Windows on the world


The Final Frontier

“Here there be dragons” warned the ancient maps, signifying land or oceans beyond our knowledge.  Eventually, these frontiers were pushed back until Mankind possessed the Earth.  Some mysteries survive, in the wilderness, the depths of the seas, but gradually the Common Man or Woman (CMOW) began to regard Space as the final frontier.  Now we have made our first tentative steps beyond Earth’s atmosphere, and modern dragons are being pushed off our stellar maps.

Which leaves us with time.  The frontier has been pushed back, as life expectancy rates continue to rise, but no-one expects to avoid the effects of time.  Yet whilst we cannot escape the consequences of its passage, we could boldly go, for there is much to explore.

Time in the Old Days

We spend huge quantities of time in dealing with life’s basics: food and shelter; sleep and safety; reproduction.  And we are spending ever-increasing quantities on life’s luxuries: leisure and entertainment; the arts and adventure.    Right through to the middle of the twentieth century, survival was paramount and there was little time or energy left for anything else.  CMOW accepted the established way of the universe presented to him by his squire, lord of the manor, priest, employer.  But now, for the first time in recorded history, CMOW can decide what to do with his life.

The first post-WW2 generation concentrated on making doubly sure of the basics, spending more and more disposable income on housing and food.  By working ever harder, there was even enough money for luxuries, although yesterday’s luxuries very quickly become today’s necessities. The next generation takes basics for granted, has education, access to information, and credit.  In theory, CMOW has freedom to choose a bespoke life style. 

Progress ~ What Progress?

The movers and shakers would have us believe that each step of progress is designed to improve the quality of life.  There is no common measure, but taking into account the rate of progress since the industrial revolution we should by now enjoy happiness, fulfilment, inner peace, serenity, contentedness, or whatever, undreamed of in centuries past.  The reality is quite different.  We have lost all sense of what is good for us.  We eat food that our bodies do not need; we fail to exercise; we acquire and display luxuries so conspicuously that we live in fear of thieves and vandals.   On a world scale we pollute and destroy; on a human scale we suffer from stress and loneliness.

Science has pushed religion, now an endangered species, to the outer fringes of the psychological map, ready to topple off the end like the dragons of old.  And with religion have gone our moral standards and so-called family values.  Politicians seem all-powerful, but they are helpless to deny scientists and all are pushed around by global enterprises.  There is no room for ethics, and society is left to flounder.

Today's Freedom

Today’s CMOW has a ninety percent chance of being in employment, with a disposable income more than sufficient to provide food and shelter for his family.  Luxuries are available.  No-one tells him what he must believe about such issues as cloning, euthanasia, recreational drugs, petty crime.  And he can search for his own meaning of life.

Before the dragons were banished from the old maps CMOW was chained to Nature, tending his fields and animals in accordance with the seasons.  When he moved into the factory he was on a different treadmill, conditions eventually improving by the efforts of unions and new labour laws. 

Now, with his education, and the information readily available, CMOW should be able to decide his lifestyle: working hours, leisure time, quiet time; spending levels on food and shelter and luxuries; activities (or inactivities) that provide him with happiness, fulfilment, inner peace, serenity, contentedness, or whatever.  Instead, he buys into a way of life laid out for him by the society he has helped create.

Quality Time

Modern society is based on trade and commerce.  Very few individuals, families, villages or even countries are self-sufficient in all things, and so there is a need for exchange.  Those who have the best items to exchange stand to benefit from this system; either those who have the good fortune to possess natural resources, or those with an economic advantage.  The latter is not easy to achieve or to maintain, and usually requires two things: an efficient use of time and materials; and an ever-expanding market.

Management handbooks advise prudent management of a scarce resource, whether that be raw materials, factory space, machines, labour, cash or whatever.  It is a moot point whether time is CMOW’s scarce resource, but certainly it is the only one that is finite.  Yet although quality is a prime consideration when we buy food, clothes, equipment, etc. when it comes to spending our twenty-four hours we give quality scant regard.

The Impossibility of Infinite Expansion

Big business needs CMOW to provide more and more time and to buy more and more product.   It might be reasonable to suppose that CMOW would resist, but he seems eager to sacrifice quality time in the endless pursuit of product.  We are always prepared to work even harder in order to afford the latest, fastest, smartest, and better still if we can have two or three.  The net result is frenetic work, over-production, waste we cannot process, and lack of quality time.  If we had time to stop and think we would know that this is a road to disaster.  The United States of America accounts for 6% of the world’s population and 30% of the world’s utilised resources.  It is patently obvious that rampant consumerism, the American Way of Life, cannot be exported round the world.  The earth cannot give sufficient natural resources and energy; cannot absorb the pollution and waste.

The consumer trend is difficult to resist.  The groups that have shouted the loudest, such as environmentalists, Islamic fundamentalists, opponents of Global exploitation, etc. have been labelled as fanatics.  But their counterparts, the proponents of the impossible doctrine of infinite commercial expansion, cannot be judged completely sane.

Consuming Wisely

Caught in the middle, as always, CMOW must make his own stance.  We do not all have to embrace self-sufficiency, but we can consume more wisely by reducing our spending and junking habits.  Which would mean we needed less income.  Which would improve the quality of some of those twenty-four hours in the day.

We cannot conquer the final frontier, but time can conquer us; can push us off the edge of the world, just like those ancient dragons.

© Harvey Tordoff
April 2002