economy as a whole), but yes there's a major infrastructure behind the seemingly ephemeral digital world. Cashless evangelists do try argue that the costs of cash are high, but most things we value have a cost. Crucially, we also have to look at the non-monetary social costs of not having cash - check out this new piece I did if you haven't seen it yet https://brettscott.substack.com/p/10-reasons-to-fight-cashless-society Cheers!

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technology, ex. a dishwashers, does not actually save time; instead they accelerate life, they raise the societal standard, and everyone grows more impatient.

a technology crosses a threshold where it is widely distributed and people start to assume that a you use it too

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Yep. I'm actually keen to read Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek's new book 'After Work: A History of the Home and the Fight for Free Time', which goes into this

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I do like dishwashers Mark.

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That's ok, Winston.

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This is the most articulate piece I’ve read in defining the growth trap. I will be sharing it widely. Many thanks!

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Thanks so much for the kind words Richard, and thanks for sharing it

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This actually reminds me strongly of something I read about in the opening chapter of "How everything can collapse" by Savigne/Stevens ( ➜ https://www.wiley.com/en-us/How+Everything+Can+Collapse%3A+A+Manual+for+our+Times-p-9781509541393). They mention German philosoph Hartmut Rosa who noticed three types of acceleration in our lives:

1. Technical acceleration (travel, communication etc.) which decreases distance.

2. Acceleration of social change (new neighbours, more sexual partners, more jobs in our lifetimes, faster fashion cycles, changing cars, music etc. more often) which decreases the present.

3. Acceleration of our life rhythm: as we answer 1 and 2, we try to live faster (being more efficient, using every minute, buying ever more products), which decreases time for us.

What do we get out of that? Less time for being happy, burnout, endemic depression, more drugs etc.

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Yes, Hartmut Rosa is a big figure in the acceleration debates. Thanks so much for posting that here

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Brilliant analysis! I fundamentally disagree that profit incentives are bad for us though. Retrospectively it’s clearly created the most opportunity, fairest political systems and lifted the most people out poverty in human history. Of course it has flaws, major ones like those which you’ve pointed out. Especially the inability to slow down. But this, like most other critiques of capitalism, fails to address (until the very end when you spoke about Zen) that in the end we do have control over our lives. Today, people are incapable of contending with their fears and feelings because they are bombarded by attention grabbing marketing machines (like you said). In my opinion, that’s not capitalism, that’s a failure on the part of the government meant to protect us. Entertain the idea where marketing is held in check or even outright eliminated on social media and then what? Marketing is not capitalism, it’s scamming wrapped in a bow. True capitalism relies on people to make their own judgments about the usefulness of anything based on their lived experiences. Marketing hijacks this like a parasite. Who is the government though? Well it’s us. At the end of the day I believe if we really want to see change then a coordinated effort against marketing OR like you said, a cultural change towards non duality and a reclaiming of spirituality might do the trick too. How is that even possible (the former not the latter)? I don’t know but I think it’s certainly worth exploring.

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Thanks for the comment :) I feel like maybe you have an 'ideal type' definition of capitalism - an idea of how it should be rather than how it actually is. Marketing is an integral element of any accelerating and expanding market system, and I doubt there's any empirical way to prove that 'true capitalism relies on people making their own judgments'. You can try to refer to 'true capitalism', but I'll just point out that *actual capitalism* doesn't conform to this ideal.

It's a bit like talking about a 'true marriage' versus an 'actual marriage'. Person A might say 'in a true marriage both people love and care for each other unconditionally', and then a jaded person B can point out that 'in an actual marriage this doesn't necessarily happen'. Person A then says 'well that's not a real marriage then', and person B will look at them and say 'well a real marriage is then a fantasy'

I agree that marketing is an element of what entraps us, but I'd say there's a lot more too. Even people who are not exposed to marketing are forced to 'keep up' or 'keep in sync' with the market processes. Marketing is really just one part of the structure that captures us.

Furthermore, in many ways I'm not even interested in 'critiquing' capitalism. I'm more interested in cutting through the bullshit ideology that prevails when it's ascendant. Fine, we have an economic machine that produces enormous amounts of stuff, but let's not pretend that we have control (also, you need to grapple with the concept of 'relative poverty' before you start claiming that capitalism 'lifts people out of poverty': there are a *lot* of people who are pushed into poverty through market processes, especially because an accelerating-expanding system pushes up the required *inputs* for survival, so even if you *have* more stuff, you *need* more stuff too. From an absolute perspective, a homeless person has more access to stuff than a person a thousand years ago, but from a relative perspective, they can be worse off).

This is precisely why the 'Zen' mindset is important - when you start romanticising capitalism, you're falling into an illusory story. The Zen approach is to see it for what it is - contradictory and imperfect

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Mar 13Liked by Brett Scott

Can I jump in here (only reading this now - Mar24): I love/enjoy drinking cups of tea, from time-to-time I know I need to deprive myself of tea - mostly to be able to resume/re-energise (& importantly recheck) my enjoyment (perhaps also to keep caffeine addiction low).

This applies to everything (even breathing I’d say) - a key issue is our/society inability to keep that “consumption” momentum in check, have some sense of group control & tolerance and at the same time experience it independently/authentically to check we remain comfortable with it. The alternative (if we’re not comfortable) being a small-step change (for groups I think - unsure here, maybe big-step change works too?).

I think the private/profit motive deprives us of proper independence and so long as the “zen-folk” can assess themselves, I’m in on that.

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Oct 19, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

Oh man I've been saying this for years!

Ever since we invented the light bulb we've been putting ourselves in states of inconvenience and fatigue just because our competitors had their lights on after hours. And so it became a race for productivity. Every incremental improvement in technology only puts more demand on labor to produce more faster.

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Very well put Irshad. I love the example of the lightbulb. Thanks for sharing

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A thought prompted by your great comment: did “fire” - a big technology - have this effect too?

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It could have but to a lesser degree. The ability to sustain fire - candle wax, oils etc - would have allowed for productivity but at that time agriculture and handicrafts would still be done during daylight hours. But fire isn't the same as abundant and cheap electricity. I'd say the light bulb is where it starts.

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You put words to a feeling I’ve had for a while. Feels like the more faster stuff we have the less time we have to do something with it.

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Absolutely. Glad the piece was useful for you Gregory

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Oct 5, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

"... anything accept accumulation and profit..." --> "... anything except accumulation and profit..."

Provocative article. I definitely think quality and purpose of technology is hardly ever given due enough consideration. Capitalism sure does seem to promote, "Make it flashy, whatever the heck it is, then try to convince people to use it." - actually under the surface not "convince people to use it," just "convince people to buy it".

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For sure. And thanks for the edit! I've changed that now

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Oct 4, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

I wish London would chill out :( Even the pubs are now cashless 'for the safety of our staff' which three years ago meant SARSCOVI2 airborne germs ... No clue what it means now, that cash is a mugging hazard ? Anyway thanks Brett, great article

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For sure. The pandemic ended up providing a cover for many chains etc to accelerate their already-existing automation drives. Now they're happy to let hundreds of drunk customers breathe over their staff without masks, while still saying that the reason they don't take cash is to 'protect their employees'. If you're interested in getting involved in the counter-offensive, check out my Luddite's Guide to Defending Cash https://brettscott.substack.com/p/the-luddites-guide-to-defending-physical-cash

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Holy shit Brett. You captivated me with this article. Well done, on so many levels. Not the least of which is my attention. I have much to think over here. And it all makes sense

As you are working on the defensive cash, my tack is different though this is very relatable. I am working on Intimacy, and sensual sexual expression in the world. In the same ways of automation making our lives easier, I’m looking at the application of sexual education by a system of patriarchal religions that have asserted a moral supremacy about who we can fuck, and why we fuck, and what is appropriate and what isn’t. I’m looking at the birth of pornography as a step child of a corrupt moral Powerhouse that has remain unchecked, because it went to bed with capitalism early on and colonize the world with its evangelical capitalistic endeavors.

Yet I know we are made for more. The efficiency for the dating and sex apps for a quick suck and fuck, has removed much of the very tangible reasons why we enjoy sex. The emotional and spiritual connection in at all, the reverence of acknowledging beauty in the world. The people I encounter as I sort how I engage my sexual expression in the world, seem bereft of understanding what has been lost, the beauty of honoring micro consent and listening to the body for pleasure that makes us glad to be alive. The culture of shame and fear that was bred by patriarchal religion in an attempt to gain power, control and conformity, is a massive factor for us to contend with as humanity.

I was well ensconced in the patriarchal religious system as a priest and rogue bishop who questioned the system. Now I am writing about regenerative intimacy and trying to salvage some thing that is honorable, something potent that has the ability to help us feel glad to be alive in the world. Fighting the current of isolation, separation and scarcity… Which are all factors both in regular life and consuming products in the world as well as our intimate sensual encounters with one another.

I do not know if any of this makes sense, yet it has been helpful for me to read your words about your very important topic, which impacts us all. And I believe the topic I am engaging, and shed many tears over, impacts us all deeply as well.

I welcome any thoughts you might have. Good on you for doing this article. I am deeply moved and motivated towards my own sense of purpose. Keep standing for what you believe in Brother. May we all do this, and be willing to be misunderstood for it. Honor still exists. There is reverence in engaging it.

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Hi Derek, thanks so much for the support and really glad the article has resonated with you. Wow, your work sounds really fascinating. And yes, I'd love to see more stuff on this topic. For example, how the dating apps - in their attempt to somehow automate love and desire - undermine the very vibe that makes it all meaningful (I think of the myth of the Midas Touch, where the king Midas turned everything he touched into gold, and thereby killed everything he reached for and made it worthless - firms that try commodify every aspect of our lives often have this problem, often refusing to see that we often value things precisely because they are not turned into commodities. Also, our systems (and the religions entangled within it) have arguably waged a kind of war on the romantic impulse (I mean 'romantic' in the old sense of the word as an appreciation of the sublime and the intangible), trying to make everything measurable, marketable, commodifiable and thereby controllable. Anyway, these are just a few thoughts, but I'd love to delve further into your own work

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Hey buddy. Thank you for your cogent reply. And the way you infuse your words with my confidence that you have empathy for the topic at hand. I would enjoy delving deeper, and I will be writing more. And it might be interesting to have conversations about it. Currently my time is more flexible, so let me know if that sounds interesting or if you have capacity for it.

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Feb 27·edited Feb 27Liked by Brett Scott

Reading this I was reminded of this:

The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood, And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay, In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken

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Thanks for sharing!

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Dec 13, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

Brilliant. I cannot say more, because I need to get off my smartphone now.

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Fantastic, in-depth post tackling the many different facets of the same phenomenon. I am reminded of how I've seen supermarkets introduce automated registers for which you need to scan everything yourself, simultaneously scale down the numbers of staffed registers operating, which means that going to the latter will always be more inconvenient (even though you are now doing the work of scanning groceries that they used to pay people for). Then that was used as a justification for expanding automated registers, because so many people were 'choosing' to use it. Similar claims are made for cashless payments, they use statistics about how more and more people pay this way, making it feel like the unstoppable march of progress, while you're basically increasingly forced into doing it by your environment. There was this recent study into Dutch ATMs, which have radically been reduced in number in recent years, that concluded that quite a few of them are regularly out of order, sometimes for weeks.

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Thanks for the comment Robert. Your self-checkout example is great, and in the UK the self-checkout phenomenon is now paired to an attack on cash because most of those will no longer take cash. As you point out, this essentially blocks the use of cash, which turns up in statistics as an up-tick in digital payments, which in turn is used as justification for shutting down more cash infrastructure etc.

I sometimes think of the metaphor of a person going down a river on a raft. The person may or may not enjoy the ride, but their enjoyment (or lack thereof) is not the reason why the raft is moving. Similarly, there are actually some people who enjoy automation, and who perceive themselves as 'choosing' it, but in reality what's occurring is that we have a system that will only respond to demands that go in the direction of its inherent flow, and will block others that don't. So, supermarket execs will use the initial novelty of the self-checkout to push forward and lock in a non-negotiable automation process and eventually force everyone to use it, but they'll try use the people who initially 'go down the river' willingly to say that the reason why it's occurring is that the customers demand this

That same inherent trajectory in our system is also the reason why the ATMs now get left unfixed - our system has no inherent motivation to allow anything that goes against the 'river', so when an opportunity presents itself to phase something out through neglect, that opportunity will be taken

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Dec 28, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

Brett... I've just discovered - and love - your work. Thank you! Everywhere, there are pockets of resistance, like yours. We must make them visible, so that the system-of-change becomes visible to itself, and so that in a world that seems so locked-in and inevitable, we realise just how many 'refuseniks' we are.

With that in mind, here's a modest example of the restoration of the human in the supermarket/checkout territory: the return of 'slow lanes' and 'chatty checkouts':

In Scotland ... to support people with alzheimers:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-heartwarming-reason-this-grocery-store-opened-a-slow-checkout-lane/

In Holland... to support lonely seniors:

https://www.globalbrandsmagazine.com/jumbo-supermarkets-slow-lane-initiative-creates-a-welcoming-space-for-lonely-seniors/

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Really glad you find it helpful Paula! Thanks so much for the links - great examples

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Nov 1, 2023Liked by Brett Scott

An argument well-stated. I am an avid-bicyclist, and may soon become a fierce defender of physical cash. Cheers.

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