Sunday, October 2, 2011

Worldview - Excessive Consumerism

A very complex subject that seems to wrap my mind nowadays is regarding the need to work. Why should we work? I have read scores of theories and articles on it but somehow I'm still not convinced of why its something that is so imposed on all of us.The minute I try to even raise this question to anyone the reactions are:

Who will pay your bills?
Houses don't build themselves
Work is a virtue and laziness and sloth are sins
You must work towards achieving success
You have to be of some use to people. Its not right to just sit at home.
Join the bandwagon before its too late
What other ideas do you have Smart-ass?

All these responses seems to stem from fear, a need for security and a set of hard coded virtues which have not been subjected to any serious questioning. I'm not really seeing any real open minded responses. To be truly open minded and objective, I believe you cannot operate from all kinds of fears and rigid unexamined beliefs. My gut feeling is that, there has to be a better way.

If I treat society as a common goal, for all of us to work in harmony, it also implies that we believe in it in the first place. Among all the myriad things that we could do given the 80-90 years we have on earth, is this really anywhere close to the best option. The more I think of all the possibilities, it strikes me how narrow the scope of experience is because of this system of work and society in general.

At the surface, simple facts like I'm gonna live in a human made fabricated environment in front of a laptop for 10 hrs, 22 days a week for the next 40 years, 15 days of vacation, covering your entire youth. The first thoughts I had hearing this in my childhood was "Whats this severely restrictive unnatural nonsense?","Why should I sacrifice my entire youth to a cause I do not even believe in?" and "Why the hell is it considered a virtue to top it all?" and I strongly opposed this idea. As I grew up, I continued with this view but once I got into my first job, I got to actually live that environment. I noticed some strange stuff. From inside this black box of work, which it had been throughout my childhood, I could see that it was far more complex than I thought. It seemed to be a virtual reality that satisfied the human desires for ambition, meaning, striving, passion, direction and the sense of being productive and useful and the quest towards perfection and mastery. This whole system of organizations makes this virtual reality even more complex. People share their experiences. There is a meta level ranking among professions, job positions and the image of the organizations. It is so easy for a person to get lost in this structure and totally identify themselves with all the rewards, recognition, social food it provides. People who are unable to fit into this virtual reality feel like losers while people who do fit in love this system and the cycle spirals and perpetuates in this manner. The point I'm trying to get across is that "This is a Virtual Reality", this whole framework. A clear tangible output from these organizations is money. What can money do for you? There are people who feel money is the end all, the ultimate goal of life. Money and media seem to have a close relation to each other. The media many a times esp. nowadays literally creates needs and ideas and sells them to you in incredibly creative ways sometimes involving deep psychological games and conditioning. We as a race are literally sustaining the production consumption cycle and it is getting intensified by the day.
During the industrial revolution time, people were working 15 hours a day. It was estimated that this would reduce to 4hrs a day with all the advanced computing available. But on the contrary, people today have become even more obsessive probably still working 10-12 hrs a day and having laptops, iphones means the work would encroach upon their free time too. The question I face is "If this is a game or a virtual reality, why is everyone being forced to play it?" What if I don't want to play. I'm obviously losing a huge amount of freedom on playing.

Different people may have different perspectives but according to me increasing the quality of life and happiness should be our main goal and an integral part of happiness is freedom. The kind of structures we have create are exploitative, plutocratic and unfair by very nature. They are hierarchical, capitalism intrinsically has competition as an integral part. How can we ever make genuine relationships in such a system that identifies you based on how much money you have and not on some truer aspects?. Only 10% of people seem to really get the best out of this system and the rest just comply or make a less than ideal arrangement.

About the question on, what should be the meta value that we all should drive towards, if the ultimate one is happiness then each person can just completely accept his variables, position, situation and at a deeper level, all his emotional, mental and physical states and reach absolute peace. But with freedom, the issue gets trickier. How can we satisfy conflicting needs and considering the fact that each person has a unique upbringing, its definitely impossible to satisfy this in physical reality. There is great hope in terms of meeting this need through virtual worlds. A step in this direction would be the social networking stuff available today. In fact systems like the society, culture, media and corporations strive to create a commonality between people, common goals, common needs and common values.

Another perspective is about me being narrow again in this article. I have still only spoken out of personal experience. The world is infinitely diverse though. There may be tribal societies and other unexplored communities which may be actually living close to my what I see as utopia. At a micro level, we see this in our lives too. Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised when we meet get along and make friends with totally unexpected people. There are really infinite possibilities if we are really ready to lose our fears and explore. But this is more at a personal level for each person, so when we talk about a system, its a different subject.

On the question on whether money should be the ultimate motivator. there are many perspectives that can prove otherwise.

For e.g. say we contemplate death. Most of us live like death is not going to happen to us. We do not consciously think about it except in very rare situations and even at that time we try to distract ourselves as fast as we can. The deeper we think about it, we realize that what we call ourselves is actually our personalities which we are holding on to as an identity. The minute we stop holding on to things we die in all the ways that matter and this is one of our greatest fears. I think the basic philosophical questions of life have somewhat disturbing answers. To overcome this, we have created all this media, entertainment and this work phenomenon so that we can be kept so occupied, that there is no room to really look at these truths.

Its actually quite hard to even accurately vision a utopia. Work has always intrigued me. It does seem like a virtual reality that satisfies desires at many levels. Many people seem to be OK with this system which is why it is simply going on without much opposition, questioning. In my case, freedom gives me happiness but I do see a people being simply content with whatever they have.

So back to the title of this article. How does my work map to what I'm consuming? In other words, what exactly am I producing and what am I consuming in terms of resources?
Say I'm working to make a website look and function better. What is my real motivation for this? I like to see good looking things and I enjoy organization of chaos and I want other people to get the same feeling when they look at my work. This is kind of an artistic/emotional motivation which gives me much more meaning than money because money is just social value - i.e. how valuable society considers your work to be. Personal value is always far more powerful as a motivator.

My map currently would be something like:
Say I work in IT, say for an insurance client. I am testing their website and spending a year on it running 3 cycles. I'm part of a large team doing this testing, so I'm contributing say around 1/100th to this overall task of testing. This would help the insurance company sell more policies probably, so they would make greater profit. If they make greater profit they would try to other regions and lure more people into buying insurance policies. Now what is insurance and do you really believe in this ideology of protection against risk? What are these policies that are being sold? Are they really something people need or is it a fabricated one? I would have to think about the system of insurance in the overall picture and see if its a convincing idea and then I would need to think about their specific situation. Is my contribution really adding any value? How much value? Could I be doing something more valuable?

Lets say the insurance company expands, this would mean more insurance policies would be sold in more areas. There are 100's of other companies that would be competing for the same thing. So its a game about who would be more efficient in capturing the market. Even this system has its own set of corporate ethics, rules and regulations. You have to work within this framework and the variables in hand to get the best possible outcome. The vision might be initially to expand to other states in the US and then it might be to expand to other countries and outsource and then finally diversify into other areas as well. Each of the 100 competitors too might be thinking on similar lines and are continually playing under this pressure put by all their peer companies. Not many companies really manage to continually expand even if they want to. There are a plethora of variables, some under your control, some not under your control that decide whats going to happen. In this quest for conquest of market cap and power companies use various strategies, like they try to distinguish themselves as a niche, if its a start-up they start providing service that uses superior technologies and new business models, a larger company may concentrate on providing customer support and strengthening loyalty, playing on the human tendency to get attached and loyal. Companies will also try to continually try to push people to think of out of the box ideas. They may make it a part of their mission statement, create environments and practices that are more conducive to idea generation or devise various hiring strategies that can help them pull in the people most capable of performing this task. Lets say a company performs exceptionally well and achieves its goal, whats next?. If will continue to enjoy its power until another fresh company comes up with a more innovative strategy and push it out of the race. For e.g.: Companies like Motorola, IBM have had to almost shutdown or get acquired by other larger companies due to competition moving ahead faster. This whole pursuit seems like a game that can never be won. If you are enjoying large market cap and power then you cannot have the nimbleness of smaller start-ups, so they can always overtake you with some revolutionary ideas any day. Its an inherent disadvantage. Nowadays to succeed in this power game, companies along with all the efforts described above, they are also closely working with media and social networking to actually CREATE new needs. Look at almost everything around you, a microwave oven is extremely harmful for health and this can be understood with a bit of research. About 10yrs back very few people had even heard of it and nowadays esp in US its there in every flat. We don't need this, it is causing more harm than good. Chemotherapy is being continued as a treatment for cancer instead of using alternative therapies(with excellent track records and proof) because of the huge investments and enormous gains made. This power game seems to be abused in so many ways by so many different industries at both a micro and a macro level. People are being encouraged to buy more and more things that they really don't need and for this we work our asses of 10+hrs a day to encourage this excessive needless indulgence. In this perspective it does not make any sense. What is the really motive of all organizations? We are also exhausting all our natural resources and creating problems in environmental configurations. What is this viral epidemic?

It doesn't seem to work towards the larger goals like improving quality of life, providing prosperity and happiness. It works towards short sighted goals like impressing stockholders and making better business decisions to maximize productivity, profit, trying to find innovative ways of being better etc. All this looks great on paper from a height of 1000-2000 ft but from 30000-40000ft things look very different. We are moving farther away from goals that really matter to human beings. Towards this life of obsessive consumerism and quest for power. This game is so intense, from inside it its even hard to think of a world that can exist outside of this framework. We have lost our true identities to this fabricated reality that does not really serve us on deeper thinking.

This is a global issue, and people consciousness and awareness levels really needs to be increased. Philosophy, mediation and other such areas should be taught to children at a young age so that they do not again become of victim of all this conditioning. Everyone is being forced to play this game and the sheer momentum of it is like a tsunami. In such an environment where everyone is thinking of profit/loss and 0 sum thinking, how can we make any true friends or genuine relationships. What will be the quality of your connections with everyone in this pressured state of existence that we are in?

Its not just jobs and corporations. The entire societal framework needs to be re-calibrated from its smallest roots. What is evolution really? Are we evolving in the right direction?

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