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 Leave the Rat Race Forever

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Firebird

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PostSubject: Leave the Rat Race Forever   Wed 15 Jul 2009, 10:40 am

Leave the Rat Race Forever
Written by Mark Wieczorek, posted on the 23rd of September 2004


Source : Mark's blog
http://www.marktaw.com/blog/TheRatRace.html

"I would come to believe that expansive houses and standard nuclear families served to isolate the human soul and that tight tribal communities were infinitely more suited to our natures."
~ Jerri Nielsen, Ice Bound ~
______________________________________

The Rat Race

In the 1950's H. F. Harlowe conducted his now famous series of experiments with infant monkeys, chronicled in his book Learning to Love. He placed them in cages with surrogate mechanical mothers. The monkeys universally preferred the soft, terrycloth "mother" to the hard, wire mesh mother, even when the wire mesh mother was the one providing sustenance. 1

What an analogy for modern life. Living in a cage, getting sustenance from a cold metal machine, and clinging desperately to anything warm and comforting. I wonder if he could also brainwash the monkeys so that later in life, they voluntarily left the (relative) safety and comfort of the terrycloth mother to semi-voluntarily spend 8 to 9 hours a day (plus 2 hours a day traveling alone) in a cubicle where they're more or less forbidden to interact with the other monkeys.

One of the oddities of the modern working environment is that no matter what your job is or how quickly you can do it, you're required to spend a certain amount of time there. Yet despite the amount of time we spend at our jobs, developing real and satisfying relationships is not an approved behaviour. We're only allowed to cultivate business contacts, and any social interaction should be somehow work related. Society tells us at every turn that we have to be beautiful and sexy, but work tells us that we can't display our sexuality at all.

It seems to me that the business world is it's own cultural phenomenon. It's a society with it's own structure and rules. If you don't behave according to the rules, you're ejected. The rules are actually highly evolved and specific, with a codified pecking order, dress code, and rules of behavior.

Yet unlike other societies, there are no rules regarding friendship, mating, or even plain simple emotional satisfaction. Or more to the point there are rules that basically forbid it.

Frozen in a perpetual state of struggling to satisfying only the bottom half of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, the business world keeps us in constant fear of losing our jobs. It's only when the bottom needs on the hierarchy are met that the higher needs can emerge. These are never fully met by the business world, so we're always struggling for survival. 2

Many of modern society's life stages can be attributed to precisely this hierarchy of needs. Once we're able to say with certainty that we can meet the bottom needs - food, shelter, etc., we hit something called a mid-life crisis, where we start desiring something more from life, and wondering what we've been doing for the previous 20 years.

Retirement, similarly, represents a time when we completely stop striving to meet our physical needs (age related ailments aside), and we're expected to live entirely within the top half of the hierarchy.

Another important rite of passage is getting a job and moving out of your parent's home. Suddenly we're thrust into a world where we can no longer assume that our physical needs are being met, and stop functioning exclusively within the top half of the hierarchy.

Being a whole and integrated person at any of these stages is a challenge for anyone. For some people it's harder than others. Paul Fussell in his book Class: A Guide Through The American Status System 3 postulates that while the lower and upper classes are more or less free to do what they want, the middle class is caught in a tension between the two. Striving to reach the upper class, yet always afraid that they'll be discovered as frauds and sent back to the lower class, the middle class can never really relax and just be themselves.

He also postulated that there was a 4th class. Completely outside of the class system as it's normally defined, some people are free to be who they want to be without being defined by their mannerisms or economic means. These people, including artists and bohemians, are more interested in people, life, and art than money or appearances.



Polar Society




I opened this article with a quote from Jerri Nielsen's book Ice Bound. 4 A doctor who volunteered to spend a winter a the south pole - a life on the very edge of existence where thin air and extreme cold were a constant threat to body and mind - Jerri was able to find people who appreciated her for who she was rather than what she looked like or how much money she had.

When your life is defined by simply whether or not you're still alive, and what you can contribute to the society a strange thing happens. Walls break down. Barriers are destroyed, and your soul can be free. She was the station's only doctor, so she was responsible for the well being of everyone at the station. There were certain things she had to do - maintain an inventory of supplies (during the winter in Antarctica, there's no sunlight and temperatures can reach 100 degrees below zero so no shipments of supplies are possible), care for the sick and wounded, and remain sober just in case something happened - but otherwise she was free to do what she wanted.

There were no clocks to punch, no deadlines, and no fear of being fired. Once the bottom two needs - food and shelter - were met, her time was her own. Life was similar for other people at the station. The mechanic had to ensure that the generators and machines worked (if the generators stopped working, life would become very difficult very quickly), but otherwise his time was his own.

Of course by "his own" I don't mean he could wander off and do as he pleased. The station was very small and the walls were very thin. In a community that small, someone would notice if you were missing and people would go looking for you. Still, when he was working, he didn't owe anything more to his job than he was able to provide.

The other winter-overs there, no matter what the job, had a similar disposition. Whether it was using the crystal clear air to gaze into the deepest realms of space, or the thousands year old ice to learn more about the world we live in, the close quarters and relatively informal work enviroment (you all lived and worked together... nobody showered or even changed their clothes - why bother when leaving a towel on the floor overnight means it's permenantly frozen to the ground) lead to a tight-knit community.

The bonds they developed over the long, dark, cold winter were something more than friendship, and perhaps something a little less than family. They were a tribe. A community of whole and integrated individuals who, because of the nature of their existence, had less and less to fear or hide from each other.



From Kansas City to Tanzania



The story of Pete O' Neal, chronicled in the P.O.V. documentary A Panther in Africa, 5 is fascinating. Pete O' Neal was a Black Panther, fighting against the oppression of blacks in Kansas City in the late 60's. His speeches were broadcast on T.V. and his action affected thousands, if not millions. He was arrested for transporting guns across state lines and it was indicated that if he went to prison, he would die soon after arriving.

He fled to Africa and has spent over 30 yeas in Tanzania. He started a community center there and works hard at the simple things, like getting water, or finding computers so the children can learn the skills that will be necessary for them to survive and better themselves and their society.

Watching the transformation of this man from Black Panther to someone fighting Malaria, and begging for spare-parts computers. From someone whose actions affected millions to someone whose actions affect dozens... It's a strange, conflicted experience.

Am I watching a fall from power and dignity to a life of struggle and hardship, or am I watching a man redeemed, now in touch with what truly matters in life - life itself and caring for people.

His identity was tied up with his court case and being an American in exile, but by the end of the documentary you can see him accept life in Tanzinia. Even if he was pardoned, he probably wouldn't return permenantly to the United States. His life now is in Tanzinia, and the people there need him. He probably wouldn't be able to make the transition from life there back to life in a place like Kansas City, not easily.

Many people who worked at the South Pole, unable to go back to the "hustle and bustle" of city life join the Peace Corps. Many people who join the Peace Corps don't want to go back to society, and just want to stay in the Peace Corps forever. 6

What is it about facing death that manages to give meaning to life. Why is it that struggling to get the basics, and not having to worry about being a "productive member of society" allows us to truly live? Could it be that by meeting the lower needs on the Maslow Hierarchy on and not indirectly as we do through supermarket living, we can somehow simultaneously fulfill our higher needs as well ?



Breaking Out of the Monkey Cage



So short of going to Africa or Antarctica, what can we do to escape the monkey's cage of struggling to survive but not really living? Many thousands of people will pretend to tell you the answer to this question, and take your money while they do so. I'm not just talking about late night infomercial, I mean household name corporations like Nike, that tells us that the secret to a good life is to Just Do It, and that by wearing their sneakers, we can - if only briefly - live at the peak of our existence, just like the athletes at the Olympic games.

Daniel Quinn in his excellent book Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit 6 tells us that the Hippies of the 60's were unable to break out of the cage because they couldn't identify the bars. That it's the ability to store value in the form of money, which can trace it's routes back to the first agricultural societies that creates the greed that propels modern society. That this one-removed nature of money and machinery that allows us to work for someone else's benefit rather than for the benefit of society as a whole, and to eat food that we did not harvest, live in houses we did not build, and horde wealth we did not ourselves create that leads to society's spiritual sickness.

As profound and beautiful as this message is, it does not provide steps towards actual freedom from this cultural oppression short of joining a commune or completely disengaging from society. Living off the so-called grid, outside the Matrix that is modern society.

Much closer to something we might be willing to do is Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. 7 Here they espouse figuring out your real hourly wage. Start with your take home pay and subtract all your business expenses - clothing, commute, etc. how much money do you really make in a week? Then divide it by the amount of time you really spend at work and work related activities (like your commute).

The heart of this message, though, isn't about figuring out how much money you can make, but how much money you can save. If you cut your expenses and simultaneously invest what you save, you have a double whammy effect - you need less to live on, and you have more to live off of. If anything should happen to your primary source of income, you would be able to live for along time off of your savings. Eventually, you could leave your savings intact and live off of your investments.

Both Your Money or Your Life and the book Getting a Life 8 (the story of a couple who put the Your Money or Your Life plan into effect) describe a subtle shift that happens as you get to the point where you no longer need a job to survive. Despite all logic and common sense on this side of the equation - the side where we're waiting for 5:00 to come so we can get temporarily out of hell - you want to work more, and you work harder.

You appreciate work for what it is, and you're no longer in fear of your boss. You're willing to stand up for what you believe in and insist that things are done a certain way, and if they're not, well they can fire you (what do you care, you don't need this job anyway).

The work you do becomes work you do because you want to do it, not because you're forced to.


Es muss sein! (It Must Be)

Milan Kundera in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being 9 tells us that it's the weight we take on in life - the responsibility that defines us. That freedom is found, not in a lack of ties to the world, but in the ways we tie ourselves down. At first glance this seems preposterous, but perhaps there's some truth to this idea after all. We are of the Earth and shall return to the Earth. We cannot escape her gravitational pull. the more we try, the more we find ourselves wondering about the meaning of it all.

Work is fulfilling when it's self directed, and when we choose to do something because we want to rather than do it because we must. For most of us, this can only come if we truly don't have to work, which can only come of we reduce our expenses well below our income.

I've recommended to people that they cut their expenses, and almost universally I get answer like:
"Well, I suppose I could come up with a couple people I know who could live decently on half their take-home...the rest of us would end up living in shacks and driving cars that cough up oil." 10

Still, money can't buy happiness. Friendship and community - true community - don't require money. It can exist in the most remote of places amongst people with nothing to give or share than themselves. At the end of the day, this is what's important, and if there is an escape from the Rat Race, surely it comes from just stepping off the wheel and spending some time with those we care about.
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PostSubject: Essay resources   Wed 15 Jul 2009, 10:48 am

Resources


1. Learning to Love: The Collected Essays of Harry F. Harlow
In these famous experiments, Harry Harlow subjected infant monkeys to various mechanical surrogate mothers. Even if they got food from a wire mesh surrogate mother, they would cling to the soft terrycloth mother. Other experiments created outright abusive surrogates, and the results were predictable - violent, angry monkeys.

2. Towards a Psychology of Being - Abraham H. Maslow
Essentially, this states that once your physical needs are met, other, higher aspirations appear. The business world, the rat race, keeps you stiving to meet the first set of needs, so the higher needs never emerge.

3. Class: A Guide Through The American Status System by Paul Fussell
Some people read this and think that Paul Fussell is laughing at the lower classes, but that's not true. He's insulting all classes equally (though he does seem to like the lower class). Perhaps it's because these people recognize that their struggle is simply to survive and that after work their time is their own that makes them so colorful.

4. [url=http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786886994/r5un7ejl-20/002-2804104-6938425Ice Bound[/url] by Jerri Nielsen IceBoundDoc.com - Jerri Nielsen's official website
This book is more about community, and people than it is about a woman who went to the south pole and had to perform surgery on herself.

5. P.O.V. A Panther in Africa
On October 30, 1969, Pete O' Neal, a young Black Panther in Kansas City, Missouri, was arrested for transporting a gun across state lines. One year later, O' Neal fled the charge, and for over 30 years, he has lived in Tanzania as one of the last American exiles from an era when activists considered themselves at war with the U.S. government.

6. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

7. Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
This book transformed the way I look at money more than any other book or event in my life. Highly recommended.

8. Getting a Life: Strategies for Simple Living, Based on the Revolutionary Program for Financial Freedom, Your Money or Your Life by Jacqueline Blix and David Heitmille
If you read Your Money or Your Life, you can decide for yourself whether or not you want to continue the journey with this book.

9. The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel by Milan Kundera
This book starts with a quote by Nietzsche, and he discusses it at length before he introduces any of the characters. Obviously this isn't just another novel. The movie version of this book is beautiful, but, of course, not as deep. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print and used copies are expensive, however the VHS editions are much less expensive.

10. The Old Joel on Software Forum - Reward yourself for a raise ?
It's interesting how people respond to you when you tell them to reduce their expenses.
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PostSubject: Re: Leave the Rat Race Forever   Sat 18 Jul 2009, 4:10 pm

I like this article also. Like the incorporation of Maslow's hierarchy of needs for describing the transitions we go through.

Lots of interesting ideas.. the stress of being in the middle class... Many people do feel they've no choice but to get some awful job and spend their life stuck in it. That to instead be underemployed/be an underachiever would be some kind of disgrace.

I think we've lost something essential with the loss of the tribe. We're now too isolated. Thanks to technology we just don't need each other. So then, we don't even talk to our neighbors. The lady across the street never even said hi for the last three years. She just had a personal tragedy and we came over and offered whatever help she might need and finally she opened up and on a few occasions has talked to us for hours.

That it takes a personal tragedy (her sister died in a house fire up the street) to finally have some interaction with this lady who's lived 20 yards away for 3 years is just not right.

I think that we should all collectively express that we have experienced a harmful lost sense of community and that we should take steps to try to bring back some sense of it.

OTOH, people say that individuality and collectivety are opposites. And so if I really was a member of a community/tribe I'd be forced to conform to a far greater extent. I don't think this is necessarily true.
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