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The Trauma of Mass Production


Look- I know that this one might be coming out of nowhere. Even I feel a little nervous about putting the T word, which we all agreed should only be ghost pronounced in polite company until 2028, and Mass Production, which the whole of economics will chase you down the street with flags to tell you how good it is, in a cause and effect relationship.

However, as a maker of healing pants, I feel it my duty to try and get to the bottom of the great global north malaise. For a culture that has supposedly subjugated scarcity with industrialisation and enjoys creating museum exhibits about living on Mars soon, we really seem to be a lot more miserable and a lot more miserly than our ancestors might have hoped. A miriad of solutions exist to the climate predicament, from the charmingly simple economic restructuring, to the technocrazed gas bombs. We should have sorted this by now. WE ARE ADVANCED.

But instead we continue on the ultimate lemming mission. Buying and buying and buying totally suicidal amounts of gear, that eclipse every advancement in sustainable production with a curve of consumption that continues to reach for the stars; Perhaps there’s something deeper going on. Perhaps an endless conveyor belt of things that are impressively the same, isn’t actually proof of being totally, completely, brilliant. Maybe, its a symbol of our misunderstanding of the world, and holds one of the keys to sorting this mess out.

The inception of Mass Production was undoubtedly traumatic.

Its your classic, history is written by the victors situation; some capitalists made everyone miserable, and earnt a shit tonne of profit, some of which they devoted to telling people that it wasn’t them who made everyone miserable.

Now look, I’m obviously not in the majority of historians (I’m actually not allowed in the historians club at all), when I tell you that the peasants were about 1 trillion times more happy making stuff themselves, than buying things in a shop. But, honestly, that is at least incredibly likely to be true.* Have you ever knitted something? Which do you prefer- knitting something and either keeping or selling it, or being forced to make your children crawl underneath a moving freight trainesque piece of machinery for a couple of years so you can buy something that a robot knitted (and is not your favourite colour)?

There’s a risk with that analogy in that not many people nowadays have knitted something and know how great it is (I make things for my real job, so this is pure bias talking here) and not many people have that many children nowadays and know that they make you feel guilty about even the slightest inconvenience.

Here’s another one just in case-

Do you prefer playing a computer game, or watching a computer play its own computer game (for a year) so that (at the end of the year) the computer will give you a medium high score?

I’m (attempting to) making multiple points here-

  1. Humans like doing stuff for themselves… EVEN IF IT IS HARD. We like learning things, and doing better next time, and seeing how much we’ve improved, and having something to show for it. We don’t necessarily like doing the same stuff, but some people stopping other people doing the stuff that they like doing is mean. Traumatic even. And that’s what the capitalists (circa industrial revolution) were about- they reaaaaally liked doing stuff like organising and being in charge and making loads of money and they decided to deliberately prevent other people from spinning wool or weaving.

  2. The lives of the peasants didn’t immediately go from knitting your own jumper to getting an iced latte and buying a knock off Ralph Lauren cashmere from TK Maxx (TBH knitting is just a metaphor, knitted jumpers weren’t the fashion back then, and the peasants made very complex and technical clothing that is difficult for our tiny 21st century brains to imagine). After the capitalists invented robots that wielded knitting needles (again thats a metaphor), the peasants got REALLY, INCREDIBLY poor. Like, literally sell your own children poor. And the horrible truth is, that mass production is still making metaphorical jumper knitters REALLY INCREDIBLY poor, in most of the world, with no intention of redeeming them with iced lattes and TK maxxs before we all die of climate change.

  3. Mass Production just gives you back stuff that you could have made yourself, or swapped with someone, and TBH the peasants were all over that and firmly set out their boundaries; i.e. that they didn’t in fact want to watch a computer playing the computer game. But those dang, capitalists were one step ahead of them. If you’ll revisit the computer game analogy with me- lets say you prefer option a) and would like to carry on playing the computer game yourself, well the capitalist turns around and says- t