Reimagining the Employment and Education System

 

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 a Utopian 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 be
I 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

Etcetera…

The Meaningless Search for Objective Meaning

 

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

—  Albert Camus, ‘Youthful Writings’

 

Why do we have an innate tendency to suppose life has some sort of meaning beyond that which we make it? Is it really that easy to give up the search for an underlying purpose to life and reluctantly accept existentialism or nihilism¹ like the rest of the population?

 

Many of us, existentialists and absurdists alike, are addicted to truth and cannot readily accept that some questions are ultimately unanswerable. For these foolhardy souls sincerely devoted to the search for objective meaning, to die not one step closer to discovering the principles of existence (being able to connect the ‘how’ of science with the ‘why’ of philosophy) would be nothing less than a failed life. Under this view no matter how ‘successful’ a person appears to be during their lifetime, if they haven’t achieved some basic understanding of why they or anyone else existed, or had some conception of the significance of their role in the universe that person was no more successful than anybody else. However harsh it may seem, maintaining this sort of strict dedication to truth is necessary if a person is to come close to solving the abstruse metaphysical questions of the cosmos within just one human lifetime.

 

“The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.”

—  Albert Einstein, ‘The World As I See It’

 

If all we have experientially is our own biased subjective viewpoint this is no simple task. Fortunately for each of us, we have the culmination of every publicly available thought at hand ready to advance the understanding of the human hive-mind. Centuries of refined opinion, led by rigorous research, allows us that one precious opportunity to discover something incredible about our universe.

 

However, there are a number of sound reasons why finding a single interconnected reason for existence has been deemed an impossible task:

  1. We can’t conceive of the very thing we’re looking for! The information we are using can only be generated from our current base of knowledge. Thus like every other theory the only way forward is to propose a nearly untestable hypothesis which obeys our present scientific understanding and surmounts any attempt to falsify it.
  2. The reasons supporting the claim are relatively weak. As will be explained further on, our doubts about existentialism or nihilism arise primarily from the absurdity of nature and our ability to pose an infinite number of questions about our universe (our capacity to reason at a high level). But ultimately there is no tangible evidence in favour of objective meaning².
  3. The very nature of perception. The fact that our viewpoint is entirely subjective (allowing us to communicate with one another only indirectly) forms the basis of existentialism. In this vein, existentialists have argued that it is impossible to designate something as meaningful when it lies outside of our subjective desires.
  4. It’s actually not in a person’s individual interest to find an objective purpose to life. This one might be difficult to explain. Let’s say you discovered a previously unknown connection between the elements of the universe which revealed to you a single ‘reason’ for existence. Every human activity would then lose some of its appeal to you as you would see it as little more than a stepping stone to this greater purpose. In this way our ignorance is not always a burden to us.

 

Now that the opposition has been clearly defined is there any platform left to suggest there is anything more to our world than what we perceive directly? Does the possibility remain that there could be some sort of God or group of Gods silently engineering our destinies? Could there be an underlying ‘reason’ behind the phenomena we know of but don’t understand? Ultimately, is the search for objective meaning anything more than lofty idealism?

Question after question after question. And the only answer is to question our propensity to ask so many questions! If we were ‘designed’ to reason with ever-advancing capabilities it follows (assuming our experimentation doesn’t cause our extinction) that we will eventually reach a comprehension of the universe which enables us to fully control our destinies, by making moral decisions which are empirically founded and therefore less controvertible (possibly transforming us into the ultimate hive mind). Thus the key tool of reason, causality, must not be understated.

 

“But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”

—  Umberto Eco, ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’

 

One thing which constantly perplexes me is a lack of frequent surprise at the frank absurdity of our universe. Yes, it is so often repeated that the Earth her inhabitants are cosmic miracles; considering the intricate subatomic improbabilities involved in creating the perfect conditions for life. But this is not the real absurdity we should be focusing on. There’s a serious lack of well thought out postulations, using our logical abilities to connect the enigmatic aspects of the universe with valid theories attempting to confirm or deny reasons for existence. Conclusions drawn on topics such as singularities and the expansion of our universe are convenient for historical data collection, but just like any other bit of data this information is close to useless unless we can apply it by using it to prove or disprove hypotheses of reality³.

This rather optimistic claim that life does necessarily have a meaning or purpose we don’t yet understand I will for now call Neo-absurdism. Alongside existentialism, nihilism and absurdism this philosophy regards life as primarily absurd, but reaches the conclusion that this implies life must have objective meaning we haven’t found yet but will eventually discover, instead of the conclusion that finding objective meaning is an impossible task.

 

There we have it. We have outlined a logical process of formalising the abstract questions we have to conform with the scientific method, listed the strongest reasons for and against neo-absurdism, and come up with a host of prudent questions which may last us over a hundred human lifetimes.

 

Now to begin the process of solving them…

 

 

“Life is a mystery…where is the goal of this fitful and fretful and feverish existence? Man knoweth not. The untutored savage, and the most highly cultivated intellect of all the ages stand equally mute in the presence of this ever-inviting, this ever-recurring question, What is life? Plato has reasoned, Darwin has investigated, Tyndall has experimented; yet the answer that comes back to our inquiry is but the faintest reverberation of the echo, What is life?”

—  William H. Crogman, ‘Speech delivered at Clark University (May 19th, 1895)’

 

 

 


¹The three categories explained: https://danielmiessler.com/blog/difference-existentialism-nihilism-absurdism/#gs.Vcj46Iw (note that all three stances deny the existence of meaning outside of the individual)

²Without sufficient empirical evidence we have no logical reason to accept it, just as a person might be an atheist without the necessary empirical evidence for theism.

³A few popular theories for you to mull on:

  • Monotheism   The idea that there is no more than one God (using the information we have we generally assume they would look like an Earthly organism) who interferes with our universe. This theory is usually accompanied by a karma-like system whereby ‘good’ actions are rewarded and ‘bad’ actions reproved by an omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent deity.
  • Darwinism   The remarkably simple yet cogent theory that life is nothing more than self-replication on a grand scale. Darwinism has substantially contributed to the popularity of nihilism.
  • The Simulation Hypothesis   The postmodern idea that we are living in a computer simulation. Attributed to Nick Bostrom, this seemingly wild theory is basically grounded on the premise that any civilisation which develops computer technologies is more than likely to create at least one simulation which replicates their own universe. Therefore, it is more than likely this has already occurred and we are no more than the result of this simulation. You could also argue this is a form of theism (the ‘deities’ being people from a separate universe).

I challenge you to research upstanding theories such as these and form your own theory on the meaning of life! There are unlimited possibilities but only one true answer.

 

Happy Yet Dissatisfied

 

“Content makes the world more comfortable for the individual, but it is the death-knell of progress. Man should be content with each step of progress merely as a station, discontented with it as a destination; contented with it as a step; discontented with it as a finality. There are times when a man should be content with what he has, but never with what he is.”

 —  William George Jordan, ‘The Majesty of Calmness’

 

Believe it or not, it is not absurd to suppose the best path to personal success is for an individual¹ to be, near paradoxically, both happy and discontented with their present circumstances.

 

“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

So ends Albert Camus’ analysis of the myth of the Greek king sentenced by the Gods to a lifetime of pushing a single boulder up the same hill over and over again.

Perhaps this sounds like your vision of hell, however it would be difficult to argue Sisyphus’ arduous and ultimately futile existence is any different from many of our own. With no clear sense of objective meaning, once our means of survival are secure we embark on an endless striving to complete either (1) goals directly related to the perpetuation of the species (e.g. having children and providing for them), (2) temporally definite arbitrary goals (e.g. wanting to climb Mt. Everest) or (3) temporally indefinite goals we usually have only a slim hope of achieving (e.g. finding and solving a scientific ‘Theory of Everything’). While it would be relatively easy to argue that goals in the third category are broadly more fulfilling and worthwhile than the others, (1) and (2) have their individual merits. A host of metaphysical questions arise when we reflect on the three categories:

  • Firstly, is it possible to enjoy this endless striving to achieve ‘meaningless’ goals?
  • In which case, is it the journey to achievement or the destination, the satisfaction from having completed a task, which matters most?
  • Does the eudaimonic viewpoint (in this case that endless striving represents human flourishing) adequately describe human success?
  • It is unreasonable to believe there may exist some unanimous objective meaning to the universe, or is this nothing more than an idealistic human construct?

And finally, back to the original assertion:

  • Is Sisyphus a paragon of contentment? What would be difference, if any, between his life and that of another who is less content, but has achieved more?

 

Before we address any of these rather vague questions it is important we establish the difference between our ideas of ‘happiness’ and ‘contentment’.

 

John Stuart Mill, one of the key figures in the Utilitarian movement, implied a relatively abstract difference between the two concepts:

 

“It is indisputable that the being whose capacities of enjoyment are low, has the greatest chance of having them fully satisfied; and a highly endowed being will always feel that any happiness which he can look for, as the world is constituted, is imperfect. But he can learn to bear its imperfections, if they are at all bearable; and they will not make him envy the being who is indeed unconscious of the imperfections, but only because he feels not at all the good which those imperfections qualify.

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question.”

 

This is the distinction Mill is getting at:

While both happiness and contentment are transitory states, contentment can be achieved more easily than happiness (contentment being possible through the exclusive enjoyment of lower pleasures). Thus happiness is seen as the higher good of the two.

 

Our modern day definitions are even less diverse. Happiness in popular usage has become an umbrella term for joy, pleasure, satisfaction and contentment! Let me instead propose a more concrete definition for both happiness and contentment.

While happiness could be defined as the result of persistent human flourishing with perceived righteousness, contentment is the position of having no strong desire to change one’s circumstances. Yes, both definitions remain vague. This is simply because each concept is innately subjective. Let’s move on to the claims and counter claims to the idea that it is best to be happy but not content in day-to-day life.

 

Arguing that happiness is in the interest of every human being is nigh incontrovertible². Despite this, here is Mill again on happiness as the ultimate good:

 

“It results from the preceding considerations, that there is in reality nothing desired except happiness. Whatever is desired otherwise than as a means to some end beyond itself, and ultimately to happiness, is desired as itself a part of happiness, and is not desired for itself until it has become so. Those who desire virtue for its own sake, desire it either because the consciousness of it is a pleasure, or because the consciousness of being without it is a pain…If the opinion which I have now stated is psychologically true- if human nature is so constituted as to desire nothing which is not either a part of happiness or a means of happiness, we can have no other proof, and we require no other, that these are the only things desirable”

 

The argument for the minimisation of contentment is much more contentious. There is a dichotomy which acts as a relevant analogy in this case: Conservatism vs. Liberalism. The argument against contentment inextricably parallels the argument against Conservatism. This is because the auxiliary assumption holding up our theory is effectively: ‘It is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all’. To be discontent is to motivate oneself to make a change which could turn out ‘better’ or ‘worse’ for an individual than their current position. So which of the two cases is stronger, risk or no risk? Is there an objective criterion to determine when to take a risk and when to refrain? It’s time to find out.

 

We could start by attempting to delineate (from the steady stream of events in a person’s life) the very point where contentment becomes discontentment, and the point where a person’s discontentment forces them to make a significant change in their life. For either case there will usually be a single negative experience which brings about the desire to change, a realisation that present circumstances are inferior to where they could be, or an alternation between being content and discontent which tends to the side of discontentment³. Whether or not discontentment is a real psychological state, it can have real psychological effects. Being discontent for a long period of time can result in procrastination, depression, existential crises, and even the onset of insanity. Much like physical pain, a sensation which demands to be alleviated if not entirely avoided, the onset of mental pain can be relentless.

It is therefore inferred that working out how to change unwanted circumstances will become a person’s chief occupation for as long as they are discontent.

 

However, what if a person becomes truly content with the limitations of their circumstances? What if they possess the knowledge that their life could be better in an infinite number of ways but are made happy by the thought it is not necessary for them to change it? There are two trains of thought here.

 

We could acknowledge the validity of happiness being achieved by limiting the number of sources a person is dependent on:

 

“Limitations always make for happiness. We are happy in proportion as our range of vision, our sphere of work, our points of contact with the world, are restricted and circumscribed. We are more likely to feel worried and anxious if these limits are wide; for it means that our cares, desires and terrors are increased and intensified. That is why the blind are not so unhappy as we might be inclined to suppose; otherwise there would not be that gentle and almost serene expression of peace in their faces.”

—  Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘Counsels and Maxims’

 

Alternatively we could question whether ‘ignorant bliss’ is a true form of happiness. Even a ‘fool satisfied’ may have an inkling there is an entire world of unexplored wonders and opportunities for progress, along with unmentioned suffering and the opportunity to reduce it. To consciously ignore these things does not seem conducive to a virtuous life.

 

While we have barely scraped the surface of the subject, with many questions left unanswered, it is time for the final argument in favour of being happy yet dissatisfied in every moment of life. If the result of discontentment is more often than not a change in circumstances, this will usually lead to an increase in the likelihood of encountering and overcoming new experiences. The ideal life will have amassed a variety of experiences in a variety of situations, and will eventually reach the position of being able to improve the happiness of others without sacrificing their own.

To be able to combine persistent human flourishing with perceived righteousness with the position of having no strong desire to change one’s circumstances may in fact be the pathway towards everlasting success. Once, and if, personal happiness is achieved it may be expedient to immortalise that happiness in actions which benefit present and future civilisations. But that is all up to you.

 

 

“Leave something to wish for, so as not to be miserable from very happiness. The body must respire and the soul aspire. If one possessed all, all would be disillusion and discontent. Even in knowledge there should always be something left to know in order to arouse curiosity and excite hope. Surfeits of happiness are fatal.”

 —  Baltasar Gracián, ‘The Art of Worldly Wisdom’

 

 

 


¹It logically follows that, if true, this would also be the ideal for the whole of society.

²It is only to go one step further and argue that maximising happiness should become the overarching goal of society which requires complete justification.

³This third case can be damning for a person as they may seek change but constantly question that decision, a cycle which may result in indefinite unhappiness.

The Invisible Currency

 

No little part of the torment of existence lies in this, that Time is continually pressing upon us, never letting us take breath, but always coming after us, like a taskmaster with a whip. If at any moment Time stays his hand, it is only when we are delivered over to the misery of boredom.

 —  Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On the Sufferings of the World’

 

If only we had a precise indication of the time left to us, each person would become unceasingly motivated to spend their remaining days wisely. Once we had grown to fully comprehend the finitude of time we would have no use for our fear for the future, or our numbing regret for the immutable past. If there is any hope for a Utopian society it is this: a society where people aren’t burdened by past or future events. They are free to live in the moment. It is here I will argue that freedom of time is the greatest freedom imaginable.

 

There is a common misconception that money is equal to time. This is not held without good reason. When we labour we are effectively trading our time, skills and effort for money. We then evaluate goods, services and even people in terms of their current or potential monetary value. By doing so we have ostensibly defined money as a primary source of our happiness. What use is a long life without the means, enough money, to enjoy it?

 

However, only time, the invisible currency, remains personal and hopelessly limited.

 

“Time is not an empirical concept. For neither co-existence nor succession would be perceived by us, if the representation of time did not exist as a foundation a priori. Without this presupposition we could not represent to ourselves that things exist together at one and the same time, or at different times, that is, contemporaneously, or in succession.”

—  Immanuel Kant, ‘Critique of Pure Reason’

 

While money is only subjectively instituted¹, time could said to be both objectively and subjectively instituted. What do I mean by this? Well, on the one hand we have time as an objective institution (in opposition to Kant’s view above). As one component of space-time, the ‘fourth dimension’, time appears to be a real entity with the possibility of knowable effects². On the other hand we perceive time as a purely subjective institution. Under this view time is not ‘real’, it is simply a way of breaking down the continuous stream of existence to be used primarily as a social construct. The prevailing modern view is that time is an objective entity, yet is subjective in the way we measure it.

 

Observe an hourglass, a sundial, a clock, or any other means of measuring time. The grains of sand/angled shadow/numerical value; each constitutes a separate attempt to formalise time through physical representation. Just like our other inventions useful for comprehending the intricacies of the universe (language, mathematics, etc.), the formalisation of time is technically unnecessary for our survival, yet provides the foundation for an understanding of the universe which transcends primitive intelligence. What may seem obvious but is in fact quite remarkable is the human ability to imagine totally different past and future timelines. It’s as if we bypass temporal limitations altogether when we construct a new desirable reality for ourselves from little more than projected memory. This disparity between an imperfect present reality and a ‘perfect’ future reality is possibly the single unifying factor underlying every human endeavour.

 

There is a further characteristic of subjective time which lends it a particular significance: the way our brain interacts with time, which limits our actions. Due to our limited memory capacities only particular details of people and events are stored in their totality. Past events are compressed into smaller fragments consisting of notable experiences, both positive and negative. As we gather an array of new and unfamiliar experiences, memories of little or no use of us are discarded from (or buried within) the hippocampus. Therefore it could be suggested the ‘best’ way to live would be to maximise unfamiliar experiences in order to maximise our chances of having fun and memorable encounters, and then retaining them as memories. However this is practically an impossible task. Almost unbelievably, as more and more new experiences are stored we become so used to the newness it begins to lose its allure.

This tragedy of life, the loss of fulfillment from activities we used to enjoy, is both a burden and a motivator for us. The demanding cycle of seeking new stimuli to replace a transitory emptiness rests entirely on the relationship between time and the self. Cruel but necessary, our dissatisfaction for our present situation drives us forward towards previously unconsidered possibilities. Thus time has the potential to act as both as an ally and an enemy to us.

 

This leads us to the next logical question: If freedom of time is in fact the greatest freedom imaginable, how then are we to structure our society in a way which both functions practically and allows people to use their time as they please? Are the two incompatible?

 

The first step towards reuniting the two, I believe, is disintegrating the imaginary distinction between ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ time.

 

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labour and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

 —  L.P. Jacks, ‘Education through Recreation’

 

Perceiving a task as ‘work’, framing it as something which needs to be done which we regularly would prefer not to do, is admittedly useful as a way of motivating us to either maintain or improve society.  The only misstep we have taken is defining its opposite which we call ‘leisure’, and declaring it invariably less useful than work. Indeed, need will always trump want. Maintaining society will always trump our attempts to improve it. But without leisure, without culture, we have little use and no mastery of our advanced cognitive faculties. In which case we are seemingly no better than animals.

 

The most obvious way we might seek to rectify this problem is by combining or varying work and leisure tasks. We are already a significant part of the way towards achieving true freedom of time (people have the freedom to choose their vocation based on their aptitude and satisfaction for it). If we could now find a way to replace the often criticised ‘9 to 5’ system with a job system where there is (1) a fine balance between tasks we would prefer not to be doing and those we would like to do, (2) variation in the work we are doing which enables us to experiment with exposure to new situations and stimuli and (3) the capacity for each of our needs to be met (food, exercise, socialisation) we would perhaps be as close as possible to achieving Utopia³.

 

There are an unlimited number of other ways we may look to increase our freedom of time. By redesigning the entire fabric of society and how it operates, to changing the way individuals perceive and use their time, to focusing on technological advancement in the hope of making unwanted tasks quicker and easier to perform; each of these has its own merits, drawbacks and difficulties. What matters at heart is that we are aware of the impact time has on each of our undertakings and are able to value each day without being burdened by time we believe has been misspent.

The invisible currency permeates every breath you take. Undervaluing the importance of the time remaining to you will cost you your life.

 

 

When will you stop and realize the worth and value of your life
As you suffocate yourself within this mindless nine-to-five?
Wake up! There’s more!
And your life is nobody’s but yours!

And now its said and done and done and said
And now what’s another day?

—  Rise Against, ‘401 Kill’

 

 

 


¹In that coins or notes are close to valueless until we decide to use them as a means of recording the worth of objects or experiences.

²With the advent of relativistic time (as opposed to absolute time which is not tied to space) we can understand this through phenomena such as time dilation, where time appears to slow down the closer we approach the speed of light.

³There are some major obstacles in the way of achieving this. Working out how to allocate menial tasks is one main issue. Despite recent advancements in automated machinery, it may be a while before we are able to do away with monotonous manual labour. Another issue is that the the long-term benefits from the new system would have to outweigh the effort being put into recreating it, an assumption which might not be practicable.