Sunday, December 7, 2008


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?

Or less?

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.


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. And about what constitutes "affluent" anyway. So much mental illness and distress in our culture. Is that the price we pay (in addition to the loss of so much time) for stuff?

    What an interesting man this Sahlins is. Thank you for the link, I'll be checking him out some more.

  2. Hi Peggy! Thanks so much for letting me know you enjoyed my guest post! Of course I read your post for "Emergence" with great interest. I'm afraid I just don't have much time at the computer (moments are stolen while my 3 year-old isn't looking :) and didn't get a chance to let you know how much I appreciated it. In light of your "Enough" post I'm happy to report, though, that I only work one 24 hour shift in a hospital once a week (that works out to the paleolithic 3-5) hours/day a week! My husband only works occasionally doing freelance graphic design and writing. So most of our time is spent with our child and building community (my husband is also a fabulous citizen/political activist, but not paid). We don't make much money - we have a simple and very rich, wonderful life! Thanks again for connecting with me and sharing your writing! All the best, Stacey


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