Life is Hard
Seems obvious. But, it’s not.
Or, at least, we forget it frequently. In 21st century America, we have this unspoken, unchallenged assumption that if anything goes wrong in anyone's life (especially ours), it is a failure of “the system” and “they” should do something to fix it. And someone, usually some greedy corporation, should be held accountable.
There are utopians among us. And they think – either overtly or just from not actually, really thinking at all – that the natural order of things is prosperity and comfort and health and happiness.
The actual “natural” order of things is not good. You would not like it.
The natural state of man was well-understood by Thomas Hobbes in 1651, when he accurately described human life without the structure of civilization as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Keep in mind there were no Republicans in 1651. Nor was Donald Trump (or Joe Biden) a member of the Nazi party. And there were no capitalist corporations sponsoring the Rwandan Genocide or the Soviet Gulags.
“OK, so the past was bad,” says The Woke One. “But, who cares? That’s ancient history. There is no excuse now – in our modern, enlightened world - for anyone to suffer. Especially in the United States, the richest country in history.” We all deserve better (just listen to current TV commercials – apparently the word deserve scores well in marketing focus groups).
Everyone is expected to be able to live an affluent life with all the stuff they want and without any discomfort for 80+ years (“and no one would want to live longer than that, anyway, because, like, you can’t look hot at that age,” thinks Gen Z). So, any instance of that not being the case is a cause for some kind of lawsuit. “They” need to do “something about it.” Always meaning, really, the federal government (which inevitably works great – because the federal government is so efficient and helpful and empathetic and so good at problem-solving and results and accountability).
A while back, Abraham Maslow came up with something called “The Hierarchy of Needs.” Abe's list of the most basic physiological needs has 7 items. The first one is our most urgent. Fortunately, it is ubiquitous and free and takes essentially no conscious effort for most people. It is air. We need to breathe. Great; no problem there.
The next one is water. Most Americans can get water for free (though lots of us seem to enjoy paying for it). Clean water is a big deal. And it’s not easy to get - tragically, hundreds of millions of people worldwide don't have it. As an American, you don’t give it much thought, but for you to have clean water to drink – more or less on demand – requires a lot of planning and effort and infrastructure.
The next need is food. That requires a lot of work on the part of a lot of people.
And then there's clothes and shelter (for now, we will leave the last two needs, sleep and sexual intercourse, out of this). For you to have all those needs fulfilled, someone has to do a lot of work. In a just universe, the person doing that work would be … you. “Hold up,” you say, “I wouldn’t even know how to do all of that, much less have the time or the energy to do it!” Correct. You don’t. Neither do I. Left completely on our own, all of us (with the possible exception of Bear Grylls) would suffer and die – pretty quickly.
But, fortunately, there is this magical thing called capitalism. With it, I get to do the best I can at what I can, and then I get to trade that for all those things I need – and maybe some things I want. Capitalism works so well that most of us don’t give enough thought to how much it takes just to feed and clothe and shelter us.
Because we have been so blessed in America, we actually produce more than we need. Consequently, some number of us actually don’t have to work. So, some of us don’t. At least two problems with that:
1. If enough people don’t work, the whole thing collapses,
2. Those who can work but don’t (and still demand to have their needs met), are essentially enslaving others.
And another thing
Understanding that life is hard - and that we are fortunate - should make us grateful (which has a terrific positive impact on you and those around you, btw), but it should also make us cautious. Specifically, it should make us skeptical about radical change to the society and structure that has brought us to this point. As Hobbes pointed out, there is serious potential downside.