Earning a Living - A Worn Out Idea

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times - Earning a Living

"We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living."

This was said in 1970 by R. Buckminster Fuller, a well-respected futurist and author - amongst other vocations - in New York Magazine. Since the time of publication, world economy has been in constant decline and unemployment has been the focal point of society’s frustration. Waves of discontent have swarmed the disaffected youth of today and they are beginning to question their existence. Has western civilization become a world of doers and not thinkers? Why must we earn our living? Are we just following a pre-determined track without acknowledging the liberty and wilderness of our being?

Society treats people who don’t conform to the traditional line of thinking as outcasts and not belonging of their way of life - and as majority rules, these people are left out in the cold. The common perception is that not earning a living is tantamount to laziness rather than rebellion. It’s impossible to conclude that this capitalist society is the most ideal method of living, therefore should we be looking for alternative methods that bring contentment to a wider range of people?

Sparks of revolution have already begun to flicker. Recently, Russell Brand wrote an article in The New Statesman that alluded to a society that’s indifferent to present-day politics and launched an appeal for action. Despite Brand preaching from within a society that has been kind to him in terms of materialistic wealth and being equipped of a somewhat ambiguous battle plan, his words have reached the ears of disgruntled young people - the same brand of young people that Fuller referred to in 1970 who recognize the nonsense of earning a living.

The frustrations of society were unleashed in the UK riots of 2011 with many offenders citing the lack of opportunities available to them as a prime reason. It’s hard to distinguish whether these people are criminals or rebels. They don’t believe the system is working and don’t see any functionality or contentment in simply ‘earning a living’ - they are demanding more from life.

Earning a living gives us structure. It gives us a roof over our head, water running through our taps and holidays in the sun to look forward to. We are told to aim high - to get the best job possible. This is a creation of the 20th century. The primal nature of life itself is wild and unkempt. We only earn a living now because we believe it is the route to happiness.

With unemployment rife throughout most of western civilization, youths are beginning to think outside the realms of society. They are asking themselves, what is the point of all of this? Why are we striving for something that isn’t available to us? 

In realistic terms, there is no alternative. Abandoning the current state is a certain route to anarchy and chaos. Earning a living is the only secure method we have of enriching our lives, no matter how transient or shallow we deem it to be.

One day, a positive change may come, possibly through a vigorous revolt, though more likely through gradual evolution of economics, societal standing, and political movements, creating communities that are more altruistic with focus on widespread equality. However, until that day comes when a viable alternative presents itself, society will continue to look at the leaders of the rat race as the beacons of success.

Image courtesy of CNN