I saw this kid the other day. He used to have a raging green mohawk. Now he was working in a convenience store with a goofy uniform on. I felt sorry for him and wondered to myself why we think there is something valuable for our young people to learn by trading their time for a few meager dollars.
Not just their time, but crucial years during an exciting, ephemeral stage of life filled with energy and vitality. We sap it quick by teaching them how to enslave themselves, telling ourselves that they are learning about hard work and how the world operates.
It would be better if we let them come up with some sort of enterprise where they made money in another way.
Better still if they spent their time exploring what it is they did best, and learning to innovate and problem solve.
Some will argue that this is what the wage job does. And they will say that it also shows them that they have to afford to live while they pursue other dreams. And this all comes back to capitalism and socialism (and the idealism of a world that functions somewhere in between).
The rough idea of capitalism is that it motivates people to achieve their highest self by the pursuit of financial gain. There are two fundamental flaws in logic here – the money market system is a part of every human inequity and a force of violence in the world. The other is that the great innovators and thinkers of our time were never motivated by big bucks. It has always been the people who came after them and capitalized on what they came up with.
Innovation and advancement of the human race are their own rewards. Why not build a society which props up an individual so that he or she may pursue the best of themselves instead of struggling to survive, only to get inevitably broken by the system and become an ordinary wage slave like most everyone else?
Ardent capitalists will say that money is the motivator. Without it, people have no impetus to excel. Or, they will point to competition as bringing the “best” out in people and talk about a “level playing field” or a free market enterprise that is the grand denominator, separating the strong from the weak. The problem with this is that the market is not a level grade. People born into the dominant ethnic group possess a massive advantage over everyone else. And if they start out with wealth this only increases their privilege.
This is only some of the inequity. The market place is one of the tumult reflected in the culture. Either it is blacks or women or gays or some group of people who don’t have the same chance, who aren’t born to the same preferred set of circumstances. (Like, being born almost anywhere besides in the United States.)
Much of capitalism, as I see it, is a denial of the problems of the day. You can’t be a capitalist and recognize climate change because it implies your involvement. Or, at least, asks you to rethink your future, either with the environment in mind or contending with the concerns of a planet reevaluating its attitude of limitless growth.
We are all driven, whether we consciously admit it or not, by the repression of our mortal knowledge. In other words, we chase immortality and run from the reality of our limited time on earth. That this fact breeds war, violence, religion, politics, and even the lofty desire for peace on earth is a topic for another time. Here I mention it because chief among our quests for immortality is once of acquisition. Acquisition of wealth, power, and material goods. We may know better, but unconsciously we feel we can stave of the inevitable by surrounding ourselves with a bulwark of stuff.
This is the opposite of what the world needs. By accepting the inevitable, innovation and sustainability come to the forefront. What can we create that will last for those who come after us? We may not be able to come up with a panacea for climate change; we don’t need to. No one is expecting the Ultimate Answer to Everything – instead, we can create the conditions in which the best thinking and best work are nurtured by the culture.
The prevailing model that this is done through competition and the lure of money is unfortunate. It is an agenda for those with money and power who want to keep it. In the meantime, that each human being is a potential resource of true wealth and innovation gets lost. That human is working in a sweat shop overseas or in a convenience store with a squashed Mohawk. If he or she was born in a developed country which uses the rest of the world’s resources to prop itself up, then he or she has a good shot at being well heeled. Otherwise, that human is likely to succumb to the vast lower middle belly of the world that the strident capitalists consider to mooch off of the hard working elite. It’s a rigged game.
In these conditions, people become a race of mindless workers and consumers, not resources. We end up powerless to truly do much for ourselves, instead of empowered to be the best. If you live in the middle of suburbia, for instance, it’s nearly impossible to think outside the box, live off the grid, grow your own food, to learn self-reliance. You are caught in the giant web of capital consumption, buying your nutrient-deprived food at giant mega stores, commuting to work each day to punch in and whittle away the best of your years. If you are poor and rural, you may be able to cultivate some better degree of self-reliance, but the giant misappropriation of resources leaves you spread too thin to make much of a difference and set the example for a better way of living.
You may be lucky enough to have maneuvered through the system and to wind up doing something you are good at and enjoy. If so, count yourself one of the lucky few. But don’t consider yourself proof that the system works. You are the exception which proves the rule; the system does not work.
We are a growing global society of the haves and have-nots. The haves justify their position by citing the effectiveness of the money-market system. The have-nots could be contributing to the health of the entire world in major ways, but are too busy being sucked into the machine that feeds the U.S. and a few other “developed” nations that gobble up the principal resources of the planet – including people.
I wish that kid in the convenience store would yank off his goofy uniform and get the hell out of there. I wouldn’t expect him to go out and solve the energy crisis. Just painting his mohawk green again would be something. It would inspire me, and maybe others.
Because it is inspiration – not money – that makes the human race great.