The story on NPR yesterday was probably typical. In it, we heard about campaigns for Congress this coming November (still four months away, but it's always more interesting to talk about what is going to happen than what is happening.) The reporter's impression? To win in November, you (politicians) must talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. That is the mantra, the winning formula, the simplistic bumper-sticker dumbing down of complex issues for a bubble-gum culture of political discourse. The story, of course, featured real people with real problems, like the woman in Missouri who has been unemployed for well over a year now. Even though she's been getting by with contract work and other assistance, things are looking grim -- her unemployment benefits are set to expire next month. Listening to this story, my thoughts go to profound tragedy -- is this woman going to survive? Is she going to wind up homeless? Being "unemployed" myself, I think of these things; having known homeless people and heard many stories of unfortunates dying on the streets while others pass by, I realize how close we all are to the sharp edge of death. Every day, thousands of children die around the world for lack of basic clean sustenance. Will she be next? Will I?
The story went on, her story, to report that if something didn't change for her soon, there'd be no "big ticket" purchases in her future. Her problem? Her car has 180,000 miles on it, and she's going to have to get a new one. But without a job, she can't.
I have no desire to make light of this woman's situation. But two thoughts came to mind. The first: is this the depth of tragedy that awaits those who are negatively affected by the bad economy? No big ticket purchases? What about food and shelter? Does anybody in this crazy economy ever have to worry about those things? Do we ever wonder whether we'll survive? (We should.) I think the answer is yes, many of us do worry about those things, but apparently NPR caters its programming for listeners who don't -- they are more interested in how economic anxiety might play out in the grandest of all sporting events that happens every year in this sports-obsessed culture: the big game between Democrats and Republicans. The other thought was that this was a perfect illustration of how addicted we've all become to something over which we have no control. No wonder we have to rely on politicians to constantly try to "fix" the economy -- because it's irrevocably broken. We have to get jobs, keep jobs, and always get more jobs just so we can do things like buy new cars so we can get to our jobs every day. Many have been saying it, but few are listening: WE'RE A NATION OF ADDICTS!
I do wonder how we'll survive. How will we find ways to feed and shelter our families? How will we keep ourselves reasonably healthy? How will we protect ourselves? The answers to these questions are complex, I'm sure, but I can tell you what they ain't: no amount of "jobs" is going to save us. In fact, as long as we continue to rely on "jobs" we're doomed. I know this -- I'm looking for a job right now, and am worried how I'll survive if I don't find one. But I'm hoping to find a part-time job, so I can have enough time left over to do things that really matter, like learning how to wildcraft and preserve food and make clothes and all those other things that everybody did just a few generations ago before we became addicted to jobs. In fact, jobs exist and are so omnipresent precisely because they keep us dependent upon them. Remember back in the pre-welfare reform days when welfare was routinely derided because it would create a culture of dependency? How is welfare any different than jobs? Jobs drive the economy? Well, no, we have to implore politicians to create them for us. Jobs provide for the public welfare? Well, no, most of the truly important jobs are done by illegal immigrants or in foreign factories or by poor people who seldom get interviewed by NPR. Jobs less addictive? Doubt it. Why is it so important to tie health insurance to employment? That's right: to keep us addicted.
We all have work to do. If we wake up and truly pay attention, we'll see that the vast majority of it has nothing to do with our "job."