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Underpaid & Overpriveleged

In the midst of this ever-growing blog about trying to make myself happy (whatever that means), I can’t help but wonder how my life would be if happiness simply wasn’t a choice.  I mean, I have so much handed to me that I take for granted.  It’s strange to think that my current financial situation and standard of living would garner sympathy from a lot – and I mean a LOT – of people:  I don’t make that much money and most of it goes to my landlord, Toyota, Verizon, and BGE.  My apartment is tiny (although that makes it super easy to clean).  Comparatively speaking, I am worse off than nearly all of my friends as far as take-home pay and stuff that I have.  Still, I have more than everything I need, and even quite a few things that I don’t need but really enjoy having.  After the bills are paid, I still have enough money for food, wine, cat chow, books, music, a tank of gas, and a few fun pairs of shoes.  The gas is the most valuable for me lately… I’ve definitely been enjoying my summer road trips!

But what if my goal was survival rather than success or happiness?  My entire life I’ve only ever known the pursuit of happiness (or at least the pursuit of money).  It seems so sci-fi to imagine any other kind of world, but it could happen.  Millenniums ago, and even elsewhere in our current world, human life was/is an entirely different experience.

I think what started this train of thought was the slew of Facebook posts complaining about the heat this weekend (the same people who were complaining about the cold weather in January).  As for me, I don’t complain about the weather, because I know we must have extreme heat in order to have good snow.  And likewise, you must have a few subzero days in order to have the perfect September weather in Pennsylvania.  Instead of complaining about Saturday’s heat, I went to the movies.  I made myself happy.  However, if my circumstances were different, I may have had to spend my day just surviving, finding enough water to drink and a shady place to wait the day out so my ghostly pale skin wouldn’t burn to an agonizing crisp.

So now I wonder what I would do if there was no movie theater.  Or air conditioning, period.  What if I had no cozy climate-controlled pad, no running water, and no lights at night?  What if I had to walk to a water source a half mile away to rehydrate?  What if I had no car and had to walk to Pennsylvania to see my family?  What if I had to actually find food instead of stopping at Safeway on the way home from work?  Worst of all, what if I had to skin a deer to make something warm to wear in the winter?  In all honesty, I would be completely and entirely f****d.  I have no survival skills.  Everything I’ve learned about survival has been in this man-made, electronic, instant-gratification society.  If a button falls off a pair of pants, I go to the mall and buy a new pair of pants.  I turn on the faucet and I get water.  Sure, I can cook a mean [insert your favorite meal here], but I don’t have to forage for the ingredients.  Or light a fire by rubbing sticks together in order to cook [your favorite meal].  I would die out there.

We all forget how lucky we are, and – dare I say it – spoiled.  We don’t know how to live on Earth as Mother Nature, the Big Bang, God, George Burns, or whatever you may believe, intended us to live.  We only know this quasi-virtual, man-made, non-self-sustaining, ultra-convenient ant farm that we’ve created over the past few centuries.  What if it disappeared tomorrow?  Would you know how to start this civilization over from scratch?  Me either.  I guess if someone else finds the food and lights the fire, I’ll volunteer to do the cooking!


  1. There are these really neat solar flares that happen fairly often (geologically speaking) that pack enough EM radiation to kill all electrical equipment. The last one happened in 1859, and as you can imagine, almost nobody noticed. If the same flare occurred today, we would be almost instantly dropped back into the stone age. We are completely dependent on electricity for everything now, and have practically nothing to fall back on, except fire. It's amazing how fragile the world we have grown accustomed to really is, and scary just how quickly we have gone from tough to frail people in a couple of centuries.

  2. Pete, that is really interesting. I read an article on recently about unprecedented solar activity that could interrupt communication devices, such as cell phone reception. The writer made it sound so catastrophic, but that's just a tiny little part of our lives that would be disrupted in comparison to what you're saying. It's like we've built a society that balances on a tightrope. I hate that I'm not prepared to survive in the world I live in.


  4. Don't worry, nobody else is prepared either. Well, maybe a few Navy Seals and a couple of guys in Montana. Just remember that in any long-term survival situation, clean water is the top priority. You can gather rainwater, boil ground water, use purifying tablets or hoard bottled water, but without a way to get it, you're going to die quickly (and probably be very sick as well.)

    My survival plan is to sit in the darkened house alone, stroking my then-useless Blackberry and whispering the words "My preciousssss..." repeatedly. It has the advantage of simplicity. I don't want too many steps to remember when all heck is breaking loose, you know?

  5. Excellent post. I want to do the whole sustainable living, emergency preparedness thing, but never seem to find the time. We have this big house (and an old house, not a McMansion so at least there's that) but it's filled with stuff that we don't need. I'd leave it all today for true happiness. Most of it doesn't make me happy, most of it frustrates me. And seeing a child raised in the current environment where he has tons more than I ever did (not just because he's spoiled, but because I have more now than I did then and more things exist), it's sickening his lack of appreciation for it all. When I think of all this, it makes me so sad. There is so much I should change... And what summer road trips??? When are you coming to NJ? (Still trying to pull together my road trip to you...)

  6. The following movie clip pretty much sums up a good portion of our society - but not all:


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