Discussing "Cybernetics and the future" and interviewing Dr. Alice Mary Hilton ; part 1
BROADCAST: Jul. 12, 1965 | DURATION: 00:33:21
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Unidentified Female What do I do now? Nothing but laze around the house. That's all. I thought, like, that said a lot of things about- especially about school, and about how will I be. I mean, in the future how- I mean, there won't be hardly any work because our machines are taking over and you have to have a high school education for this, and you have to have a high- a college education for another thing. And it's just that, you ain't got it, so you're just gonna sit there and just rot away. [Music plays.
Studs Terkel Then the boys begin to sing as a 15-year-old girl in Chicago's inner city sounds like a 65-year-old woman who's given up on life. I was thinking about your comment as you just heard this. Our guest is Alice Mary Hilton who's the head of the Institute for Cybercultural Research. And we'll hear about this word [of between?] more and more cybernetics and cyberculture. Your thought, just in hearing this brief comment by this 15-year-old girl, Miss Hilton.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Well, what is tragic about this 15-year-old girl is that she has already been so completely infected with an ethos of scarcity that sometimes it's called the Puritan ethos, although I think that's really not quite right because it- it isn't only the Puritans who thrive on scarcity ethos.
Studs Terkel Perhaps we should talk just a bit about this before we hear about cybernetics itself. Cyberculture more in-depth. The- you say that the Puritan ethos here in which a man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow because we live in a world of scarcity, this you would call The Old World.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Yea- because we live in a worl- or we have until now, lived in a world that was characterized by two disagreeable attributes. One is scarcity and the other is an an enormous amount of disagreeable work that somebody needed to do, I prefer to call it labor, that somebody had to do. And since the survival and the well-being of the society depended on getting this job- these jobs done and somehow allocating what was in scarce supply, it became virtuous to be thrifty and to- to labor very diligently. And this has become a- a virtue in itself. And this poor little girl doesn't seem to realize that there's more to life than just to go and do a job in order to earn the bread to gain the strength to do some more of the same job- this endless cycle that we share with all the animals is is not worthy of human beings who had the intelligence to overcome scarcity and to devise machines to do this dreary laboring.
Studs Terkel Suppose we could go a step further, now, in talking about this, Dr. Hilton. As matter of a- we know there's poverty in the world, what- two fif- two-thirds of the world perhaps goes to bed hungry. We know this, yet you are implying- you're saying as Robert Theobald has, and others who were involved that, due to technological advances this need not- they need not be scarce. There can be abundance for all for the first time in man's history.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton That- I think you's-[unintelligible] said this so beautifully that this really staggering fact of our age is that, for the first time in human history, we can determine what we want to produce and- and certainly in this country we don't have any real scarcity. We spend 300 million dollars a year just to store the surplus wheat. So, that isn't any real surplus- scarcity. Our industrial plant is 35 percent, some economists say more than 50 percent, underused. That means a man who has the equipment to make 100,000 pairs of shoes only makes 65,000, maybe only 50,000 pairs. And he- it doesn't do that because he can't make any more but because he doesn't have a market for more. And, yet, I bet this little girl could use another pair of shoes.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Because that was a real scarcity. And I think the Puritan ethos thrived in this country because it has served us so well in the past. It- it made us civilized, and and conquer a continent in a century, quite apart from any of the injustices that may have been wrought, we did take, on the whole, an empty land. Vast stretches of empty land and make it into a cultivate- into a cultivated garden. Although we also made some of it into a garbage patch, but that's another problem. I think- I think this ethos has served us magnificently. It is with- because of the self-denial, because of this hard capacity of virtue, of hard labor, because of the thrift that was really practiced in those days, that we were able to do this, but, because we have done this, we have now built something that doesn't make it necessary anymore. And now we act like the, you know, like the newly rich. We're terrified that we're going to be poor again tomorrow, and, so, we lock all our gold into the cellar and sit on it.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] As you say, there's that which served a purpose once, this- there was a frontier. There was a physical frontier. There was a frontier of stuff that was under the land, and above the land, and to the west. But now the new frontier is some man finding out about other things because the material things, due to technological discoveries and changes, make, I think, not only- the Puritan ethos then, is not only obsolete, but
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton It's detrimental. It is really- it is really causing all our problems now, perhaps not all of them, but- but we could at least deal with them, if we could get away from this idea that everybody has to have a job. No matter whether this job needs to be done or not. And everybody has to eat his bread in the sweat of his face, whether there's anything to be s- to have- to generate any sweat over or not. And, and but it- it's very difficult to get over this. Actually it is- it is probably older than the Puritans, as I said before, it has existed anywhere where there was real scarcity. But we also, man has spent a half million years of his history trying to overcome it. The whole history of technology that started with the first rock that was hurled by somebody, which is really nothing but an extension of man's muscle power, and ever since,a half a million years ago, man has tried to find labor-saving devices. Well, we have now the ultimate in labor-saving devices, and we are absolutely appalled, and horrified, and worried to death by the fact that- that they are labor-saving devices, and we don't want to save any labor.
Studs Terkel Do you know as you say this, Dr. Hilton, I must think. I'm, I have copies of the magazine in which you are an editor. The Feedback, the cybercultural institution, a publication. There's a poem here that deals with the end of joy I'd like to read. Before that, I must tell you this one [boy? point?] in this project with which I'm involved at the moment, I met a number of Appalachians, but this- an Appalachian couple has become very urbanized. They are making money, that is this couple have a grocery store and own property in the area in which they are exploiting their very own people. But they have all kinds of money, and they work from 6:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night. He moonlights, does other jobs. The husband does, but the- he does nothing he comes - I says what
Studs Terkel But, there's no joy, and there's this poem by William Lind and your publication. If I may just read this, and then we'll go on to the theme of- it's called, "The Man is Obscene." "We sat in the United Nations, and listened to the angry charges and countercharges. My friend turned to me and asked, whatever happened to the joy of talking? We stopped at a bookstore and flip through the agony called fiction, and my friend said in a tone of sadness, whatever happened to the joy of writing? We watched the many television commercials about the chemical ways to soothe disturbed digestive systems, and my friend said to me, whatever happened to the joy of eating? We were reading the various advice to the lovelorn columns in the newspaper, and my friend asked, whatever happened to the joy of loving? We had just left a funeral parlor where we looked at a beautiful corpse, and my friend asked, whatever happened to the joy of dying? We left a very modern church where the minister had preached mental hygiene, and my weary friend asked, whatever happened to the joy of worship? We walked down the street, a street full of desperate-eyed people. My friend turned to me and asked, whatever happened to the joy of living? I hit him in the head. People who ask such obscene questions should be abolished, and he is no longer my friend. But, you know, I miss him." Somehow, this- this particular poem says everything. Then there's joy, then- you spoke of the Purtian Ethos, more the manner in which the great overwhelming majority has lived, seems to have this absence of joy.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton I think we are a rather joyless society as a whole. But then, joy is not part of the Puritan ethos. We- we oft tend to confuse joy and entertainment or pleasure, which is very different because, joy, it seems to me, is a very active [conces]- cept you have to participate in something to have joy, whereas entertainment is a passive concept. You sit back and let somebody entertain you.
Studs Terkel So you become the vegetable as you watch that box. He does it. You watch. And I suppose the watching- the spectating becomes- the girl, again, we come back to the little girl in the beginning. "I sit and rot away-"
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton She
Studs Terkel and-
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Well, there wasn't any unemployment during World War II. I'm not so sure that this is true in a future war, except if it's an all out war, I guess we won't have anything to worry about, you see. We'll all be unemployed and then we'll be dead. But, I think the- I think the- the employment statistics show this. After all, it's logical if you- if you draft a few more men into the army then you can claim another 10 percent or a tenth of a percent drop in the
Studs Terkel Of course this is- of course, the hype I suppose, or the depth, of cynicism. Just as you say this- this- this- this- as we talk and look and read the headlines, and wonder what can a man do, to quote Milton Mayer. What can a man do? Perhaps we discuss the nature of what has happened to your work. You're- the word cyber- cyberculture comes in the- it's the cybercultural world in which you're interest-, s'po- s'pose you break this down.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton It's a- it's a com- an artificial word, a hybrid word, too. It is composed, as some of my academic friends pointed out to me, of Greek and Latin roots, deliberately so- because it is supposed to denote the vast variety of concepts that go into this society. It's consists of cybernetics, which is the science of relationships, and culture, which is the way of life, of a society. 'Cause we believe that, just as agriculture determined for thousands of your- years a way of life, so cybernetics says the science of relationships must determine the way of life, of the society, and the future. Which does not mean that it automatically is going to be an golden age or a beautiful utopia. It could be pretty horrible, too.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton That's the motto on our publication because we think that this is exactly what is happening where we are at this 5-minute-to-midnight hour, and we'd better- we'd better choose which of the roads we want to take. We are at a crossroads now. All the history of the world, in all literature, you find stories of both the- the fears man have and the hopes they have. And, I think, we're in an era now where we could realize something even better than the best hopes, or possibly something much worse than the worst nightmares of man.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton That's it. Or, even if we have no nuclear war, we could possibly go in the direction of something worse than Rome it- in her [dega]- decay. Where you also had a society that used human machines to do all the laboring, and the members of this society- the Roman citizens didn't do anything. And there you really had something that this little girl you spoke of was very afraid of: an idle mob that lived on the dole. And, you know, panem et circenses. The most horrible circuses, and and the door. But this is very much in contrast to the Greek society, where the citizens were very fully occupied, although moneymaking was not one of their preoccupations because their income and- or their- their means of living and their work had nothing whatever to do with each other. That's why I feel it's so important to differentiate between work and labor.
Studs Terkel Yes.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton As Hannah Arendt points out, in every modern [langue]- modern and ancient European language, there were two distinct words for work and labor. And work has always had the connotation of something creative, something you do for the sake of doing it. And labor has always had the connotation of coercion, of- of pain and toil and, yet, this is what most people think of. What they-
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton What they're doing. As- well, yes. I mean, we- we use the words interchangeably. But the job- now this poor little Mexican girl, she doesn't really think of work at all. She doesn't think of the joy of doing something for the sake of doing it. She's thinking of a- to- dreary job, which she'll do as badly as she can get away with, for only one reason, and that's a paycheck.
Studs Terkel Yes.
Studs Terkel So, several things come to mind as you say this, Dr. Hilton. A work, of course- a man-to-man relations can evolve from the work. It could be teaching, it could be writing, it could be handicraft. That which a person, I suppose- work, also- that which a person enjoys. Labor, that which he does-
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Labor.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton That's-
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Now, it's true that there are some- very, very few. Maybe- maybe one percent, maybe a tenth of a percent of a population, who are lucky enough to earn their living in something they really have joy in, but the vast majority of men never has and doesn't now-
Studs Terkel This leads to cybernetics. Norbert Wiener, whom we quoted a moment ago, in a sense is, as you- you say, this much, much underrated genius of our century. This man thought- conceived this idea. Did he not? Saw it-
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton What Norbert Wiener did is, he- he really didn't invent anyth- a new idea so much as that he invented a new science, and I would like to define this for a min- the idea of relationships, the idea that the whole universe is a system where various components interact and whatever happens and one- to one, has some meaning to every other component. That's not- that is really an idea that all the great philosophers and all the great theologians, not only of the Western world, but particularly, I think- not so much- well, anyway, also of the Eastern world, have- have all pronounced this is- you find this in Zen Buddhist, and then you find it in among the Hindus, and you certainly find it in all the great Western philosophies and religions. But what Wiener has done is looked at this- this concept, and made a science out of it. If- he formulated it mathematically, and when you formulate a thing mathematically, then you can also reproduce it by machinery, and that is why so often cybernetics is confused with the theory of machines, which it is not. It's just one of the applications. But the idea that relationships like this can be expressed accurately and mathematically was Wiener's, and I think he's one of the most underrated and the greatest men of this century
Studs Terkel It's an interesting point you're making, Dr. Hilton, that Weiner did mathematically perhaps what the Eastern philosophers have done spiritually, philosophically. He's saying what they're saying that the- what [unintelligible] recently said, the oneness of man, at the moment, is the- now is the only political reality of our time. That, to deny this is to be unreal.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton That's exactly it. It's- well, the trouble is- the the practical people are usually so terribly impractical, and- and there are, in former times this didn't show up until a long time hence. The long run was very long. But the long run has become awfully short in our time, and that's why it is very impractical, even when you look only as far as your nose.
Studs Terkel Now we come to a crisis, don't we? The fact that, because so much has happened technologically, because of Wiener's insights, that is, not because of his insi- the insights that he had, that he saw. Things are happening now in a month that happened in a century-
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Right.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton The change is so tremendously fast, and there always has been what we now call a cultural lag. The technology and science have and- and, also, all the knowledge of- of the great scholars has been way ahead of their time. But now, we can't afford this gap anymore and it has- and it's really disastrous. Because the gap seems to be widening, and it's- we must close it.
Studs Terkel This gap you're talking about- we come to the cultural gap. The events that are happening so- in such a cataclysmic fashion. And as you say, or as Norbert Wiener has said, for good or for evil this choice. The man on the street, or for that matter leaders. Isn't that statesman, or well they're not statesmen, but, leaders in various societies, are wholly- they themselves are unaware of this, let alone the man on the street, are they?
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Well, yes, to s- to a great extent, they are. Some I think, some of our our political leaders must say, to their credit, are very well aware of it, and are not only aware of it but- but paralyzed with fear at times with it. I think- I've talked to many people in Washington who are well aware of it but say, "what shall we do." People are not ready for it, which is quite true, and I think it's also truth to the political leader cannot be too far ahead of the people he leads, or he loses contact with them. So I- it seems to me the most enormous job that needs to be done is to create the political climate so that the best and the most forward-looking man in Washington can act and function.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Yes.
Studs Terkel Must
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton It's reaching, all right. I think the- the- them- this little Mexican girl of yours knows one of the effects of it, but what she doesn't know is that this is something to rejoice over. I can't- I can't [persse]- personally see anything to to cry about, that she will not have to spend her life in the factory, wrapping things or whatever it is she might be doing. I can't see anything wrong with the miners no longer having to go into the mines, where they crawl on their bellies in a fetal position and waste their lives, and then endanger them, but what is wrong is that- that, instead of rejoicing over this liberation from something that is an inhuman task anyway, that they are punished by having their livelihood withdrawn for them. That I think is wrong.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Well, I think the crossroads seem to me quite obvious. Namely, we must separate, the laboring people do, which no longer is necessary, and allow them to get along- to get on with their work. But separate this work completely from the income, because it just is not feasible to make a man's livelihood contingent upon an un- an unexisting job. And they don't exist. And no matter how much we manipulates statistics, no much- and no matter how much busy work we invent for people to do, full employment is really not a realistic concept any longer, and it never will be again. We can of course say, you have to do- pick ups rocks from one side of the street and put them on the other and then back again and for that- and if you do that, you can be you can be paid and eat" But that, then we might just as well be honest and say, "you've got to go to jail if you want to eat." Because that's what it is.
Studs Terkel Or, instead of taking a rock and putting it from one side to the other just so- since this work is no longer- the machine has taken care of the other work- instead of that, if this particular man's, whatever talents he has that have never been explored- some are deep, deep in him. Maybe could whittle and do works of art, or whatever
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Let
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Sure. And the- I think this is one of the very important things that we ought to foster and subsidize and enable people to do. To to find some joy in this creative- creativity doesn't- is an highly overused word, but it doesn't have to be the painting of Rembrandt. I think that we bought- we are willing to buy the- the so-called primitive art from Africa, which is whittling on a stick, and I- if people have joy on this, why not encourage them to do it?
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Yes
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Very much. I agree with his concepts fully, and we don't always agree on all the details. I I've- I've written about what I call it, living certificates, and I've written about this since 1952. And I'm very convinced that this is the most important thing we have to do.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton [laugh]
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Well, as a matter of fact, I think we ought to look at our so-called welfare system and see what that does to people, because we have this full employment concept, and I'll give you two very concrete examples: I have em- I have employed a woman occasionally to help with parties for 10 years. Very nice woman who has six young children and therefore is, of course, unable to have a full-time job. But she ha- her husband earns fairly decent income, so they did- did alright. Unfortunately, her husband left his- lost his job and just disappeared. Which is what our welfare system makes a man do. Nobody knows where he is, but even- but, in fact, he can't afford to stay with his family if he doesn't have a job because they would starve. If he is not around, then they're eligible for what we call aid to dependent children, and this is what this poor woman lives on which is a pittance, I can assure you of that. That's- that is really it. Just bare survival budget. But the effect it has is that she no longer can come and help out at parties, at my house or house of friends, because, if she does and earns ten dollars or so, then she has to report this, and being a very honest woman she wouldn't think of not reporting it. Besides, there's a terrible spy system operating, so she'd be afraid, too. Well if she reports that this week she's earned 10 dollars, that's deducted from her aid to dependent children allowance, and the next week, when she doesn't earn 10 dollars, she would not be able because of the red tape involved get back on to the pitiful amount she had before, and so sh- we- she's rewarded for her initiative by starvation, by capital punishment, because that's what starvation is. And that is nonsensical. She also has a 14-year-old boy who used to earn a few dollars in the summer working at grocery stores, and he, too, can't do that because, if he does, the social worker advised her, again, she'd have trouble in collecting the full amount because regular employment is not available to him. He's a colored boy in East Harlem and even this occasional few dollars he can earn have to be deducted. So we- we are destroying initiative because we do not say to this woman, "you are a human being. You're entitled to live and bring up your children decently. And here are your living certificates or your guaranteed income, or whatever we want to call it. And with that, bring up your children properly and, if you have, if you want to earn some extra money and can do so, fine. Go and buy them an extra pair of shoes. This would be more sensible, I think-
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton And I would like to give you another example. We have in our office a young man, who is a very competent, very highly qualified person, who, because his firm moved away, and he did not want to leave the city where all his ties are, lost his job. There's no question that he'll find another job, but in his category it takes a little time. He's worked for 17 years and, directly and indirectly, contributed to the unemployment insurance system. And, yet, when he went to collect his unemployment insurance, to which he is entitled, he was told that because he spent some time as a volunteer in our office, he was not eligible. In other words, his initiative is being punished. He's not allowed to do some volunteer work. He must sit on the beach or- or- or in his room and and do nothing-
Studs Terkel Thus-
Studs Terkel Obviously, you're coming- you're touching upon what seems to be the key to everything here, and, with these two examples, and vivid and tragic they are, Dr. Hilton, that the welfare application as we know it is offered providing you are considered less than a man, that is your sense of personal
Studs Terkel I know that Michael Harrington, in "The Other Americas" pointed out, you- you mention this- you implied this earlier that, indeed it seems that, there will be a hedgemony of the poor that will will go from one generation to the other. That's- this now will be almost as though there will be a new- a new man who- Well,
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton And we are fostering that. We are creating a dichotomy in this society which is preposterous because of the dichotomy- it's also very foolish because, you know, the poor are growing in numbers considerably.
Studs Terkel You know, someone has said- one of the miners from Hazard who, was on this program has said that the War on Poverty- he interprets it from what he's seen as the war on the poor. As this- this aspect you're talking about, that is, they who have no part, that is, you just accept this money and know your place as sub-us.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Well, no, because, we have never had the conditions before. Before, this was always a temporary thing, because you knew that, if we had a- a [lag?] of employment, you knew there was a certain shift in the market or a certain cycle in the economy, but we always felt that tomorrow, we will need them again to man these machines. And therefore, we wanted to keep them in reserve. Now this is not exactly a very pretty picture, but it's at least reasonable. You have- it- it may be immoral, and it may be cruel, but in- at least it makes sense. When you think that tomorrow you're going to need them again, you better keep them over there because otherwise you won't have them tomorrow. But now, it's not only cruel and immoral, but it makes no sense-
Studs Terkel And of course, wholly dangerous because, whatever they were- when hope replaced then by despair, I think, often, various guests and writers have spoken of the difference between the slums of the past and day, that you call the slums.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Yeah.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Yes.
Studs Terkel Now
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Especially in this country, we've always prided ourselves that the- that, slum this generation but the middle-class next generation. But this- this hope no longer exists, and, I think it is a tragic thing to do in an- in an economy where we don't know what to do with the tremendous abundance that we're creating-
Studs Terkel Course you said middle-class next generation. This is another sad aspect. To use- to use Bernard Shaw's, you know, whack at middle class morality, if we can use it as a marketplace- look at life with the thing, the possession of things, whether it be appliances in one way or another, and status replaces the man himself.
Dr. Alice Mary Hilton Well that also is- is- I agree with you that it's regrettable because of- our materialism is really a very sad sign of our spiritual, if you like, or intellectual, impoverishment. And, yet, if you- if you want to look at the society that has been created, it was also- one of these things that has stood in very good stead. We have built up an enormously varied and rich society with this. The only thing is, one- one ought to realize that these are only means to an end. The end ought to be a rich human life. I I remember something that Adams, the first Adams, John Adams, wrote to his son, or to his wife rather, when he told her how he wants his son to be educated and what he wants his son to study. And he said in this that I have to study war and politics so that my son can study architecture and and engineering and, so, that- and banking, so that his son can study painting, and music, and-
Studs Terkel That's