Ode to the working class

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Did you sign up for this life?

I know I didn’t.

I’m going to be candid about one of my largest broken perceptions: I struggle against seeing myself as a kind of indentured servant most of the time.

We didn’t think life was going to be like this while we were growing up. That we would end up having to work some random job(s) just to make enough money to stay afloat. That our retirement plan assumes we will work until we’re 90.

Allow me to very briefly break out my tiny violin: when I was an adolescent, teenager, and young-20-something, I thought I had the world by the throat. I was educated, decent-looking-enough, and came from a good family.

A funny thing happened along the way to ruling the world, though – I didn’t really have a great idea what I wanted to do for a career, and I didn’t have amazing “connections.”

I listened to some not-so-great educational advice (“It doesn’t matter what you get your degree in! Just get one!”), entered the work-force, began to see some steady progression upward, then, BOOM! Economic implosion. Reduction in force. Took the only job I could find that paid the bare minimum I needed to raise my daughter. And here I am, still, five years later.

The first thought that goes through my head most weekday mornings is some variation of “Merflxaafs!” which loosely translates to “Why, God, why?”

Because this social structure we live in in the West – apart from the very awesome benefits of a longer life span, increased overall health and increased quality of life – kind of stinks for the vast majority of us. If you’re one of the few lucky ones (and let’s be honest here – only in a small percentage of instances do the very rich have any vastly greater abilities than the rest of us; most of the time, they either knew the right people or happened to be in the right place at the right time), it’s a pretty good deal.

As for the rest of us…we work our tails off to make ends meet (typically in jobs we don’t particularly care for) with hardly any time or energy left over to invest in our families (or at least as much as they need) while shipping our kids off to be primarily raised by institutions (which most of us ironically say we don’t trust, all while being ever-more dependent upon them) – be it daycare, school, after-school care, etc. – and spend what free-time we have in pursuit of activities that help us forget how otherwise miserable we usually are.

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I sometimes think that we were better off as a society when we weren’t slaved to money and we had to make our own food, clothes, and homes. But, of course, during that part of history we had worse health, shorter life-spans, and were slaves to weather patterns and our ability to have children to help work and take care of us in our old age.

I struggle with this perception greatly – the temptation is there is quite a bit of truth to it, but it isn’t the only way to view things.

The truth is these feelings aren’t unique to this period in time. Humans have always felt restless, underappreciated, and enslaved, even those of us who are “rich and successful.” Because inherently we are all dependent on something.

It can’t be for nothing that (if one agrees that the Jewish people were / are God’s chosen people) the vast majority of the history of the Jews is one of captivity – be it as slaves in Egypt, subjects at different times of the Philistines and other Canaanite peoples, captives in Assyria and Babylon, or peons in the Roman Empire.

Perhaps the most dangerous untrue belief that constantly tempts us is the idea that we can control our lives. I think we all succumb to this off-and-on as the years go by.

And – as noble as the following pursuits would be – it’s the ultimate motivation behind our drive to increase scientific knowledge, isn’t it? Let’s learn more about the cells and human genome so we can control aging and perhaps one day eliminate death; let’s learn more about weather so we can eliminate unpredictable droughts and storms; let’s learn more about space travel and terraforming so our survival isn’t tied into the fate of one planet; let’s learn more about quantum and theoretical physics so we can learn the ultimate fate of the universe and escape it when either all the stars snuff out from expansion or explode in a new singularity when they rebound on each other.

This temptation of science (and of increased wealth, and of a life where I control all the variables, etc.) is the same, oldest temptation humans have always faced: let’s become gods.

So, perhaps (and I emphasize “perhaps”) there is a blessing within what feels like this curse of belonging to the proletariat – our menial, will-breaking, and over-worked lives (if we so choose) can keep us mindful of the fact that we are not, nor will we ever be, in complete control of anything. It can help keep us in our proper place as humans, which is to understand and accept that we aren’t gods.

It can also prevent us from attaching our identity to our jobs / careers, which is always a temptation for those of us blessed enough to love what we do.

Let’s keep the proper perspective. If we didn’t have this particular indentured servitude, it would be some other indentured servitude, and the other kinds historically have been worse. If life is not meaningless, there must be some kind of lesson to be learned in this apparent pattern of human existence.

I say to myself louder than to anyone else: let’s choose to be thankful for what we have while carrying our crosses.

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