It’s overwhelming when I think about everything I don’t know about the world, to contemplate the cultures I don’t have the time or resources to absorb, the languages I won’t ever learn, the global systems I can’t fully understand with all of their intricate cogs and hierarchies. But I do know one thing: being expected to do anything for eight hours a day is barbaric. American working culture is literally killing us. We sit in our ergonomic chairs for a majority of our waking hours, and for what? To facilitate an economy so complex that professional economists can’t predict what the fuck is going to happen. How is GDP growth really integral to our well-being as a people? There are several countries with low GDP growth that are thriving. Finland’s GDP growth stands at 0.4 percent. That country has one of the best education systems in the world. Norway’s stands at 0.9 percent. That country was ranked as UN’s best country for living in a 2015 Human Development Report. And for all of our efforts in the US, where do you think we rank in global GDP growth? As of June 2016, we ranked 115th at a modest 2.6 percent. We don’t need to keep wasting resources on developing a nineteenth brand of salad dressing. We are already bursting at the seams with types of salad dressing. We need to channel our power into the thing that counts: raising healthy, environmentally conscious communities. That’s it.
To unpack that, a “healthy” community is one with universal access to a quality education, low crime, high life expectancy, affordable healthcare, tolerance, and leaders held accountable to the public. And the importance of being environmentally conscious is unquestionable. We shouldn’t let our indulgence and over-consumption lead to the exploitation of less developed countries; we shouldn’t let our indulgence and over-consumption jeopardize the future of our children and the planet they will inherit.
Wouldn’t we be better served as a society if we spent less time working and more time with family and friends, pursuing interests outside of the workplace which add value to the world in other ways (e.g., making art, learning an instrument, volunteering with kids, playing sports)? Of course, there are some who are pathologically addicted to their work, spending 10, 12, 16 hours of their day being damn diligent. Think of the professions where this happens: the associate lawyer who scrutinizes documents for the smoking gun to win the case, the bushy tailed consultant living in Dubai who doesn’t realize she’s studying up on weapons of war so she can facilitate American imperialism in the Middle East, the HMO doctor who has exactly 12.5 minutes for each of her 29 patients. While the Japanese have the word “karōshi” to describe death from overwork, English-speakers have yet to come up with a fitting term for this phenomena. I’m not arguing that people shouldn’t work eight hours or more. On the contrary, I think people should work all day long. I’m arguing that doing the same thing for eight hours is barbaric, especially if part of the proceeds from that labor trickle upward as they do in a capitalist economy. We should be diversifying our activities and reprioritizing the things that really matter: socializing, staying active, and spending time with our families to ensure the healthy development of the next generation.