CAVE SEED

I almost don’t make it. I’d been running for so long I’d forgotten what it was like to stand still.

There comes a time when, if we’ve done all that we can, that we simply cannot do any more. All things end, all things are in a constant state of ending. We are transformed by time, by each passing moment. We are not who we were a second ago, the world as well. Existence is transformation. We are only here to record it, then forget it, then be forgotten. We march with inexorable determination toward dissolution.

But I make it, because I run.

HAPPINESS IN SLAVERY

“I’ll never understand why people celebrate new employment,” he said, looking for the reasons in the bottom of his glass. He squinted, but that didn’t help.

“Not everyone sees it the same way you do,” Pater replied, putting his hand on Jack’s shoulder. The weight of it seemed to force a sigh out of the younger man, and he clapped his drink down on the bartop.

“But they could, yeah? If they’d had the same experiences I have.”

“Maybe. We’ll never know. Our lives are our own. We can try to share them in a conversation or over years of partnership, but we can’t fully appreciate the things that others have gone through. Even if someone were to have the same experience you did, who’s to say they’d view it through the same lens?”

Jack nodded, then beckoned the bartender over. His glass refilled, he took a deep draught smiled to himself. “I’d never thought of that. But still,” he turned to his oldest friend and smiled.

“Still?”

“I’ll never get why someone would celebrate enslavement.”

Pater laughed. “So dramatic.”

“It’s not?”

“Tell me how it is.”

“Well, okay. I’ll have to use broad, sweeping generalizations, but I think I can lay it out for you.” Pater motioned for Jack to continue. “First of all, an employer revokes your freedom. Sure, it’s only an imagined revocation, but it’s contingent on the condition of employment.”

“What, you mean like how we have to stick to certain responsibilities?”

“Well, sure. Although a great many of the employed spend a lot of their time on their jobs seeking for ways to shirk those responsibilities.”

“We want to make things easier for ourselves.”

“Of course, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We hate suffering, after all. And if an opportunity presents itself then you’d have to be pretty foolish not to take advantage of it. But physically, we’re confined to a certain routine. We get confined to a certain space for a certain amount of time.”

“For example?”

“Most jobs, really. The requirement of making your body available, behind a desk or a counter, within a predetermined range of hours. The ‘meat in a seat’ condition.”

“That’s unavoidable.”

“Yes. You’re right. And it’s because it’s unavoidable that it constitutes a form of slavery.”

“What about people that work at home?”

“One foot in, one foot out. Half-free, unless they’re working for themselves. The thing is having a taskmaster, one whose purpose is to evaluate your performance and reward you for it. Or punish you for it, as the case may be.”

“But then, by that logic, isn’t someone who’s self-employed also self-enslaved?”

“Depends on what kind of a taskmaster they are, I guess. There’s a lot more flexibility there.”

“How so?”

“By defining your own tasks you levy the greatest amount of responsibility on yourself. It’s a closed circuit of sorts, a loop that runs in on itself. No outside evaluator can step in with a glad hand or a scourge to qualify your efforts. At any time you’re free to reassign the parameters of success. With most of the employed, these parameters have been fixed, standardized. You either toe the line or you’re out.”

“But someone who’s self-employed who isn’t the greatest of taskmasters?”

Jack nodded. “Therein lies the risk. With the employed, the risk is largely on the performance of the entire body of the organization. If the managers do their jobs, and the demand for whatever they’re doing is such that returns from doing it continue to afford the employees their rewards and keep the lights on and the cogs greased then everyone’s happy. If this falters then the suffering starts. With the self-employed all of that needs to be gauged according to ability of a single person. Many things can go wrong, perhaps more than with an established system of pulling profit from the market. The risk is increased, yes, but there’s the real price of freedom. If responsibility is a spinning saw-blade then the self-employed dangles much closer to it than someone who relies on a structured organization.”

Pater grimaced. “But a person with a job can choose to walk away from it as readily as someone who’s made a job for themselves. No?”

“Again it depends. Physically, perhaps. Mentally? Does this person have a family to support? Debts to pay? A social circle that’s entrapped them with quasi-responsibility?”

“Quasi-responsibility?”

“Right, or a meta-responsibility. A not-real obligation to look good. Save face. Not be unemployed because of the effect that would have on the person’s social condition.”

“So you’re saying that the enslavement-”

“-is mental. And on one hand, the employed accept their chains from the hands of others. Outside influencers whose morals and mores may or may not be in line with their own. Whereas the self-employed has only the contents of their own heads to contend with. That is a much greater degree of freedom, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Independence versus interdependence.”

“Or complete dependence. Many folks enter into employment contracts that they then cling to for dear life, hanging onto some piece of flotsam that may or may not sink at any time. These people can work their whole lives, as hard they’re capable of, and still end up terminated and bereft.”

“Bereft?”

“Forsaken might be a better word. Either way, the amount of contribution an individual makes to their taskmaster’s organization is in no real way reflected in the amount of reward they’re capable of receiving.”

“And a self-employed person’s is?”

“Not at all!” Jack laughed. “Like I said, there are many more layers of responsibility draped over self-employed shoulders. Strategy, design, execution.They’re like tumblers in a lock, rumbling around, and they’ve got to line up just so in order to unlock success. Many self-employed or entrepreneurs lack the tools to pick those particular shackles open. But at least in the attempt, for whatever period of time they work away at them, they taste a purer form of freedom than they would under the thumb of some taskmaster.”

“So.”

“So. Why celebrate employment? Congratulations, you’ve just been enslaved. Best of luck with that!”

Pater grumbled. “I still think you’re not giving it enough of a long view. What about the years you spent ‘enslaved’? How do justify those then?”

“I see where you’re getting at, old man. Everything is a means to an end if the participant is clever enough to have a plan of action. Most of us don’t, I think. We have our dreams, certainly, but as for a long-term vision for our futures? It’s hard enough to see what’s coming tomorrow and how to get through it, let alone five or ten years down the road. Some people, yes. Certainly. I was lucky to be one of them, to gain an extra level of awareness of my position and use it to my advantage. To free myself. I also never had a family to worry about. There are a lot of factors involved, Pater. Some people never wake up to it. Some people do and then reject it, seeing that kind of freedom as too much of a hassle, or an impossibility because they lack the skill or quickness to pull it off. Lots of factors.”

“Does it make them any less-”

“-human? No. If anything it’s simply one of those things. What’s worked for me doesn’t necessarily work for all, I know this.”

“Then we come to a reasonable conclusion. You’ve asked ‘why celebrate employment’, and now you’ve given yourself the answer.”

“I’m sorry?” Jack said, finishing his drink. “I must have missed it.”

“There must be some subset of humanity that has resigned themselves to the fate of employment. And in doing so they’ve created a culture where it’s something to be celebrated, and go through the motions whenever one of their number breaches that achievement. Much like a funeral, not everyone cares for the ceremony. Why not just toss the body into the garden and let the worms deal with it? It’s cultural.”

Jack nodded, slowly, then stood. His head was clear, despite the liquor that he’d been hammering it with for the past hour. He smiled down at Pater and shook the old man’s hand. “Thank you. I do appreciate you setting me straight like this.”

Pater smiled back, returning his young friend’s strong grip in kind. “My pleasure. When will I see you again?”

“Soon, old man. Soon.”

UNDERSTANDING

“Once you realize that all the rules are fake, that civility and morality are nothing more than the thinnest of membranes stretched over a chaotic swirling roil of puncturing needles and slashing blades, once you understand that life is for living and nothing more, then you begin to taste the first gentle snowdrops of freedom as they melt on your tongue.

“But there is an avalanche of liberty awaiting beyond that scant initial blush. The pursuit of it, the mad desire to ride its crest like a surfer does a breaking wave, to challenge it and risk being swallowed whole by it? That’s where it’s really at.”