Who can afford time to think?
Everywhere, housing costs continue to spiral further out of the reach of those making median salaries and below.
I’m worried about this for all the same reasons that worry everyone else. At what point will all the wage-earning workers be priced out of their communities? How can families afford child care on top of increased housing costs? Many households already had both parents working outside the home to afford the rent or mortgage and sky-high health insurance premiums before this most recent crisis.
What does this say about our value system — tech execs, social media gurus, search engine researchers, professional athletes, actors and politicians can afford to live anywhere they desire. But teachers, EMTs, firefighters, journalists and sanitation workers, among many other professionals, are forced to commute from farther and farther away. Many workers can’t afford to live in the communities they serve already or are dependent on government-subsidized housing.
I was reading the biography of a writer recently. He was not a wealthy man. The diversity of experience and the breadth of his interest was staggering and would be nearly impossible to replicate today without an inheritance or government subsidy. Trips to ancient ruins, a year working as an unpaid assistant in a museum, years of monastic study, then years spent in the mountains climbing and meditating. … Who could afford to take the time for such frivolous pursuits now? One might return from an archaeological dig to find the cost of a house in one’s hometown had doubled or tripled during the six months abroad. My point is that great minds are rarely born; they must be forged. Faulkner daydreamed and wrote masterpieces while clerking in a post office. Now, Faulkner would need three jobs just to make the rent, and we’d be several great novels the poorer for it.
We seem to be lurching toward a world where in order to be housed one will have to work to the exclusion of time to think and create — those moments that make us human. Soon we (if we’re not already) will be forced to rely on wealthy executives, celebrities and government officials to do our thinking for us, the worker drones. They’ll be the only ones with the leisure time necessary for deep thought. We shouldn’t be surprised if that scenario ends tragically — if all the writers, scholars, thinkers and artists come from a similar background (wealth) or depend on government largesse, we’re likely to be told not what we need to know but that which the government, celebrities and wealthy benefactors prefer us to believe.
In that future, as a matter of self preservation, journalists will be even less likely than they are now to challenge the authorities. Our media institutions are already mired in conflicts of interest — pharmaceutical companies with enormous advertising budgets, China, Russia, corporate interests, Amazon, the great tech empires, etc., etc.
Carl Jung wrote in “Man and His Symbols” that, “The individual is the only reality. The further we move away from the individual toward abstract ideas about Homo Sapiens, the more likely we are to fall into error. […] But if we are to see things in their right perspective, we need to understand the past of man as well as his present.”
Many among us already talk and write about human beings in terms of classifications, categories and types. They have less and less interest in individuals and their passions, their hopes and their dreams.
Perhaps these words are all a waste, like Cassandra’s, because it’s now too late, the battle is lost and most had no idea it was even being fought. And yet, at funerals, we find comfort as we mourn lifeless loved ones and speak of what has been lost, though nothing we can do can resurrect the dead.