Self Driving Trucks
I just saw something about Amazon using self driving trucks in Alabama or somewhere. Maybe it’s true! Even if it’s not, sooner or later they’ll have them. Although I can’t imagine them navigating the 4 way stops in Pilsen! People are pretty aggressive around here at the stops, and you have to account for pedestrians and bikers and drivers who don’t even notice the stop signs! I remember driving in Mexico and people (everyone) just going right through stop signs… but that’s a story for another day.
Self driving trucks. Across the alley from the church the Soto family has a house. I know the family and I just found out that they have a little trucking business. I guess they own a couple of semi tractors (that’s the part where the driver is, the other part is the trailer). The son told me that he’d finished college and that he was driving a truck. I asked the dad the other day how much you could make driving a truck, and he told me it was pretty good pay. I think it was somewhere north of $100,000. Talking with a young guy I know who has a CDL (that’s the kind of license you need to drive one of those trucks) I asked him why he didn’t go to work as a truck driver. He told me that it was a terrible life… that they worked you to death, and that you might never see your family at all.
How about some reading from a Papal Encyclical…
“The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvelous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses… as also, finally, in the prevailing moral degeneracy.”
“Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury (that’s high interest loans, my note), which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.”
Imagine what might happen in a couple of years. Self driving trucks… the motive being that we don’t have enough truck drivers, and we want our stuff delivered. Then what will the Sotos do for a living? On the one hand, we don’t want people chained to a steering wheel. On the other hand, what’s really going on here? It’s worth thinking about. And talking about. After all, people like the Sotos won’t have enough money to buy a fleet of those fancy self driving trucks! They’ll be owned by corporations like Amazon or Walmart, or other big companies.
As the Pope wrote in 1891 (that’s when Rerum Novarum was published), the world’s wealth is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. See here for the whole Encyclical: https://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_15051891_rerum-novarum.html
Right now, the great majority of the people of the world are living in real poverty. What was going on back in 1891 that caused the Pope to write this Encyclical? Think of the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies of the world. Think of the incredible lifestyles of the richest people you can imagine, then multiply it by 2! The railroads and oil had made multimillionaires out of these guys, and they were enjoying life to the max! These are the same guys who sent guards to shoot union organizers in the steel mills in South Chicago back in the day. The same guys who put workers into dangerous and terrible foundries and made a fortune doing it. The same guys, who, by the way, bankrupted their companies and sold them offshore to avoid paying union pension obligations.
The Pope pointed out in his encyclical (the one from 1891) that the previous way crafts were passed on had been dismantled by the industrial revolution. What was that way? It was through craft guilds. Think of woodworkers and hand tools. Think of the American arts and crafts movement here in the 1920’s and beyond. Think of hand thrown pottery and handmade shoes. In many ways the industrial revolution raised the standard of living for ordinary people. Still, there was a tradeoff. While ordinary people could now afford shoes, for example, and that was a good thing, what happened to all the cobblers?
What about now? What is going on, really?
There’s a big push right now for affordable day care. Ok. You want families to be able to support themselves. Really? Is that what it’s about? Maybe. Or is it another way to squeeze labor? You want mom to be able to hand her kids off to someone to watch them. That way she can go to work. And be productive. And maybe make some rich guy even richer.
Here’s a novel idea. What about paying a living wage to a father, so his wife can take care of the kids? What about the moms who would love to stay home and take care of their families and their homes? Is it really better for our culture to push for affordable day care? And for self-driving trucks, etc?
How about some little facts…
According to this site, we haven’t had what demographers call “replacement fertility” since 1971. (https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/fertility-rate) What does that mean? Replacement fertility means that the population in a given place is stable. It’s not growing, and it’s not falling. In the United States, historically, we’ve been ok with a low fertility rate because we’ve had immigrants coming. They still want to come, but our politicians haven’t been able to work out how to open our borders. One of the factors is that there’s a perception out there that the immigrants will work for lower wages than American workers… and they will, often enough. Since they aren’t citizens, they can’t really complain very much. They can end up in meat processing factories, for example, and be threatened with deportation if they complain too much. What that means for consumers is cheap chicken… and we like our cheap chickens, don’t we?
Back to the economy and families… Why don’t families want to have children? One of the biggest reasons is that they’re expensive! If families think they can’t afford to take care of their children, they may decide not to have them. Or they may decide not to have children out of pure selfishness. It’s a big sacrifice, having children. Far easier not to bother…
What about families themselves?
We’ve been repeating over and over again that a single mother raising a family is the same thing as a mother and father raising a family. It’s a lie. It doesn’t matter how often you repeat lies. They’re still lies. Just from a bit of personal experience…
Years ago, I took some gang members off to a Trappist Monastery for a weeklong silent retreat. We ended up talking into the night a few nights. How do you talk during a silent retreat? Quietly! This was long before all the worries about priests and kids, and my thoughts about what we’ve lost with all the bad actors are best left for another day. In any case, the guys had a great time. They did some physical labor, they had decent food, they had a safe and clean place to sleep. At the end of the retreat, they didn’t want to go home. They wanted to stay at the monastery. I took them home… and a week after we were back in the city, one of them was killed.
One of the things that struck me and stuck with me all these years is that they all told me that either they didn’t know who their father was, or that their fathers had told them they wished their sons were never born. I couldn’t believe it. What a terrible burden for a young man to bear. It’s no wonder they didn’t think they had any reason to live.
That’s still going on today. There are kids in our neighborhood who come from terribly broken families. Families that have been broken for generations. Moms who were raised by moms who never cared for their daughters. Fathers who seem like they were raised by wild jackals. Then we put these kids in a school and expect the teachers to raise them, to feed them breakfast and lunch and civilize them.
Family life has been under attack here for generations, and the consequences are terrible for actual, real human beings. It’s time that the needs of families be taken into consideration. We have a great opportunity in our moving past this pandemic. We may be able to bump our culture a little bit back toward some sanity! It’s a good job for Catholics, since we’ve been thinking and talking about the big questions of life for a very long time!
In a particular way, we have a great opportunity here at St. Paul. There are some families in our neighborhood who experience “inter-generational living.” That means grandparents and children and grandchildren near each other! What a great idea!
Some more encyclical writing (from 1981, St. John Paul II)
“All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons, making the family “a school of deeper humanity” this happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows.”
The whole thing is at this link: https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio.html
Maybe we ought to have a group dedicated to learning Church teaching on the big issues, and then trying to do something about those issues. We certainly have a lot of smart people here. We might have the horsepower we need around here to make a difference!
I’ll close with some more Encyclical words from 1891:
“To sum up, then, what has been said: Whoever has received from the divine bounty a large share of temporal blessings, whether they be external and material, or gifts of the mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfecting of his own nature, and, at the same time, that he may employ them, as the steward of God’s providence, for the benefit of others. “He that hath a talent,” said St. Gregory the Great, “let him see that he hide it not; he that hath abundance, let him quicken himself to mercy and generosity; he that hath art and skill, let him do his best to share the use and the utility hereof with his neighbor.”