We live in a world in which the “Better… Faster… Cheaper…” mindset has transformed from a noble aspiration into a cultural expectation. As a result, something that was once considered a triumph of post-industrial society has mutated into a debilitating mind-virus. This poisonous line of thinking has caused our producers to become increasingly weary and our consumers to become more and more ravenous by the day. The surprising thing is not the extreme damage this vicious cycle has done; it is our tendency to line up willingly to help keep the machine running.
While human plight has been with us throughout history, it is astonishing to see what an elaborate prison our so-called free society has built for itself. Most of our workers spend well over half of their waking hours trading their time for money, slaving away at tasks that they would rarely choose to spend their time on if they were not getting paid for it. The money from this work is then used to pay for basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter; all of which come at an incredibly high cost now that our traditional economies have been for the most part replaced by the global market.
For most families, the income they receive from their commercial work is not enough to cover their basic survival needs. Rather than turning to friends and neighbors for help, it is now possible (and easy) to borrow money from gigantic, faceless banks who will gladly extend credit to pretty much anyone who asks for it, as long as they can skim enough off the top to make the transaction lucrative. But because people tend to be so worn down by their day jobs, they end up wanting more than to simply survive. To experience more leisure and comfort in life, they borrow more and more so that they can get bigger and better toys to distract themselves from their mundane labor.
Some folks are smart enough to see this tarpit from a distance, and decide that they would rather not get caught in it. So they decide they want to get a leg up on the game by starting their own business, or by going to school. Unfortunately, this too comes at a high cost and in practice means more loans, and even more wage labor until they can get themselves established. There are other options for finding funding for these kinds of efforts, but most of them either come with just as many strings attached, or are little more than glorified lotteries. No matter how you look at it, there is no way to raise your own status in life without someone else profiting off of it in the current system.
The lucky folks who do end up rising above the run-of-the-mill wage work that most of our society is tied up in eventually find out that the grass always looks greener on the other side. As the transition is made from consumer to producer, the producer comes to realize that the population they serve is attention-starved due to their lack of available time, ruthlessly economizing due to their lack of available money that they can truly call their own, and painfully demanding because of their lack of satisfaction with everyday life. Thus, the “Better… Faster… Cheaper…” mindset becomes the new reality that the producer must live or die by, no matter what the cost is. This often leads producers to create the exact same working environment they had strived to get away from in the first place.
In this twisted world, the only winners are loan sharks and racketeers, who form a very small percentage of the population and do not need to exert all that much force to get people to play their game. While these individuals and institutions go to great lengths to extend their reach and perpetuate their own existence, they can rightly say that most folks can and do come to them of their own free will. As a result, most of our atrocities and inhumanities can be blamed on well-intentioned, hard working people who are just trying to get by in a system that is set up to work against them. This leads us to point fingers at one another rather than realize that we are all in the same struggle together, and that this is the weakness that truly evil men prey on.
The true tragedy of our lust for increased productivity is that we are only accelerating our own demise. If we took a closer look at the world and came to realize that we could direct the “Better… Faster.. Cheaper” mindset at our most basic human needs, we would rapidly change our lives for the better. It is not idealistic to envision a world in which affordable housing and wholesome food is available to all people without so much struggle. Instead, it is a precondition for unlocking the true innovative potential that exists within every soul.
If we could only remember why we learned to be productive in the first place, we might focus less on creating the next FarmVille and instead focus on how to make better farms. Rather than lusting after creating a social network with billions of “users” to force-feed advertisements to, we might focus instead on rebuilding our real world social networks that once helped us raise our children and build our houses. This would not be a step back to a more primitive time, but instead, a conscious decision to finally use the massive machine we built to serve its original intended purpose.
To sum this all up in a much more concise way: It is not our ability to be productive that counts, it is what we do with it!
Written by Gregory Brown on 30 April 2012. If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with your friends.