An Economy of Air: The Gods of the Marketplace

Take a look around at what you’re doing right now. Chances are, especially if you live in a modern Western nation, it’s kind of weird.

“Weird? How can that be? We’re all normal, decent, ordinary, every day people!”

Well, yes. But the thing is, the way we live is a historical anomaly. I think this is why many of us feel a vague unease with the way things are.

Just think about the rhythm of many of our daily lives:

  • Wake up
  • Commute
  • Go to one place for 8 to 12 hours
  • Go home and have a couple of hours to yourself
  • Sleep
  • Wake up

And so on.

“But that’s life!” you might say. “Everybody has to work for a living.” 

And you would right. But the kind of work we do is just so…weird. 

Look at me. I’m a lawyer. I read stuff that was invented by humans and yet is treated as though it has the magic ability to make people do what it says.

The corporate and office jobs I’ve had amount to not much more than trying to make a decision on who to talk to that can make another decision, who then escalated up to somebody else who makes another decision.

Nobody really does anything. It’s ephemeral. We have an economy of air.

People love to mock the so-called “working man,” or people who work in factories or in trades. But at the end of the day they at least made something that was a concrete, tangible, real.

Soon, though, that will be gone. Everything will be automated, even my job. We’re almost there. Some predict we’ll be there in a decade

Will this be good? Maybe. Maybe we’ll have more time to devote to philosophy, the arts, music…but even music has a mathematical formula. And artificial intelligence has almost developed to the point where it can write music

Weird, right?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that things don’t always have to be this way. Yet any suggestion that the post World War II world order might be wanting in several areas is met with reactions of shock and horror.

A lot of the same rebels who love to rail against the status quo recoil with disgust at the suggestion that maybe some things needs to be changed.

Unconsciously or not, so many think we’ve reached the end of history and that there is no other way except this. What we have now is the be-all, end-all and must be frozen in amber for all eternity, fossilized with no hope of change.

Now that’s weird, and is something our forebears sure wouldn’t recognize.

Am I suggesting that we all live in caves? Go back to toiling in the field? 

I don’t know about the caves, but there’s something to be said about growing your own food. You actually feel a connection to the world you live in. It’s hard to feel a connection when you’re sitting in a cubicle farm in some gray concrete slab of a building, or even in a NEW, HIP OPEN OFFICE at some trendy new tech start-up.

At the end of the day, it’s an economy of air. 

Whatever we’ve been given to replace this lack of connection doesn’t quite cut it. Buy this, wear that, think this, watch that, pop this, drink that. Don’t worry about it. Trust us. 

It’s just distraction. Is that why we’re here? To be amused?

Capitalism is great and has done more to lift humanity out of poverty than just about anything–people get to own stuff!–and I am in no way suggesting a regression into state-run socialism. But is this it?

It’s great not to be at war. It’s also great not to have to worry about where your next meal comes from. But the pendulum might have swung too far in the direction of security and comfort.

That’s my biggest problem with so-called modernity. I think this is an awesome time to be alive. Great, in fact. The possibilities for communication and acquiring wisdom are limitless.

But everything’s been engineered and systematized, including people, all in the name of social progress. The powers that be, the captains of industry and the titans of politics view us as a fungible good.

We are Economic Man. We are widgets to be plugged in as needed, or votes to be wooed and entered into the machine. Culture, history, and tradition don’t matter. Throw open those borders, people. Happiness is just a cheap consumer gadget away. 

Even that word is kind of dehumanizing: “consumer.”

It’s a pretty depressing state of affairs despite our abundant leisure and myriad entertainment options.

We’ve been placed on the altar of the gods of the marketplace. As Kipling puts it

A lot of this is why, I think, God won’t die

Whatever it is that makes us human, that essence which separates us from the beasts…this is also also pretty weird.

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

1 Timothy 6:10

We seem to have it all and yet we are still not happy. The gods of the marketplace try their best to dazzle us with miracles, but they aren’t enough. Free trade and globalization have lead to abundance and wealth–more for some than for others–but is this enough? What else is missing?

The human spirit want something more than to be entertained. And whether or not you believe in God, I know you feel this too.

The weirdness really comes, though, when we are conditioned to stop yearning for it.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and @DaytimeRenegade

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