My life is, in most measurable ways, much worse than it has been in decades. I’m probably at just about the lowest point I have ever experienced. The idea that it is going to improve much from here is difficult to believe. I have no money. It’s unlikely that I will ever have any. I have been on the edge of the abyss, both intentionally and not, more times in the last 3 years than I have in the 53 preceding them. Homelessness is never far from me. Death is always at its heels.
From that point of view, I ought to be miserable. If I measured my happiness only in material form, my depression would have beaten me as surely as Rawlings once put one of my alter egos, Frank, on his back on the mat looking up through eyes obscured by his own blood dripping into them. (It’s in a story I wrote nearly 40 years ago. “The Boxer” was written when I was in materially better condition.)
And for all that, I am, in many ways, happier than I have been in my life. At this moment, I’m sitting at my computer, typing this. I just finished another Star Trek book while sitting in the backyard with my soda, a pack of cigarettes, and a very nice bowl donated to me by my best friend’s boyfriend, who is also my landlord. Phil Collins is singing “If Leaving Me Easy,” my soda is on the desk to my right, and, for this moment, I can think of nothing else I would rather be doing.
It can be argued that I am lazy. That may even be true. I’m not convinced, anymore, though, that Sloth is a sin. The universe can continue to unfold whether I go and do unpleasant and exhausting activities or not. I’m not hurting you by sitting here. You could argue my food stamps are taking your tax dollars, and I have no right to that. I would disagree. You know me, by now, well enough to know I’m an Idealist. I believe all of us deserve the basics of living, simply for being here, and because life is all too brief to waste it on unhappiness. In either case, I am living within the system that is now present, and I am finding my own way as best I can.
And I am spending my time in ways I find to be best for me. I had no alarm clock to destroy my morning. I still have them in my life, but not with the daily horrors they once held. On Sunday, I had to face a 3:30 AM alarm so that I could get to Prescott to teach my Defensive Driving Class. The real fear wasn’t just the alarm. It was that I might end up in the hospital in the time following it. It’s dangerous for me any time I exhaust what is left of my body. I just got out of the hospital, for the 13th time in 3 years, last week. But I redoubled my efforts to ensure my health was as good as I could make it, and I took the necessary precautions to allow myself to help myself when I was so far from home. I had both food and insulin with me at all times. I needed the food, but the insulin was left untouched. I did well. And now I don’t have to face that horror again until next Sunday. Until then, I am free to choose what to do with the time that is given to me. And I find happiness in that.
Would I be better off going back to my last post-teaching job selling DirecTV to unsuspecting old women? I would then be earning money, but I would despise myself again. I’m not making the world better; I’m making it worse. I’m depriving people of their money by offering them something that isn’t worth what they’re spending. They submit themselves to commercials that interrupt whatever they might have been enjoying prior to their invasion. Netflix is cheaper by far, and it’s free of commercials. I see no contribution to the world in my efforts. I see only that I am trading the minutes of my life for little green pieces of paper. I would rather have the minutes and do with fewer dollars. I can do good things with my minutes. This is one of them.
I get to experience some happiness this way. Is there more I would like? Certainly. I would be thrilled to have enough money to go to California every time Sara Niemietz and Snuffy Walden play. I would love to be able to have nicer equipment for my podcast and my videos. I could really use a new backup drive for my music. A nice car would be lovely. But, I can live without those things, and I can find happiness in what is available to me.
Gandalf told us, “All we have to decide is what we should do with the time given us.” I think we all need to be more capable of making those decisions. I don’t believe life should be merely a struggle for survival. I don’t think it has to be. I think we can do better as a civilization for those who inhabit this planet, if we decide we want to do that. I would never want to dictate to people what to do with the time given to them. But I would very much like for all of us to be able to decide.
How can we help them do that?
I’m not in charge of the world, and I make decisions for no one but myself. But, for those who do have the power, I would recommend this: Give all of our citizens enough money to ensure they can meet their basic needs, and then let them each decide how to better than themselves, and for some of us, how we can better the rest of humanity. What are the logistics of this? I don’t pretend to be an economist, but Andrew Yang, a fairly obscure Democratic Presidential Candidate, has some ideas about how to do this. If you don’t like his ideas, there are others that might accomplish the same goal that you might consider. My concern isn’t the logistics; it’s the idea. How can you object to the idea that our citizens ought, actually, to be Free?
Freedom isn’t merely the absence of coercion. Freedom is the ability to see choices, and the education to select the choice most likely to bring about the desired outcome.
If there is one thing upon which all Americans, whether they be Democrats or Republicans, Socialists or Capitalists, Atheists or any variety of Theists, Anarchists and Legalists, all agree, it is that we should be Free. Freedom is the first door that must be opened before anyone can begin the endless search for happiness, for meaning, for purpose, or for passion.
Let’s free our citizens from the oppression of poverty. Let’s not worry about what they will do with their lives once they are free. If we really believe we must enforce The Puritan Work Ethic with the threat of poverty, of homelessness, of death, I don’t see that we’re The Land of the Free and The Home of the Brave. Life need not be unduly unpleasant in order to be worthy of living. For this moment, I have the Freedom to enjoy the Time that’s been given to me by my choices. For this moment, so do you, lest you wouldn’t be reading this. Freedom is the natural state of life. Let’s work together to find a way to allow people to spend their lives doing what they want. Let’s find a way to set humanity free.
What have I decided to do with the time given to me? I’m going to try, and almost certainly fail, to change the world. What will you do with yours?