How Denaturalizing Power Reveals the Constructed Landscape
This is the second installment of a series about “changing the register.” You can read part one here.
While giving a recent television interview about promise and peril AI, I was asked about the inevitable “unemployment problem.” What would we do about all the jobs that would be lost to AI? I paused, then almost jokingly responded, “what if it’s not an unemployment problem but the unemployment solution?” It may sound like a jest, but who wants a job, really, anyway? Jobs are actually a rather recent invention, created after the establishment of “chartered monopolies” that made it illegal for any small business to compete with one of the king’s officially chartered companies. Instead of making shoes and selling them at the market, the cobbler now had to work for His Majesty’s Royal Shoe Company — a favored merchant who offered a kickback to the Crown for the exclusive right to monopolize the sector.
In fact, that’s the moment in European history when the clock went on the highest tower in the town, as if to “naturalize” the human invention of wage labor and the power that embedded in the earliest corporations. Until that moment, the only people who sold their time were indentured servants. Five hundred years later, we accept such employment as a condition of nature. This is the history I chronicled in my book Life Inc, which sought to demonstrate that both central currency and corporations were invented by particular people with particular agendas at a particular moment in history. We need not accept them as fixed features of our world. As the book’s flap copy plainly announces, “This didn’t just happen.”
That’s why the first intervention to change the register that I’m calling for—the one that’s a prerequisite for all the others—is to denaturalize power. This simply means helping people recognize the underlying assumptions embedded in our world: inventions and social constructions that we mistakenly accept as conditions of nature. We are misconstruing the maps for the territory, and must work to reveal their origins, manufacture, biases and agendas.
We must not simply compete or cheat, but rather play “spoilsport” to the accepted game, and reveal it as a…