POST #24 :: Drone-Strike the Jobless

As with all such proposals, there are some who will be inclined to dismiss this carefully considered one out of hand without devoting to it anything approaching the level of thought its premises warrant. But let us consider: the jobless, so we are told, suffer from a host of indignities. Without stable employment, their chances of survival in the modern world are already radically curtailed or diminished. To state this is merely to state the facts as we know them. It would be too much to say that they actively wish for the sweet release of death, but it is the case that their wish to contribute to society, to feed and clothe themselves and their families, to be able to sleep in a bed or a building, to afford medical care, to feel any sense of pride or self-worth — in short, their wish to feel human in a society that defines humanness by one’s capacity to generate surplus for another, has been all but annihilated through a slow but inexorable process of attrition. And while no thinking person ever openly wishes for another’s death, we would be remiss if we used that generally noble sentiment as a convenient excuse for neglecting the calculus of modern life within which the individual is a critical but mere term, and in which the common man’s struggle appears to be headed toward an absolute futility.

Fear of death is most generally felt not as a fear of the finality and unknowability of death itself, which no man has ever lamented, but of the process of dying. We fear the slow decline, the loss of self, the turn to frailty, far more than we fear the end itself. It is one of the advantages of modern drone technologies that they can, with increasing power and accuracy, conduct their business swiftly but also, and perhaps of equal importance, at a long remove. In fact, the most effective way to avoid getting targeted by a drone (we are speaking of people with jobs, and thus those who feel some small point to continuing to believe it worthwhile to exist) is to put oneself in a position to see one. The drone you see is the drone whose business is meant for another; it is the unseen one only that locks its sights on you. In the increasingly variegated and ambiguous landscapes of war, this might seem to offer little in the way of comfort. But we are not talking about the casualties of war; we are talking about the unemployed. It would not be the most radical suggestion if we were to propose that the indigent might sign up via some central organizing system for potential inclusion in a voluntary drone-strike program. Perhaps a small remuneration might be offered to the next of kin, if such exist, in order to facilitate the mainstream acceptance of this admittedly novel process.

Given the millions of unemployed, it is clearly unfeasible for every interested indigent to be accorded the swift end he or she has no choice but to desire. The manufacture of drones and the intricacies of overlapping aerial jurisdictions will not yet have caught up with the many millions so desperately clamoring for a noble and rational exit. And yet this inability to meet the demand (at least initially) is, rather than a problem, yet another mark in the proposal’s favor. For it remains the case that someone who seems to have no way to go on living may, perversely, still wish to persist in doing so in spite of the grim realities he confronts, and that a citizen who has made the wise calculation that a death by drone-strike at an unknown time and in an unknown place may yet cling stubbornly in some nether part of himself to the increasingly antiquated notion of an innately human will to survive even in the face of catastrophe.

Rather than lament the logistical and economic problems this human ambiguity represents, we should instead understand them as an opportunity. For just as there are such unknown twists and swerves to the irrational soul of man, making him an erratic object in every respect, so too is the drone and its payload. For it is the case that even the most sophisticated and costly technologies now available, and in addition the even more sophisticated and costlier prototypes currently in development, are, in a comforting moment of parallel between man and machine, similarly incapable of a simple, reliable, and unambiguous trajectory. The most powerful processors and guidance systems; the most favorable meteorological conditions; the most skilled pilots operating in their cooled bunkers thousands of miles away: none of these can, as has been demonstrated, complete its business with absolute accuracy and reliability. (We will recall that the best baseball players of all time, to take but one example, struck out far more often than they scored. For this they were hailed as superhuman heroes and ambassadors of the brightest elements of the national pastime.) This being the case, the citizen who has decided that it is in the interests of self, family, society, or state that he should elect to have his life ended by these means may find that the strike intended for him accidentally reaches another, as it were, perhaps a mile from him, perhaps in the near space where he until that moment had clasped the hand of a loved one. If any care to lament the inevitable indeterminacy of the strike, it will be useful to remind them that their conditions of material existence were already equally if not more indeterminate had every drone been somehow scrubbed from existence. In this respect, a drone-strike, by choice or by chance, could not but seem a more humane alternative to a life of penury and dread.

It would be foolish indeed to have invested so much in these technologies only to watch them molder as mere weapons of war-force and terror. Like all modern technological artifacts, at rest they are value-neutral; it is only the uses to which they are put that defines them. In sum, to strike the jobless from the common ledger is, in its way, to aim for benevolence. The enormous costs to build, upgrade, and maintain ready fleets of drones of all manner and variety will be more than offset by the broad economic health benefits to be derived by purging the state of significant portions of its jobless population. In fact, if we might be permitted a moment of utopian thought, the likely growth in demand for these services (offered perhaps to interested parties along subsidized or graduated rate scales) will necessitate a process of vigorous hiring and training for remote-pilot operators, which may in appropriate instances be drawn from the ranks of the jobless themselves, thereby solving the problem of joblessness even more swiftly and decisively. Rather than a salaried position, however, these hires might best be negotiated as much needed ‘work experience’ and accordingly organized as internships of various types. This internment might even provide a stepping-stone toward their being struck themselves in turn more quickly. Remote piloting centers that will happen to have fallen victim to inflated overhead or health care costs, or the vagaries of local real estate crises, might themselves be recast as new targets for drones whose home bases are elsewhere.


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