More of this sort of thing

Yesterday someone introduced me to the cube project.  I am very grateful.  If I had £50,000, I would buy one of these tomorrow.  However, I don't have £50,000.

It's going on the wish list anyway.




I ask again, why aren't we all living like this?

A House of Cards

Giving up your job is a liberating feeling.  I can recommend it.  Do you love your job?  Is it making you a better person, or the world a better place?  If not, then what the fuck are you doing?

Paying the bills, is the answer to that.  And usually that's where it stops.  Why not carry on asking questions instead?  Why not ask the same questions again?  Are the things you're paying for making you a better person, or the world a better place?  If not, then what the fuck are you doing?

The answer to that is convenience.  Convenience is a defining characteristic of our world.  Running a fridge or a car is convenient.  You don't need a fridge, in the strict sense of "need".  You don't need a car either.  Buses exist.  So do trains and bikes, and horses.  But trains and bikes and horses aren't as nice as cars.  And pickled eggs aren't as nice as fresh eggs.  It's better to have nice things.  More convenient.

The Library Of

Books are a wonderful thing.  I own a lot of books, but owning things isn't the game I want to play any more.  So over the past few weeks I've been recklessly selling off my library of about 700 books on amazon.  As I said, this sort of thing becomes addictive.

I remember when I was little sometimes I would throw books down the stairs.  I really don't remember why I did this, it was probably just a phase I was going through.  Sometimes I'd be holding a book, I'd be at the top of the stairs, and I'd wonder what it would be like if I suddenly threw it down the stairs.  So I did.  My mum didn't like me doing this.  She used to say "Books are our friends".  She was right.  Books are our friends.  Nowadays, as you're probably aware, "ebooks" exist.  With some patience, you can find more or less any book in "e" format online, download it, and read it on an electronic device.  So electronic devices can be our friends to.

My goal here is to transfer every book I have, and want to keep (which isn't quite all of them) to a digital format (pdf or epub preferably) that I'll keep in a google drive folder, and can read on my tablet.  Google play books lets you keep 1,000 books in your library at any one time, meaning I can upload and download as many books as I could ever need at any one time, and carry them all around with me.  This is a good thing.  More of us should be doing this.  Having shelves full of books is nice and decorative, but it's really just showing off.

If you would like to access my library please email me and I'll reply with a link to the library.  From here you'll be able to download and read anything I put in there.  I'm still in the process of adding things - I've collected a lot of things over a solid 10-15 years of internetting, so this will take some time.  If you have anything you'd like to contribute and make freely accessible to others, please also get in touch.  Sharing is caring.  Books are our friends.

Uncomfortable Questions



It's funny, because it's true.  Carlin had some valid points.  In another genre and context, so did Agent Smith:


I'll have something to say in future posts on the use and abuse of anti-materialist and nihilist philosophies by popular culture.  There are more important questions to ask first.  Most generally, how far do we follow these thoughts?  How do you know if you're really awake?  The matrix is everywhere...

Carlin's monologue is comical, Agent Smith's is dramatic: both are memorable because of the ideas they tap into, ideas that are neither original nor new, thoughts as old as human beings themselves.  For all the love, depth and meaning we can find in human existence, can we ever escape the sense of living inside an enormous, meaningless cosmic farce?  Philosophies like antinatalism or movements like VHEMT (each, of course with subcultures and subreddits of their own) seem to take a kind of sociopathic delight in their iconoclasm, so often that it becomes nearly impossible to tell who is sincere and who is just along for the ride.  But then, in the post-Baudrillardian pseudo-culture (and this side of the notoriously disappointing Matrix sequels) of 2016, is there a difference?

I've spent a lot of time this week working on "downsizing" - selling things on ebay and amazon, taking bags of stuff too worthless to sell to charity shops.  It's been satisfying to discover how many of the cherished paper books I thought were hard to find are in fact readily available online for free if you're persistent, but how despite this many of them still hold their monetary value as things, making the process of bothering to sell them worth my while.  But there's an inherent danger in enjoying this sort of thing too much - a kind of holier-than-thou sentiment of what I've dubbed "frugal fetishism" that's all-too-easy to lapse into.  How far can I go along this path without disappearing too soon up my own arse?

Preliminary Investigations

Having lots of money would make my goal of transcending the need for it considerably easier.  I'm well aware of the irony here, but I'm determined not to let it stand in my way.  So, I've started looking at options.

Same Day Delivery

On Friday I spent all day in bed. I remember reading once about an ancient culture who practised a "one day on, one day off" way of living. I don't remember the specifics, so it could just as easily have been a dream, but the idea appeals to me greatly. (Let's pretend it's my idea). You work for one day, rest the next. No weeks or weekends as such. Presumably this made practical sense: the manual labour and agricultural work that occupied most ancient people is exhausting. Each working day you rise with the sun and rest with its setting. A rest every other day to recuperate before going back to the fields, furnaces or workshops would presumably make the whole process twice as tolerable. Not only that, but it's a wonderfully simple way to emphasise and enshrine in your culture what today we laughingly approximate to with the idea of a "work-life balance". (Note the tacit, otherwise unspoken, acknowledgement that to work is not to live). In Jewish tradition, the "Sabbath" is of central importance: one day out of every seven is spent in a rigidly understood state of abstinence from melachah - "creation" or "work". Since God rested on the seventh day of creation, so should people. The idea of balance - between nature and divine activity on one hand, and artifice and human work on the other - is key, and I think the idea, that refraining from work is the side of the coin more closely associated with the natural and divine, is worth considering: all the more so from this side of the Reformation, since when the protestant work ethic's disastrously unbalanced emphasis on the virtue of work has come to engulf our now ridiculous culture.

All that said, spending a whole day in bed, floating in and out of consciousness to classic Star Trek episodes on your chromebook probably doesn't fit exactly into any ancient concept of reverence for life and its divine creator. Oh, and yes, I like watching Star Trek. So what? It has an optimistic vision of the human race's future. Despite everything, so do I.

I spent the day in bed on Friday because I was exhausted. I wasn't exhausted from a hard day's work on Thursday, or a poor night's sleep. I'm just generally exhausted. I can’t remember the last time I had a proper night’s sleep. This is what working night shifts for three-and-a-half years will do to you. At first, your human body just starts to get mildly confused. What are you doing? it asks. You know you’re supposed to be asleep, don’t you? It’s dark outside! It’s 3 in the morning. Who cares about spreadsheets? You ignore the question, because that’s your job. Your body, gradually and begrudgingly, adjusts. OK, so you’re a night owl? I can work with that, ‘course I can. Adjustments are made to sleep patterns, energy levels, appetite, ability to concentrate, patience. It wants the best for you, does your human body, it really does. It’s more sensitive to the nuances of daylight, climate and the changing of the seasons than you, the young 21st-century urbanite, will ever understand. That’s because it’s not really young at all. Yours might be – but yours is only the latest model in a long line of ever-evolving human bodies. It only got to be where it is today through generation after generation of very hard work. There was a lot of trial and error, but now it’s ready for anything. It can subsist indefinitely on nothing but Monster Munch. It can survive in the air pocket of a capsized boat in the Atlantic ocean, a cave in the Utah desert or floating in zero gravity inside a sealed metal tube for months, miles above the earth from whence it came.  I have never done any of those things (though the Monster Munch-diet does sound tempting) so I don’t know what I'm talking about.  I do know, however, that after a few years of a regimen of working 3-5 twelve-hour night shifts a week, the body stops asking so many questions.  Any time you want to sleep, that’s fine by me, it says.  So afternoon naps become nine-hour comas.  This is your body’s passive-aggressive form of revenge.  Sleeping well is the best revenge.

So on Friday, I slept - all through the day, and most of the night.  Around 5:30am on Saturday, I stirred my lazy bones back to a vertical position and checked my email.  Several of the books I’ve listed on amazon had sold.  I processed the emails, and wrapped and labelled the packages ready for my morning jaunt to the post office.  I noticed that one of the addresses was in Stockport.  Stockport, I thought.  That’s not far from Manchester.  I could walk it, deliver the package in person.  It will save on postage costs.  My body, who hadn't really woken up yet and still needed a piss, tried to pay attention.  Don’t do this, it pleaded.  So I did it anyway, because I hadn't written the previous paragraph yet.  It was a nice enough day for North West England in February (it wasn't even chucking it down) and what else was I going to do?  Clock in some more overtime at work on those sexy spreadsheets?  No.  Turns out I don’t care about spreadsheets at any hour of the day.  I know some people do, some of the hours.  These people are not my friends.  Give me an absence of spreadsheets or give me death.

As the googlebird maps, my destination was 7 miles from home. It looked like the kind of walk at that would become more pleasant towards the end, as I left the inner city behind and encroached upon the Cheshire countryside. I put the package to be delivered into my bag along with a packet of peanuts, two tins of beans - the ones that open with a ring pull, so I didn't have to carry a tin opener – a fork, my headphones and a day’s worth of mp3s. The peanuts and the beans were for energy along the road, and to save having to spend money on food. A petrol station sandwich and a bag of Wotsits are not actually the food of the true nomad. This is the game I'm playing now. Thought maybe I could channel the spirit of Jeremy Corbyn for lunch.

Turns out google doesn't know absolutely everything about everything. One of the things it doesn't know is that you can’t just go for a country walk along a motorway. So adjusting for reality, this lengthened my hike to just over 9 miles. An 18-mile round trip. Worth the cost of a small, first class parcel, if you ask me.
 

Normal Things for Normal People


As soon as I posted on facebook last week about my decision to leave my job, interesting things started to happen.  The post received a solid 19 likes from my 116 friends (hey, it's not a competition), and the comments were universally positive.  Bristol Pete, by any acceptable standard one of the nicest and funniest men alive, insisted I blog my experience immediately (which, as you've probably noticed, is just what I did).  Former schoolmates I haven't seen in over 15 years posted messages of encouragement.  As one put it, "well done for stepping off the hamster wheel on your own terms".  Kieran in London, a brother and comrade from from way back when, who today is nothing less than a Lecturer in International Relations at University College London, remarked, "I continue to look to you for the right move".  As you may recall, Kieran is a lecturer at a prestigious UK university.  He knows more about African child soldiers and Sierra Leone than anyone I know, anyone you know probably, and perhaps even than many people actually in Sierra Leone know.  His recently published book is available on amazon.  I haven't got round to reading it yet myself, but that's not necessary for me to be able to tell you that it's a stonking good read and you should buy it immediately.  Evidently Kieran has made an impressive number of right moves in his life.  Quite what he hopes to learn from me is unclear.

Fucking Big Wisdom

I've always loved the book of Ecclesiastes.  Anyone of a stoic, existentialist, fatalistic and even nihilistic bent, religiously-minded or otherwise, would do well to ponder this odd little book tucked away towards the back end of the Old Testament.  I think one of the things I love about it is just the fact that it's there: hidden in plain sight amongst the Bible's tales of unfathomable brutality, violence, tribalism, xenophobia and zealotry, often demanded by a divine being of dubious motives and questionable competence, we also read:
"What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it".  (Ecclesiastes 3: 9-14)
and:
"There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun".  (Ecclesiastes 8: 14-15)
It's a proto-socialist, proto-nihilist, proto-situationist tract, several thousand years out of time.  Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but I'm more inclined to believe that it's words like this that have the right to claim "divine inspiration" than, for example, whoever wrote that a man possessed by "the spirit of the LORD" once allowed his own daughter to "roam and weep" in the wilderness for two months before keeping his promise to murder her as a "sacrifice" her to that very same Lord (Judges 11:29-39).

Much as I enjoy a good argument about that sort of thing, that's not what this blog is for.  I'm interested in anti-work/anti-materialist thinking, wherever it happens to come from.  I love ideas.  Still, it's hard to separate the practical from the metaphysical and I think, ultimately, it's probably a bad idea.  When the writer of Ecclesiastes asks "what do the workers gain from their toil?" I think he has both the material and the spiritual sense of "gain" equally in mind, just as you might say Jesus did when asking, "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?"  It isn't that anyone who does "gain the world" automatically loses his soul - that's something that depends more on the type of person doing the gaining - but it certainly doesn't make the average person's soul any easier to hang on to.

Even the tiny, tiny part of the material world I've gained seems already to have put my soul at risk.  Two weeks ago I bought a new television.  I've never owned a television before - a fact I've always been rather too smug about than is really necessary.  It was an impulse buy.  I was bored, frustrated and tired, as I have been now for years.  So I bought a 43-inch, Ultra-HD 4K, smart, wifi-enabled television.  Because I could.  It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  I carried it home in the rain (I live a five-minute walk from Manchester's Arndale Centre).  Remember Trainspotting?  "Choose life, choose a job, choose a fucking big television..."?  After I'd unpacked it, plugged it in and queued up some youtube playlists, gloried in the realer-than-real wonder of 4K 60fps video, I started to wonder what my next drug of choice would be.  This one's sat on my coffee table for two weeks now, (and I've had several hours of pleasure from it, there's no point denying that) but the thrill of consumption has already gone.  The money I could have spent instead on making the world a better place has gone too.  The frustration, boredom and exhaustion has not.

On Getting a Life

Four years ago, I stopped taking the medication that's been keeping my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder under strict control since the condition first became part of my life, out of nowhere, in 2005.  This was not a good idea, and I suffered the consequences.  If I don't swallow 60mg of Fluoxetine (aka Prozac) a day, my brain will go to any lengths it can to convince me to do horrible, horrible things to myself.  I won't be able to think about anything else, and I'll live in a state of constant terror of "losing control" and doing the last things in the world I would ever want to do, but feel compelled to. 

It's tempting to indulge in a bit of pseudo-psychology to explain why this might be; but believe me, it doesn't help.  It's not a matter of low self-esteem, poor body image, repressed childhood trauma, unsatisfiable animal impulses or subconsciously wanting to have sex with my mother.  It's a matter of serotonin levels.  Serotonin is a neurotransmitter - one of the means by which the brain processes information chemically.  Lower than optimal levels of serotonin are associated with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive thinking.  Fluoxetine is a type of medication known as a "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor" (SSRI) most commonly used as an antidepressant, but can also help to treat the symptoms of OCD, the obsessive thoughts in particular.  It's certainly worked for me.

The "obsessive" element of OCD is the lesser-known counterpart to the ostensible, "compulsive" element that forms its stereotype: repetitive, pointless rituals that can take (m)any form(s) but often manifest as checking, counting, washing, touching, and the like.  These compulsive "rituals" become a coping mechanism for the OCD-er, providing temporary relief from the unpleasant obsessive thoughts, but which then return, leading to more ritualistic behaviour.  It's a vicious ouroboros of meaninglessness: exhausting, terrifying and entirely without cathartic purpose.  There is nothing sexy about it, nothing quirky: anybody who describes themselves as "a bit OCD" doesn't know what the term means.  Nobody who actually suffers from OCD brags about it.  Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the condition in As Good As It Gets is fairly accurate (although his character was also a bastard).  Michael J Fox's portrayal in the episodes of Scrubs, "My Catalyst" and "My Porcelain God" is even better:



"This is a weak moment.  Nobody's supposed to see this".


None of this is all that relevant to the purpose of this blog, except that it provides some context to my decision to try and live a simpler life, without work.  Four years ago, when I stupidly stopped taking Prozac for several months, I made another apparently quite spontaneous decision to leave my job.  As there are this time, there were other factors at work - but something the two decisions have in common is their moments of clarity.  For all the relief that Prozac has given me from my symptoms, there's also a fogginess that it brings, clouding and obscuring the rougher edges of life and experience, positive and negative.  It kills demons, but it also kills drive.  Passion becomes subservient to practicality.  There are many other things in our culture that have the same effect - not the least of them being the consumerism, comfort and convenience of postmodern existence that we're all too familiar with - but it turns out serotonin-regulating medications can have an equally powerful effect.  Funny old world.

I hasten to add that I'm still taking the 60mg a day now that I have been ever since I relapsed four years ago from stopping.  So what, I wonder, is motivating me this time?  A deeper yearning, it would seem.

Sacrifices have to be made if you want not only to stay alive, but also if you want to have a life that is really worth living.  (A useful metaphor: to feel the resonance of Michael J Fox's excellent acting in the scene above, you also have to endure the sentimental gibberish of a Coldplay song.  Life is strange).  I'm sure that if a treatment for OCD hadn't been found that works for me, I wouldn't be alive today.  I wouldn't have been able to live like that for ten days of how it was at its worst, let alone ten years.  So coming off the medication isn't an option for me - not yet, anyway - but coming back to life in other ways, is.  Leaving my job was the first step.

Now without going too far down the conspiracist path - another time, perhaps - I don't think there's any doubt that many of the trappings of 21st century life have a 'deradicalizing' effect on the individual.  Prozac has certainly had that effect on me.  A lot of the time I find I'm living my life through a haze - when I say words, it's like it's not really me saying them; I say what others expect to hear without believing any of it.  I've actually become a very good liar.  I lie to myself and I lie to others.  I lie all the time about what I think, about what I want, about what I value.  It gets easier the more you do it.  Medication makes it easier still.

Life isn't going to be easy any more.  I wonder if an easy life is really life at all.





Unshopping

This afternoon I took an old netbook, tablet and video camera to Cash Generator, and handed them over to a muscular chap in a cheap blue tee-shirt, thereby generating some cash. £65, to be exact. That's not a lot of money really (although it does buy 280 tins of ADLI baked beans, or 3 day's rent, so I suppose it's all relative).
 
It felt great. Not the cash-in-hand part, so much as the getting rid. Three less things to own. Three things that had just been shelved, perfectly functional but already replaced. Now they've been replaced again. Not by money as such, but by time. And space.

Stockpiling

Wherever I am six months from now, I'm reasonably confident I'm still going to need to eat food. (Assuming I'm not dead, which is something I find it encouraging to assume). That in mind, it makes sense to accumulate a supply of food now and with cost-cutting the name of the game, ALDI has become my new friend. You can buy four tins of baked beans in ALDI for 96p. A kilogram of rice for 40p. A tin of potatoes for 15p. 500g of pasta for 29p. They're not even paying me to tell you this. It's just the truth.  Here's the inside of one of my kitchen cupboards:

You don't know what you're missing.


Pictured: peanuts, rice, baked beans, mixed beans, chick peas, peas, kidney beans, pasta.  I'm also a big fan of seaweed-based snacks (also pictured) but these aren't cheap, in terms of price per calorie.  They are though, apparently, a "superfood" but then, what isn't, these days?  If anyone knows a cheap source of dried seaweed in the UK, I'd be very interested to hear about it.  Anyway, a good couple of weeks food, there.  I'm also thinking about fasting.  There's a lot to be said for fasting as a spiritual exercise as much as a practical one but it's something I need to look into more, from the point of view of bodily health.  Mind and body in harmony, and all that.

Another consideration is fresh vegetables.  These are vital - I've been a committed vegan now for two years, and this is something I'll be posting more about here (it's actually cheaper than you might think!) so I don't need any more convincing on the value of fresh vegetables, especially greens.  These aren't something you can really stockpile, but I expect there are some that last longer than others uncooked.  I've got some portions of kale in the freezer that I've pre-cooked, to be easily microwaveable.  It's a supply that's dwindling and as with seaweed, not easy to replace on a minimalist budget.

Having said all that, if Jeremy Corbyn can live on cold baked beans, well so can I.  He probably fasts sometimes, too.

******

A +1, a share, a tweet, a comment never goes amiss.  Comments especially welcome.

The State of Play

In his 1985 essay, The Abolition of Work, anarchist philosopher Bob Black argues that when we stop working, "that doesn't mean we have to stop doing things".  Quite the reverse: it means, "creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child's play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance".  To me, this doesn't even really need arguing for, though I can't count the number of times I've heard people say that if they didn't have to work (from winning the lottery, say) they still would.  Without a job to occupy their time, they say, they'd feel useless or bored.
Let's read that last clause of Black's again:
A collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. 
Words to live by, methinks.  Isn't that exactly what life should be?  Raoul Vaneigem asked:
"What do I want?  Not a succession of moments, but one huge instant.  A totality that is lived, without the experience of 'time passing'".
And, last but never least, Wittgenstein:
 "If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present"  (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.4311)

A Walk in the Rain

On Saturday I went to visit my friends Adam and Eve in Levenshulme.  Adam and Eve aren't their real names, but they prefer to remain anonymous.  It was a dingy, wet afternoon.  Levenshulme is about 3 miles out of Manchester city centre, where I've lived and worked for the last 3 years.  Fifteen minutes on the bus.  Buses in Manchester are frequent, warm and most on the Stockport Road routes these days have free wifi.  I decided to walk.  Nothing radical about that, but as a symbolic gesture of intent for my new way of life, it felt good.  Walking is both free and healthy.  Sitting on a bus and scrolling through your twitter timeline is neither.  But Luddite I am very much not, so bluetooth headphones on, playlist of favourites shuffled, smartwatch counting my steps and monitoring my heart rate, off I trekked.  I wonder how much longer I'll own such gadgets.  I'm a gadget fan, and it might be difficult to let go.  Anyway, assuming I don't have to sell my legs, there'll always be walking.  It was an hour's walk in the Manchester rain, and I arrived at Adam's soggy and happy.  There was laughter, polite conversation, children, coffee, and cake.  Adam recently completed his PhD and had invited family and friends over for a semi-impromptu celebration.  Adam has an enormous family.  One of his uncles introduced himself to me as "one of the uncles", but never told me his name.  It seemed wrong to ask, somehow.  It was all very normal.

Just down from Piccadilly Station and across the road from the recently renovated Macdonald hotel, there's a small patch of grass that for the past few months has been occupied by a group of homeless people, living out of plastic bags and sleeping in tents.  I've noticed more and more rough sleepers on the streets in the city centre the past year or so, and it's something we're all used to seeing in major UK cities.  Being approached for "spare change" in Manchester is an everyday occurrence.  Needless to say, the usual response is a curt "sorry, mate", accompanied by a typically British absence of eye contact and half-conscious rationalisations about how giving money to the homeless isn't something a charitable person should do.  Because they'll only spend it on drugs, or something.  (I don't know a lot of drug dealers, myself, but I'm fairly sure they don't accept small change).  Most of us can spare change, of course, but most of us don't.  And if we're being honest with ourselves, we're not really sorry.  Mate.  Commonplace as all this is, it's still uncomfortable to see what's effectively a "shanty town" less than a mile from the centre of a large English city, nominally the "capital of the North" and the epicentre of the nebulous "northern powerhouse" the government would apparently like the North to become.

The northern powerhouse.

Since I walked to Adam's and home again, I passed the homeless camp twice.  On the walk back, around 9pm, over the road in the hotel, guests were dining, warm and dry in the softly lit restaurant.  I saw empty tables and thought of how much food might go uneaten tonight, and where it might end up, if not in the bellies of the homeless people just meters away.  Then I thought about the £5 note in my wallet, the spare change in my pockets, and the leftover vegan chocolate cake I'd brought back with me from Adam's - none of which ended up in the pockets of the pockets or bellies of the people I saw obviously in greater need than I, before I made back inside to my own warm, dry accommodation.  I thought about a lot of things.  All I really did was think.  I didn't act.

Working to Live

I've always liked the idea of a "not for profit" business.  It's subversive, in its own small way, since the purpose of a business is usually to make a profit.  It's also a simple idea, and I'm a simple person at heart: you charge for your service only what it costs to provide it.  I wonder if I could apply the same idea to myself: intentionally earning only enough money to cover the costs of living.  This minimizes time spent working, and maximizes free time.  It seems like a sensible first step in the direction I want to go.

I started a spreadsheet on Monday that I'll use to record all my expenses - income and outgoings.  Since I've got a little money saved up, I can treat this as a kind of "float".  At the end of each month, I can total up how much I spent, and work out how much I have to work (or sell) in order to make that back.  Then, that becomes my "target" for the next month.  As I go along, I work on cutting down the expenses themselves, so in theory, as each month goes by, I can work less.  Keeping a detailed record of every transaction should help with this.  For every expense, I just ask two questions: a). was this necessary? and b). can it be reduced (or eliminated)?  I wonder if I might surprise myself as to just how much I can save.

It all seems so simple, which means it probably isn't.

Over the Edge of the Map

On Monday I did something stupid.  I gave notice from my stable, well-paying job.  I didn't do this because I've been offered another stable, better-paying job.  I did it because I don't want to have a job anymore.  So as of the 27th of March, I will be unemployed.

You're not really supposed to be unemployed, and certainly not by choice. Unemployment means poverty, stress, and a lower "quality of life".  Nationally, when unemployment figures go up, that's a bad thing.  Economies shrink, which is the opposite of what economies are supposed to do.  I've never really understood what "the economy" actually is - but I do know this. Economic growth good. People doing their jobs leads to economic growth. Therefore people doing jobs is good. People not doing their jobs, bad. People not even having jobs to do - even worse. It seems very simple, but I still never really got it. Do all the jobs that exist involve work that needs to be done? Many people with jobs are unhappy doing them - they do them from necessity, not from choice.  Maybe they're just in "the wrong job".  They need to go and find their "dream job".  But maybe they don't have a dream job.  Maybe their dream is not to have a job at all.  I know that's mine.

Our culture teaches us that those who can work, should.  Centuries of industrial progress, technological advancement, innovation, entrepreneurship, market capitalism and the protestant work ethic have given rise to a powerful ideology of work for work's sake.  The contempt a society, which still insists on describing itself as "Christian", reserves specifically for the poor and disadvantaged, is unique in its vicious, vitriolic power.  Almost anyone in receipt of state support today - unemployed, immigrant, mentally ill - can be labelled a lazy scrounger, a parasite, a burden.  The latest "conservative" (a tellingly honest term, all things considered - what, really, is it that they want to conserve?) government is renowned for its unprecedented levels of cuts to what were once considered essential public services.  As the welfare state crumbles, the fanatical worship of work for work's sake remains.  What was once known as "unemployment benefit" is now "jobseeker's allowance".  "Incapacity benefit" and "disability living allowance" are being  replaced by "universal credit" and a "personal independence payment".  The bureaucratic process is as obfuscating as it ever was but the change in language is clear: either you have a job, or you look for one.  If you can't find one, but are, in theory, able to do one, then that's essentially your fault.  The state owes you nothing.  If you really, really can't work, because you're so severely disabled, or terminally ill perhaps - well, OK then, you don't have work, and the state (with reluctance that grows as fast as a South East Asian economy) - will provide for you.  Everyone else, though, is just making excuses.  Not only should you work, you must work.

And not only must you work, you must want to work.  You must "follow your dreams" and "find your passion".  Assuming of course that your dreams and passions concern only the already available options.  Take a look at any job website.  Employers wants applicants with "the passion to be the best and driven to identify potential sales opportunities and meet sales targets", or who "have excellent knowledge of debt solutions/financial management".  If you've ever applied for a job, you'll have read thousands of sentences like this.  These are taken from the first page of results for all available jobs in my area, posted on the first job search website google found for me.  Of course, these are sentences written by human beings, even though no human being actually talks like that - and even though no human being really exists with the passion for identifying new sales opportunities.  They may be motivated to spend their time in such a way, but the word "passion", if it's to mean anything, does not apply here.  Another advert from the same page boasts: "You'll never find yourself bored or twiddling your thumbs on the till as a store assistant".  I am 100% certain that whoever wrote the sentence knows that it is not true.  Yet all of these jobs will probably be filled.  At the interviews, the successful candidates will convince the panel of their passion for identifying sales opportunities, or for scanning barcodes, but of course, they will be lying.  The panel will know they are lying, and will offer them the job anyway.

None of this is to say that there is no such thing as interesting, satisfying and worthwhile work.  It's just that most of the work being done, by most people most of the time, is none of those things.  Approximately a million people in the UK work in supermarkets. Another million work in call centres.  Many, many others work in warehouses, slaughterhouses, factories, various kinds of of "service industries".  Almost all of this work can, and may well soon will be, done by the machines the people who don't have to do this sort of work are inventing.  Almost none of the people doing this work now are doing it because they want to (perhaps they'd rather be inventing machines to do the work for them, but have neither the time nor energy to do so).  Certainly nobody does these jobs because they are passionate about them.  But for all the diversity of "opportunities" on the "job market", in no real sense is there such a thing as choice for most people.  Most of us have passions for things that if we devoted the time and energy to them that we do to our jobs, would probably render us destitute within months.

So we work, and when we work, we earn money.  We need money, to buy food, pay our rent or mortgage, support a family or pay the bills. We also need it to buy things like 4k curved screen televisions, smartphones, plane tickets or shares in undervalued, promising biotech startups. So even if the things we can buy with money aren't always necessary, strictly speaking, money itself is necessary. Money is freedom.  But in order to accumulate money, you need to work, and this involves giving up another aspect of freedom - time. Work is time given in exchange for money, another kind of freedom. So the next question becomes, which is more valuable, money or time?

I have decided that the answer to this question is time.  This isn't new information.  Religious and philosophical traditions have taught for millennia that material gain is the road to spiritual stagnation, that our time in earth is short (though to be fair, that's less true than it used to be, but that makes the question of how we use our time all the more important).  We all accept to a greater or lesser degree that money can't buy happiness - that the things in life that really matter can never be bought.  So why don't more of us do anything about it?  That's something I want to explore, and the best way to do this, it seems, is to experiment on myself.  I'll be paid my last wage, perhaps fittingly, on the 1st of April.  I have enough money saved up to live on for the next 3-4 months after that.  That's time.  Time to think, to do, to be and to live.  To work out what to do next.

***

Please follow along, share, like, +1, and all that sort of thing.  While this is going to be a very personal journey for me, I know it's not something I can do alone.  Looking for a new way to live involves finding new ways to interact and share with people.  I welcome and appreciate all comments, criticism, thoughts and ideas you may have.