Technological Unemployment and Meaning in Life, a Buen Vivir Critique of the Virtual Utopia

  • Ignacio Cea Center for Research, Innovation and Creation and Faculty of Religious Sciences and Philosophy, Temuco Catholic University, Chile
  • Anja Lueje Seeger Department of Philosophy, Alberto Hurtado University
  • Thomas Wachter Utrecht University
Keywords: meaning in life, automation, buen vivir, virtuality, technological unemployment, nature, AI


In this article, we address the problem of the potential crisis in people’s life’s meaning due to massive automation-driven technological unemployment. Assuming that the problem of (re)distribution of economic resources to the whole of society in such a scenario will be solved (e.g. through provision of a Universal Basic Income), the question arises concerning the meaning of people’s lives in a world in which almost everyone does not have to (or even could not) work in order to live. Here, we side with many current proposals that paid work is not the only possible source of meaning and hence, that a meaningful life could indeed be led in a post-work society. We especially focus on one of the most developed accounts, Danaher’s Virtual Utopia (Danaher, 2016, 2019, 2022). According to him, living immersed in playful virtual worlds where new, expanded and personalized possibilities of personal and collective experiences and actions, could not only be perfectly meaningful lives, but furthermore, “be the utopia we are looking for” (Danaher, 2019, p. 270). However, our analysis will suggest that although it is a very well thought and carefully articulated position, it suffers from various important problems. Our criticism will be based on an alternative framework to think about life’s meaning and the conditions for leading a good life in general. This alternative is based on the philosophy of buen vivir (“good living”). This notion has its roots in common aspects of various Latin American indigenous cultures regarding a community-centered way of life where humans, society and nature are taken to be deeply interconnected and interdependent, and where the notions of respect, harmony and balance are at the core of this interrelationship (Gudynas, 2011; Acosta, 2008; Beling et al., 2021). Buen vivir has many facets, but we will focus on three: the importance of healthy human communities, the human-nature relationship, and the intrinsic value of nature.  Based on these, we argue that the Virtual Utopia is not a good candidate for human’s post-work utopia because i) it unnecessarily augments the environmental damage that is already involved in massive labor automation; ii) it entails an unnecessary and detrimental dependence on technology for human relationships; and iii) increases the severance of the link between humanity and nature. We conclude that the buen vivir approach is a promising candidate for an alternative utopian project, but one that needs further construction. 

How to Cite
Cea, I., Lueje Seeger, A., & Wachter, T. (2023). Technological Unemployment and Meaning in Life, a Buen Vivir Critique of the Virtual Utopia. HUMANA.MENTE Journal of Philosophical Studies, 16(44), 57-91. Retrieved from