Check out the intro piece to The Story of Money before
A while back at the age of 27 I decided to move from my home state of Montana to the San Francisco Bay Area. I had been saving up money from my work as an Affiliate Marketer and Website Developer, and I wanted to do something worthy with it. I wanted to change the world. Also, I think I wanted to be famous.
maybe thats not quite fair, this was the Montana I knew best
So, I just have to say... I've always been really good with money. I don't know what exactly it is...since a very young age, I've had a keen eye for making money. At my mother's reception for her 2nd wedding at the age of five, I was busy repackaging large bags of peanuts to resell to people, I stayed up until midnight and made $45 dollars.
I'm also an exorbitantly lucky. The Chinese zodiac says it's because I'm a midnight Tiger...people born close to midnight in the year of the tiger are supposedly quite lucky. I was born at 11:58pm, after 72 hours of grueling labor in a military base in Germany. Thanks Mom!
Financially, my family didn't have a lot of money. My parents were both the youngest children of families of 7 and 8, from Minnesota and Florida. Both families were financially stable, solidly middle class, with no obvious Ethnic qualities, just white as a couple soda crackers. They both joined the Military, my father studied Russian, my mother drove trucks. It didn't last long anyhow, they were divorced by the time I turned two. I lived with my Mother, who got out of the military and went to school to get a teaching degree. After a few years of taking both day and night classes, she finished, and managed to get a job on the Rez, up in Heart Butte Montana. She didn't talk about money much, never complained, but later I learned that her yearly salary was $18k USD. And we were probably the richest people in town.
Heart Butte is smack dab in the center of Blackfoot Country. It is a beautiful and rugged place, many people live in little dilapidated houses, with gaping holes in their floors. The wind is ever present and very strong. Wind speeds of up to 160mph have been recorded. I was in first grade, my friend Jamie was the only other white kid in town, she was a two skin :P Both Indian and Soda Cracker. Jamie was 10, her family had a four wheeler and a huge white gelding who was a pillar of patience and care. She use to come pick me up on the horse, trotting him down the road, and we'd go pull knapweed in the hills and bring it back to the tribe for $.25 a bundle.
I was born into a family that could leave the Rez. Most of these kids wouldn't have the opportunity. The unemployment rate is over 70%, and when you grow up there, you don't become socialized to the industrial and working world. Alcoholism is pretty rampant, and there are lots of wild dogs, and little kids with guns.
just kidding, sorta
That picture was taken in Heart Butte but was used on the front of a British Newspaper, I'm sure it helped their sales =) I never saw any kids with guns, but we did have a music teacher that was molesting children for three years before the town was able to get him arrested.
But that's not actually where our story goes. Work...
What do you do? [for work]
Work has somehow become central to our identity as people. On the surface it may appear to be a 'clean' appraisal of someone. After all, it has nothing to do with what color their skin is, where they grew up, what culture they're from, what language[s] they speak, or what kind of non-physical entities they believe in.
Still today, you get a bunch of men from different backgrounds together somewhere, and they're almost relieved to have some goal or focus to work on. It is easy to relate through logistical thinking because it's simple. You can take out most of the complexity of what makes someone human, and narrow the focus down to how do we fix this machine, how do we solve this problem... (I am being critical but, actually, I'm more guilty of this than anyone. I love having SOMETHING TO DO!!! Stick me in a empty room alone with someone, and it may get awkward)
Work is how we value people, consciously or unconsciously. How many of us drive past a hobo on the sidewalk holding up a sign and think to ourselves...Wow, now that's a human being I really admire. That hobo may be the happiest dude in 25 miles, he might live a wild, magical life, and be a very generous caring human. Maybe he sings heart wrenchingly beautiful songs, and takes the time to sit down and talk with people he meets. Perhaps he has the lowest carbon footprint in America, and gives away all his money soon as he gets it.
That hobo could literally live his life like Jesus, (afterall, wasn't Jesus a hobo?) and yet, when we drive past him, do we think to ourselves...gosh, that man is so inspiring, so incredible, I wish I was more like him.
Not likely. I know I don't. We tend to draw strong ideas about people(and ourselves) based on WORK. Hell, the entire mythology of our school system is to make you a 'good person' IN ORDER THAT you can obtain a good job. Once you've gotten that job, now you've made it. Now everything you've worked towards is validated, your existence is validated, and then you can start paying off your loans.
I was once sitting in a hot pool of water in the ground, in Northern Idaho.
this pool of water, in fact
Naked, with several other naked humans, we had just eaten some psilocybic mushrooms, and the massive cedar trees were starting to pulse and shimmer and bend. All of a sudden, we realize that a big group of Bikers are coming out of the woods, we can clearly see pistols strapped to their waists. My companions took it as an opportune time to exit our little hole in the ground and wander off into the forest. I stayed behind. The Bikers hike up the hill to where I'm bathing, and there's a bit of sizing each other up, some strange looks, they seem almost as stupified by me sitting naked in my hole in the ground, as I am by their densely packed harley logos (how many do you need on ONE outfit? If I didn't notice your harley sunglasses, bandana, necklace, or boots, then at least I'll get the idea from their logo splattered across the front AND back of your jacket) , and very clean looking semi-automatic pistols.
They stand around for a minute, trying to determine what they should do now that they arrived at their destination. I ask them what the guns are for, Wolves, they say.
some real Montana wolves, these ones are arctic wolves descended from some pups poached from Ellesmere Island back in the 80s
"You know, the secret with wolves", I say "is you just gotta kiss em. They're into that"
After awhile, not sure what to make of me, and perhaps sensing my own looming pile of judgements towards them, a women in the group finally looked me right in the eyes and exclaimed
"What do you do?! Work in a restaurant or something!"
I could feel her frustration. I think she actually wanted to know, but also her mind had already answered for her. I think back to it now, and it's such a beautiful moment. Here we are an hours walk or more into the lush forests of northern Idaho, nothing but blue skies, verdant forest with immense cedars so large 3 or 4 people couldn't stretch their hands around their grand trunks, and little bubbling streams of crystal clear water, and big ferns covering the soft dark soil. Deep in this place, surrounded by absolute miracle, we humans can't help but try to fit one other into a context that makes sense.
For her, that was what does this person do for a living? What's their 'place' in society? And Biker Gal, bless her heart, was unassuming enough to blurt it out, but ALL OF US think it. Well, maybe all of us. I do.
I buy into the system just as much as Biker Gal, as I gleefully think to myself at age 21,
"I made more money this month then you've made all year, and no it wasn't in a fucking restaurant." (thats a story for another time)
I didn't say that, but how easily were both of us seeing through the same lens, even as we were glaring at each other for being so gross. Also, PS...you CAN kiss wolves, and the one time I ever did it, everything went fine. I mean, maybe one time isn't a very big data set, but who knew?! He (it was a guy wolf) even had pretty nice breath for being 25 years old.
it looked prettymuch like this, except that chic isn't me
Okay, so it's pretty clear that we use peoples' jobs as an easy way to categorize where they fit into our world....so how weird would it be if I told you that hardly 700 years ago in most of Medieval Europe being dependent on 'Wage Labor' for supporting yourself and family was the lowest form of poverty. What? It's true, Working wasn't always so important to even our not so distant ancestors. Lets take this from medieval historian Ivan Illich,
What today stands for work, namely wage-labor, was a badge of misery all through the Middle Ages. It stood in clear opposition to at least three other types of toil : the activities of the household by which most people subsisted, quite marginal to any money economy: the trades of people who made shoes, barbared or cut stones; the various forms of beggary by which people lived on what others shared with them.
In principle, medieval society provided a berth for everyone whom it recognized as a member : its structural design excluded unemployment and destitution. When one engaged in wage-labor, not occasionally as the member of a household but as a regular means of total support, he clearly signaled to the community that he, like a widow or an orphan, had no berth, no household, and so, stood in need of public assistance.
In September of 1330 a rich cloth merchant died in Florence and left his property to be distributed among the destitute. The Guild of Or San Michele was to administer the estate. The 17,000 beneficiaries were selected and locked into the available churches at midnight. As they were let out, each received his inheritance. Now, how were these "destitute" selected? We know, because we have access to the welfare notes of Or San Michele Guild in proto-industrial Florence. From it, we know the categories of the destitute : orphan, widow, victim of a recent act of God, heads of family totally dependent on wage-work, or those compelled to pay rent for the roof over their bed. The need to provide for all the necessities for life off wage-work was a sign of utter impotence in an age when poverty designated primarily a valued attitude rather than an economic condition.
Hmmm..interesting. So how exactly did working for a wage go from being something that only the destitute would do, to being SO important, that to not have a job is to have no identity at all, no place in society. To be worthless. That's quite the change of stance, don't you think...one total end of the spectrum straight to the other.
Wow. So how did this happen?
*Well, thats the question now isn't it. Maybe we could blame the Lutherans, or I don't know...but isn't it strange that this idea is a relatively new one? That by medieval standards WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY DESTITUTE??!!?? Strange isn't it.