Monday, April 4, 2011

Making a Living REQUIRES Being Distracted from Reality

I view the last two years as an intense, eye-opening journey into places I did not think existed and would not have entered voluntarily had I known they did.

Life is sordid in some corners.  I'm not talking about the people who are trying to eke out a living but about the masters of the universe, the financialists who are trying to make a living off the suffering of others.  (And, no, I'm not speaking of everyone who works in the FIRE sector, the vast majority of whom are clueless about the roll they are playing in the destruction of Western civilization and the civil society that classical liberalism forged.)

I would never have realized what is truly happening in the world without the break I gave myself from "making a living," which even now I really don't have to do.  I pursued my new gig because of the challenges it presents and the opportunity to help others figure out how to care less about what happens at work and more about what happens in the world at large.  Much of the false left-right dichotomy melts away when you stop caring about what is subjectively fair (as in what happens to you at work) and start caring about what is objectively fair (as in what happens in the world generally).  The trick is defining fairness in a way that avoids the false dichotomy, which is actually pretty easy to do.

But now I find myself back in the "fight."  I'm being well-compensated (some might say obscenely so, if the equity pays off) for solving problems that truly don't matter on the global stage but are vital to approximately 3,500 people and their families around the globe. 

Helping these people matters a great deal to me, so much so that it is quickly become almost all-consuming.

And then it hit me: "making a living" necessarily distracts us from what really matters.  I've come to accept the fact that I'm a competitive, ambitious person, although I don't think of myself that way (really, I don't, which is probably a personality flaw of mine).  One thing I have no problem accepting is the fact that competition focuses the attention and the will in a singular way.  Within the neoliberal paradigm, "making a living" means competing, at least for the bottom 95% of the population (in developed countries; more like the bot bottom 99.9% for undeveloped countries).

Over the last three weeks, I've found that my new "job" (I really view it as an exciting challenge, not a chore) has torn my attention away from things that a month ago I was unable to do without. Clearly, I am not immune to the distraction of making a living.  Not by a longshot.  Winning is all-important in our culture, and the zealous pursuit of the win forgives all sorts of sins.  (Which perhaps explains the bank bailouts.)

So, what's the point of this post?  Simply: awakening people to reality requires focusing them on what really matters by pulling them away from the "competition" that drives most of what we do while distracting us from what matters most.