This for That: Enslaved by ancient ideas about middle-class-ism

Today I read an article by Ian Kath called “We sold our life for trinkets.” In the article Ian describes the idea that many people are enslaved by a vicious cycle of consumerism that ultimately leads to an empty existence. One feels the need to consume, to have more and more “stuff”, and in turn this need for “stuff” drives one to perform basically meaningless tasks sometimes called “work” to obtain more and more “trinkets”. Even if the “work” performed involves browsing the internet for 40 hours a week.

Ian summarizes:

Our life force is consumed in the workforce on worthless activity in exchange for money for the latest gadget or fancier house. We have been indentured to the ruling elite. The 1%.

This for That

The world economy is made up of a “this for that” system. We do this, we pay this, we trade this – for that. All transactions are based on specific set of numbers (currency) in exchange for a physical item we desire. Those numbers are later traded to someone else for other physical items they desire. And all this begs the question: If technology is getting more and more efficient, the demand for efficient people is becoming less and less – then how do people earn currency to exchange for the widgets they so badly desire?

David Graeber from the Sydney Morning Herald wrote an entire on the subject called “The modern phenomenon of nonsense jobs“. David says:

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen…this is the sort of very problem that market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking business is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

And if you have a job where you are really busy maybe you think this sounds crazy, but I can assure you that there are professionals all around the country browsing the internet. In fact, it’s common knowledge among internet bloggers to publish your articles on week days just after 9am. Droves of professionals are sitting in front of their computers at work, just made their first cup of coffee, and are now surfing the internet… So has capitalism failed us? Are the ideas of “a person must be productive” archaic? Are we ironically enslaved by middle-class-ism? Maybe so.

A New Way Forward

So is there a new way we aren’t aware of?  Why aren’t there more jobs available where people just think shit up. Where people just focus on making the world awesome. Jobs where people just go out and make things pretty. Clean shit all day. Come up with creative ways to ease traffic, etc.

Then again, who would pay for such a venture. Tax payers? Hell no! I don’t trust the Government to do a good job on this. Or is our entire system of currency, paying for things, “this for that”, archaic? Will we look back on our current value system – the “this for that” system and think it was pretty stupid.

Are we in the beginning stages of a new system of living – one where 100% of the population doesn’t have to be productive? Maybe we are witnessing the early stages of a value change. A change to a new system more accurately aligned with our technological capabilities rather than our current system which is largely driven by ancient instincts that require aimlessly productive human resource units.

It’s an interesting path to think about, but I’m not quite sure how it would work. Who decides who has to stock the shelves at a grocery store versus who gets to be a thinker? Society? The invisible hand of the market? Maybe the future currency will be the true value you prove you can provide to society. Still not sure how that would work, but it is an interesting thing to think about.


4 thoughts on “This for That: Enslaved by ancient ideas about middle-class-ism

  1. Holden

    The key is people have to start making things and producing for themselves again. As long as all of life hinges on consuming from someone else, how can we get past the consumer society?

    We almost need to return to farming and local trade.

    1. Atticus Post author

      I disagree with this. People start making things for themselves? Why? The ease of production is a positive thing – no need to take a step backward.

      More realistically I think people need to find alternative ways of being productive and finding fulfillment beyond “nonsense jobs” and constant consumerism.

      Instead of spending 40 hours a week on a mundane job so one can afford the latest gadget, why not spend those 40 hours doing something meaningful. Maybe you will find you are fulfilled without the gadget and have contributed to society. Also, maybe society still needs to create those jobs.

      1. Holden

        If you don’t work, how will you afford the essentials we’ve cornered ourselves into having to buy instead of producing for ourselves? I don’t mean build your own car or iPod.

        In reality, what would really need to happen is businesses would need to hire less people but pay those they employ a lot more money. Basic costs of living are still going to require a lot of people to work full time. I think more realistic is people start being able to afford to have one person in a couple to stay home while the other works.


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