A Letter To The Rat Race

In recent years, toxic productivity has been brought to light and discussed amongst mostly those in their 20s-30s, (mostly millennials/generation z) in response to the epidemic that has become the rat race. Not only have we have fallen into hyper-civilization, but many of us have been conditioned to desire it, accept it, and think to live without it rather unimaginable, even if it meant peace of mind and happier life. Many members of the work-force- take wall-street stockbrokers, for instance, or corporate attorneys (maybe I’m just stereotyping here)- think of not only themselves but the world we live in as incapable of resembling a life like that encouraged by Jean Jacques Rousseau in his "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality." It’s very possible that they wouldn’t even desire it, even if they saw it as appealing, because, then, how would they survive in a world moving at a pace so much faster than them? It would require leaving the current society to go into nature or take a sabbatical to an island or less developed country. But that’s generally considered a vacation, not a sustainable way of life (unless you have already spent so many years working in a hyper-civilized, rat race world to the point of being able to “retire” blissfully). And even when on vacation, when’s the last time you didn’t check your emails or text messages? The last time you spent an entire day living, even if it is just laying on the grass or the sand, without checking social media, causing you to miss the birds flying near you? 

After the emergence of factories, public time, rather than our own sense of it, became the conductor of our lives and imposed upon us the speed with which factory assembly lines run. If we fail to adhere to it, then we are, in the eyes of the rat race, failures. If we don’t keep up with early school or work schedules- failure. If we don’t find a job right after college- failure. If we choose to live our lives at a more slowed-down pace- failure, because this probably means working for ourselves which, until we can monetize doing so sufficiently, is looked down upon. If we’re happy making $50k a year when we could be making $200k working corporate- idiot. Technology also had/has no intention of slowing down. Thanks to propagated consumerism for the sake of profit, technology has inserted itself into every aspect of our lives. We no longer write letters, we text; we no longer learn directions, we use GPS systems, even if it’s to go to the corner store (Seriously, it’s a problem. We don’t even know our local neighborhoods anymore). We no longer feel the need to go to bookstores and spend a calm time browsing through books that we may or may not buy. Instead, we buy a Kindle version that doesn’t even let us write notes in the margins. It is no longer expected of us to spend time cooking when a $14 avocado toast that costs $3 to make is across the street, allowing us to prep for our meeting instead of wasting time cooking. It is no longer expected of us to walk outside of our homes in the morning when the elliptical in our garage can show us a scenic walk on a screen and the news at the same time; not even to choose what music we play when Alexa plays for you all of the top hits for you to mindlessly listen to. What’s even more daunting: many of us feel as if we don’t have the choice to do any of the more grounding, present, intentional Rousseau-like activities because they would take more time- time that, according to our Zoom meeting calendar, we do not have and, according to the fast-paced produce-as-much-as-you-can society we live in, is not worth creating the time for because they won’t make us, nor who we work for, money. They wouldn’t be “productive.” This past year, during quarantine, many felt what it was like to be bored or have “nothing to do” for the first time in a long time.

That last bit sounded a bit pessimistic, but I don’t think it’s too far from the truth. Ever since I started school in this country, I do not remember a time where I didn’t feel the pressures of having to produce. Stress, depression, and anxiety are at an all-time high the further we move into time, and that’s not a coincidence. I don’t think Rousseau’s complaints are unreasonable. I don’t expect anyone to suddenly reverse the effects of the evolution of civilized society on themselves and go live in a cave, but that doesn’t necessarily make a more present, calm, free life impossible. Just take a look at the Italians that we all envy so much for their pizza, pasta, and wine. Or even the Spanish for their shameless naps. Again, probably stereotyping, but the point is that we can conceptualize the idea of working to live instead of living to work.