Friday, October 2, 2009

Jobs or Work?

This morning we learned that the U.S. jobs market shed another 263,000 jobs in September, bringing the unemployment rate up to 9.8%; a 26 year high. By the way, that's not counting those who are employed only part-time because they can't find full time work, or those who have dropped out of the job market entirely. If we add them in, some sources estimate that we'd be looking at an unemployment rate above 15% of the able-bodied American population.

This problems begs an important question: how long has human society suffered from this thing called "unemployment" and what can we do to fix it? Why do we even have such a thing as unemployment, when there's clearly so much work that needs to be done around the place? We're all aware that our national roads and bridges have fallen into shameful disrepair; our sewer and water infrastructure is crumbling and imploding all around us; our energy delivery systems are at least fifty years outdated; our schools are suffering from student/teacher ratios as high as 40-1; essential services like police and firefighting are being slashed below safe levels; our elderly find themselves isolated and without appropriate home and/or nursing care; millions of our children are being left at home without adequate after-school care; we're still dependent on foreign oil sources that are rapidly declining; our food sources and manufacturing capacities have been shipped overseas and are out of our quality control; our medical facilities are overwhelmed, understaffed and incapable of handling the needs of the larger populace - have I missed anything here?

It doesn't take us long to realize that our early ancestors had no experience with unemployment problems. In a hunter-gatherer culture or an early agrarian culture, not to work meant certain death for one's family and for oneself. Our ancestors couldn't afford to wait for someone "in charge" to promise them a paycheck before picking up a spear, a hoe or a bucket to attend to their daily needs. They understood what mattered, and took care of life's business without worrying about whether their 401k plans were intact, whether they had medical insurance, if they'd been promised adequate time for their lunch breaks or whether their environment was a friendly place in which to work. What's happened to us? How is it we've lost touch with so many basic truths about what it means to be alive? We've been lulled into putting our need for money before our own survival, and as yet we don't even know it. We've become like frogs sitting in a slowly boiling pot of water - the heat is rising yet we're too sleepy and unaware to jump out of the pot and save ourselves from dying. At least we haven't woken up to the hard truth yet.

What it will take for human beings to awaken to the fact that we're slowly destroying ourselves with our unhealthy co-dependence on corporations to inspire us to work? Can't we see that by allowing our corporations to control our work ethic by using the bait of money, we've handed over to them the power to determine exactly what work gets done - that which is most profitable for their bottom lines - as well as how much of it gets done. Everything else - what truly benefits human society, what honors and supports our environment, our resources and the life forms with whom we share space - gets left behind in that endless corporate quest to earn a few dollars.

Our modern human family can no longer afford to view itself as "nuclear," and thus separate from all others. That's become a clear recipe for disaster in an increasingly shrinking world. What happens in the rest of the world affects what happens here, and vice-versa. "Their" pollution has become "our" problem; "their" suffering (political and social disenfranchisement) has become "our" pain (9/11). This breakdown of humanity into "usses" and "thems" must therefore end if we're to thrive. After all, we're sharing space on this planet and are in this life together, come what may.

What then, if we toss out our mortgages and money, our loans and debts and simply pull together as a species to accomplish our objectives for the greater good? How much more might we achieve if we chose to love and trust each other more than we depend on money to keep us safe from potential disaster?

I'm simply posing the question. For me, the answers are not to be found by studying my bankbook or brokerage account. They're in my heart, which knows the right thing to do. I'd love to hear yours.

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