[Just saw this important read: Gafni Attacks Over Lack Of Construction Of Ashqelon Hospital]
Air Canada employees are on strike. Canada's postal workers went on strike, too, and are now locked out. To which people have said, "That's okay; we have other airlines, and we don't mail anything anyway." The local news station polled listeners the other day, asking, "Are strikes an effective form of labor action anymore?"
I think the answer is likely No – and this is part of a much bigger issue, which is affecting people all over the world in a very negative way.
The issue is Re-Routing, to use Internet parlance.
From a networking perspective: When a network is populated with enough nodes, and features a high enough degree of connectivity between those nodes, each individual node becomes insignificant. If one node or group of nodes goes down, traffic just re-routes around them and the system continues to thrive.
The same thing is happening in our highly populated and highly connected world: There are so many people, and they are so highly connected, that each individual person loses special status, becoming eminently replaceable.
* You're on strike? I can find other workers, or I can eliminate your job altogether.
* You want to raise the cost of your goods or your service? I'll outsource to India.
* Think your television network is crucial, or you are an irreplaceable performer? Think again, there are 500 more like you.
* Want to protest the government's politics? You are a tiny, irrelevant demographic.
* Trying to make your mark in publishing? Best of luck; everyone has a blog, a book, a column.
* Philanthropy is your thing? There are millions of others doing it, too, and even your small local charities are drawing on grants from afar.
We're past the age of people being rendered obsolete by technology - now, we are rendered obsolete by each other.
Of course, not everything can be easily replaced, yet. Certain government services cannot be replaced, and so people cannot yet avoid government. Protesters who manage to attract enough friends – using that same population growth and connectivity – can still get noticed, albeit rarely.
The general rule, though, is that because there are so many people, and because they are so connected, no one is irreplaceable. The recipients of everything we provide can Re-Route around us.
And one major problem is this: Many of us, perhaps most of us, find our personal meaning and value in our relationships with others, and our ability to make an impact upon the world. Rav Chaim of Volozhin insisted that we were created only to help others, and Charlie Brown (להבדיל, fine) followed his lead. We rate ourselves based on how others view us, whether others care about us, whether others will remember us afterward. How does it feel, then, to discover that others don't think about us at all? That others don't need us? That others will find replacements for us fairly easily?
I suspect this is one of the reasons for the global growth in Depression and Anxiety diagnosis. The phenomenon is beyond any particular society and its pace, work habits, diet or values. I think it's partially attributable to the fact that people everywhere recognize that the world can Re-Route around them, and this realization is devastating.
Answers? Perhaps one answer is to find our satisfaction elsewhere; certainly, Kohelet would prescribe that. Perhaps another answer is to make ourselves valuable in small circles, or to people who can't find easy replacements. I don't know.