Roti, kapra, and technology | Pakistan Today

Roti, kapra, and technology

Capitalism ensures inequality in all forms

I was once a population alarmist, fretting constantly about the explosion of human numbers and the impact it is likely to have on a planet with finite resources. I was privileged enough to be corrected by an expert, who convinced me (certainly not without effort!) that the problem isn’t that we don’t have enough food, medicine, or other means to sustain life. The problem is unequal distribution of resource; with some people having far too little, and others having so much that they end up wasting most of it.

India alone has a population of 1.34 billion people out of about 7.6 billion people in the world today. However, data from 2006 shows that an average American has a carbon footprint 19 times larger than that of an average Indian. We wag our fingers at the global south for daring to exist in large numbers, but we say little of recklessly wasteful lifestyles of the ‘civilised’ north.

Capitalism ensures inequality in all forms. More money buys you more food than you can eat, more clothes than you’d ever want to wear, more property than you need, and more technology than you require.

The day Elon Musk launched a car into space on a Falcon Heavy rocket, a farmer in Okara was waiting to be introduced to the convenience of a microwave oven. I do not want to be the person in charge of explaining to this farmer how these technological strides are helping mankind.

Clearly, the problem isn’t that there is not enough technology to save the planet. The real conundrum is the inaccessibility of existing technology for a vast majority of the human population.

This inequality isn’t accidental. Our technological progress far exceeds our political progress. The injustice that is enshrined in our socio-economic  systems does not allow us to take full advantage of the technology that we have. And so we end up feeling that there aren’t enough apps in the world to make our lives easier.

India alone has a population of 1.34 billion people out of about 7.6 billion people in the world today

We already know how to treat your uncle’s cancer. We can slice it out of his body with state-of-the-art surgical equipment. We can burn it with radiation. We can poison it with chemo. We can search-and-destroy cancer cells using nano-rods. The question is, can you afford these marvels of medical science? Are those therapies “commercially viable”? Perhaps you’re privileged enough to pay for these procedures, but are those treatment options even available in your mohalla? Or do you have to stand in line for a British visa, and pray that your application is accepted?

You scroll through your Facebook newsfeed. Say you find an article announcing that scientists have discovered a way to deactivate carcinogens with an electronic implant that you can control with your iPhone. Alhamdulliah, you say, but how does that technology serve you? It does not.

Not only does technology often fail to serve us, it may even work against us. Under capitalism, you must work if you expect to eat, but what do you do if they replace you with a robot? Unless you’re a property owner who can live off its rent, you must struggle to find work elsewhere. Technological progress in this case isn’t working for you, it’s antagonising your economic welfare.

This would be different under a socialist setup, where the bottom line is production. If you’re a farmer at a point in future where farming becomes fully automatic, you should expect to celebrate this progress and all the free time you now have at your disposal. In a place where all production is being gathered into one pot and distributed fairly according to consumer needs, then you get what you need without breaking your back at the farm. In a capitalist state, you’d curse this technological progress which cost you your job and your income.

Tech enthusiasts dream of a utopia where smart machines do all the work, harvest all your crops, run all your hospitals, and drive all your cars; while humans sit back, drink lemonade, and enjoy their lives. This dream, however, can only be achieved under a collectivist system; not a profit-based system where every man has to fend for himself.

In the information age, we’ll be needing more than food, water, and clothing to survive. A man without a smartphone who lacks simple access to maps, social media, communication apps, search engines and all the information they offer, cannot expect to be ‘equal’ to those who have this facility. Wifi routers can no longer be regarded as luxury goods.

I don’t believe in “too much” knowledge and technological progress. But I do maintain that it’s equally important to develop a politico-economic model that allows that technology to be put to good use.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.