…read Part 1 here.
Next we come to the issue of semantics. That said, one of the big issues with people new to ER(E) is the word “retirement”. In its broad sense, it has come to mean “put out to pasture”. And people who have this notion of retirement (pretty much everyone, really) will certainly frown on why someone in 20s-30s-40s would want to do that. The big difference in the context here though, Retirement doesn’t mean “Finis”; repeat after me, Retirement doesn’t mean “Finis”! Rather it means, “new beginnings, new possibilities”. Since there are others that do a more thorough job in expounding this point, I recommend people to (re-)read Dominguez’s Your Money or Your Life (pp. 250—261) for further clarity on this point. Some excerpts on this point from the book:
“You can stop working for money. This doesn’t mean you must stop working for money. It simply means you can stop working for money.”
“In an era when everything, from childcare to housework to shopping to clothes, is professionalized, volunteers are sometimes regarded as second-class citizens[…] Yet what the word ‘volunteer’ used to point to, and could again, is a kind of activity that is more robust, self-responsible and self-expressive than the notion of volunteers as adjuncts to the real business world.”
“The essence of FI is choice. Once you’ve passed crossover point you have choice about how you fill the hours of your day and the days of your productive life. There is no formula for how you live after the crossover point. You are free to invent your own life. You are free to explore what Buckminster Fuller meant when he said ‘We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.’ You have a choice.”
Since people seem to get caught up in citations and references (or lack of it thereof), I would also like to additionally use a pop-culture meme to reinforce this idea. As a Calvin and Hobbes reference (which I am personally fond of making) for this above point about retirement, just think of the last strip Bill wrote when he “retired” Calvin and Hobbes – was it meant to be “goodbye world”, or was it “Hello New World”?. It is the same kind of thinking that goes in the mind of an ERE man (person?). We don’t cease to become productive, but we choose to do so in other ways than what is “expected” (based on stereotypes surrounding education, prevailing norms and what not!) from us.
While we are on definitions, I want to highlight one more thing. Ironically the notion I’m about to present isn’t so far fetched, as Carl Jung himself has stated that the human psyche is “by nature religious” and had explored it in depth. Most of us carry two contravening notions and definitions of “work”, “being productive”, “usefulness to society”, etc., within us all the time. The first is an innate spiritual definition that our souls (atheists, please forgive) sing along with (this, the so called “renaissance man ideal” as Jacob says). The other notion is as it exists in our collective conscious as crystallized with the Pax Industrialis era. In taking up one set of definitions from the two, you must necessarily drop the other. Such is the nature of the two contravening definitions. The closest spiritual parallel for this above point is the Sermon on the Mount that goes along the lines of “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other […]”. An ERE bent of mind automatically gravitates towards the Renaissance thinking. As simple as that.
Pax Industrialis: Now there’s an all encompassing word for everyone. It is a word that one must both respect and fear. Our lifestyles and memes of today are a very far cry from those medieaveal times, when Dunbar number limited settlements sizes to 150 and kept everyone “meaningfully” living out their lives within the framework of the settlement!
Today we have built a highly complex (and complicated) society on the backbone of cheap and abundant energy. This has come to mean that each of us has the equivalent of “100 slaves” working for us (in the form of fossil fuels) to keep us fed, clothed and engaging in trivia pursuit. Can this last? The question is more rhetorical, inasmuch as there is a definite consensus about large scale resource depletion (fuel, minerals and metals) and food volatility being here to stay.
Paradoxically, a hierarchical and complex society has also rendered society terribly inefficient! For e.g., if a lot of dedicated office goers actually stopped going to work, I don’t expect to see things coming to standstill — someone else will take up the slack. And that’s the point. There’s a lot of slack built into the “Corporate Pyramid”. Just spend a few minutes amusing yourself at various corporate pyramid hierarchies in this Gervais Principle genealogy post (Aside: Ever wondered how many go on benefits and still the machinery ends up carrying them, anyway?).
To put it bluntly, the World moves on fine without most of us pulling it, so, thank you very much for your effort. I always advice people that it is much better to build a sense of self-worth that doesn’t tie into our “usefulness” to society, organization or institution. I had pointed this sometime ago in a blog post of my own.
My moot point is, most prevailing notions of “usefulness”, “contributing to society” etc., will unravel very quickly as this complex machinery dismantles itself due to the coming energy and resource shortages (Oh yes, it will!). It will also mean that vast hordes will have to “re-educate” themselves about those definitions within an entirely newer context. An ERE journeyman being forewarned about these trends and changes, is busy trying to become independent from the grind so as to become forearmed about the new phase of society. Oh, I am very sure it will happen in our lifetimes.
OK, here’s another way of explaining all of this analogously. The ERE approach to life will lead to a ‘resilient’ way of life and by contrast, its opposite, i.e., the modern consumerist lifestyle might be considered an ‘efficient’ way of life. An analogy for resilient vs. efficient is the classic cats vs. dogs comparison. Dogs are the classic ‘efficient’ creatures. They can be trained to become highly skilled and functional in a single area (working dogs, guide dogs, etc.) but with an added of price of a very high maintenance bill of vaccines, food, and other physical illnesses and mental neuroses that come with the territory of being efficient and trying to fulfill a planted notion of ‘need to be useful to the masters’. OTOH, cats are highly resilient but they seem to mostly concern themselves with finding a warm place to sleep, while miraculously managing to be auto-didactic in equipping themselves with all the necessary life-skills needed to be self-sufficient. Drawing parallels between an ERE man approach and a cat’s approach towards society+norms and furthermore, drawing parallels between the salary man’s approach and an efficient working/guide dog’s approach towards society+norms is left as an exercise/thought experiment to the reader.
So, the critical point I am trying to make in this post is that ERE is *not* just a “strategy” (first buy stocks, then buy houses, then…) or “lifestyle design” (“modern minimalism”, “cold showers”, “living in camper van”). It is a body of philosophy that one internalizes to become part of one’s core personality. This is a *BIG* point that most commentators deliberately omit or miss(*). The ERE/Renaissance men would like to “live our dreams” just like everyone else. *However*, and it is a big one, is it such a big crime that the dreams doesn’t revolve around Plasma TVs, “stuff”, 3 cars, two McMansions, holiday homes, mindless entertainment and consumption, etc.?
(*) e.g., see this recent Forbes blog post – IMO, the writing was in very poor taste, but I was happy for the exposure ERE got in the process!
Some Additional Reading:
The math behind ERE is somewhat succinctly captured here, and here.
To those wanting to further enhance their knowledge on the foolishness of equating happiness to growth (Easterlin), here’s Vaclav Smil on the topic, with the energy impacts of following such a foolish pursuit.
While I consider books such as Guns, Germs and Steel to be very good, the material suffers from some flaws: a) it somehow reinforces a blind belief in the stupid “Have Gun, will travel” notion of the Wild West, b) there will be a continuation and progression of the overarching Euro-American hegemony state of affairs, and, c) the narrative of conquest and murder in the name of progress, is told from the point of view of conquerors.
So, as an antidote, get a hold of these (in case you haven’t already) and understand that there are very interesting and advanced ways of life, other than the ones we’re told is “good for us all”
1. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
2. A People’s History of the United States