Sunday, 25 March 2012

Live Longer; Work Longer (The Myth of Progress)

Another entry on my favourite bugbear (apart from existence): work. In last week’s UK budget the Chancellor announced that the state pension age would now be linked to increases in human longevity. The prediction appears to be that from around 2030 people in the UK will have to work until they’re 71 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/mar/24/state-pension-retirement-graduates ).

What this really brings home for me is the emptiness of the progress myth. Back in the 19th century, all of the Utopians thinkers (Fourier, Marx, etc) were predicting that industrial developments would inevitably reduce the amount of human labour undertaken and free up people’s lives. Instead we are seeing the opposite. As medical research and health development has lengthened life, child mortality has dwindled, populations have boomed, and so more material goods, food and living space is required for the 7 billion + bipeds to live. Hence the amount of required labour time has increased, not decreased, a wonderful example of the Janus-faced nature of so-called “progress”. Furthermore, leisure is no longer associated with the rich. According to recent studies, the richest are working the hardest and longest; only the poor are idle. This represents quite a turnaround from previous eras when those at the top enjoyed their “cultured” leisure while the masses toiled. This strikes me as remarkably pointless: you work more and more and accumulate more wealth so as to.......work more and more. Of course, the old hedonic treadmill and keeping up with the neighbour factor come into play here. Can’t afford to be seen to be slipping behind in the rodent status league!

To finish, this connecting of work to longevity also provides yet another incentive not to reproduce. Anyone in the UK who has a child now can be reasonably sure that the product will be forced to toil for even more of its existence than previous generations of Homo Rapiens. So the parents gooy-wooeying over their DNA dolls can rest assured that when they’re long in their graves, their sperm and egg mutants will still be hunched over the desk/machine toiling away, waiting and waiting and waiting until they can be released from their labour, so as to begin the steep descent back to the nothingness from whence they came and would have been better off never having been extracted from.

44 comments:

  1. Karl, this one hits me where it hurts. I can't really add anything to what you've said, other than to tell you I think about it all the time. Tied to the wheel.

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  2. Thanks, Jim. Yeah, the whole scenario is just so horrifying and depressing. And it holds for 95%+ of the human race. I really must write something on the fact that the media is run by an elite 2% who are generally well remunerated for writing about what they wish and who believe that "we" as a species are marching ever closer toward that glorious city on the hill. In the meantime, the 95% toil silently. At least fora like the blogosphere allow us to vent. I'm put in mind of a line from Celine: "One night all of the happy people should be put to sleep once and for all; then the rest of us will be free to be as unhappy as we please". A nice thought for the day:-)

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  3. In last week’s UK budget the Chancellor announced that the state pension age would now be linked to increases in human longevity. The prediction appears to be that from around 2030 people in the UK will have to work until they’re 71 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/mar/24/state-pension-retirement-graduates ).
    F ... U ... C ... K!

    Will be nice if child support is withdrawn only after people turn 40 or something, accordingly. =) I always believe financial backing should be given until someone becomes a parent oneself.

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  4. Homo rapiens! So awesome a pun!

    Nothing to add to your post. Brilliant.

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  5. Amazingly well said. I wish I knew what to punch in response.

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  6. Has anyone had the particularly hellish experience of working nights? I truly, without any exaggeration, felt like one of the living dead. Had I not been able to extricate myself from that situation, I could see myself as now being dead.

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    1. Ironic, I always loved working night shifts, compared to the other shifts anyway.

      I think we should not be overly pessimistic about the rich voluntary workaholics. They would be wealthy enough to cut down on their hours, after all. Some of them could opt out of work completely without being harassed. Unless they are very irrational, their work can hardly be a source of such great additional suffering that we should be concerned for them. It is the involuntarily suffering beings we should focus on. Most people are irrational, but most people are also selfish; I mostly trust rich people to prevent their own work-related misery, so no intervention is needed there.

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  7. This post kind of sums up my own views- humanity as a straight jacketed lunatic thrashing about on a desert plain. Something is going on, but it is all pretty much pointless and not part of a bigger thing. Then we (and all we know) are buried by time and dust.

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    1. hen we (and all we know) are buried by time and dust

      and eventually not even that - possibly as soon as 10^40 years from now IF "proton decay" is proven to be real (but that's not a certain thing, which is why I usually don't use this in AN arguments). Bottom line: without protons, atoms are not possible. Without atoms, dust (or DNA) is not possible. Even if proton decay does not come to pass, our atoms'll eventually get sucked into black holes. And after the black holes disappear? Well, essentially nothing other than the occasional electron and photon. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Dust to black holes, black holes to ... the occasional photon or electron.

      Yep, that be our future!

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  8. Srikant, I think parents should give handouts to their spawn for all of their lives. To bring a child into this world is reckless, but to do so without the means to fund its lifespan even more so. (John Stuart Mill tended toward the same opinion). And I don't just mean until the arbitrary age of 18, a handy "wash my hands of responsibility" age for the breeders.

    Shadow, thanks, man. 'Homo Rapiens' was a neologism coined by John Gray and featured prominently in Straw Dogs. A perfect label!

    Thanks, Ann. I know the horror of work is a topic dear to your heart also.

    Anonymous, I did night shifts in security when I was in college. It was strange. In one sense, it was liberating: in the silence of the dead of night you truly realise and feel viscerally what a stage production the 'normality' of everyday life is. On the other hand, coming home in the morning, I felt like a zombie and it had my brain in a spin. So yeah, not to be advised in the long term.

    EO, thanks, man. I like the image and can only concur. The lunatics are most definitely running the asylum. And all for what? Nothing.

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  9. This resonates with me too.

    I used to believe the hype about the microchip in the early '80s: that soon computers and robots would do all the work and we'd all have so much leisure time we wouldn't know what to do with it.

    In 1986 I worked 37.5 hours a week with an hour for lunch.
    Now the thieving capitalist scum allow just 30m for lunch and want me to work a MINUMUM of 40 hours a week !

    They're taking the piss.

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  10. If folks are interested, I would suggest looking into Jevon's Paradox. The idea that more efficient means of production=more production/consumption overall is very true under capitalism.

    Jevon, a neoclassical asshat economist, advocated that the UK should use its coal reserves in a giant orgy of production instead of conserving them to be used over time. Typical.

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  11. Ha, great post, i absolutely hate work.The Faint has a great video (banned,you'll see why:) on working, it's called Agenda Suicide. Video

    Lyrics:

    you could follow logic
    or contest it all
    the work solution makes the common house a home

    the element of progress
    that you mention is gone
    it de-evolved to something you were headed toward

    as i lay to die the things i think
    did i waste my time, i think i did- i worked for life

    all we want are just pretty little homes
    our work makes pretty little homes

    like a cast shadow
    like a fathers dream
    have a cut out son
    what's a worse disease
    to get that pretty little home

    as i lay to die the things i think
    i don't want to regret what i did- and work for life

    all we want are just pretty little homes
    our work makes pretty little homes
    agenda suicide, the drones work hard before they die
    and give up on pretty little homes

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  12. Anonymous, yeah, they just want to screw more and more "productivity" out of people. Isn't there anyone asking what all of this so-called "productivity" is for, and how much of it is really necessary?

    EO, thanks for the heads-up. Checked out Jevon's Paradox. Very interesting. The more there is, the more people want it. Again, the seemingly intrinsic inability of people to remain in a steady state in all fields of life.

    KaBoom, cheers for the track! Really enjoyed it. And loved the end of the vid. As someone who takes the Tube every day, I chimed in with that guy's decision:-)

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  13. Myth of Progress, indeed. I can remember, as a child, reading 40 years ago how we would all be living in a techno utopia in the future. The "future" usually being the year 2000. LOL. I remember drawings of glass enclosed cities and people traveling on vast networks of glass monorails. Space would be colonized, most diseases cured, etc, etc.

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  14. Anonymous, I'm starting to think that on this site, LOL should stand for 'lots of lamentations':-) Ah yes, the techno-future utopia once put forward so innocently by our predecessors. My vision of the future is like Hobbes' state of nature: the super-elite rich living in heavily guarded compounds while outside the walls the impotent majority toil and fight to survive amidst frequent wars and civil conflict....

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  15. Comments on this subject have understandably focused on work so far. But what about education? Surely this is where every Sisyphus-like member of society is first given his rock and shown the mountain they have to climb. After all, education is seen as preparation for a (working) life.

    It all reduces to birth which is as the Devil's dictionary puts it: 'The first and most direst of all disasters.'

    The more I read this site, the more I see the truth in it, and I am a long-term misanthrope.

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  16. Mr Graverol, thanks for commenting. Yes, education definitely deserves a post all by itself; must get around to it. It is, as you say, where the pro-life brainwashing begins and the programme to create goal-oriented, authority respecting drones begins. Patrick Pearse, a famous Irish revolutionary, labelled it 'The Murder Machine'. The real knowledge of our condition - DNA borgs in an entropic, empty universe - would take all of one month to teach, but then we'd have the little kiddies killing themselves left, right and centre, wouldn't we?:-)

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  17. Well, work does give us money - which gives us food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and at least a bare minimum of comfort (if you're salary + taxes > essential expenses). Plus, it can be a good way to fight boredom.

    Still, if we weren't born, we'd not need these things in the first place because we wouldn't exist. And what happens to Homo sapiens (or our daughter species) no later than the end of the Degenerate Era of the universe? If "we" make it that far into the future (around the year 10^50 AD), our descendants freeze to death in the dark!*

    An INCREDIBLY long time in the future, to be sure, but still a FINITE number of years. That means there will be a FINAL generation. After that, our works will benefit - hmmm, who, in a lifeless cosmos? and who will remember them? Yeah, just as I thought.

    *The last star as we know it fades away in 100 trillion (10^14) years. White Dwarfs (essentially dead stars) still shine light for much longer. The "White Dwarf" Era is called The Degenerate Era, for WD's are "degenerate matter". Even these will run out of energy and become cold dark cores floating in the cosmos - eventually sucked up into black holes.

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  18. An interesting quote from "Mars: a warmer, wetter planet" by Jeffrey Stuart Kargel:

    "No matter how I put it, and regardless of the uncertainties, the Earth's fate is sealed and dismal, whether it becomes engulfed in the dying Sun, is melted and then plunged into unimaginable cold, or is blown to smitherens. This dismal future recalls a more cosmically comprehensive statement by particle physicist and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless" (The First Three Minutes). While I can appreciate his perspective, it is one I choose not to share. Although I cannot lay claim to any knowledge about the point of the Universe or the "why?" of our existence within it, I must believe, exuberantly so, that there is a point and a value to our being. Looking around especially at planet Earth today and for its last 4 billion years as a living world, it is not a difficult belief to maintain if one looks beyond thermodynamics, particle physics, and planetary geology; theologians and philosophers across the ages and around the world have arrived at the same conviction. It is a matter of faith; without that faith the significance of the Universe indeed would collapse to Weinberg's pointlessness."

    http://books.google.com/?id=0QY0U6qJKFUC&pg=PA509&lpg=PA509&dq=mars+future+%22billion+years%22+sun

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  19. Filrabat, I think it's a) the amount of time we have to work through our lives that most people here are sore with and b) the propaganda that it's all wonderful and we should be embracing it, not to mention c) there is no alternative. And yeah, the knowledge that the universe will eventually wind down into a silent, black emptiness tends the take the 'joy' out of life, for me at any rate. I mean really, what's the fucking point of all this crap?

    Anonymous, cheers for the comment. Classic quote from Weinberg. Yup, faith is what keeps most people going and getting out of bed each day to face the muzak. Rob them of that and that'd be the end of it all. No bad thing, I say!

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  20. another good article...i enjoy your webpage so much! one thing i like about being severely handicapped is there is no pressure for "keeping up with the joneses." everybody knows i have nothing of my own. if i have something, my parents bought it. when people look at me they can see that i am disabled and they do not expect me to impress them. i can sit back and watch other people in this whole insane rat-race thing they've got going on, competing with each other to be the most impressive.
    soon a baby is going to be born into my family (my sibling is due to have a child). i am going to love the baby, but from the time i found out they were expecting, i felt sad and scared for the baby. what kind of life is this child going to have! is this child going to feel like i do....like we are all in hell? i am convinced that as bad as this world already is, it can only get worse.

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  21. Anonymous, thank you! I'm really pleased you enjoy my bile-spitting. Please don't take this the wrong way, but while in a particularly black mood the other day I said to my girlfriend that I envied the disabled for not having to compete in the rat race; she was shocked. Of course, in the UK there are now moves afoot to get as many as possible of those on Disability allowance back into the workforce, with the government even threatening to cut the allowances of those they feel aren't trying hard enough. What a nightmare. I've read some entries on blogs kept by disabled people and they are absolutely terrified of ending up on the street. It is utterly barbaric and horrifying. It seems, in the UK at least, that we're now back in the Victorian era.

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    1. believe me i am glad i'm not involved in the rat race. i'm grateful that i don't have to impress people with my "success in life." i don't worry about attracting a mate as marriage is not possible for me. i am an adult but i funtion at a 10 to 12 year old level (10 to 12 year olds dont get married!). so those major pressures upon healthy people (impress society, fit in, attract a mate, find a job, buy a house)....don't apply to me.
      if i were to outlive my parents (not likely) i would be lost. that would be extremely traumatic as they are my only caretakers. i'd have to be placed in a care-home for disabled adults and i dont feel that i could bear it. i do have worries about being homeless someday. i have siblings that love me but i don't think they are equipped (or could afford) to care for me.

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    2. I feel for you, anonymous. I also worry about being homeless some day. And with the ever increasing financial insecurity things are going to get wobbly for most of us. That's why we need euthanasia chambers asap!

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  22. I am a middle-aged American who has been on Disability for almost ten years, after working for almost twenty years. I have a British internet friend who is also. In a very recent e-mail exhange, we both agreed suicide would be preferable to being forced to return to the workplace. I suppose many people would applaud the demise of such "scroungers".

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  23. I don't know if I am allowed to say this (and please pardon the english), but I think I'm a bit of a romantic. I belong to a past time, maybe the 18-19th century? Materially, it might have been worse, but intellectually and artistically, it fits my tastes. Most of my favorite writers, thinkers and artists lived back then -- and the world wasn't really as disenchanted as it is now. This is specualtion---and I know at least two-three IT people who are depressed; one most likely even committed suicide---but one ingredient for happiness nowadays seems to be an IT, engineering or business career; most people I know who work in these areas are quite optimistic and even cheerful about life. (To mind come people like Paul Graham or a lot of folks over at stackoverflow.com; even Jaron Lanier, who's quite critical about the believe in the singularity that has infected most of his compsci fellows, is not a pessimist.) I kind of see the value in building and creating things, but an optimistic mindest I cannot share, not at all.
    For me, the more facts we gather about our existence, the more it becomes unbreathable. As for transhumanism, I am not sure it can really eliminate _all_ suffering. What about the psychological pain I endure due to the pointlessness of life, the fate of the universe and so on? I suffer from the absurdity of life to a great extent, the physical pain I experience is (at least for now) nothing against it. The drive alone that got me here depresses me. I think my brain needs rewriting or something, and this I wouldn't want; it means changing my personality to a high degree, which I find frightening. I can only hope for a quick and painless death, even though I think that dying, too, sucks. "Life has nothing to recommend it" -- indeed. Anyway, these are just my feelings. Nowadays, I am pretty much in a "ready to die" state.

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    1. By the way, my above comment regarding being born in the wrong century was just out of the blue and not meant as an answer to Karl's comment about disability allowances; I'm disabled myself and terrified of the thought of losing my disability benefits. It is unethical in this circumstance, but I'd rather die than face life on the streets. -- Got to face the outside world now. Not nice! I pretty much dislike cities -- even the small one I live in -- and cars; they kind of destroy the landscape and are just way too loud. The noise! I am highly sensitive to sounds and light, I guess my "ideal setting" would be living in a library in the country side.

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  24. Anonymous 1, yeah, I've freelanced and done one-to-one teaching for the past few years, and the thought of going back to an office and being a "team player" also makes me reach for the rope. You should check out Ligotti's 'My Work is Not yet Done', a great story of a man pushed to far by both the horror of work and life who wreaks a terrible revenge.

    Anonymous 2, "I belong to a past time, maybe the 18-19th century? Materially, it might have been worse, but intellectually and artistically, it fits my tastes. Most of my favorite writers, thinkers and artists lived back then -- and the world wasn't really as disenchanted as it is now." Couldn't agree more. The world's disenchantment is truly terrible. All in the name of 'efficency' and 'productivity'. Why anyone would want to live in such a plastic, soulless universe is beyond me, yet here I stay! For the time being at least.

    "What about the psychological pain I endure due to the pointlessness of life, the fate of the universe and so on? I suffer from the absurdity of life to a great extent, the physical pain I experience is (at least for now) nothing against it."

    Snap again. I sometimes think that the suffering that comes from a clear awareness of the futility of it all is vastly underrated. Thanks for commenting!

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  25. Karl, I've read "My Work". I worked in a non-management civil service job, but all the workplace dynamics were there. The US Postal Service. As in "going postal". Don't believe those rampagers were "crazy all along". They were, I am convinced, simply pushed over the line, just as Dominio was.

    BTW,do you think there will ever be an available Ligotti "all his stuff" collection?

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    1. Cheers, Anonymous. Yeah, any amount of work will drive one over the edge sooner or later. As Ligotti said, it's like hand-to-hand combat in slow motion. As for a collected works, not sure. I think he's published with a lot of different houses, so not sure it would be viable.

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  26. I like the comment above about pretty little homes. Pretty little houses to be a prisoner in and a slave to. But I got up from the illusions and aren't paying for heaps of bricks anymore. I am now travelling from town to town, from country to country living in cosy hotels and meeting new and old friends.

    I've got out of the rat race: I quit my "professional" job to be a prostitute (independent one). Easy, carefree life and far more exciting, plus money is rarely a source of anxiety now, except that I sometimes bitterly envy the other prostitutes who don't pay tax while I don't have the guts not to.

    I've had some luck, but I do feel for you for whom (especially if you're a man) there's NO WAY OUT of the rat race, the slaving-working camp. I see the sadness of it everyday in my working clients and I say a sincerely felt "thank you" as they hand me over the fee. I feel less joy when the other is not free.

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    1. Wow, fascinating story, anonymous! Am intrigued. Please do share more if you feel that way inclined. What age were you when you abandoned 'professional' life?

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    2. Fascinating story indeed! Wonder if you've read this.

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    3. With all this lurking and information gathering going on I've learned to be cautious with anything I write on the internet.

      I'm in my twenties and it's only been half a year since I went astray, quit the job, got rid of the rented house and downsized my posessions for a nomad lifestyle.

      However I too am plagued by this suffering and confusion due to lack of meaning and pupose in living and everything. Meditation seems to be the only thing that can give me any degree of mental confort.

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    4. Yup, the pointlessness of it all means that even at the best of times one is still wandering in a fog. Christ! The weariness of it all!

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  27. All this talk of work...I was fired from my last job for posting a blackly humorous (no harm intended!) couple of lines on my fbook. And I was a damn dishwasher who it just so happens worked 17 hrs. of overtime on his last paycheck (97 hrs. for two weeks). With no benefits. I went from having a job to not having one in 2 minutes. Totally undignified. At the same time, I felt a little relieved when they told me to clean out my locker. Wonder why...

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    1. Eo, feel for you, buddy. I wasn't aware Facebook surveillance had reached such 1984 levels. Makes ya sick. For more on this, check Ann's latest entry on her 'Fine, I'll start a goddamn blog' listed on the right.

      And yeah, leaving a job is always a relief, regardless of the insecurity it leads to. One of my favourite scenes from literature comes from Henry Miller's 'Plexus' when he walks away from his job after years on the treadmill. The sense of freedom and fuck-you-world is truly joyous. I read it before I ever worked, but even then it struck a massive chord! Must have had a premonition of the world that awaited!

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    2. Christ!!!!! Really sorry, that's fucking dystopian science fiction right there.

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  28. Every time I go to any any type of retail venue and I see the people stocking the shelves, in the food section, and checking me out, I wonder..Are they content with their lot? Or are they holding on to their borderline (probable) poverty situation out of sheer survival instinct and are miserable. The Great God Capital!

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    1. From my own experience in similar jobs, the look generally means 'Please don't come near me; ask the other guy". If you want a low stress level job and have low maintenance costs, those positions are nearly tolerable. Nearly.....

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    2. "Are they content with their lot?"

      Oh yes, they are, they are . . . They are generally happy and life-loving, affirming it in every moment.

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  29. Karl, I am not sure I am interpreting this quote correctly: "According to recent studies, the richest are working the hardest and longest; only the poor are idle. "
    While the richest might be working harder than the rest, they don't HAVE to do that.. while the poor are working the same and yet are seeing nothing for their efforts.

    No matter how hard the rich people work, the non-necessity of working (since they have enough money to last them and their lineage for a long time) cannot possibly be compared with how the rest of us are working and are still running below inflation and are getting poorer.

    Basically, for poor people hard work is NECESSARY while the payoffs are negligible while for rich people hard work is OPTIONAL and the payoffs are stratospheric (in addition to whatever wealth they already possess).

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    1. I believe the point was something of a metaphysical one, in that it shows the ultimate futility of chasing after endless amounts of money when there is no actual purpose to doing so. Or in other words, the chase becomes the goal.

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