Maintenance (Part 1)

I have been writing posts for 2 years. Time to mix it up. For the next several weeks I am going to reprint a chapter from my book, The Love Diet.  (You can purchase the book from this web site if you want.) In addition, I will start to post on events I see in the world that involve human liberation, but they will not be as formalistic as I have been in the past. I think this will be fun and liberating! So here goes – Maintenance part 1 by Terry Plotkin.

The bulk of our time is spent maintaining and perpetuating our existence.  For most adults, I estimate that’s about 90 percent of the day.  Included on the To Do list are sleeping, eating and drinking, working for a paycheck, shelter, household chores, education, raising the next generation, exercise, preparation and contributing to the community that sustains us.  In this chapter, I take an in-depth look at life’s basic needs and how we attain those necessities.  We operate under certain assumptions in life in the twenty-first century and rarely think them through consciously.  Yet our time, well-being and health are too precious to let the issue of how we survive slide.  Our mental, emotional and physical states are at stake because they are affected by the way we proceed.  Let us, therefore, spend time, as Socrates would have us, and examine how we live our lives.

My first attempt to understand how I should live came to a head when I was in college.  I was trying to consider life’s major issues––who I was, how to fit myself into the world and the life that stretched out before me.  The problem was that I was only clear about what I did not want to do.  If you use the path of negation, one takes a circuitous and somewhat tortuous path toward self-awareness.  My memory is strong, thirty years after the fact, of being a junior at the University of Massachusetts and standing in the hall outside the dormitory with a few friends, when the topic turned to our majors and what we planned to do after college.

My friends’ majors included accounting, management, marketing and engineering.  I had little notion of my direction and had trouble enough envisioning being an adult, never mind a career, but I’d stumbled on economics and liked it enough to pick it as a major.

Talk turned to a good job with a corporation.

“Seems exploitive to me,” I said.

“A good white collar job,” someone suggested.

“Sitting at a desk all day and if you are lucky, getting a window to look out,” I scoffed.

“A nice house in the suburbs,” another said.

“Boring life with massive debt and slavery to the American Dream,” I ranted.

My friends got sick of my scornfully dousing the flames of their ambitions and retaliated by asking, “What are you going to do?”

“I have no idea, but I know what I’m not going to do.  What you want feels like death to me.”

Economics at UMass, at that time, was not typical.  The department was only one of two Marxists economics departments in the entire country––UMass was the better of the two.  I learned much of importance, even though I’d never thought to seek out Marxist economics.  The result was what a good liberal education is supposed to accomplish: open the mind.  For the first time, I learned that there are underlying assumptions to the way history is interpreted, and that a civilization contains forces, struggles and processes that determine how it develops.

History was examined according to concepts of class and systems of economic development instead of being written about as random events that just happened to transpire or as a result of the will of a few individuals who had risen to the top.  I learned that societal formations did not appear out of nowhere; how the economic system influenced the political and religious spheres and was in turn influenced by them; and what was behind the many wars that were fought.  I discovered so much inside and outside the classroom, both about myself and the world, that the changes in me were considerable and swift.  My values began to come into focus.

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