What Next?

Shashank Reddy

Let me begin with a proposition- The modern economic system revolves around money, it places financial riches at the centre of all economic activities and success is measured through a strict hierarchy, wherein one needs to reach a certain position to be called ‘successful’. This proposition is neither new nor novel and has been critiqued and defended extensively over the last two centuries. But whether we like it or not, this proposition is self-evident and undeniable. The question we must tackle therefore is not what the economic system is or what it was but what it can be in the future.‘Modernity’ as we know it revolves around a few central tenets: Mass consumerism, Dedicated jobs (with all the paraphernalia, like dedicated work hours, overtime, salaries etc) and a tendency towards strict compartmentalization in the different spheres of life. From the time we are capable of any sort of understanding, one the of the first questions we are asked is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This, combined with a number of other societal reinforcement mechanisms (such as ‘settling down’), leads us to believe that a full and happy life is lead when one is in a job that pays a monthly amount and success is measured by how far you get in that job (or what is called ‘career’). Central to this dogma is the idea that you need to keep making money to lead a peaceful life sometime in the distant future and to meet your familial commitments and the only way to make that money is to be straitjacketed into a career path. This dogma however is only a by-product of a socio-economic system where financial wealth (and the spending of such wealth on frivolous items) is automatically equated with being ‘successful’.
Human life cannot be confined to the four walls of a 3×3 cubicle and a 12 hour workday in the hope of a fatter bonus which will possibly be spent on a phone that is slightly more sleeker and more expensive than the one you have now (but is not different in any other manner) or consumption of other such goods you are forced to believe you need. A human being is therefore turned into an industrial cog in the vast global machinery of capitalism. This argument is not mine but Karl Marx’s (yes, the same) who identified this de-humanization of mankind as the central problem of Capitalism (though unfortunately, his ideological descendants themselves seem to have forgotten this).
Even if arguendo we were to accept that such notions of success and modernity and ideas of living life were necessary to ensure a certain level of social and economic development, when we have arrived at such a level, what happens next?
Across the world there are a number of organic movements a foot that try to re-define notions of the ideal life, of the work space and ‘jobs’ and that seek to build a new socio-economic order revolving around, not the pursuit of money, but culture or nature or personal independence or all of the above together. This is evident in the new entrepreneurial culture of San Francisco, in the new ideological discourses in Japan and in the increasingly self-assured arguments of the indigenous peoples of the world, where the quest to be perennially on top is being challenged by ideas that argue for the right to ‘live’, where culture and arts and the desire to take the three day trip to Goa become the central focus of mankind. Success becomes more and more self-defined and instead of massive corporations, there is an increasing focus on small enterprises, anchored around widespread use of open source technology, that provide both financial security and personal independence.
The ‘modern’ world we are currently living in is a carefully constructed economic model that reduces human beings to an economic input, wherein life revolves around the all important workplace, purposefully compartmentalization every aspect of life, such that it becomes nearly impossible for an average person to be in two seemingly polar opposite fields at the same time. It is time to look beyond such a degrading construct of human life to a worldview where money becomes but an ancillary object of one’s life and work doesn’t leave the worker to do anything else that resembles true human achievement.

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