Somebody Woke Me Before I Could Have My American Dream

People get bored at work

Here in the land of opportunity we’re said to enjoy a slew of unalienable rights; we begin paying lip service to them in elementary school, reciting words before we know their meanings: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But invoking any two of these rights often renders the third irrelevant, elusive, unattainable. Like zombies we honor soldiers who die for patriotic causes; yet we find far less “support” for those who dare to live by them. A recent study shows that on average Americans spend three hours a day procrastinating at work. The main reasons they cite for wasting time are being bored, not having enough to do, and feeling underpaid and/or unappreciated.

Boredom not withstanding, these men and women are reaping the benefits of two-thirds of American dream. They earn enough money to put food on the table (”life”), and I suppose the fact that they’re not technically required to work makes them something like free (”liberty”). But for most Americans “the pursuit of happiness” poops out well shy of happiness itself.

Sure buying new toys is fun as is playing with them–to say nothing of the shear exhilaration one must feel upon driving the faster car, buying his wife the bigger diamond or boobs. But is that all we’re really here for–to accumulate flashier trinkets than the have-nots next door?

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Sorry, but if I’m expected to surrender 40 hours a week for the rest of my life to some mind-numbing job in some dead end career that sucks away all of my spirit & ambition & creativity, I need a better reason than the ones currently being offered.

To me the thought of a 9-to-5 job is the antithesis of life, liberty, and happiness. The price, as it stands now, is just too high. I lose more than I’d gain, and I’ve always been a really sore loser! I can’t & won’t do it.

But why not? Why can’t I suck it up and join the rat-race? Surely I could acquire the wit and charisma necessary to give some happy help-desk agent a run for his money. Maybe, if I found the right asses and chapped my lips upon them, I could even slither into middle management and negotiate my way to a respectable benefits package. Why not throw my hat into that ring, give up this scholarly horseshit and actually “contribute to society”?

Often I ask myself these very questions, if only because it’s one I cannot now answer in a way that relieves the discomfort of those who are emotionally, personally, and/or familially invested in me. Why can’t I bring myself to that place where everyone else seems to live? It’s only eight hours a day–why can’t I shut off that part of my brain that dreams and that part of my heart that believes, and just sit quietly, mindlessly and heartlessly at some desk somewhere doing my boss’s work to make his boss’s money? Why am I so inconveniently stubborn in my outright refusal to sell myself in this manner?

Can I blame it on my A.D.D.? Is it really a “problem”? And if so, is it really my problem? What if those without A.D.D. are the ones with the real problem? What if the whole world suffers from a screwy brain disorder where everything gets flipped around backwards so that some corporation, for the right price, can purchase permission to insert corporate aims where its individual employees once had unique goals of their own? What if the only people who are immune to this widespread “aspiration deficit disorder” are the ones for whom labels and learning disabilities have been contrived?

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It’s not the requirement of being surrounded daily by brainwashed passionless nincompoops that would do me in. What makes the thought of working for some corporate, capitalist cause I don’t believe in absolutely unbearable is the opportunity cost. By wasting energy on one task, I forfeit my capacity to make good on another. Imagine you were told that you had to work out for eight hours a day at the gym, completely busting your ass. In return for your troubles you got some snazzy gold star, but didn’t reap the benefits of having spent all day at the gym. Instead, you got fatter, lazier. And some other guy vicariously got in shape based on the fact that YOU had exercised.

Of course, at the end of the workday you too can make the decision to get in shape on your own behalf. Or you can become a “weekend warrior.” But who wants to work the same muscles on your “day off” that you exerted all week at work. You need to rest them, otherwise you’ll have a terrible workout on Monday when you go back to exercising for your boss.

That’s how I feel about my brain. If I spend all my time applying it to corporate interests, where will I find the time or energy to push it for my own purposes?

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I’ve never in my life met a person from whom I couldn’t learn something. Every one of us has something special and unique to give, and yet so few of us ever end up finding out what exactly that gift is. The old ‘Back to the Future’ maxim that “you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it” sounds pretty cool when you’re five; but for most of us this shiny happy quotation slowly begins to fizzle during our teen years and ultimately proves to be total bullshit. The practicalities of life block the paths that lead us where we wanted to go. Formerly ambitious individuals run out of money or time, or they lose their capacity to dream.

Absent the adrenalin rush of hope, many of us never realize those lofty goals our ancestors set forth centuries ago on our behalves. We achieve life and usually some form of liberty only once we stop pursuing happiness with the childlike fervor we inherited from after-school assemblies and hip PG-13 movies. The lucky ones waste away at boring desk jobs, having had the good sense to ditch their dreams while there still was time to enter rat races. Those less fortunate are the dreamers who hang on, waiting too long for the big break that never comes. By the time they realize the land of opportunity has no intention of making good on its mythical promises, often there’s nothing left but bitchwork for them to do.

This is when Tylenol is swallowed; when wrists bleed; when thick ropes squeeze windpipes.

your_dreams.gifOr at least that’s what I used to think–that people who lost their sense of purpose continued asking “what’s the point?” until eventually they realized there wasn’t one and called off the search. But now I know they prefer to keep breathing. I walk around in the world and I watch them, these soulless human beings who long ago traded in passion for borrowed/rented stability. And they’ve all found loopholes, little tricks so their lives seem less trivial. Some of them pretend to feel almost relieved that all their suffocating dreams finally choked and died off one by one. Its more comfortable for them to live without purpose; or maybe that’s just what “growing up” entails–lingering in limbo between living and death like braindead car crash victims with purpling lips and plugged in machine lungs.

Upon hearing me express these ideas, non-dreamers may moan from their lifelong deathbeds:

“HowGruesome! HowMorbid! HowDepressing!
HowCynical! HowNegative! HowPessimistic!

To which I offer the standard response I reserve for anyone who redefines unpleasant adjectives to avoid looking in mirrors:

What’s Gruesome & Morbid is to lug yourself through life as if you’ve already died.

What’s Depressing & Cynical is to see the world as an object that does not change.

When did it become sufficient merely to romanticize the pursuit of happiness; to know it only vicariously, through Will Smith movies, but not firsthand? Whose idea was it to canonize all those great minds that once thought outside the box while somehow forgetting to emulate them? Why recite “sacred” words in the first if the point was never to let them inspire us?

What’s Negative & Pessimistic is only being willing and able to see things as they are. For me to speak instead of how things can be & should be & WILL be–that’s radically optimistic.

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Cross posted at The Public Intellectual

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~ by Matthew Frederick on December 31, 2007.

18 Responses to “Somebody Woke Me Before I Could Have My American Dream”

  1. I can relate to this post. What makes the thought of working for some corporate, capitalist cause I don’t believe in absolutely unbearable is the opportunity cost. That line really hit home. I’ve had that conversation with a friend in the past. It’s why I’ve chosen a life as a teacher, working for a pittance and scorned by society. At least I can respect myself, and I get out of it what I put into it.

    I think I’m beginning to see a lot of people feeling the way you/I do. It’s hard not to ask, “What is the point of all this?” We have been turned into a society of wanting, consuming, greedy machines that have little purpose beyond that. Pathetic.

  2. I can certainly relate as well. That’s the kind of stuff that goes through my brain (what’s left of it) on a daily basis. While I certainly don’t do the 9-to-5 thing any more (thank god) I still owe my soul (financially at least) to my various and sundry clients who are part of the capitalist-industrial-complex that prevails, which makes me “one of them” I guess.

    While I enjoy, on one hand, the freedom to set my own schedule, work at 3AM and sleep at 2PM, and the like, I admit to a certain occasional twinge of jealousy (or is it something else?) toward those who have their priorities SET FOR THEM: Get up now. Put on appropriate business attire now. Get on subway now. Say hello to receptionist now. Sit at desk now. Answer phone now. Smile now. Look quizzical now. Look productive now. Go home now. Vegggggg. Etate. Now.

    Then I wake up, sweating, and thank The Powers That Be that it was all a dream (or nightmare).

  3. FV:

    You’ve touched on quite a few “ultimate” questions. Your exercise metaphor by a less fashionable name is called “The Theory Of Surplus Value” and was originally set forth by Messrs Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Everybody who does not own the means of production is subject to it from the day-laborer to Will Smith.

    The way out of the trap as any economist from Marx to Veblen to Galbraith to Milton Friedman will tell you is with entrepreneurship and luck. Find a way to ACQUIRE the means of production no matter how small-ly write. Despite all of the American palaver about entrepreneurship why do you think the health care system and tax code are stacked against the entrepreneur? Because as a fascist country, the USA has a vested interest in keeping small business small. Go to any other capitalist nation and invent the better mouse-trap. What happens? You spawn legions of imitators. Invent the better mouse-trap in the USA and the exterminator cartel uses the power of law enforcement to prevent you from making mouse-traps while they figure out how to steal your mouse-trap prototype. Don’t believe me? Have you heard of Napster?

    Any other developed capitalist, democratic republic on Earth basically has some sense of the “commons,” meaning that which is everybody’s. A tenet of most Western nations is that a government’s job to a greater or lesser extent is to give back to its citizens for their taxes food, clothing, shelter, education, health-care, the right to organize and the opportunity to find meaningful employ. Despite what you hear from the talking heads, the effective tax rate elsewhere is lower because of what a citizen gets back and that he or she is not liable for tax on his or her worldwide income. Who are the tax fiend in the USA? The Republicans. None of this solves your 9-to-5 problem but I hope it puts it in some perspective.

    As for your feelings about frying like a freedom fry under the fluorescent light in the office park in order to maintain “life” and what passes for liberty, all I can tell you is to remember this: ONE MAY ONLY BE YOUNG ONE, BUT ONE CAN BE IMMATURE FOREVER. Again, it doesn’t solve the problem inherent in the system but it’s a nice mantra to live by.

    I am in many ways a very lucky man. I have a couple of skills societies the world over value highly. Yet, I find that the more money I make, the fewer possessions I want. I wear no jewelry. I don’t own a car. An Aronow speedboat. Nor the latest and greatest laptop. What I save, I put in trust for my son. I refuse, though, to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude toward any of the American narcotics we all trash: the “toys”, the Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan gossip, etc. Everyone needs an escape from the cribbed existence you so meticulously laid out in your post. I don’t judge. Everybody seeks his or her own solace his or her own way. And as everybody’s brain chemistry is different, your country’s “war on drugs” is an unmitigated disaster. The two most dangerous drugs, alcohol and tobacco, are legal, yet others are not. There’s a stupid American expression that goes like this “(Something) is like (something else) on Crack!” Funny that. A couple of lungfuls of crack have about the strength of a light beer. Nobody tells you that, though.

    Which brings me to the subject of A.D.D. I have seen studies in support of the alternative hypothesis that A.D.D. is correlated with high intelligence. Anecdotally, I’ve seen it in action. I have two friends who, once they found with the help of their doctors, the right chemical cocktail operate at a very high level and make tremendous amounts of money.

    Neither of those two are ME, but as I told you I am a fortunate man. I was able to expatriate when I could not longer work legally in the USA. All for no reason. Because Ex-Senator Frist needed to placate the Christian Right and his casino donors. But, much as I despise Bill Frist, I hold those poseurs in contempt who in the wake of Kerry’s allowing Bush to steal a second election “swore” they were “leaving” the USA. Why leave? Because a mushy center-rightist like Kerry lost to a fascist like Bush? One leaves because one HAS to not to make a political point. Leaving is not a political point. It is a painful decision that affects all lives around you.

    The virtues of leaving, of course, is that pretty much everywhere else save, China, Haiti, most of the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia, the quality of life, life-styles, and economic opportunities are far superior to those in the United States. But LOOK, RESEARCH, AND PLAN BEFORE YOU LEAP.

    I hope you find some of these words comforting, though they do nothing but offer platitudes, I know. I am in no hurry to return, so as a pretty-good previous US President was wont to say “I feel your pain.”

    Nice debut with the Jonestown Clan. Find ways to enjoy yourself. Love your family. Love your friends.

  4. M. Frederick, I am likin’ this post a lot. I do think that there are ways that the “powers that be (ptb henceforth, referring to status quoness, corporate rule, you know, the stuff that we feed or starve in nearly every choice we (all) make) hath twisted the showing of emotions, the flikr of creativity into a pathology. Unable to ge tthe drugs for it myself ’cause I cope too well (ha) I have been accused of many a mental illness for my opinions emotions in my life (and more often within my family,) but more painfully so see my children suffer by the mass psychosis (yes, paranoia was of the aforementioned accusatory conditions I do not convincingly have.) My daughter is on antidepressants and believe me that was a last resort over the course of many years of therapy and difficulties (including issues re: to suicide) and then my GT (gifted and talented- he gets that label) so has been suspected of the ADHD as they now term it, but he is brilliant and I have seen him sit for hour devouring information that is interesting (SAY WHAT?) but find how to do addition by carrying the ten boring because he can do it in his head and finds it a waste of time though there is no choice for teachers, but to teach to a common low middle. And I know that I swore I would never send my kids to public school and here I am going back to school to be a high school math teacher (I was always a sucker for popularity.) I justify it in my mind because there are the summers…. Oh the summers are when I shall live and write the books that my family will finally ostracize me for. Dreaming is still allowed, right?

    Oh btw, I am so jealous that I did not write, “Maybe, if I found the right asses and chapped my lips upon them, I could even slither into middle management….” It’s so vilely descriptive and sexually implicative. I love it and look forward to more.

  5. I want a nine-to-five job. Getting up at 4:30am is killing me.

  6. The trick is to get in the door and then start dreaming.

    Never ever worry about being fired.

    BTW-One of the best posts I have read all month.

  7. Ever get the feeling that you’ve read a post before and thought you commented already, but don’t see your comment when you look for it? Wacky.

    I would imagine that my good moral compass is what stops me from pursuing my happiness. I am not going to elaborate on that, unless I can find a way to talk off the record with you.

    The cool part, MFV, is I work for you.

  8. Nicely done!

  9. Since being a lawless punk is the new black in American society, I’m gonna steal this post and claim I wrote it. Good fucking stuff.

    Like pretty much everyone who’s read this, my job can be mind-numbing, but it’s not strictly 9-5 suit-and-tie, and it’s not for a capitalist enterprise, so it could be worse. I just hang out in my head a lot.

  10. Wonderful and insightful post.

    I left a well paying and even glamorous job exactly because some worthless schmuck was profiting from my hard work. I needed to have more than a paycheck in exchange for 60 hours of my life and energy each week. I needed personal satisfaction. That’s a luxury not many of us can afford, but that’s why I don’t have kids. I work for a nonprofit with an incredible mission, which I support passionately. I took a 50% pay cut and sometimes that sucks, but I’m much happier and saner for it.

  11. Ah, man! Interesting post. Suzi – I’m just now thinking of doing the opposite of what you did simply because we can’t afford for me to not earn more money.

    And I know I’m gonna hate it.

  12. Spot on!

    Bosses often pray on the weaknesses of their underlings, a theme made light of on TV shows, but the reason shows like The Office or movies like Office Space were breakout hits is because theres so much truth in the subject matter…

  13. Personally I want tons of money. It’s so much easier to take over the world when you have a couple of trillion in your back pocket.

    Don’t worry, most of you will be allowed to live.

  14. You reminded me how miserable I was before I went postal. I don’t want to go back.

    Great post, btw.

  15. An average of three hours of procrastination for each U.S. worker? Hell, I’m way above average.

  16. Good post. Presuming that there’s a critical mass of us who feel this way, what do we do to change this?

  17. […] MFV @ Jonestown  Explore posts in the same categories: atheism, god, religion […]

  18. […] MFV @ Jonestown […]

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