Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to Kiwi Foo Camp, a technology-based "unconference" attended by diverse group of interesting people. The highlight of the weekend was a hugely entertaining debate on the proposition that "New Zealand is fucked". After an impressive showing by the two teams and much spirited audience participation and gleefully gratuitous use of the word "fuck" in its many and varied meanings and applications, the outcome was that New Zealand is not fucked. Whether this was a fact-based conclusion, bloody-minded optimism, testament to the amount of alcohol consumed by the participants or all of the above, it was food for thought.
Russell Brown chairs the debate
The conclusion I reached several years ago, when the impending crisis du jour was peak oil, is this: it's about time people started taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. Fair enough, we pay taxes and it's reasonable to expect our government to provide infrastructure, but it seems like people are a little too comfortable with having everything done for them. Not only that, but there's a sense of entitlement that seems unfounded and arrogant to me. Basically, I think Western society needs taking down a peg or two, and whatever global crisis it takes to do that, bring it on.
So my stance during the debate was that we're not fucked, because what we really need is a good kick in the pants – something to get us thinking proactively and responsibly and acting accordingly – and economic crisis might be just the thing. Think "spare the rod and spoil the child" on a grand scale – perhaps it's time we endured a few hardships and really earned the lifestyle we've come to see as our right. Take away a few of the luxuries that seem to have become necessities and we might make space for some of the casualties of modern society to make a comeback: community, personal and social responsibility, quality time, self-fulfilment, work ethic and meaningful, considered communication (yes I do see the irony of blogging that into the ether).
What we seem to lose with every innovative new technology and luxury is just a little bit more perspective. We want everything and more now, whether it's necessary or not, and if we can't afford it, there's always credit. Someone will always bail us out - that's what banks are there for, right?
I'm a big fan of Tom Hodgkinson, who paints a very appealing picture of returning to the simplicity of pre-Industrial Revolution life in his books How to be Idle and How to be Free, and Alain de Botton, who observes in his book Status Anxiety the increasing sense of deprivation we feel even "blessed with riches and possibilities far outstripping those imaginable by [our] ancestors tilling the unpredictable soil of medieval Europe".
"Our sense of an appropriate limit to anything – for example, to wealth and esteem – is never decided independently. It is decided by comparing our condition with that of a reference group, with that of people we consider to be our equals. We cannot appreciate what we have in isolation, nor judged against the lives of our medieval forbearers. We cannot be impressed by how prosperous we are in historical terms. We will only take ourselves to be fortunate when we have as much as, or more than, the people we grow up with, work alongside, have as friends and identify with in the public realm."In other words, our self-esteem is based on our perception of how we compare to the next guy. We've designed a world for ourselves in which we can never reach the top rung of Maslow's ladder, because we're stuck in a perpetual cycle of keeping up with the Joneses. So perhaps it's time to re-assess, to simplify and learn to live with less stuff and more appreciation for what we do have, to slow down and make space for the important things in life.
Having been subjected to my verbose opinions on these matters, my friend Nic sent me a link to this rant by Louis CK, to which I owe the title of this post. He hits the nail on the head, I feel. I've been trying to work out whether it's funny to listen to, or just a relief to hear.