The Price of Being Civilized

Money is not life. Many of us pursue money as though it was air or water. If I do not go to work, I cannot pay my rent. If I do not save enough money, I will not be able to pay for school. If I do not get a job, I will not be able to buy groceries. If I do not make the next mortgage payment, I will have to fill for bankruptcy.

Step back from this mentality and listen to what these sentences are really saying. What if you do not pay your rent? You might be evicted eventually. If you are evicted, you will have to go somewhere. Most people have family or at least friends that they can turn to. If you have neither, worst case scenario is that you have to pitch a tent in the woods or maybe you can sleep in your car. Water is still available to you in many forms such as rain, streams, lakes, and conveniently erected watering fountains. Air is everywhere. You can breath. So we have survived that money catastrophe.

You save up. Every cent that does not have to be used is stowed away in the bank. The little red passbook they gave you is filling up with numbers. You approach your goal and feel a glow of satisfaction at what your efforts have produced. What have your efforts produced? The passbook is only a concept. It is the variable X that represents your money. This money will be sent to State College Y where you will spend more of your time packing your mind with useful and useless things. After you spend Z amount of time at Y, you will go out into the world and make more X.

There is that job that you want. Well, if you really think about it, you do not really want the job. A job means getting up in the morning, looking presentable, arriving on time, answering to your boss, keeping on schedule, taking timed breaks, and meeting deadlines. The job is not what you want, what you want is that wonderfully complicated sealed envelope which you can unfold every two weeks to see what your time is worth. It is difficult to connect the hours you spent working the last two weeks with this little piece of paper covered in digits and signed by someone you have never met. That piece of paper is what keeps you going day after day, though. As hard as it is to connect the pay to the work, it is more of a stretch to realize the connection between that money and life. Work equals paycheck, paycheck equals money, money equals food, food is an important part of life.

Time equals money? How can such a vague concept lead us through our little lives? In the beginning, time did not equal money. Time equaled life. Time meant a chance to go into the woods and forage for berries and roots. Time meant quietly tracking a deer through the trees until you had it sighted at the tip of your spear, and then dragging the corpse home to feed the family. Ask a primitive human about his hourly wage and he will seize you up as mentally inept. He knows that an abstract concept such as currency is not worth his day when he could be skinning the buck to make himself new winter boots and curing the meat so that his family will have food for the winter.

We do not live in the Stone Age, you say. True. We do not have to stalk animals in the woods because we can go to the Shop ‘n Save and buy meat all diced and shrink-wrapped for us, you say. True. We are not Neanderthals, you say. True. I do not propose that we revert back to a primitive time, eat grub and root soup, or bang crude tools out of stone. But, we need to look back and see what their lives might have been worth and wonder what are lives are worth.

There is a difference between living and surviving. Compare Primitive Family A with Present Day Family B. Family A works hard to gather plants, firewood, and game. It appears that their lives might have been quite laborious. They did work hard to live, but they spent an average of only four hours a day securing their rightful spot in the world. Before, during, and after Family A works to secure food and shelter they spend time together, teach each other skills, talk, fight, laugh and communicate. Family B works hard also. Father B spent years in institution like schools so that he could work eight hours a day in a small office cubicle. Mother B also works forty hours a week while the children are in school. Together Parents B bring in two paychecks biweekly which just covers paying the mortgage, cable bill, insurance, and the payment on the two S.U.V.s in the driveway (Family B lives in Texas and have no need for off-roading vehicles.) After the grocery shopping is done, there is some money left over, and Mother B decides to treat herself to a shopping spree in the Victoria’s Secret catalog. Between the parent’s jobs, the kid’s school, and the extracurricular activities, the only time Family B is together is between seven and nine in the evening. They would have family time, but tonight is an “Everybody Loves Ramond” marathon and they all stare, soupy eyed, at the big screen television in the ironically titled “family room.”
The point is that through no fault of any single person or group of people, the human race has evolved into a species of hyper-driven, uncommunicative, drone-like, materialistic zombies.

Hey, hold up there, you say, I am not a zombie. I am a creatively motivated individual and I communicate with my family.
Yes, I am sure that you do all that. Good for you. Everyone who has a television in your house, raise your hand. Almost everyone should have one hand in the air. Some of us should have two hands up. Some of us do not have enough hands. It should not take a lot of effort to recall an evening when the television was on (whether it was your fault, the fault of one of your lazy roommates, or your little brother.) The Boob-Tube is blaring and you look up from your homework to see what is up. You find yourself being sucked in. Next thing you know, two hours have gone by, your mouth is hanging partially open, a string of drool is making it’s way from your lip to the table, your Spanish workbook is lying untouched, and you have to be at class in fifteen minutes. Sound familiar? And who would have thought that you would put a show about fat rich people and their trips to the Caribbean ahead of getting a good grade in a class that you really love. We are all full of these little surprises. A television is one of the best examples of the materialistic nature of people today. We buy a TV set for entertainment. The entertainment we get from it comes in the form of lives that seem more exciting, affluent, and fun than our own lives. So, we spend money on a box that shows us two-dimensional pictures of people who are spending money and having fun doing it. Why aren’t we having fun? We study these characters closer to try and see what is missing from our lives. Maybe it is that Italian leather sofa the beautiful actress is sitting on. Far be it from me to be bashing television, mine is running loudly in the next room, begging me to follow it into a land of perpetual sitcom happiness.

This brings me back to my original point: Money is not life. Time is money, money is stuff, and stuff is . . .life? If I follow the pattern that is set by the world today that is the only conclusion I can arrive at. You, me, and primitive man are all scratching our heads at this. How did it get this way? The How is not as important as the What Now. We are striving towards better lives by educating ourselves so that we can earn bigger paychecks. We used to strive towards better lives by hunting enough meat so that are family would be content with full bellies. There used to be a direct connection between time and living. Time spent equals life. Now, time is no longer correlated with living. Ever hear the phrase “Time is money, money is time.” It is an equation that money is at the center of.

If money is taken out of the equation “money is time, time is life,” then you have: time = life. So all we need to do is work on taking money out of the equation. If we took money out of the equation, where would it go? Money would not have a place in the world again. That would not work, though. Just as it took thousands of years to work money so completely into the equation of live, it could take a very long time to take it out again. You can be sure that there would be some protests if the President of the United States called a press conference and declared that Americans were too materialistic and the only thing that could be done to fix it would be to abolish currency, erase wealth and debt, and go back to the forests and hunt wildlife. We all know that our president is not overly concerned with how materialistic his nation is anyway.

The first step towards connecting time with living is to start living. Grow some tomatoes on your balcony and make a salad with them in a few months. Spend a few moments observing nature be standing in the forest and breathing the fresh air. If you have no forests at your disposal, then stick your face in the potted fiscus tree in your living room and feel its vitality. Do not sit in your cubicle and say to yourself that you cannot loose your job because it is all you have. That is nonsense. You have your health. If you must be drastic, quit your job and live by your wits in the mountains for a few weeks. Then you will at least know that you can be self-sufficient. And that job, well, there are tons of jobs out there. Maybe you wont make as much money as you used to, but, hey, money is not everything.


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