In The Original Affluent Society, anthropologist Marshall Sahlins proposed that members of hunter-gatherer cultures worked far less than members of our own culture, making their living in only three to five hours a day. The rest of their time was leisure. Hours upon hours of farting around.
Can you imagine being that free?
What would happen if making your living took only a few hours a day instead of 40, 50, 60 hours a week? What if you could earn enough money to live well in only three to five hours? What would you do with the rest of your time?
What would enough money look like? Would it be twice as much as you have?
Can you imagine it being half as much?
I'm wondering these things as I read the dire forecasts for our economy, resonant with the drumbeat of retail woes and massive job layoffs. The latest figures for unemployment are unnerving. How can there be so many people without jobs when there is so much important work to be done?
Do you feel the disconnect? We're trained to make money and spend money. Everything depends on it. But the cat is out of the bag, the secret's revealed, the emperor is buck-naked. Our capacity to earn money is largely beyond our control, and our ability to spend is problematic. Shopping itself has become a moral issue. We know we can't continue to consume the planet, but what happens when we stop consuming? Our economy falls to pieces.
Well, sooner or later the economy has to fall to pieces. It's inevitable. Nature bats last.
Still, there is plenty of shopping going on this holiday season. Parking lots around town are full. Maybe we can't help ourselves. Maybe it's vestigial, a leftover from those hunter-gatherer days. We're born to glean, drawn to shiny.
I just wonder how we'll take to the paleolithic work day, once nature has her ups.