May 9, 2021 • 23M

198 The Space To Think

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Larry G. Maguire
The Sunday Letters Podcast is the weekly audio newsletter from organisational psychologist Larry Maguire on the meaning & purpose of daily work and our paradoxical relationship with it. We explore how we may break free from tiresome means-to-an-end labour and take command of their own working lives. Topics include solo working, careers, entrepreneurship, small business economics, society and culture. Content follows the written newsletter, which goes out to subscribers every Sunday.
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There’s a quote I read recently on the student debt situation in the US attributed to Noam Chomsky that goes like this…

“Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt, they can’t afford the time to think. Tuition fee increases are a “disciplinary technique,” and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the “disciplinarian culture.” This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.”

As I sit at my desk this morning feeling the mild yet important sense of urgency to get invoices issued, allocate client payments, and generally get my business affairs in order after a lengthy pause, I realise that this quote applies to us all and in all circumstances. Pressure to fulfil certain obligations focuses the mind, ignoring all other demands for our attention. Where those obligations are financial, and given that money or the lack thereof is often the difference between living and dying, it tends to keep us from matters that are arguably more important to our survival.

The social and cultural imperative to earn and contribute weighs heavy. The idea is so utterly ingrained in our psyche that not to follow the pre-written script for a successful life leads us to believe any alternative to the current system inconceivable. Not to have a degree, for example, is to consign oneself to flipping burgers or sweeping the street and low if that’s the career we want for ourselves or our children. Arguably, an undergraduate degree is not worth the paper it’s written on, given the number of people that hold one. A Masters is hardly even enough to distinguish you from your competition these days.

And perhaps that’s the problem. We’ve entered a game, the only game in town, it seems, that can possibly bring about a life worth living, but it has the opposite effect to the one it promises. It’s almost unquestionable that young people should do anything other than enter college. Machines make furniture and build houses, so manual work is all but gone. And what’s left is so below the required cultural status, it’s not even considered. To do so is to go against the grain and pre-written script of education.

Stephanie Kelton on David McWilliams Podcast

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