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Dreams, Pragmatism, and the Media: An Unintended Trap

I’d intended to lighten things up for a time, but something’s come to my attention that I feel the need to discuss. If you recall from my last post, I discussed the life path a lot of people my age chose, and how it unintentionally cause major problems down the road, getting a “higher education” leaving us without job skills, holding the first to be more important than the second, not giving a thought to how things will work out. Bear in mind the following is all opinion. I may be entirely wrong. Maybe in a few years, I’ll recant this position.

The problem is that we didn’t make this post-secondary decision on our own. We were taught that, and now we’re reaping the consequences. Take a look at this comic, an animated form of a lecture by Alan Watts. it’s what triggered this rant:


Sounds pretty good, right? It should also sound familiar to you. It’s the same sort of theme we saw in a lot of media aimed at kids. I’m pretty sure a lot of the Disney canon consists of this same message. We all know the familiar story. You don’t want to follow in the footsteps of your family, or your social class. You have ideals, you have dreams, and those are important. Anyone that says otherwise is a soulless oppressor, or possibly horribly misguided, and is trying to make you give up your dreams, and your special unique talents. Perhaps, if the young dreamer sticks to their guns, they can show their oppressors the error of their ways. Either way, all they have to do is chase that dragon, things will work out, one way or another. The thing is, it’s entirely wrong, possibly damaging, and the opposite viewpoint is one we now reflexively dislike, as we associate it with those misguided antagonists in that fiction we loved.

I think the big problem is that fundamental assumption that we’re supposed to follow these dreams of ours, do these things we enjoy, and forget the money. What are we, soulless? Draw your art, ride your horses, write your articles, make your videos, and damn anyone that says you’re wasting your time. The problem lies in the whole “ignore the money” part. “What if money was no object?” that cartoon asks. Well, it sort of is. It is, and pretending it isn’t, turning a blind eye to it, not worrying about those bills you’re going to have to pay one day, that’s a ruinous mantra.

We’re told time and time again, money doesn’t buy happiness, it’s not about the money, money is the root of all evil, et cetera, et cetera. It’s true money doesn’t buy happiness. What it does buy is security, stability, and life. Knowing what you like, and pursuing your dreams is good and all, but you need to be able to function in society as a grown person at the same time. And that doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning those interests that some would scoff at (I talked about that at length here,) it means being able to live unassisted on your own. It’s hard to follow your dreams if you can’t feed, clothe, and shelter yourself. These things will not magically appear. You need to make them happen, and to make them happen, you need cash. We need to step back and accept the fact that some sort of income is necessary in order to live, and it’s not going to come to us automatically. And if you’re not making it appear, then someone else is, and you’re living off the dimes that they’re earning.

The reason the philosophy preached in that cartoon potentially damaging is because it ignores this basic fact. That, and it leaves out the fact that we like do not always equal things we can do for money, that one won’t automatically lead into the other. Maybe you’ll become the best at what you do through slavish dedication, and get money that way. But to count on it is to ignore the present, and ignore some other, very real, non-optional needs.

Take a look at that dream. Can you realistically expect to make money off it soon, as in in the next few years, instead of some hazy future where you’ve mastered that skill? If not, then that doesn’t mean you have to abandon it. It merely means that you’ll need to do something else to earn income, and work on that dream of yours when you’re not out earning your living. I suppose that’s the other false dichotomy that the media presented us: That the two are mutually exclusive, that deciding earning a living is important means your interests and dreams have to die. They really don’t.

So, here’s my own philosophy, what I’d wish modern media would teach a new generation: Follow your interests, but get paid. If your interest won’t pay you, find something, anything that will, and work on that interest in your spare time. Maybe, if you stick with it, and if you have and/or grow the talent, you can leave that other career and take your interest on full-time. If not, you’ve got a roof under your head, food under the table, and something you like to fill your spare time. If that seems a bit unfair, consider that a realistic perspective won’t turn you into a starving artist, merely a really busy one.

Epilogue: And if you are in one of those situation where you can’t support yourself, that’s hardly uncommon for modern youth, thanks to the world we inherited. The best thing, I think, is to simply recognize this fact, and try to worm your way out of it, and not simply be content to freeload for all eternity.

Bleak Week Finale: The Student’s Lawsuit

Potential readers: If you know anything about the legal system, I’d like to pose a question to you during this article, as I’ll freely admit I’m fairly ignorant of how it works.

That Cracked article I linked in my first post was also linked to another two part article about hipsters and modern society. I’ll link it at the end of this. While it’s not the main focus of the two-part piece, it does have some interesting things to say about the role of post-secondary education in the modern world.

Now, this ties into something that’s dogged both me and a lot of my friends as we collectively flail about in our mid-twenties, trying to get a career going. Basically, a lot of us wonder whether or not to bite the bullet and return to school for something else, something more specific, something more marketable. Certainly, there’s the argument that a fresh graduate is more desirable and relevant than someone who’s been on the hunt for years on end, and now that we’re no longer wide-eyed idealists (more on that later), we can pick something that’s useful and employable, and once again become metaphorical fresh meat of the leaner, healthier variety.

But for every thought that runs that way, there’s a thought that runs the opposite direction. Does it matter if we go back to school? Are we better just networking and fostering contacts and content on our own? Will we wind up where we are now four years down the line, only significantly poorer? I’ve saved some cash up. Do I want to risk losing that pile on a gambit that may not refill it? The biggest issue here is the question of whether or not a post-secondary education will do what it’s supposed to.

Hold on, though.

Didn’t we go to school to learn the relevant skills? Who was it that let us go to these schools, and what did they promise us? I feel like we were promised the ability to take on the world, and yet so many of us didn’t get that, or were inadequately prepared for The Real World.

So, here’s my hypothetical. What if an enterprising student, fed up with the way things were going, were to launch a lawsuit? Imagine a scenario where that student sues their college or university, demanding at the very least their tuition back, on the grounds that their school did not hold up their end of the bargain. The student feels like they were guaranteed marketable skills, and yet they apparently don’t have any, and weren’t adequately prepared. Basically, it’s a lawsuit over a perceived breach of contract. My question to anyone in the legal area would be if there’s any merit to this, and how it would go down if someone attempted it in real life.

Now, I’ve voiced this scenario to a friend before, and an interesting discussion was generated, specifically about how it raises the issue of what, exactly, college and university are about: Job skills, or “higher education?”

Well, what is higher education, exactly? And why do we want it? And if it doesn’t pay the bills, what use is it? It’s easy to be idealistic when you’re young, and shrug that last statement off as soulless and cynical. The thing is, when you’re young, you tend to form an unspoken assumption that things will just work out on their own, career-wise and money-wise. After all, your educational life has been automated until this point, why won’t your post-educational life feel similar?

When we’re young, we’re naive enough to assume it’s okay to have higher education instead of job skills, or hold the misconception that they equate the same thing, or that they’re not important. This seems to have been a recurring theme in a lot of the media around me in my formative years, and I worry about the inadvertent damage created by it. However, I’ll save that for another entry, as that’s another, much more cynical cultural tangent I could go on related to this, and I’m sure you’re tired of the morbid nature of a lot of these posts.

Anyways, my point, again, is whether or not this could be done, and if it would have a legal leg to stand on. Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to attempt it myself. Certainly, posting about it on here would be about the dumbest move possible. For me, it’s just an amusing hypothetical.

Epilogue: While I’m here, why not return your degree and demand the money back, the way someone would return a purchase to almost any retail outlet? That’d perhaps be a far more amusing scenario, but one less likely to work in the real world. Besides, I’d like to think that even the most cynical of us wouldn’t dare part with their degree or diploma. After all, some credit is better than none.

Anyway, here’s that other article I talked about, part one of a series. It’s another interesting read.