Considering its weightiness, the end of the world commands remarkably feeble engagement. At least in the short run. By which I mean few of us brood over the hot topic before its vitality is exhausted. If given attention at all I wager that it achieves preeminence only when death is at our door and by then it is likely too late to be creative about getting there. Granted there are those who for religious reasons contemplate the advantage of life after death but that is not the same as buckling down to the cerebration of what we’ll do until then. It may offend our democratic sensitivities to think we’re somehow manipulated in what we do, that we haven’t exactly got our hand on the tiller throughout most of our lives. But that is pretty much the case. While it is pushing it to say we’re all sheep, there is nonetheless merit in diminution of our lives as predictable in more ways than we’re prepared to acknowledge. Adequate reflection upon the subject is therefore timely and perhaps even urgent.
The time to think about what we’ll do until the world ends is when we’re young. A practical implication of this observation is the reconsideration of the almost militaristic drill of high school and university. It has been proven many times over that the pursuit of so-called “standard education” is not suitable for everyone and that many people are quite successful in spite of the deprivation even though they are considered unique or weird. You remember Christopher Columbus, right?
The unfortunate thing is that we don’t offer our young people a larger variety of opportunities (unless of course one adopts the corporate view that the worker bees are merely there to advance the good of the hive). If however we are to be more than a sacrificial soldier it is valuable to dedicate one’s time and energy to other than the equivalent of some television model. What’s with all the doctor, lawyer, firemen, policemen and detective series? Is there no other employment of any worthiness? And just when do we anticipate starting to enjoy life or are we just saving the best for last? My reading of many of the professional avocations is that the persuasion is to suffer now for later benefit. What are we thinking! Isn’t it even theoretically possible to derive some pleasure from what you are doing without such purposive economic gain (which let’s face it seems to be the not-so-hidden agenda)? Besides it is misleading to permit young people to swallow the glamour of television; we might as well encourage them to wear cowboy hats and ride horses. The other reality is that the professional schools are pumping out so many graduates that there aren’t enough jobs for them; or at the very least there are thousands fighting for the few that are available.
Dispensing with the namby-pamby stuff, if one takes the hardened view that the end justifies the means (to which I think frankly there is more than a little creditability) it is incontrovertible that given our limited time upon the face of this earth we should prosecute the application of our treasured time skilfully. Personally I can’t recall as a youth ever having been invited to ruminate upon the many possibilities of what to do with my life. I was merely put into a classroom, told what to read, then subsequently examined and finally moved onto the next institution which was essentially of the same structure. I ended by doing everything but what I should have done. I overlooked the real debate: “You say to me, What is the answer? And I say to you, What is the question?”
I am already hearing from certain hip people whom I know that the face of the commercial community is changing right here in River City. Among other things young people want to work from home or at least in an environment where they haven’t got to sport a tie or other formal attire. Similarly they haven’t the desire to bury themselves in a fifty-storey office building; they would much prefer to stay in a place where the countryside is not something they see only on a postcard. And they would prefer to walk or bicycle to work rather than drive or commute. Sound impossible? Not at all! What’s also happening is the identification of emerging needs, needs which can in this electronic generation be serviced from anywhere. And in the process we can offer our young people employment. Even if the adults do not take it upon themselves to examine the marketplace with a view to understanding its supply and demand, the young people themselves have seen the writing on the wall. I did for example recently talk to a young man who studies drilling at a community college. When I asked him why, his response was “Because there’s a world-wide demand for drillers and the pay is good”. Hard to argue with that thinking! He went on to tell me that there is a growing development of apprenticeship in the trades but he added pointedly that a candidate should not assume they’ll be accepted into the apprenticeship without primary qualification through a “college” certificate. He had anticipated that as well. Further he knew his Liberal Arts colleagues would be untrained to do anything in particular. He was satisfied with the narrower scope of his college education that unabashedly limited his employment options to several choices only, but at least he had options not to mention a decision in adopting those choices (which very likely were based upon what he wanted to do, not merely default or backup).
In these bold and somewhat untested ways our clever youth are changing the system and the rules. Along the way they have jettisoned many of the former motivations of their parents. They are reasoning their future not merely allowing it to unfold. I like to think this includes a practical discussion of what it takes to enjoy life and not simply to fill in time until retirement. And I haven’t much truck with anyone whose sole object in life is to save enough money to retire at thirty-five years of age (a hopelessly insipid focus which not surprisingly demands little more than utter austerity and penury). I see absolutely no reason in the world why we shouldn’t spend the capital that is our life in a manner which is both fertile and fulfilling. But we need to get rid of a lot of rubbish on the way. We mustn’t continue to shackle our thinking with vacuous aspirations or preposterous answers to pointless questions. The challenge is simple: What do we do to kill time until it’s all over?