Monday, February 5, 2018

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

A whole year has flown by; or maybe it's fairer to say it's crawled, staggered and rushed by, depending. My intention of having a flow of work-related posts on my work site and personal posts on this blog right here just didn't come to pass, and I think it's time to remedy that.

I've had over a year now - nearly two years, in fact - of self employment and rumination time. I think I've learned more about myself in that time than in the previous decade, and it's an ongoing process.

The American Declaration of Independence contains a phrase stating that all men are created with some unalienable rights, among these the rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. I've been lucky enough to really give that a go over the last year or so - or at least to try and identify, for me, what these things mean and where the value lies.

I can tell you one thing, right now - working sucks. Or, to be more precise (because it really is relevant) - working to enable subsistence sucks. Work, in it's many forms, is awesome. Creating things of value - turning time and effort (and occasionally raw materials) into useful constructs is a wonderful pass-time. Working to pay the mortgage - not so much. I really wish that every human alive had the opportunity to live such that their passion was their goal, regardless of the fiscal value associated with that effort. I've been able to spend the better part of a year pursuing my passions (VR development, scanning technologies, learning about cool things, as well as spending time with my family) and it's enriched me hugely. I wouldn't give that up for all the tea in China.

Can you imagine living in a society where people worked because they wanted to, rather than because it was required to prove their value to enable subsistence? Note, I don't say "to survive", because I think we're already in a place where we've moved past the basic necessity of everyone putting their daily effort into providing food and shelter for themselves, their family and their tribe. Try as we might (and the culture we live in tries *really hard*) we honestly don't need everyone to be slogging their guts out to feed and clothe themselves. We already over-produce food, there's no reason we couldn't over-produce housing if our society deemed it valuable. We certainly over-produce plastic crap and reality TV.

So, what are we all working for? What are we all working towards? Are we all working to provide ourselves with an identity? What's the point of it all?

I've just finished reading a very interesting deconstruction of Banks' Culture which touches on the basis of a non-resource constrained society, and the motivations for being part of it. I'd like to think that at some level, we've already solved the Life and the Liberty parts of the equation, and should really be starting to drill down into the Happiness bit. So much of this is tied up in our self and cultural identity, it's kind of scary envisioning where our society moves to when much of the "work" becomes unnecessary, and then irrelevant.  As autos replace taxis (which they can, and likely should) - what does that mean for those who use that role as their subsistence tokens and cultural identity? What happens as the other roles get taken away?

Are we still going to live in a society where, if you're not clocking in 40 hours a week, you are "part-time"? If you're not gainfully employed in some fashion, you're lazy or worth-less compared to those who are? If you haven't read Keynes' essay where he postulates a 15 hour working week, I'd highly recommend it. One key phrase: "We have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy."

When people begin to divorce their own worth and identity from their societal role - who do they become?

I appreciate I'm regurgitating the thoughts of a well-regarded critical thinker from nearly a century ago, but I think the coming decade is going to bring an end to the expectation that there will still be meaningful "work" for every person to do, for the benefit and advancement of society. Indeed today, much of the work that people do is centered around diverting people from appreciating the time they do have to spend on themselves, and our society is heavily structured around reinforcing the self-value of striving (working) as self-worth.

I think we've solved the economic problem - maybe now's the time to solve the other matters, of greater and more important significance.