There is and will always be a blatant disharmony between the way the society does operate, and the way society should operate.
In this case I will address the disparity between the way our employment system works now, and the way it could and should function. Later I’ll assess the current state of the education system and suggest ways it could be improved.
Most countries today operate under a free market economy. Very, very basically the Government allows private companies to fill the niches we have in the goods and services being produced. If you can find a niche where there is demand for a good or service not currently being produced your company may well be successful.
This is mirrored by the employment system. Applicants are chosen primarily for niches in their skill sets which match the areas of expertise a company is lacking in. Thus the demand and supply for people functions very similarly to the demand and supply for resources. This is the first misstep we’ve taken. By treating living organisms in the same way we treat many inanimate objects, and going on to assign value to people in a way which dehumanises them, we have inadvertently created a system which values efficiency over happiness, money over time, stability over improvement. The result is not always horrific, it is actually fully functional, but the system is nowhere near ideal.
One dominant reason why this particular employment system is functional and has been successful for such a long period of time is the relationship it shares with the monetary system. The prevailing (but false) mindset is that the resources a person gains over time through employment (money turned into assets) is a correct measurement of that person’s individual value. The reasons why this is not entirely true are (1) the wage gap between different occupations (two people spend the same amount of time working each day but one is given more money for it, is that fair?), (2) the way work is acquired (it is intended to be like a meritocracy but because people are filling in niches in demand working opportunities are not equally available to everyone) and (3) the futility of our attempt to compare individuals and assign them value (people are so different from each other, their lives take on an infinite number of permutations, so we cannot compare two people directly with a simple metric like money).
The basic idea can be summarised as follows: The artificial system we have created does not coincide with the reality of the natural world, thus we need to take action to rectify it.
“The human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’
So what can we do about our problem? Below are two propositions of many we could use to reinvigorate society with a sense of purpose, something severely lacking as the decades roll by.
- We retain the present system whereby each person commits to doing one job, or a set of loosely related jobs for the duration of their lifetime. This should be maintained if and only if each person believes that occupation is the optimal use of their time and their skill set in order to maintain or improve the present state of society¹. Thus there would need to be an interim period between primary-secondary education (approximately ages 5-18) and the commencement of working life/tertiary education (approximately 20+) which allows people to experiment with different occupations until their ideal job is found.
- We introduce a new system whereby each person works a series of jobs throughout the working week. This variation would keep people satisfied with what they are achieving and would benefit society in terms of a consistent gain in knowledge and skills acquired throughout our working lives².
Either of these cases are as close as we could imagine to a practical utopia. Where a person has the freedom but also the drive to use their time to improve society, and is rarely dissatisfied.
Though the education system is inextricably linked to the employment system it can be treated as a separate entity for the purpose of deciding how it should be structured. Fortunately our education system is not in a state of disrepair (in the majority of countries at least, ensuring children have access to education is a different matter which can’t be solved only theoretically). The difference between present day schools/universities and the original lyceums has not changed all that much over the centuries. Subjects have broadened and diversified, but core rote learning has endured. Of course, the major difference has been the introduction and development of science which has taken the reigns over from philosophy as our primary source of gaining knowledge. Mathematics has advanced, but remains. The Language most of us use has changed (generally English replacing Latin), but the teaching of it in schools remains. Even Physical Education has its place in the modern system. These are all promising signs.
“We bring up our children in a mist of vague imitations, in a confusion of warring voices, perplexed as to what they must do, uncertain as to what they may do, doomed to lives of compromise and fluctuating and inoperative opinion.”
— H.G. Wells, ‘An Englishman Looks at the World’
However, the advent of capitalism, systemisation, whatever you want to call it, has warped our institutions into places where learning is not always in focus. There are times where more value has been placed on the idea of education, not the teaching itself in order to try and prepare our children for the employment system (which often consists of doing the same or similar activities approximately eight hours a day every single day) in later life. This is not an accurate reflection of reality. What we fail to tell them is that life can be much more freeing and fulfilling, more varied and interesting, if they abandon the attempt to fit themselves into the system and instead structure the system around themselves (“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw). But this would require doing precisely the opposite of what we have been teaching them throughout their early years! This is probably a leading cause of anxiety and depression among young men and woman. They realise their ambitions don’t align with the system, which they unfortunately equate with the ambitions of every member of society, so they enter a period of existential confusion. Future pain can be prevented with wise decisions implemented today. So what are some positive changes we can begin making now?
As I said before, it’s not all doom and gloom. Most schools give students unique opportunities to experience activities they can’t always have at home. Music, Cooking, Woodworking, Electronics, Dancing, Drama, you name it. Isn’t it interesting how these activities are labelled ‘hobbies’ unless they make you money? The hidden implication is that the primary value of the activity is not only its capacity to provide happiness to the child, and for us to witness the beauty of naive experimentation, but also its long term capacity to make them money. But of course we would never that to the children.
“Youth should not be slandered. Boy nature and girl nature are less repressed and therefore more wholesome today than before. If they at times seem unimpressed by their elders, it is probably because we make a matter of authority what should be a matter of conference. These young people are new people sent to this scene by Destiny to take our places. They come with new visions to fulfill, new powers to exploit.”
— Henry Ford, ‘Ford News (1924)’
In fact we can raise a society of happy, altruistic, intelligent, ambitious, magnanimous people; and we’re well on our way. What we can’t do is step back and hope they’ll work these things out themselves. The education system isn’t yet at the point where it provides a sturdy bridge from ‘child’ to ‘adult’ life. There are a few planks missing: they are rarely formally taught how to handle personal finances, they aren’t shown the depressing reality of subsistence living and the dreadful outcomes of various humanitarian problems (rightfully or unrightfully so), there is little explication of the link between actions taken in an academic or commercial context and the impact they can have on the real world.
Each of us has infinite potential, we are the sum of past decisions combined with future potentialities, but we are vastly limited by many of the systems we have put in place in order to unite and protect us. The best way to increase our potential is to remove the limiting systems and replace them with delicately constructed systems which allow us to live with freedom within constraints. But the constraints themselves must be malleable to align with gradual changes in public opinion, otherwise we’ve taken a step backwards to a society which stagnates with little or no advancement.
So what are you going to do about it?
The tension is here
The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should beI dare you to move…— Switchfoot, ‘Dare You to Move’
¹This is presently not the case. Millions of people see their job as no more than their means to survival and maintain a detachment between themselves and their job. Assuming a person is working that job full-time this is entirely nonsensical. If you are spending over half of every waking day, almost every day, performing one activity it is inane to suggest that activity plays little part in the formation of your character.
²Here is a pretend example of what a week (10 days rather than the arbitrary 7 days) under this system might look like:
Day 1 – Job 1
Day 2 – Job 2
Day 3 – Rest Day
Day 4 – Job 3
Day 5 – Job 2
Day 6 – Job 1
Day 7 – Rest Day
Day 8 – Job 3
Day 9 – Job 1
Day 10 – Rest Day