Birth, School, Work, Death
By Sean Crawley
There is no greater modern illusion, even fraud, than the use of the single term “work” to cover what for some is … dreary, painful, socially demeaning and what for others is enjoyable, socially reputable and economically rewarding.
– JK Galbraith
In good faith, many of us accept the conventional wisdoms of our times and get on with life according to the scripts already written for us by society. Parents, schools and workplaces enculturate us to believe that being a member of a modern progressive liberal society is a blessing that we should grateful for. Respect for the traditions of family, education and work is expected and if one does adhere to the rules a rewarding and comfortable life is the widely advertised outcome. Governments and business promote a strong narrative that the current versions of democracy and capitalism are the essential (and only viable) foundations that guarantee the peace, freedom, equal opportunity and material standards that humankind deserves. The implication is that, without the business as usual model, where governments – under the guise of protecting an individual’s basic human rights – allow the unfettered and unlimited accumulation of private wealth to continue unabated, we would all likely descend into some sort of pre-Renaissance and Enlightenment chaos.
Consequently citizens of the modern world, with tacit consent, have no option but to get on the economic treadmill and follow the simple script of birth, school, work and death. The dream, promised by the western world’s doctrine of progress, which promises abundance for all, and increased leisure time (yes you can stop laughing now), is vanishing in front of our closed eyes. The party is over and all that’s left is a nasty hangover and a lot of rubbish to deal with. The privileged few who got in early, and who have benefited from the obscene flow of wealth their way, may still be enjoying the twilight hours of materialism, but even they are waking up at night with fear in their own stomachs as the discontent amongst the financially indebted working class who have realised that their mindless participation on the employment/consumption treadmill is what is really driving the aging and tired economic beast.
An increasing number of parents are starting to “educate” their unborn children in an attempt to give them the very best start in life. The frequent and disturbing vision of three year old violin virtuosos and other pre-schoolers that have been trained by hyped-up parents to perform feats of intelligence and skill is bad enough; now it seems that the peace and solitude of our very first moments of life are being interrupted, in utero, by ambitious parents determined to give their children a better life than the rest of the teeming mass of humanity that they are being born into.
It’s likely too that these very same parents have already decided upon, and wrangled their way onto the waiting lists of, the very best schooling options for their progeny. This can, and is, argued by many as a pragmatic strategy, as the truth that their child will need every last qualification on offer to secure a decent paying career is hard to refute. In a world where literally everything has a price tag is this not the best way to play the game?
Gestation has now, along with the other stages of childhood and adolescence, been hijacked as valuable time for moulding the next generation. The days of a cosy, warm and quiet womb to develop some of your finishing touches as a human being are well and truly over. We are observing and measuring their every parameter and behaviour so we can design programs of development under the pretence that without exploiting every last opportunity for our unborn children they will be disadvantaged in the human race to get ahead of the pack. To leave them be and just be embryos is deemed as unacceptable, even irresponsible, now that leaving children alone to be just children is a long-forgotten figment of the past. The whole practice of preparing the next generation to be smarter, faster and harder than their ancestors so they can enter the workforce to pay for an existence in a world where everything has a market value is a crime for which humanity is yet to be judged.
Check out www.babyplus.com if you want to learn more or, should I say, if you want your unborn baby to learn more. As one of the so-called experts, Brent Logan, says:
Every Child Deserves Giftedness, Every expectant parent owes their offspring at least consideration of a choice that simply as well as safely furnishes those means by which the individual, family, and entire human community will benefit beyond measure.
When I accepted a voluntary redundancy as a science teacher from the only senior high school in the region many of my peers thought I was mad. After 13 years of compulsory schooling, three years at teachers’ college and 15 years as a high school teacher, I admit I was ready to leave school. However, the main reason was that the vast majority of students, especially those in my favourite subject, Physics, had absolutely no interest in learning or understanding the world, and were only concerned with getting the highest mark possible so that they could gain entrance into a university course that would lead to the highest paying job. The list of most desired careers for senior high school students correlates very neatly with the list of highest paying careers. Future income was the main, perhaps only, motivation for attending school at all. My experience was that the education system, by Years 11 and 12 – if not earlier – had effectively extinguished any semblance of innate curiosity or love of learning in the youth that we are hoodwinking to do their best and study hard.
What I was unable to understand then, and now, twenty years later, is why institutionalising our children from five to eighteen into a compulsory and competitive education system, primarily designed as preparation for participation in the workforce, is largely unquestioned. The public debate about education, which involves parents, teachers, employers and politicians (note the absence of children here) chiefly centres around raising academic performance for the purpose of boosting the productivity and economy of the nation. History will judge harshly the intention and methods of this era of compulsory training of children for the workforce.
Nowadays, after a succession of different jobs, my paid employment has decreased in hours and pay rate. My aim since leaving teaching was to find work that, at the very least, did not induce nausea from about 2pm on a Sunday afternoon. Some people, including some very close to me at the time, tried to enlighten me that people did not enjoy work but simply did it as a means to gain sufficient money to enjoy the time that they were not at work. When I refused to swallow this upside-down maxim I was branded a dreamer and told to “get real”. What ended up being “real” was that, as I did find meaningful employment that consequently paid less money, the happier I became. The script dictated that as a member of the society I was required to work full time, until 65 years of age, and up until then I ought to be grateful for weekends and holidays to compensate for five full days of drudgery. I was not blind and knew of many people who loved waking up each day because of the work they did. If that was unrealistic, and was an illusion for dreamers, then I wanted to reside 100% in dreamland. The realistic option was way too depressing and reeked of submission, submission to cultural norms that I had always been suspicious of.
The ubiquitous mantra of economic growth and job creation is understandable when one considers the financial processes that rule every aspect of our lives. In simple terms, if everything is a commodity with a price tag, then everyone must work to earn money to buy goods and services to survive and join in the world as it exists. Everyone must pay their way. Today for the first time humans must face the reality that our population has reached a point where there are no commons left for people to be free, and there are no new lands to start afresh. When every cubic metre of the planet is owned or controlled by someone or something there is no option for newcomers but to enter into the fray and compete with everyone else for an ever-decreasing share of space and time to lead some form of, at best, satisfactory life. Equal opportunity in a capitalist market place, made free under the rule of democracy, is becoming harder and harder for the corporatized mass media to sell to the mass of people chained to the treadmill of unhealthy workplaces and meaningless activity. But the general apathy, chiefly caused by a lack of time to even contemplate the fear and ignorance that bind us, plays into the hands of the wealthy elite. The dream is over, unlimited wealth for all was never viable in the first place, and what is needed now is a stock-take of the remaining resources, and some just and rational decisions about distribution, conservation and future sustainability. The race for individuals to get ahead is only intensifying, and dividing humanity further and further.
Relentless and increasing pressure in the workplace to lift productivity and profits is taking its toll on many. The belief that your income or salary is a measure of how hard or smart you are working only adds insult to injury to the masses who are finding that the working life is actually detrimental, and not beneficial to the quality of life.
Because we are all living longer does that mean we have to retire later? Does that also mean we have to populate the world with a fresh new generation of highly skilled young and fit specimens to get on that treadmill to grow the economy even further to pay for us oldies? Is in utero training for the next generation starting to appeal more and more to the prospects for my retirement?
The treasurer of Australia recently announced that the age of entitlement is over. The ideal that as we age we will be looked after is also vanishing before our eyes. Those of us who entered the workforce believing that our hard work would pay off in the end must surely be justifiably pissed off. The cost of our health care is now deemed to be too much of a burden for the public purse. How this sentiment can be even uttered in a world where bucket loads of money seems to defy gravity and every other law of nature to float effortlessly upwards to those heavenly members on the rich lists gnaws ferociously at every bone of common sense in my earthly body. The growing number of ordinary people who went to work for 50 years or so cannot expect to be looked after anymore. If you are not a self-funded retiree, you are simply classed as a burden on society. To top this off, in middle age many of us feel guilty that we are not able to care for our own ageing parents. The irony is that many of us are working – or seeking work – in the growing industry of aged care because we are prepared to care for the aging, but we still have mortgages or rent to pay. We cannot afford to do it out of love or duty to our own aging parents; we can only do it for money. Logistically, as well, the diaspora created by outrageous property price growth means that many of us live further out on the expanding fringe of suburbia, hours away from where our parents still cling to their over-valued homes. In many cases mum and dad have actually had to reverse mortgage the family home to purchase adequate aged care from strangers in profit-making retirement villages.
The dream of modern democratic capitalistic society is suffocating in the limited finite world in which it was dreamed up. A free-for-all competition of everyone against everyone was never going to be a suitable model for human existence on this planet. The unlimited growth required for such an ideology is hitting the wall north, south, east and west. The mad scramble for what is left is getting uglier by the minute. The treadmill we are all on is spinning faster and faster and the axles holding it all in place are wearing mighty thin. Those who profess that collapse is inevitable, and who are building the lifeboats, have given up on any trust in human nature to wake up and do something to avert disaster. I salute you for a virtuous display of human foresight and planning. I personally am hedging some of my remaining energy and time on a new revival of human consciousness and collective action to change course, even if it that needs to be a 180 degree about-turn, for a while at least. My personal actions at stepping off, to some degree, the treadmill of Birth-School-Work-and-Death has been something that others have had a geek at. When I smile and laugh and write and question, and when just one person with their head down, racing against the clock and seven billion others, slows down just a bit to have that geek at me, and in puzzlement wonders why the hell does that guy look so happy, that’s when I know it’s been a good day.