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Lately I’ve been considering the prospect of never being employed again. I don’t mean never working – I’m working more than I ever did as an employee. But there’s a reasonable likelihood that I will never again need to don the clothes, the attitude, the soul-crushing alienation and the corresponding facade of a white-collar employee who sacrifices his freedom for the sake of a steady income.
The term ‘wage-slave’ is dramatic but fitting. We live in an era where the average wage is far more than enough to meet one’s daily needs in terms of food and clothing, but nowhere near enough to afford the equally basic need of shelter – a piece of land and a roof over one’s head, a place to raise a family and explore the many and varied means of enriching one’s life.
In my city the median house price reportedly reached $400,000 this year, with the median household income (2011) at $57,356. $57,000 can buy a hell of a lot of food, clothing, electricity, water, and transport. But even if you spend the first few years of working life at home, sponging off your parents, at best you’ll only come out of it with a healthy deposit for your imminent mortgage.
The idea of going to live far from the city in some kind of self-sufficient paradise is equal parts dream and nightmare depending on how I’m feeling at any given moment. But in principle we shouldn’t have to flee the city, or rather, flee the boundaries of costly real estate, in order to meet the basic need of shelter.
More importantly, self-sufficient isolation would undermine other basic needs: friendship, family, and society (in the broadest sense). I could much more easily achieve self-sufficiency by abandoning my wife and child and learning to eat tree bark, but most people understand that making those kinds of sacrifices defeats the purpose of trying to meet our basic needs in the first place.
My wife and I currently live with our child in a small 1 bedroom apartment, close to family and friends. As much as we would love to own a small acreage in the hills, it has become abundantly clear that achieving such a goal requires the sacrifice of too much personal integrity – effectively embracing the ‘wage-slave’ existence for however many years it takes to pay off a mortgage debt. It would mean harming life in the present for the sake of an untested future goal, a goal that might never be what we hope, or might come too late, or might be rejected for some yet unforeseen circumstance.
Instead, we’ve decided to take the path that arises out of enjoyment of our present circumstances which are, after all, pretty good in a global context. Since we can’t predict the future but have enough at present, we should focus on what we do have rather than what we hope to one day achieve or possess.
Abandoning employment – meaningless work according to the small-minded conventions of our present era – I’m intent on following instead the ideals that have always made greater sense to me, even if those ideals mean temporary sacrifices or more diligent choices. Diligence and the sacrifice of unnecessary things never hurt anyone, and most of it we won’t even notice. What we get in return is a life that is open and responsive to the development of a new path and new directions; a life that is increasingly free from the limitations of dry convention.
It’s exciting to think that I may never again need to lock myself into a compromised career path, never again pretend to be interested in the banalities of ‘making a living’ within the increasingly narrow band of jobs for which my experience and qualifications happen to be not so much suitable as least unsuitable.
The true significance hasn’t yet sunk in; I find it hard to fully appreciate what I’m doing, perhaps because our society doesn’t yet recognise or have the right terms for what I’m doing, which suggests to me that I really am on the right path.