The dust has now settled on talk of the end of the world, December 21, 2012 has long since passed and you are still making your mortgage payments. You are still waking up earlier than you would prefer, getting cleaned up, putting on a tie and dropping your children off at a daycare center that you feel is overpriced. You are still slogging through traffic like an ant navigating through a molasses stream and you are punching a time clock so that you can give away eight (or more) hours of your precious day to a job you complain about. Not much has changed.
The flavor of the day is “Angry Cat” and “twerking” is the latest sniglet bandied about by your children. Perhaps your hair line is receding slightly more than it was a year ago, maybe you’ve put on a few pounds since your knee surgery in June. Yes, life is largely unchanged from the times before the much predicted Mayan Apocalypse, for most people anyway. Perhaps apocalypse was a mistranslation. Maybe the ancient Mayans didn’t truly think that an unholy event would literally destroy humanity, maybe the word apocalypse was meant to be metaphorical. Or perhaps they truly believed that a giant dragon would fly out of the sun and melt the Earth, I don’t know. All I know is that the Mayans didn’t have Google and I’m betting they knew nothing about twerking.
Regardless of literal beliefs, it seems clear that the ancients believed that transformation was coming. Granted, “transformation” is certainly a safe bet when one is predicting the future. In life the only real certainty we have aside from death and taxes is change. So it’s not a stretch to believe that a bunch of relatively smart people five thousand years ago would have predicted that things would change in the future. Things have certainly changed, but how about us? Have humans really changed that much in the past five thousand years? We still wage wars with other tribes over natural resources and superstitious beliefs. The vast majority of the human population on this planet believes in a God of some sort, just as humans did millennia ago. We still become angry when affronted; we still lie, cheat and steal from one another. We still get that scared rush of adrenalin when we see a snake.
For all of our advances in science, we sure don’t act like a species that has evolved beyond where we were in generations past. Sure, some of us are more tolerant of diversity than our ancestors. That’s a great sign but let’s face it, a lot of our tolerance for diversity comes from a pressure to be politically correct and not go against the groups we identify with. If you’re the churchy type, you don’t want to risk running afoul of your god by appearing too tolerant of gays, abortion or other religions. If you are the hipster type, you don’t want to appear overly tolerant of rednecks or the churchy types and risk ridicule from your hipster friends. If you identify as a republican, you certainly don’t want to seem too cozy with liberals and vice versa. For the most part, tolerance of diversity is lip service when you really think about it. It feels good to believe that you are tolerant of diversity when nothing is on the line. Tell me how tolerant of diversity you are next time you have to sit beside an obese person on an airplane, or the next time that kid with the shaved head and multiple neck tattoos knocks on the door and asks to see your daughter.
All musings aside with regard to group dynamics and psychology, I do believe that some people in the United States are starting to wake up. I believe that a growing number of people are waking to the reality that we have been enslaved. I posit, and I hope you will consider, that slavery was not abolished in 1865 as history would have us believe, it was transformed and expanded. In essence, slavery went underground and became largely voluntary.
Once each man was guaranteed the “right” to work an “honest job for an honest wage” the human thirst for materialism was destined to win the day. Think about it. Why do you roll out of bed at six in the morning and go to a job that you probably don’t like? Statistically, the majority of people don’t like their jobs or at very least they see their job as a means to an end. But what is the end? Is the end not money? We wake up, put our children in the care of relative strangers for half of their waking day and march off to an office (or mine, or job site, or wherever you work) in order to get paid. You wouldn’t likely volunteer to do your job without some form of compensation, would you? I didn’t think so.
I do it too. I work 42.5 hours per week so that I can get a paycheck and health insurance. Of course, you’ve got to have money to live, we all do, right? Without a paycheck I can’t feed my family, I don’t work on a farm growing vegetables and tending livestock, I work as an addiction counselor. The owner of the grocery store near my home is but one of the team of people to whom I am beholden. If I want to eat, I must have money to buy food. And that’s OK. I’m not suggesting that groceries should be free. The real problems come when I think about the other things we tend to spend our money on. Like you, I live in a dwelling that I must pay for. I didn’t build it, I don’t own it outright, I have to shell out a chunk of cash once every month in order to simply dwell there. We are not free to simply squat wherever we choose, indeed most property in our country is privately owned. There are very large chunks of your own neighborhood where you are not welcome to be without an invitation. To get money to guarantee me a place to keep my stuff and sleep, I must sacrifice time with my children and attend a job.
It may seem melodramatic (or to some, even racist) to suggest that having a job remotely compares to slavery. I don’t get whipped when I look funny at the boss’s wife and I wasn’t kidnapped in the night and brought to a distant land, forced into manual labor. My slavery is much more subtle. I’m not physically harmed when I don’t please my master/supervisor, but we do face discipline at work, do we not? We are threatened and coerced into compliance with a set of rules we did not establish and often don’t agree with. The prevailing thought when hired is: “You work for me, here are the rules, and if you break the rules you will be fired. If you are fired, you will no longer get money to buy the things you need/want and you and your family will suffer until you find another job…and I will make it difficult for you to find another job by giving you a poor reference.” Frankly, I’d rather get whipped.
How can we free ourselves from wage-slavery? Simple, we must get out of our materialistic mindset and downsize. In 2006 I was an Assistant Fire Chief working for a very affluent municipality and making more money than I had ever made (before or since). Flush with cash, I bought a large, overpriced home in a swanky neighborhood and I was happy. In 2007, the “housing bubble” burst and the value of my large house decreased by $75,000 nearly overnight and in 2008 I lost my job. No longer able to make the huge payments and unable to find a job we were forced to move away. We found a much smaller house in a much more modest community, and after the initial disappointment and humiliation wore off I realized that the size of the structure I lived in had little true bearing on my happiness as a person. If anything, we are happier with a small home because we are no longer prisoners in our home, like we were when living in the larger house. In those days, the payments were so large that we couldn’t afford to take vacations or enjoy life outside of the home. All of our resources went into paying for the house and maintaining it. We have adjusted well to a much smaller home and we now pay less than a third of what we had been paying to live in our previous home.
I have not yet become entirely free of my wage-slave masters, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is difficult though. Every commercial on television or on the internet is designed to make you want what they are selling. If you own a television or computer or if you read printed news or magazines you are constantly being plied into materialism, tempted to obtain the items that your ego believes will make you feel happy and fulfilled. You must fight the false notion that “stuff equates to happiness”. The things that seem to make people truly happy are freedom (time) to pursue interests, time spent with family and friends and connecting with nature. I think many people are waking up to this understanding, but as technology grows exponentially, it becomes difficult to disconnect. It’s hard to imagine living without the newest, fastest smart phone. Sophisticated computer software scans your computer searches to learn your interests in order for companies to market products directly to those most interested in them. We want “things” when what we truly need to be happy is intangible.
At all times, you are being inundated and overwhelmed with information in what I honestly believe is a concerted effort to keep you off balance and asleep so that you will remain a good and obedient consumer. I think that this is why psychedelic substances are illegal, most people begin to “wake up” to the truth after psychedelic experiences, and the slave-masters can’t have that so they work to suppress anything that exposes the nature and mechanisms of materialism.
If you want to escape materialism and find real happiness, you must wake up to the idea that you are a slave to a new kind of master. I hope you wake up to the reality that you are being manipulated by the media, by politicians, and especially by corporations and their desperate and depraved attempts to keep you shackled in the barn, a slave to the things they sell and the services they provide. I hope you awaken soon to the fact that you are addicted to products and services in ways no different from the way a junkie is addicted to heroin. If you think that equating materialism with addiction is hyperbole, try going a week without television or the internet and tell me you don’t experience withdrawal symptoms. Try going a summer without air conditioning and tell me that you aren’t hooked on it. Try trading your smart phone in for an old flip phone for a while and tell me it doesn’t bother you.
Waking up to your addictions and enslavement isn’t the hard part, but it’s a necessary first step. Once you blearily start to rub the sleep out of your eyes and begin to realize that you are a modern wage-slave, the hard part is making change necessary to free yourselves. Not only are we slaves, we are addicted to being slaves. We are codependent with materialism and while it may be easier to simply roll over and go back to sleep for a while, nothing will change unless you stand up and take action. There is no super-hero coming to save you from yourselves and the evil corporations, the mere notion of super heroes is perpetuated by your slave-masters to distract you and sell you “Avengers” swag. In this, the old-new reality to which you are awakening, you must be the hero of your own story, and that calls for brave action.