Conventional Wisdom

⏇ Zan. ⊱July, 2022⊰

⎇ 800 words. ⪽ 4 minutes

Growing up my mother made it a point to always tell my brother and I how fortunate we were. I'm not a very materialistic person, I think in part due to her lessons on how people live in other countries. She made it a point to show us documentaries and media from far off places—highlighting how hard lives were; how so many people are trapped in one place, one job due to a lack of optionality and mobility. On a cognitive level I understand how lucky I am.

Optionality

âź” Freedom
  1. Quality or state in which choice or discretion is allowed.

A week ago my fiancé and I were travelling the Philippines. There I experienced the incredible divide between knowing something conceptually and feeling it by interacting with others and hearing their stories. We did a lot of scuba diving on an island called Camiguin—if you like diving look this place up—and we listened to the story of our Divemaster Tintin. He lamented about not being able to move him and his family to more prosperous places.

Our local divemaster Tin Tin.

Our local divemaster Tin Tin. July 2022

My partner and I are planning on moving across the world soon. I felt guilty that something I had approached so casually is so far out of reach for some. I thought 'damn, of course you can't move your family on $8/day'. How lucky I am to be able to fly pretty much anywhere in the world on a whim. For me moving country is a fun prospect for novelty and exploration and not distinct longing for a better way of life.

Gigantic malls in a nest of slums. "A spoils system which is based on relationships between leaders of political parties to other politicians and local elites."[-1] Seeing the extreme divide between working wages and the profits of companies in the Philippines lead me to start thinking more critically about cultural attitudes toward work.

In a weird way, seeing how lucky I am makes me want to push things further in terms of finding the right lifestyle for me, the right rhythms for work and creative pursuits. In first world countries many of us are born into incredible freedom and wealth in global terms. To not use this freedom to pursue happiness and forms of productivity that work well with our personalities seems like a shame. Currently, I'm not working a full time job. I've been lucky enough to spend time following my interests, working on my body & mental health, building a product to help people connect and taking the odd freelance project to keep my savings afloat.

I have a career with high earning potential and the ability to work from anywhere. If I'm so lucky, there's no way I am going to bend over and accept the values that corporate society has proclaimed as virtuous. Humans didn't evolve to live this way. The current system accretes power and resources to those who own the means of production but take no part in the production themselves. Those people then shape the cultural narrative. We've been conditioned to think that working hard—hustling—and earning cents for our employer's dollars is morally good.

I'm not the first person to come to this conclusion; Marx has more than a hundred years on me in this regard. However, it's incredible that I've never felt this viscerally before. A lesson I will learn all my life: To know something, and to feel it are completely decoupled.

Many people's brains break when you step outside this mould that industrialised society has created for its lower castes. A lot of these attitudes are reinforced by a desire to seek stability. The human condition abhors change; in the west many seek cultural homeostasis. We're taken advantage of for this very fact. "Live a stable life with minimal surprises or discomfort". Take the 'blessed' path, do your time when you can work the hardest. Then retire in comfort.

Over time, I've come to realise that discomfort and fear is, in general, a sign that I should push myself to grow.[-1] This narrative is often sold in our media, but culturally and socially we are often primed to do the exact opposite.

Take risks!

Be responsible!

Take risks!

Seek stability!

Take risks!

Seek happiness!

Get a real job!

A friend was speaking to me recently about how if they feel a lot of people are giving them the same advice, they usually need to do the opposite to be happy. Increasingly I've started to feel this too. Luckily I have a bunch of oddball friends who are aligned with this way of living, but it's very evident when talking to members of older generations and people my own age outside my bubble that conventional wisdom is going to be of little help on this new path.


I want to make it clear that I understand that it's an absolute privilege to be able to opt out of the traditional labour markets. It's exceedingly rare to have this level of mobility, however, I'm not going to feel bad anymore for exercising the optionality that the combination of my circumstances, choices and hard work have provided me.

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