Abstract: Has the concept of ‘working for a living’ become distorted away from our own best interests, without us realising. Rural Africa, which is regarded in the West as being third world, may have a far better cultural model.
Who wants to work!
Actually I do. Love doing stuff, creating, being productive.
The norm though, for many of us, is to work in a job because we have to. Usually working for someone else.
OK… back to first principles, what we need:
- Basic animal needs: Food, shelter, a mate.
- Luxury items: Happiness and the search for meaning.
Three years ago a review by Experian found that some 7 million working people in the UK were basically on the breadline. Middle class people as well as the lowest paid. The money they earned was just enough to keep their noses above the water; pay the mortgage, buy food, support a family. If they lose the job, it all goes down the pan; they’re applying for social housing and going to a food shelter for handouts. WOW.
So that’s no different from (1) above, in the neolithic era. Except those people were probably a lot closer to (2).
Of course there are people who are very content with their lot; according to Credit-Suisse, FIFTY PERCENT of the world’s wealth belongs to ONE PERCENT of people, and 97% of total wealth is held by 30% of people.
Swallow those numbers. That’s the whole planet. This is what Oxfam has to say re the UK, 7th richest country in the world.
Over 2 million people in the UK are estimated to be malnourished, and 3 million are at risk of becoming so.
36% of the UK population are one unexpected bill away from hardship.
1 in 6 parents have gone without food so their children get fed.
Most people are working for the benefit of the already very rich. If we want to play the game we have no option but to climb up the ladder as far as we can and cling tightly to whatever rung we’ve managed to reach.
This is the model of society that we’re brought up with, and assume to be the correct way to do things, even though it doesn’t work. Political alternatives are non-existent, most politicians are greedy for personal power and wealth. With some few, but great, exceptions.
My opinion is that Western society will implode. I don’t think it’s possible to change it simply because the people holding ALL power are the people in that top one percent. Then it occurred to me to look to a gentler model of how humans could co-exist, forget my roots, abandon ship in terms of hopes for a fairer society. It won’t happen in the West.
I experienced life in rural Eastern province, Zambia. This area, along with Malawi, Zimbabwe and big chunks of the immense DRC, is probably the poorest area of the world. Existence is hand to mouth in the purest sense of that phrase. People grow crops, and eat them. If the crops fail due to drought, there is no food. Most people have hardly any money. Cooking is done outdoors on a fire of sticks or charcoal. Water is from a communal well, or if you’re very lucky, borehole.
But, and here’s a big but…. there is something much more wholesome about life there. So am I advocating a return to some ‘primitive living’ model? No, I’m not advocating anything. I’m holding this out for inspection. There are not enough life support systems, but mostly because Zambia, like many African cultures, has been plundered. And is subjected to the same emulation of a failed model; some are very rich, most desperately poor.
I guess what I’m saying is that human culture and civilisation has a better chance of rising above dog-eat-dog in places like this, than in the West.
The West has too much to lose by changing.
In the poor countries, people rely more on friendship, cooperation, loving one’s sister or brother. And already, where I was staying, there are successful cooperatives being formed. This is probably a key factor in future developments in rural communities.
Cooperative groupings mean equitable sharing of roles in a business, but more than that. When you are working in a company which is squeezing as much as possible out of it’s workers for the profit of senior managers and shareholders, that culture often reflects down through the ranks as mistrust, a sense of performance-related unease, definitely a sense of inequality. That’s been my experience when I worked in big business. And that brings a lot of stress to everyone, another serious malaise within Western culture.
When you work together without pressure, the natural friendship of healthy human relationship is much more common. I see in myself, if I fall out with someone (I can be opinionated, aloof) it makes me unhappy. Which makes me stressed and unable to function. I saw far more smiles, gestures of affection, regard to a fellow human, in the very poor communities of Africa.
Ultimately what will save us as a species? Probably only global community. National boundaries are an invitation to falling out with the neighbours. And only when the nations start working together do we get close to agreements (e.g.climate change) which may save the planet, or at least, our species (the point being that once we’ve wiped ourselves out, the planet may recover). As a true global community we could learn to live with our planet rather than on it.
Imagine living in a society where artists, teachers, health workers are valued more highly than bankers and politicians. Now that would be something!
This is an opinionated piece, of course, and I welcome, indeed hope for, criticism and comment.