Modern life offers a whole host of contradictions. For every benefit or ailment we’ve kicked, something new rises up to replace it.
- We’ve traded subsistence living for atomization and isolation.
- We’ve traded typhus and the plague and polio for cancer and diabetes.
- We’ve traded the threat of war and starvation for the threat of obesity related diseases, drug overdoses, and suicide.
Not everyone is pleased with the status quo. Not everyone who accurately points out problems and contradictions with the current order of things literally wants to live in the past. The past is not as ideal as we all think it was, the future is not all doom and gloom, and the present is not always as bad as advertised.
But it is not always as glorious as advertised, either.
The status quo tends to be loved and fiercely protected by those for whom it works best. Any attempt to change it to encompass more people within its benefits is decried as “Communist!” or “Reactionary!” depending on the political bent of those doing the decrying.
In the interests of full disclosure, I suppose you could call me a social conservative and an economic liberal. Whatever that makes me, I don’t know, but I’m a strong believer in the fundamental tenets of Christendom (what we now call Western Civilization) with a belief that a government damn well better do what’s in the benefit of the people. And if that includes spending money, so be it.
Of course, the American system of government is just as flawed as the people running it. But again, any attempt to change the system, or even tweak along the edges, gets shouted down by the people who think the status quo is just fine, because it’s enriching them.
It’s against this backdrop a fundamental contradiction of 21st century American life rears its ugly head: the primacy of the all-holy business, and your work within it.
I’m going to stop here and anticipate some of the counterarguments.
No, I’m not lamenting work per se.
No, I’m not against or averse to hard work.
Yes, I understand I can always “Go work in a field!” and blah blah blah–the standard rejoinder to anyone that dares find fault with office work.
No, I don’t want to hear your “Bootstrap, snowflake!” argument. And this is not the same as wanting a big nanny state to take care of everything. You can’t reduce every single disagreement to an all-or-nothing binary either-or.
I mean, you can, but that’s dumb and annoying.
So work. Business. Your career. At some point, America bought into the idea that we don’t need any of this religious, spiritual, or other nonsense and instead could rely on cold, hard facts . . . and dollars. Lots and lots of dollars.
We, as a nation, bought into the idea that if it makes money, it’s good, and if it doesn’t make money, it’s a waste of time.
And if it makes more money, all the better.
Who needs art, literature, pretty architecture, or any of this culture stuff if it doesn’t maximize the bottom line?
This is why I view all of this Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) stuff as a whole bunch of garbage designed to sell. If CSR didn’t make money, corporations wouldn’t do it. They don’t give a good damn about the environment, or their workers, or Bangladeshi clothing manufacturers. They care about separating gullible old you from your paycheck.
Let’s talk about this paycheck for a second. You can already tell my distaste with the idea that “Economic Man” is the be-all, end-all of civilization, and that “enlightened self-interest”–that is, selfishness and in some cases greed–is the best way for humans to interact with the world and each other. Believe it or not, the profit motive isn’t the most holy, noble, and pure driver of human behavior.
Man has discovered that being a cog in the global engine of economic progress isn’t nearly as fulfilling as advertised. In fact, it’s responsible for a whole host of physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual problems. But that bottom line, though . . .
The question arises, whose bottom line? Because it sure isn’t yours or mine.
I have these thoughts as work has become orders of magnitude more busy lately. I work late, I’m stressed, I’m not seeing my family, and for what? For what? I’m certainly not getting richer. If we’re all supposed to chase our own selfish interests and do whatever it takes for money, this is a waste. I’m not seeing an extra cent for any of the long hours, any of the working at home off the clock to meet deadlines, none of it.
“Well, that’s your fault! You should have gotten a better job that pays more and provides a great incentive for extra work and a tangible way to see the fruits of your labor! If you’re not filthy stinking rich in the United States of America, that’s YOUR fault, you loser!”
THIS IS WHAT A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY ACTUALLY THINK.
We have a perverse relationship with money. We have a perverse relationship with work. We’ve set aside worship of a Creator for worship of creation. We’re a pagan nation, and we’ve been a pagan nation for a good one-hundred years, slavishly devoted to Mammon, among other false idols.
Several generations were told to go to school and join the rat race. It’s the only way to be successful! You have to apply yourself. You can’t waste your potential being a plumber or a mechanic or a restaurateur! You’ve gotta work an office job! Get some security! Good benefits and a pension so you can retire at age 65!
I laugh hysterically when anyone born pre-1964 asks me about my retirement plan. My retirement plan is “Don’t die.”
Something’s not working right in this nation. I cringe when I see young high-school graduates go to college. I cringe harder when I see them graduate college. I really, honestly, truly, and sincerely want what’s best for them, and often that means I want them not to be saddled with unapayble debt working super-hard for relative peanuts and being utterly unable to afford a house or a family of their own. Because when both spouses have to work, who the hell is going to raise the kids? Both parents have to pay off their student loans and other debts, and one of their jobs essentially leaves enough left over to pay for daycare.
It’s bleak and depressing, but I’m not despairing because I see so many younger people trying to break out of this trap. I’m also thankful for what I do have–health, family, and relative safety that would make my ancestors a million shades of green with envy. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got and deal with the hand you’ve been dealt . . . and lest you forget, sometimes you picked the cards yourself! You can always turn a bad situation around if you have love in your heart and hope in your life.
The future will be good because we’re on to the game. Us generations trapped between the grinding wheels of transition are forearmed with the knowledge it will take to make sure our descendants will avoid the mistakes our progenitors either didn’t know about it or, in some sinister cases, knew about it but pushed anyway.
Things will get better. The old order is crumbling. Something new is emerging as people turn away from Mammon and set their sights on something more fulfilling, more lasting, more sustaining, more loving, more caring, and more real. Consumerism and short-term gain will give way to considerations about the only thing that matters: Eternity. And the nation, and the world, will be better off for it.
My new book The Last Ancestor is full of action, adventure, and danger, but also hope, love, and light. And aliens, giant snakes, lizardmen, and gladiatorial combat. I’m sure you’ll love it–lots of people have been enjoying it so far!