Reaching our full potential in a postcapitalist world

In this week’s blog post, Anthony Signorelli writes about the tyranny of the office and what some would classify as a “soul-sucking” job or career. What is meant by a “soul-sucking” job is that many working professionals, particularly those working in gigantic corporations, are only concerned with carrying out the tasks or duties that their office is expected to perform. They carry out these tasks even if it goes against their values, beliefs, and even morals. This phenomenon is a direct effect of our capitalist system — the notion that “if you won’t do it, we’ll pay someone else who will.”

Many professionals go to work each day and perform tasks that are against their best judgement and their best interest. But, in a sense, they still feel as if their career is dangling by a thread — if they go against the grain, they’ll lose their jobs. And in many cases, this is entirely true. Capitalists aren’t concerned with your personal beliefs, or your personal feelings for that matter. They’re concerned about lowering the cost of production and increasing profits. For them, it’s about money; but for you, it’s about losing the opportunity to live up to your full potential.

Last week, Anthony hosted a house discussion where we all spoke about the idea of basic income. One of the guests talked about how he believes that if humans were to receive a basic income, we would eventually be capable of unlocking our full human potential. See, when we aren’t overcome with anxiety about bills, car repairs, spending an extra 20 bucks at a movie theater, or the unexpected costs that come along with being a human, we can devote much more time to focusing on the more meaningful things in life. Sounds cliche, doesn’t it? “The more meaningful things in life,” what does that even mean? Well, I always thought it meant helping around the community, caring for an elderly family member, or dabbling in new hobbies. But the guest had a much more profound idea: If we aren’t spending nearly all of our time trying to make a living, trying to “earn” that next paycheck, think of what we could accomplish! If the young man working his second job at the grocery store on weekends could set his mind to his passion, maybe he’d uncover the cure to AIDS. Maybe a group of friends could go out for drinks after a long day counteracting the effects of pollution, not after a long day sitting behind a desk. So, yeah, the more meaningful things in life — let’s find a cure for AIDS; let’s stop global warming in its tracks; let’s put all of our energy into cleaning up the world so it’s more beautiful when we leave than it was when we found it.

Think of all the corporate employees running on autopilot. They only seem content because the human resources department drills mission statements into their minds, or because they just returned from a “purpose retreat” paid for by the corporation. (Isn’t life rewarding? *eye roll*) This may seem like contentment to outsiders, but I can’t help but feel that these professionals are ignoring the truth. This is just speculation, but I assume that these people know that their jobs go against their own, personal best interests. However, many choose to ignore their conscience because they still need to put food on the table. But what kind of potential does the individuals hold? Which parts of their brain have they not tapped into? How long can their own curiosity go untended, can their self-worth diminish?

But, because we all grew up in a capitalist society, none of us know any better. I don’t know any other way of life, nor do my parents, my siblings, my boss, no one. It’s not that we haven’t seen others tap into their talents, their passions — no. It’s that we’ve lived our entire lives hearing that a “soul-sucking” job is just a part of life, everyone has to have one at some point to make a living. But why does it have to be so wretched?

As I see it, basic income would change much of this dynamic. If you receive a government check each month to cover all your basic expenses, wouldn’t you be much more inclined to find a job you love? Or perhaps it’s not a job at all — perhaps you decide to volunteer, pick up a hobby, enhance one of your talents, or meditate the day away in search of enlightenment. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to do, all that matters is that you have a choice in the first place.

Luckily, people are beginning to figure out that there is something more. We see it in the number of people freelancing, the increase in work from home positions, the variety of startups and entrepreneurial businesses popping up, particularly in metro areas. Of course, with work from home and freelance jobs, those professionals still encounter a hierarchy, but at least these setups don’t make freelancers feel that they’re part of the pyramid. In fact, gigs like this make it almost seem that the freelancer has the upper hand — that he or she is helping in a time of crisis. In many ways, this structure reflects our present culture, the belief that there is more to life than working 40 hours each week, especially if you’re able to get that work done in less time. I mean, what’s the point of hanging around the office 40 hours each week if your work can be done in 30? Although this doesn’t eradicate the corporate hierarchy, I certainly think it’s a step in the right direction.

In the future, I don’t doubt that everyone will be “working from home,” as automation takes over in factories, on the road, and yes, even in corporate offices. Perhaps people will work for money in the beginning, taking on roles that haven’t yet been perfected for automation. Or maybe they will — instead of spending hours upon hours working in an office or factory — spend time perfecting hobbies, instilling good values in their children, or giving back to the community.

In the distant future, I see a world where bartering (yep) and exchanging goods and services will replace money altogether. Where our necessities are free, thanks to 3D printing, food security and sustainable agriculture, the digitalization of most goods and services, and renewable energy. Where the most valued connections don’t happen over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even email, but in person. And where the most valued things in life are our own minds, our own creations and those of the ones we love.

Some believe that we are already living in the “new Renaissance,” but I believe that time is yet to come. At the time, aristocrats embraced and nurtured good talent, thus the art and literature, science and mathematics, and the ideas and culture flourished, leaving behind some of the greatest works of art the world has ever seen, and serving as a catalyst for modern technology in the Enlightenment period. But today, people see it as a huge risk to go to college for almost anything involving arts and literature. Yet they’re afraid to go into the sciences, as learning and training have become so cumbersome and areas of expertise have become so microscopically specific.

One thought that has crossed my mind a few times is perhaps we’re advancing technology too far. We’re reaching the point where humans will no longer be needed to advance any further. This rapid evolution in technology is why some believe that we’re already part of the “new Renaissance,” but I’d say our modern-day world compares more to that of the Middle Ages, or even the proto-Renaissance era, where fear of the unknown ruled the land.

Recognizing that fearing the unknown means always sticking to what’s familiar, what’s safe, I think that everyone should look the future with hope, wonder, and excitement. We should learn to embrace the unknown, and shape it into the insightful, creative, and innovative future we all long for.

As we sit in our cubicles listening to the click-clack of keyboards and nursing fluorescent-lighting-induced headaches, many still feel a slight, yet nagging sense of fear or panic regarding the robots that will eventually replace us in this glorious (sarcasm) desk job. (And really, how is our current reality that much different from that of a robot anyway?) But what working professionals should fear even more is the possibility that they’ll never reach their full potential — that they’ll work and waste their lives away, never knowing who they truly could have been.