A middle class career is often presented as the only worthwhile lifestyle to strive for(*). Here the idea is to get an education and then work for a good 30 or 40 years while slowly saving a little bit every month for the day one can retire from the career and do something else and perhaps become what one always wanted to be—self-actualization. Of course, it is in the middle class’s interest that employees align their self-interest with the employers’ interest much like self-sacrificing worker ants align their interest with the hive. The way that education has been historically evolved is a great way to transform people into workers.
(*) This leaves me wondering: What does the upper class tell their children?
Now for those for share the dream of climbing the middle class pyramid in the hope of being the one reaching the top of queen bee rather than being the one pushed out the side and doing whatever it is one does while working a collared job, there are an abundance of material and good advice from how to get the jobs, where to train to be able to push paper all day, how to spend money, and so on.
However, there are also some for whom spending all their creative, physical, or mental powers on career advancement would feel like such a waste of life (and you really only get one) that even season football tickets, red meat, a luxury car, a nice title (marketing engineer, anyone?) or a nice plastic plaque for 25 years of loyal service could not make up for it. But maybe psychotropic prescription drugs could.
The way I understand it is that people who work regular jobs, especially those who spend all day writing reports or something that goes on paper—as I used to do—it is very hard to feel a sense of meaning of the work one does, unless you really believe in the “vision”—as I also used to do for the longest time.
You try to explain what you do to someone else and their eyes just glance over because they can not relate (which is a good indication that you are under the influence of the “vision”). “Yes, today I wrote up an analysis of … according to ISO no. … and checked the spreadsheet for … “. And thus the only way to “generate” this meaning is by spending the money one earns. “See, for some reason that escapes me my employer gives me 50000 each year, so I must be doing something important!”.
If this money is the sole means of determining the point of one’s work, then how well one works or how important or relevant one’s work is is then measured in terms of how expensive one dresses, how expensive one eats, how expensive one lives. Quality does not matter. What matters is simply that something is exclusive; hence the shoddy products that sell simply because they get a brand name slapped onto them.
There is an easy alternative. The corporate lifestyle of working for a lifetime is often referred to as comfortable, so I won’t use that word. No, there is an easy alternative, which involves working for 5 years and then saying: No, stop, buying the biggest house possible or the most expensive meals or the most expensive tickets to the most expensive sporting events or driving the most expensive car is not the way I want to self-actualize; it is not the standard I measure myself by. Also, hopefully, there will be mates out there that are not necessarily attracted exclusively by material things—although they probably live outside of L.A.
Our society is characterized by its worship of money. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like money, but only to the extent that it allows me to spend time developing other aspects—beyond that it is just a silly way of keeping score. With modern technology it is quite possible to only work 1-2 hours a day (for the average person, more efficient ones work less) and then spend the rest of the day developing other aspects of oneself.
Imagine if society instead of money valued, say, kindness or good parenting. Imagine it valued skill with the gun or the sword as it once did. Imagine the ultimate value was wisdom or enlightenment. Or imagine it valued science as it did during the enlightenment or religion as it did during the dark ages.
What kind of homes would people live in then? What kind of food would they eat? What would their attitude towards seasonal passes or luxury cars be?
Too often I see the lament that people don’t know what they would do with themselves if they could not go to work every day. I’m trying to be understanding, but I fail. Be imaginative! Here are some suggestions: Try to be the best parent you can be. Try to be the best swordsman you can be. Or lest I project my personal ideals of pursuing the status of “best”, go collect some exotic experiences or discover your inner self. There is much to do.
Verily, I know it’s not “productive”, but who cares? Productivity is but a fetish that whoever feeds off of the middle class have invented for their benefit. Productivity does not apply outside of profit-seeking endeavors of the middle class and those that live off of the system they have created. Do parents think about how they can increase the productivity of their parenting? Can you optimize the productivity of being kind? I don’t think so.
Originally posted 2010-02-08 00:43:33.