Who Owes Who?

6 Jun 07

Occasionally I am overcome by the desire to share my views on the concept and practice of idling with others. I refer, in particular, not to the more passive communiqués of this blog, but to an online forum which I frequent, whose name I shall not mention, but which may be discernible to those who are familiar with my work. Upon the divulgement of my views, I often find myself confronted with resistance, ire and resentment, which are the branches of a tree upon whose roots are carved a phrase which, although not directly spoken, carries a sentiment which is very much in evidence. That phrase being…

The world doesn’t owe you a living, you know.

Well no doubt that is true, but I would counter it with the suggestion that neither do I owe the world a living. I should, it is inferred, be more grateful for the position I find myself in, and should be willing to give of myself – my hard work, my labour; my blood, sweat and tears – in the service of the great and good who have enabled me to live in such relative luxury and comfort. Well first of all, who are these “great” and “good”? And secondly, would I necessarily be so much worse off if I was not in possession of all these things which “they” have so generously “given” to me?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly aware that, in a material sense, I am a highly fortunate person, especially when compared with those in more underprivileged parts of the world. I have a roof over my head, shoes on my feet and food in my belly, and access to opportunities, education, healthcare, leisure, amenities and material comforts which many could only dream of. I would not want to live in a mud hut in Africa. But who’s to say – I mean, how can one be absolutely sure – that if I was dumped in a mud hut in Africa, after a period of adaptation and adjustment, I wouldn’t be happy? Perhaps even happier than I am now?

I didn’t ask for the things I was given – all these material comforts and so on. But that’s not to say that I would want them to be taken away. Recently, on British TV, there was a series which fell under that generally most deplorable and detestable of umbrellas known as Reality TV. The show was called Castaway, details of which can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/castaway/. Now you can keep your Big Brother‘s, your Celebrity Love Island‘s and whatnot, but Castaway, in my defence, was a little different to the general rabble of nonsense which this particular genre of televisual “entertainment” is known for. Granted, there was the occasional buxom female running around in a bikini, squealing in delight at some matter of very little importance, and there were arguments about the apportionment of porridge and blankets, but aside from these inevitable staples of Reality TV, its participants were not all wannabe models and soap stars, and its underlying premise was a little less, shall we say, trivial, than that of Average Joe. To get back round to the point I was making at the beginning of this paragraph, the partakers of the “Castaway experience” had opted to spend 3 months in relative poverty, on a deserted part of the Great Barrier Island in New Zealand, where they slept and ate in a couple of ramshackle huts, and were expected to supplement their very basic provisions with fish they had fished for and whatever other edible substances they could find. They didn’t starve, but they experienced hunger the likes of which none of them had probably experienced before. They learned to work together and be creative with their resources, and almost universally expressed how happy their time on the island had been, and what better people they had become because of it. So again, back to the point… who’s to say that the material comforts and opportunities of a Modern Western Lifestyle make us happier than we would otherwise be?

The world doesn’t owe me a living. But… should we be grateful for being in receipt of things which we never asked for, which are provided by people who are probably not even aware of our existence, and which, in all possibility, actually reduce our level of happiness – and furthermore, leave our souls undernourished and unfulfilled? What do we owe the world for giving us all that we want, but little that we really need?

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4 comments on “Who Owes Who?

  1. The Imugi says:

    Again, you write a post that echoes exactly how I feel! 🙂

    It seems to me these people who are so resentful of a more laid back attitude toward life are those who have bought into the Vast Capitalist Machine’s promises, and found them wanting. But rather than challenge the Machine or, as it were, quietly withdraw from it, they feel it is their *duty* to continue turning the wheels, oiling the cogs, etc. As a result they get very irritated with anybody who might seek a way out of this maze, because subconsciously, they’ve suppressed their own desire for liberation…

    Really, I feel sorry for these people. They’re going to spend their whole lives working for somebody else, who doesn’t care at all for them as a person, but only as a part of the Machine. Once they retire, they might very well drop dead (either from exhaustion or because after years of work they’re not comfortable with *idle time* on their hands), and all their savings will go to a relative who’s never had to work a day in their life. How’s that for just deserts? 😉

    This comment is getting a bit long, so I’ll be wrapping it up, but I think your post also points out an ambiguity in the word “world”. To the oilers of Machine, the Machine *is* the “world”. The world is essentially an artifact, which we have chained ourselves to. As it happens, we may very well owe the World something, but I don’t think the World is at all identical with the V.C.M. I think any debt we might owe to the World could be better paid by not working ourselves to death running in a little hamster cage! 🙂

  2. Peps says:

    Yes, I did sort of intend to semi-consciously imply a double-meaning to the word “world”… the capital “W,” as suggested by yourself, giving it the far more important and valuable meaning of The Earth, Gaia, etc.

    Don’t be afraid to write as long a comment as you like, Imugi! As well as feeding my fragile ego (… 😉 …), it’s nice to feel that my words are being *felt* by at least one person out there who seems to be on the same kind of wavelength… 🙂

  3. pepsoid says:

    S’funny re-reading a nearly-5-year-old post like this, when I am in quite a different position in my life than I was then. Inevitably I am nearly 5 years older. I am also a parent and have been so for over 3.5 years. And I have been in a new career for 2 years, having just got my first permanent, full time (relatively speaking at 32.5 hours) position. I am happier. I feel more satisfied with my place in the world.

    Hang on, rewind…

    *I am happier*

    This is something I think about quite a bit. And it affects my views on life, the world, society, etc. No, let’s rephrase… it affects the *urgency* of my views on life, the world, society, etc. I still feel the same way about the Vast Capitalist Machine, the value of living a more “idle” lifestyle, etc – but as I am now living what is much closer to “my ideal, idle lifestyle,” I feel a less urgent, perhaps less angry (or similar emotions) need to express my dismay at the naysayers of my philosophy. The fact that I come across such naysayers, or at least such naysaying, which much decreased frequency, has much to do with this.

    Being a parent changes one’s priorities – enormously! Feeling satisfied with my work (being a teaching assistant at a special school, working less hours and having a good amount of holidays, rather than a corporate cog) reduces one’s need to *rage* against the proverbial *machine*. The “machine” is still there, I am still generally antipathetic towards it… but every day now, for most of the hours of each day, in my job as a TA and as a parent, my function is to increase the beauty and love in the world – that’s gotta change one’s perspective on it! 🙂

  4. pepsoid says:

    Reblogged this on the art of tea and commented:

    An older, wiser and happier me!

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