Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Why do we work?

You don't have to live like they tell you.

I thought he made quite an important point. People don't want to quit mainstream city life because they fear they're going to be poor. But he said something quite interesting that will ring true for anyone who has lived - or tried to live - in a major modern city like London, New York, Toronto or Vancouver.

"I had a fairly normal life in London. Got up. Went to work. Socialized on the weekends. I felt like I didn't have enough time to do all the different things I wanted to do. The idea of working for like two-thirds of your life and having very little time tosocialize and do hobbies and things...it just doesn't sit right. All the bills, mortgages, electric, water, internet, TV licenses, insurances just... I don't know. I earned good money but everything just went. Everyone had their hand in my pocket until there was nothing left."

The only problem with that life - living to make money - was that he had to live in the city to do it. To make that money, just barely enough to sustain his life there cost him every penny he made. This meant that in effect he was living in order to keep working. How that differs from slavery is something that might be worth considering. If you make way less money, but have the ability to live on next to nothing, and live much better, how are you "poor"?

I make considerably less money now than I did in Toronto, and yet, I live a hundred times better and am ten thousand times happier. I think the sheer misery of life in the urban centre of Canada's financial capital was going to kill me if I stayed any longer. (Five years. And eleven in the gloomiest, darkest, wettest city in the world.) Even in terms of things I don't have to put up with. I don't have the hellish expense of maintaining a Toronto lifestyle, desperately struggling every month, from paycheque to paycheque, to get the bank balance up to the red line.

And I don't have to contend with the horrors of Toronto itself. I don't wake up every morning to the roar and screech of traffic; I don't have to commute on the GEEDEE Toronto Streetcars. I don't have to jam myself like a sweaty sardine onto the Toronto subway. (There are whole websites dedicated to how much everyone hates the TTC... don't get me started. It's like a damned post-apocalyptic dystopia on those things. Just thinking about it enough to have written those sentences is filling me with the old frustrated rage and existential despair...Dear God! The "short turn"... Oh, I'd managed to forget the Short Turn...)

Most important, I don't have to live with my soul turned down to the lowest possible level of sensitivity. That was probably the worst part: city life forces you to run your soul at the lowest possible level of consciousness. Why is city life so evil, so harmful, so corrosive to the human spirit? I think it's because in order to maintain it, you just have to shut down.

The essential meaninglessness of modern life, its circular, self-enclosed bubbleverse logic, is something that a lot of people are starting to think about: "I live (miserably) in the city so I can have a job so I can go on living in the city... miserably."

These questions: "How ought we to live?" are particularly piquant since so many of us of the post-Revolution generation never married and/or had children.

Meaning, purpose, authentic context, are huge issues for us. Many of the people raised by the Revolutionaries never went for the settled life at all, or found it extremely difficult to achieve, either practically or psychologically. Even when it wasn't financially out of reach (check out university tuition increases in the 2nd half of the 20th century, then compare it with the studies showing the real-world employability of university graduates ... it's some sobering stuff) it was often something we just couldn't conceive of for ourselves.

The two mental processes that are absolute requirements for accomplishment in life - curiosity and imagination - are precisely the two that absolutely must be shut off completely in an urban environment, simply to make it bearable.

This generation, and I think much of the generations that followed, really just doesn't have any confidence in the thing we've created that we call "normal life".  All the official revolutions since 1600 have been in different ways essentially anti-human. Since the Protestant/secularist Revolution, then the Industrial Revolution and then, after the horrors of the early 20th century, the Sexual Revolution, have combined one after the other to strip away the very core of those things that make us human.

I think it's significant that now a major focus for technology innovators, guys like Elon Musk and others less celebrated, is to figure out ways to make modern urban life less unbearable. But heavens! That seems like a pretty damn low bar to me. Less unbearable... Can't we hope for a little better than that?


Here's that hobbit house in real life, without the expensive BBC-level production values.

Still looks pretty good to me.

If page views are anything to go by, it seems like it looks pretty good to quite a lot of people.



Unknown said...

These are some of my favorite posts you write. As a suburb dweller who constantly struggles to keep up with financial obligations, this way of living is very appealing.

Saw this the other day and thought of you. She has another video where she goes through the house in more detail. She builds hobbit houses for a living, apparently, and rents them out. Clever girl, her.


Ingemar said...

Maybe Tolkien was right.

I worry and wonder that even if one escapes the City, the City manages him.

The proliferation and expansion of the Chinese is particularly worrisome. It's not necessarily the Chinese qua Chinese, since of all the pre-Christian peoples they were and are the most morally and socially developed and sophisticated. But it seems that they, of all the peoples in the world, have gone furthest and most enthusiastically in advancing the perversity of the City.


Imagine that, but in all of Africa. A foretaste of Hell.