workerIn the modern world people need jobs. Employment gives us a source of income so that we can pay bills, make a home and bring up kids. We take this as both fact and inevitable, for most of us will be short a lottery win or, lamentably, independent means

It was not always like this.

For our recent ancestors [all of those humans who lived before the invention of agriculture some 10,000 years ago] it was enough to find food, water and shelter on the back of your own effort.

People hunted and gathered with their time as they sourced from nature what was needed. They lived in groups to share out the workload, spread the risk of bringing up the kids, and protect the best gathering patches, but in the end they ate what they found.

No doubt there were roles within these groups but no jobs.

We assume that the employer worker story — the perennial struggle between capital and labor — began much later and in the scheme of things very recently. Paid work probably began in earnest around the time agriculture which would mean that 190,000 years had past where anatomically modern humans had existed without a salary.

Today everyone in the western [and increasingly the eastern] world has the notion of a job and we assume that most covet one. People know the difference between employer and employee even if they may not fully understand the mobilization of capital. Except that half the people alive today find their ‘jobs’ in subsistence agriculture where all their time is taken up growing food for themselves and their family.

In many ways half the world’s people are closer to the joblessness of our ancestors, tending and gathering from their kitchen gardens, paddies and maize fields. The other half could not imagine life was possible without work. How else would the rent get paid?


Idea for healthy thinking

Do you think it is possible in mature economies to return to such joblessness or roles without jobs?

I wonder?

It is hard to imagine that we could give up our competitive natures. Money and our desire to compete for ever more of it satisfies that need without resorting to its obvious alternative of beating each other up.

After all those hunter-gatherers did more than hunt wildlife with their spears and arrows.


workstationHave you ever stared at a blank page and wondered how on earth you will ever fill it with words? Yes, it has happened to us all. Maybe it was a long time ago in the exam hall, or perhaps more recently in front of the computer as the icy cold keyboard repels your fingertips.

And yet blank pages usually end up stuffed with words. Often it is drivel, but the empty screen is patterned soon enough. Somehow we find something to say.

It is amazing how this happens. We dip into the recesses of our synapses and an idea pops into being followed by words in some logical sequence to describe the thought. Blank is transformed because our brains conjure up meaning from somewhere.

Neuroscientists claim, as they populate their own blank pages, that this learned process is all about higher brain functions communicating with the more ancient limbic system in ways unique to humans. Something about our frontal cortex physically enveloping the base of the brain.

As maybe, only this inevitable mechanistic explanation sounds like an apology. Why not admit that we have no idea just how staring at a blank page can yield nothing, or a page of drivel, or on those very rare occasions a masterpiece.

There was a blank page before Shakespeare came up with “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Enough said.

After many decades trying to fill pages and screens with drivel from technical reports to blog posts, I believe that the inspiration that finds the idea and sets the words in motion is with us all the time. A portal if you like that can connect us to all the ideas in the universe. Only we constantly forget where it is and how to open it.

If we are tenacious or stubborn we find tricks to get around this amnesia. Reading related material, preferably of poor quality, often opens the portal for me, as does a tedious conference presentation. Something ego related happens when exposed to someone else’s drivel. It fires up my competitive instinct.

“You see,” says the neuroscientist. “It’s all about the limbic system.”


Another trick I use is to find a place to write. A spot where there is nothing else to do or has been done other than fill the blank page. The first draft of ‘Fences’ an as yet unpublished novel was written long hand on the train. By the way if anyone wants to read a ripping yarn about Jacob Morafe’s adventures as an African game ranger, let me know. Someone has to be the first to read a future bestseller. It could be you.

But I digress. Any actions taken to help fill the page are just triggers to achieve the portal and you will have yours. It is the mystery of the muse.

And there you go. Before you know it another 500-word post has appeared on a blank page. Drivel or not, it is as much a necessity for those afflicted with the writing curse as the limbic system was for our early survival.


Idea for healthy thinking

Here’s a thing.

Is this portal, the mythical link to the inspirational power of the universe, just the moment when we connect with each other?

Drivel or masterpiece is only known by how much it connects with other people. Somehow the masterpieces resonate.

I like this idea. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this were to permeate all the fluff that fill screens and clogs printers every day. So instead of just covering up the white space of the page, we waited for the good stuff.

“Nice thought Mark, but tell that to the limbic system.”

Happy thinking.

Away team

StarTrekPhotonTorpedoThe instant a photon torpedo rents the hull of the USS Enterprise, the explosion ejects hapless crew members into the vacuum of space. Red and blue arms spiral over black booted legs into the ether.

It is always a haunting image that mixes death with vast emptiness.

And yet there are worse ways to go. Being hit by a bus or the ravages of a carcinoma seem much nastier.

Imagine the same scene on the Enterprise in super slow motion. In this version nano-seconds become months or even years. Now the torpedo is visible. It takes forever to deliver the inevitable, the fusilage opens without force and the air feels still rather than explodes. It takes a long while for the expression on the faces to change and the reality of consignment to cold emptiness doesn’t seem sink in at all.

You see we  respond to real and present danger with fight, flight or freeze [the last one being a recently discovered ability of our brainstem]. These core instincts trigger when the scene plays in real-time, but slow it down and we just don’t feel the same. Our brain just says ‘get on with it already’ and finds something else to think about.

Now imagine that the developed world is the USS Enterprise. It has been hit by a photon torpedo. Disabled and defenseless, its contents fly into the depths of space. Only this is happening in super slow motion. So slowly that nobody has the attention span to notice. The crew are still blindly going about their business as usual.

We don’t see that there is no leadership, no options or ideas to deal with the situation, and no James T Kirk to save the day. It is all happening so slowly that there is no drama in it and nothing to hold our attention.

It is as though Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu and all the other members of the flight deck, right down to the unknown ensign, have all gone on the away team. The only ones left on the bridge are nameless crewmen who are ultimately anonymous and dispensable making ready for their cartwheeling exit.

We remember Lincoln, Kennedy, Churchill and their ilk because they were leaders. Few will remember modern politicians for they behave like the dispensable extras. Nothing is expected of them.

Our real problem is that we cannot speed up our scene. It is designed to play out slowly, far slower than our instincts can detect. Even the moderating effects of the limbic and frontal cortex of our brains that have helped us to slow things down, to plan and to think can’t see the rent coming. We cannot see the consequences of leadership loss ejecting us into the true emptiness of the universe.

And for this we must be eternally grateful. For if we knew what was coming it would be chaos as we are overtaken by fear. At least without leadership we can stay blissfully ignorant.

Thank goodness Kirk are still on an away team.