A Lonely Walk in the Snow

Humans who are cold can’t really be beautiful. Nature can.

frozen lake.JPG

It looks like the perfect day for a long walk, with the sun shining from above and being reflected by the snow on the ground. So much light, and so few people to share it with. Because it is what they confusingly call a weekday, which seems to prevent them from walking, enjoying, almost from living.

bench.JPG

I am usually quite happy to be alone, but today, I wouldn’t mind sharing the walk with a special person. The day would be even brighter, the walk brisker, the conversation more interesting, the heart beating faster, the smile wider, if she was here.

But she is in prison.

It doesn’t bother her anymore, because almost everybody she knows is there, too. Most of them wouldn’t even think of it as prison because they are allowed to go home at night. But if they ever didn’t show up the next morning at the large cage of steel, concrete and glass, each of them assigned to a different cell on a different floor in a different building, depending on their sentence, they would be in trouble soon. Same if they ever wanted to go home early. Or if they wanted to speak their mind. Trouble rarely arises, though, because these prisoners are rather docile.

I have reached the top of the hill, maybe led by a romantic wish to see her from afar, and the complex comes into full view.

Calgary cold evening.JPG

These places have evolved, it seems at first sight, yet looking more closely, it’s the same old idea as on the plantation. People in power use those without power for their own gain. Pressure and control are exercised from the top down. Whoever can’t stand the pressure will pass it on. Downward, of course, for that is the only direction. The other direction, upwards, is reserved for time and labor, transformed into profits, ever growing, but never enough.

People wear uniforms, just like in a labor camp. Different uniforms for different groups of laborers, because what is divided is so much easier to control. People don’t see that they are in the same boat if half of them wear a green uniform and the other half an orange one. Even less so if you pay some of them more and promise everyone else that they, too, can earn more if they just work harder and shut up. And in case the paltry income wasn’t enough to keep them toiling, you can promise the serfs an even paltrier pin for every five years of obedient service. And maybe a watch after 15 years. It’s so insipid, it’s insulting.

By the way, employment is not primarily the sale of work, it’s the sale of time, the sale of an irretrievable part of your life, day after day, until most of it has disappeared or you are too exhausted to enjoy it. In the process, companies get richer by exploiting labor, banks and real estate companies (and probably a few lawyers, too) get richer because you need to live in a place where you would never need to live if it wasn’t for work (similar to the owner not allowing you to move off the estate). Car companies get richer because you think you need a car to get to the place of work (like the companies in Steinbeck novels than “lend” you the tools you need for your daily job, for a fee, of course).

Punishment for non-compliance is no longer the withholding of food, but the withholding of money, rendering the perpetrator poor, homeless and destitute. But again, this rarely happens, for fear itself is enough. Ostracism also works wonders. You don’t even need to ship people to an island anymore. If you dare to quit, you will lose “friends” and prestige. And thus, people who are only at home for breakfast and one hour of TV after work invest tens of thousands of dollars into the house, which they don’t own because it really belongs to the bank. Instead of going for a walk or a run every day, people sell their time to a factory or an insurance company, then pay a gym for the privilege of being allowed to run. The saddest thing to observe is how sincerely people believe they need stuff, which until a year ago they didn’t even know existed.

Sometimes, it seems everyone has gone mad, selling their whole adult lives for mere stuff, most of it produced in China. Nobody has time to deeply reflect on this, because everybody is running back and forth, making sales calls, attending meetings, writing reports, advising, consulting and bullshitting.

But a prison with a lot of inmates is still a prison. Or maybe a madhouse.

My friend knows herself how bad the situation is. She has complained about it often enough, when she had to interrupt a dinner or a movie for a phone call, an e-mail or a spreadsheet. She is younger than me, yet she has more grey hair. She is so tired and exhausted that every Friday night, she falls asleep as if capitalist vampires have sucked her dry of all energy. She gave up her dream of being a singer in order to boost someone else’s quarterly figures, just like lawyering once squelched my writing. She probably earns a hundred times more than me, yet I have a hundred times more time, more life, more peace. Granted, she could beat me at a game of Excel.

It has gotten considerably colder, windier, icier, chillier by now. The beautiful day has turned into a proper snowstorm, as many things in life do. Pondering the situation from which my friend sees no way out, although there are so many, I want to ride down the hill into town, storm the office tower and liberate her. But instead of a lance, I only have a pen.

snow writing large andreas moser

The irony is, of course, that she will never have time to read this.

Links:

Advertisements

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Canada, Economics, Life, Love, Philosophy, Photography, Time and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to A Lonely Walk in the Snow

  1. fairfaxco says:

    Wow….that was fantastic. Now I might be out of line saying what I’m going to say, but I’ve not ‘heard’ you write with so much heartfelt deep conviction.

    Reading intuitively between the lines, you could be truly madly deeply in love with your friend. Maybe you should tell her.🙂?

    Kind regards Mary Smith

    • I would never use the evil L-word, but sometimes I care about people. And then it makes me sad to see smart and talented people sell their life to a tech company producing unnecessary gadgets, to a criminal accounting firm or to drilling yet more oil for people to drive around in circles.

  2. Sweetu Rocks says:

    Waw its amazing blog . I m imagine sno when I m reatd your blog

  3. Snart says:

    Dear Andreas,
    It is interesting that you had to come to Canada to write this text. I’ve never encountered something like it in your blog, or may be I missed it. It is like an epiphany.

    • I think I have always been quite critical of people focusing on accumulating stuff and that it can be seen in some previous articles.
      But I think I have never lived in a country as openly consumerist and materialistic as Canada. I have also never seen as many homeless people as here, and I have been wondering if there might not be a connection.

      On the issue of work, I have only become critical more recently, and it is a subject that I would like to explore further. Maybe it is that I appreciate time more, as I am advancing in age, and I am less and less inclined to sell the limited remaining time.
      Again, coming to Canada has clarified my thoughts because in no other country that thinks of itself as developed have I seen people work such long hours, have their lives taken over by work, and employers not even respecting the evenings and weekends of their employees.
      All of these observations were based on anecdotal evidence, so I looked at the statistics, and indeed, Canadians on average work 300 hours more per year than Germans. Yet they produce the same GDP per capita (and Germany is not even resource-rich). But in any case, we are talking about levels pf GDP in both countries that could be cut by 10% or 20% without any loss in quality of life (and a lot of time gained for each citizen).

      In summary, and maybe somewhat hyperbolical, living in a very capitalistic and materialist society is slowly turning me into what people here might call a socialist.

  4. Snart says:

    I hear you very well Andreas and I appreciate your arguments. Keep warm and healthy while in Canada.

  5. Snart says:

    Homelessness in Canada is terrifying and I was expecting you to notice that when you come to Canada, as we all do, although it exist all over the world and even in Germany. The connections can be quite a few and one of it is perhaps consumerism. How and why Canadians work the way they do is not a one line sentence answer and to reflect on it is important. It can be a good discussion. Too bad I will not be in Toronto when you come in March to have a chat and a drink. May be we can meet in the Balkans if you come to visit.

    • Homelessness indeed exists almost everywhere, but I couldn’t help, but be shocked by its prevalence when I was in Vancouver. Young and old, male and female, and probably for a myriad of reasons.
      Or maybe all the homeless in Canada go to Vancouver because it’s not quite as cold there? In Calgary, I have only seen a few.

      I would be curious to hear more of your thoughts on work in Canada!

      And the Balkans would indeed be a good place to bump into each other, my favorite part of Europe. This summer, I will mostly be in Germany to focus on university, but in the fall/winter, I hope to head to southeast Europe again. I still have the dream of doing a long walk along the Adriatic coast from Greece to Trieste.

  6. David Wiebe says:

    I think this is (in English) one of your best pieces ever. Thank you for your writing.

  7. Grace Fujita says:

    This is a great piece Andreas! So much truth…

  8. Kavan Cleary says:

    Great last line.

  9. It cannot be that bad… try again with her again.

  10. Reading online is tiresome so you could write her a classic letter and offer it to her at the next date, I bet she won’t fall asleep, girls like letters.

    • Girls in Canada don’t want letters or flowers or poems or self-baked cakes, they only want stuff which they can look up online to see how much it cost. Because at the next girls’ meeting, they have to compare the prices of the presents that they received. (This is completely made up for now, but it wouldn’t surprise me.)

    • I thought girls have the same nature all over the world: sensitive and willing to appreciate the real important things :-)

    • No. – And come on, even in Romania, which is much more cultural and intellectual than North America and indeed Western Europe, I would say, many girls just work, work, work to buy (or so they think) one of these ugly new houses made of concrete and glass, all looking the same boring way, outside and inside, as if copied from an Ikea catalogue, with no books, no heart and no soul, but occupying the hills surrounding the city, thus blocking the way for wanderers and sheep. Or they don’t work, but they look for a guy who works, works, works. And if he has to go to Germany or Italy to work, even better, because then he is not in the way for the Instagraph photos.

    • I like the last sentence, you got your sense of humour back ;-) but it’s true, there are material people- men and women- and there are people who have different values.

  11. Anonymous says:

    This was fucking fantastic writing, Andreas. I will delay hanging myself, for now.

    • Now that’s a compliment, thank you very much!
      Knowing that your life hangs by the thread of my writing is actually quite a motivating factor. I can’t promise equally good articles every week, but hang in there!

  12. I noticed that the annual vacation granted in Canada is also quite dismal:
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/canada-ranks-3rd-last-in-paid-vacations-1.1306523
    So, people really don’t get to spend much of their awake time for themselves. No wonder then that the happiest people I see in Canada are all retirees.

  13. Dany Sobeida says:

    Espero que ella lea tus letras y derritas esa nieve! Ha sido una lectura no solo romántica si no también muy reflexiva, A propósito la foto de la banca vacía en la nieve es muy melancólica!

  14. Dein bester Blogbeitrag bis jetzt, finde ich.

  15. brokenradius says:

    I guess this is what you had in mind with your indictment of 9/17 jobs at big employers:
    View story at Medium.com
    But don’t forget – you might believe it or not – that there are also people who like their professions. Scientists, artists, medical personal, teachers at schools or universities. It is not right to accuse all of them of selling their souls to the company (or wherever they are employed). And in general, without people working hard and with a certain commitment, we would still live in stone age, without movies, medical treatment, without electronic gadgets and and internet to write blogs, and without much possibility to travel around the world and visit other places.
    I don’t know the situation in Canada, but it would be interesting to compare it with countries like Norway or Denmark (where most of the people have regular jobs, and zero homeless) or Zimbabwe or some ME or North African countries (with high unemployment rate) on the other hand. I doubt that the absence of a regular job makes people happier and healthier. Unless one proposes an unconditioned income. But even in rich countries, which could afford it economically (like Finland or Switzerland), it did not worked very well.

    • I am sure there are a thousand times more people who clean toilets at airports and highway rest stations than who are scientists and singers.
      And I don’t think any single one of them dreamed of cleaning toilets when they grew up or went to school. So work can also be very degrading or, slightly better, meaningless. I would think that this concerns the majority of people.

      But my point is not that people shouldn’t work. I work, too. My point is that we should work less and, even more importantly, we shouldn’t take it that seriously. Let’s work because we need to (for ourselves and for society), but let’s not pretend that it’s more important than other things we need to do on a regular basis.

      And many people could reduce their workload by 10% or 20% or at least switch their phones off at night without the economy collapsing and, particularly in countries with a progressive income tax, without losing out on much money. It’s the appreciation of money over time that I criticize.

    • brokenradius says:

      Hi Andreas, I think that this article at MEDIUM “https://medium.com/s/story/a-culture-of-prestige-98c8671ceade” is doing a very careful analysis of the problem. I am sure you will enjoy it. The author is also very critical about these “prestigious” management jobs in the finance and consulting “industry”, arguing that indeed (as you described it) young people are attracted to such jobs with the promise of high salaries, boni, designer offices etc. Finally, they have to do routine jobs, filling excel sheets with fantasy numbers and polishing power point presentations, only to please the customers. But what is so desastreous about this trend on a socio-economic level is the negative effect of this for many branches of the real economy, such as ingeneering, health care, education, innovative transportation, innovative agriculture etc. All these branches find it more and more difficult to hire skilled and committed young talents, because too many are blinded by the promisses to get the most prestigious jobs in the finance and consulting “industry”.
      I fully agree that one needs a certain level of ignorance and the willingness to sell his soul to look for a career in finance or consulting. But in a lot of other professions (less paid, but unfortunately with not less work load) one can make a career and still keep a certain moral standard.

    • With all this consulting business, the demand side shouldn’t be left off the hook, either.
      What do clients think they get out of some recent graduates with a flip chart?

  16. brokenradius says:

    PS: it looks as if WordPress deletes links to MEDIUM sites (www.medium.com) from the comments. Try again with comment marks “https://medium.com/s/story/a-culture-of-prestige-98c8671ceade”

  17. Great insight, well written.

  18. Nina says:

    Excellent text, very inspiring. I am glad writing won over lawyering, it reaches a wider audience. Concerning the content, I think some changes are going on, generations born in the 80s and later do seem to appreciate free time and “extra-job” activities more than mere money. In my neighborhood at least, you would meet many people outside on a random sunny weekday, as many work 80% or less, some have 2 jobs, one feeding mouth and the other feeding spirit. Your way of life is very unique and attractive, but one size does not fit all. Of course we could work less. And produce less. And eat less. But how do you put this into practice ? Whose turn is it ?

    • I am not sure the audience is that large for my writing, either.

      Where do you live?
      In Europe, I got the same impression of the younger generation. Money, stuff and career may have reached a peak and people are looking for other activities/hobbies.
      That’s why I have been so shocked by the experience in Canada, where work seems to consume the lives of most people.

      I agree that my way of life is not for everyone, and indeed the economy might collapse if everyone tried living like me. But at least in the middle class, most people could easily work 20% less (in effect reducing the workweek to 4 days) and their income would fall by far less than 20% because of progressive income taxation. They could spend less on plastic stuff from China, electronics and gardening tools which they never needed, less on fuel and not buy a new phone or a pair of shoes every year. But they would have 50 extra days per year for their children, to learn a language, to read books or to train for a marathon.
      I am not some hippie who advocates living in tree houses. I actually think (and have seen it in my own life) that reducing work and income and thus stress increases the quality of life, instead of reducing it.

  19. gabe says:

    Great to get your insights on Canada. Keep sharing.

Please leave your comments, questions, suggestions:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s