Wednesday 28 July 2021

The Condition of Servitude

The problem with growing up with books written before 1950 is that most of them were written by authors with the privileged leisure to write books. I generalise, but as far as I could make out, the gentlemen had gentlemanly job titles (if any) like Professor and the ladies either lived by their pen, or on the family fortune, or on their husband's income. If asked how L. Frank Baum or Lucy Maud Montgomery had fed, housed and clothed themselves, I would have assumed they received an income from the sale of their books. Perhaps they did, but what I did not know about was that there was a vast ocean of authors who never achieved anything like Baum's or Montgomery's publishing success. 

My inner script, therefore, said that--since I got A+ in Creative Writing--I was sure to make a living as an author. By the time I was 19, however, I had divined that this was easier to dream than to do, so I vaguely set my sights on an academic career. Sadly, I still laboured under the mistaken belief that if something is hard, you lack talent, and should find something to study that you are talented at, i.e. find easy. How disappointed I was to discover that Ancient Greek is really hard. I thought this meant I had no talent in it.  Needless to say, I swam in a lot of self-hatred and anxiety until I switched my major to English Literature. The A's and even A+'s came back---because of My One Talent, I thought.  

I enjoy mining my mistakes to help other people, especially young women, not make them. To recap, the first mistake I explode in this post is that any but a minority of book authors make a living at writing books. The second is that your brain is made of concrete that has hardened in a certain shape and that you are incapable of learning things you find difficult so well that they become easy tak jak jÄ™zyk polski. 

Unfortunately, both mistakes carry a heretical theological idea, which is "God must love those more/differently talented people more than me, or He would have set the concrete of my brain differently/sent me the requisite successful ideas/stamina for a bestseller." 

But I seem to have gone off-course, for what I really wanted to talk about was Jacob Lund Fisker's idea that most of us are born in wage-slavery, and it is our job to dig ourselves out. I have actually bought the book version of "Early Retirement Extreme," not because I want to retire extremely early (too late!) but because I don't want B.A. and I to have an impoverished old age. 

The time to begin preventing your impoverished old age is really when you are a teenager and earn your first paycheque. I read recently that if you manage to save $15,000 by 25 and then invest it in a tax-sheltered vehicle at 10%, you will discover when you are 65 that it has turned into $1,000,000. Of course, one problem--when you are a teenager or even 25--is that you cannot imagine being 65. Another problem is earning as much as $15,000 by age 25 although I bet if you added up all the money you have earned after taxes so far, you would faint dead away. I don't dare think about all the money I made and squandered as a teenager.

At any rate, were I speaking kindly to my teenage self today--a very good imaginary exercise, by the way, as it cheers up the teenager still residing within--I would tell myself to save 50% of everything I make for the rest of my life. One thinks of the charming child in The Pursuit of Love who hoarded all pocket money so that she could run away one day.  Perhaps the secret is giving children a goal. 

"Dear Nephews! Dear Nieces! If you save up 50% of all pocket money, all cash gifts, all summer jobs, you will be well on your way to wealth and can do anything you like when you are 40."

"Dear Auntie! We cannot even imagine being 40, so wouldn't it be better for us to buy wonderful clothes and delicious hamburgers when we out with our friends, and just trust to getting a good job that will let us do anything we like when we are 40? Also, dear Auntie, you are very old, so will you not just leave us your money?"

"Dear Nephews! Dear Nieces! First of all, I am planning to live to 102, when you yourselves will be rather long in tooth. Second, if you plan carefully, you can inveigle your parents into buying you wonderful clothes that will last the most crucial decade of saving up. (Wait until you have finished growing.) Third, you should take the lead in social plans and suggest a teenage supper club, in which you take turns entertaining at home (having banished your parents to the movies) or order the cheapest thing on the menu. Fourth, if you already know exactly what paid work you want to do and know infallibly how to get it, you are certainly an improvement on the 1970s model. Fifth, practising always saving 50% now will make it so much easier for you to do so when you are given your first paycheque for full-time work."

The most likely answer to this is loud guffaws and "Oh Auntie, you're so funny!" but perhaps it would plant seeds in their young, pliable, definitely-not-concrete minds.  

To go back to this "born a slave, must dig yourself out" analogy, one of the biggest shocks in Crean & Fimister's Integralism was the idea that being an employee is undignified. 

"Strictly speaking, whenever a person is employed by another for payment, he is in some sense that person's servant or slave," write the priest and the professor. 

 "[...] Even in the commonplace of paid employment, slavery is undesirable, for the paradigmatic form of ownership is where the labourer owns his own means of production. This is more attuned to the nature of man, whom 'God has left into the hands of his own counsel' [Sirach 15:14]," they continue.

"[...] It is in view of self-sufficiency and emancipation that the servant, that is, the man labouring for another in exchange for renumeration, labours. The condition of servitude is therefore of its very nature infantilising."

If we are to take this seriously (and your mileage may vary), it is therefore incumbent upon us to save up our money and invest it where it will work for us, sparing us the indignity of servitude. Naturally, human beings actually LIKE and NEED to work; the problem (if I understand it) is needing the paycheque. So a good compromise is to work at something you love to do and would do even if you were not paid for it. However, you must support yourself and your family, and the most lovesome work is not always the most remunerative work. The solution therefore is to slave and save until you have an "independent income." Sadly, the most effective time to do that is when you are young and compound interest works so dramatically in your favour.

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