This post was first published January 13, 2009. For reference, Caroline was 27 months old when I originally wrote this. I am republishing it with only a few little edits for readability and updated commentary indicated in italics. I encourage you to take the link to the post “When Belief in the System Fades” that I link to in the body of the post. Think about what we are living through right now in light of that.
How do you plan for a future that doesn’t exist?
This post has been coming on for a long time. I’ve been turning these ideas over and over, expanding on them through reading, discussing, etc. I do want to start with a disclaimer though. A Christian’s ultimate faith is not in any earthly system. It is in Christ and His work of redemption on the cross. Period. However, as believers we do have to make our way in this world and interact with the world systems. So that is what I am writing about. Not that the systems of this world should be the focus of our hope, but that we do need wisdom to discern how to interact with them.
In order to fully understand where I’m coming from, you would probably do well to read When Belief in the System Fades and Perspire to Retire (archived on WayBack Machine). Both of them offer some helpful background, especially the first one.
Changing Your Views and Exiting the System
As I’ve been writing book reviews for Suite101 (now defunct), I’ve been revisiting many of my favorite books on the topics of simplicity and simple living. It is interesting to pick them up now that I am a mother. My life has changed. The structure of my life has been altered. Things jump out at me that didn’t when I read them before.
But not only has my life changed substantially in that I became a mother, it has also changed in that my views on many things have changed or been refined. Perhaps I’ve grown older and wiser. Perhaps I’m a little more critical and cynical. I think our country has undergone tremendous changes over the past ten years and as I’ve observed and been impacted by some of those changes it has quite literally made me a different person.
Charles Hugh Smith writes the following in When Belief in the System Fades:
…today’s elites cannot operate the vast complex structure of the the U.S. economy, government and society themselves. They need hundreds of thousands of well-educated, hard-working people to believe in the system of meritocracy, justice, opportunity, etc., people who will choose to invest their entire productive lives in sustaining the structure the elites influence/control.
The corollary to this structural need for highly motivated, dedicated people to work the gears is that if their belief in the machine fades, then the machine grinds to a halt.
In the Armed Forces, the key layer of staffing is in the middle: lieutenants, captains, chief petty officers, etc. If those non-coms and junior officers leave the service, the Force is essentially gutted, regardless of the generals and admirals and high-tech weaponry and the valor of the recruits.
There is some evidence that just such a migration is occurring.
In a large law firm, the essential layer is the hungry-to-be-partner attorneys who labor insane hours for years, enriching their bosses as they pursue the carrot of “partner.”
In every case, the person takes on the burdens in the belief that their career will be enhanced and they will make more money/gain more prestige. Yes, we all understand this. But they also must believe in the structural fairness, justice, opportunity, security, meritocracy, etc. of the machine they willingly serve–even if their belief is subconscious or rarely in their conscious thoughts.
This belief is far more vulnerable than the Powers That Be seem to understand. You see the alienation, the bitterness, the disbelief, in factory workers when the factory shuts down, and their livelihoods are gone–and all too often, so too are the pension and benefits they were promised.
You see it in the face of an academic who worked long hours for years “on the tenure track,” carrying much of the department’s teaching load, when she/he is ultimately denied tenure. Thank you for working for $40,000 a year for years alongside people doing the same work for twice the salary; good night and good luck.
When the most dedicated servants of the system awaken to the realization that they are not benefitting from their service as they’d once believed, that their near-religious faith in the System has been bruised by the grim knowledge that the few are benefitting from the lives and sacrifices of the many, then they simply quit, or move down the chain to an undemanding position.
I’m a product of the 1980s in that I went through high school and college during that decade. If any recent decade promoted the idea of work hard and be rewarded with success, I think it was the 80s. But I no longer believe in the system much at all. I no longer believe that if you work hard you will be rewarded with success. It has been little things and big things that have brought me to this point, but my belief in the integrity of the system as a whole is about zero.
Deliberately Choosing A Life Not Enslaved By The System
When David and I started making changes in our lives, it was motivated more by the desire to pursue a different lifestyle than we saw around us. I think we understood the ridiculousness of slaving to the system, but we had not discerned just how bad the whole thing was and is. We still believed the system worked, but we weren’t willing to make the huge sacrifices we saw we would have to make in order to be successful in the system.
For example, my gifts and strengths would have made it very possible for me to become a principal or other school administrator. But there was no way I was willing to sacrifice my health and personal life to do so. It simply was not worth it. The same went for David. He had no aspirations to work in a prestigious design studio. The stress and sacrifices were not worth it.
We’ve been on this mostly great, sometimes crazy, occasionally really depressing, but always worth it journey of owning our own business for seven years. God literally dropped the opportunity in our laps. We had prayed about it for some time, but God brought it about in a way we could not have predicted. In many ways, having this business has taken us “out of the system.” We’ve lived what Smith is talking about.
On my mind lately is how do we continue to work our own business and still find ways to interact with a system that is essentially bankrupt and broken? What is going to replace the current system and how will that impact us? How do we prepare for a future that no one can even really fathom at this moment? Social Security? 401ks? Retirement? Everything people were told to believe has been radically changed in recent months. How do we prepare to work and live for the next twenty to twenty-five years?
Sorry, there are no neat and tidy conclusions to this post. Just questions and food for thought.