"Suck it up. This is life. Grow Up!"

This is the latest blog from a favorite site of mine called, No Impact Man. Some of you might find yourself in agreement with this guest blogger (Sean Sakamoto) who just posted about escaping the 'rat-race'...

Heaven Knows

My friend Sean occasionally writes for the blog. For a long time, he has been searching for a way to live that makes him truly happy. He doesn't believe in the rat race. He wants to find a way to live that doesn't rely on stuff and corporations but on people and community. His thinking interests me because he, like me, believes that if people look for a way of life that is truly good for them, chances are it will be better for the planet too. Anyway, here's Sean's latest.

“I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows that I’m miserable now...”
That line is from a song called “Heaven Knows” by Morrissey, the king of adolescent angst. Every time I listen to it, I burst out laughing because I completely identify with the sentiment. I need to work, but I don’t always want to work. I want to spend time with friends, I want to take walks, I want to enjoy life. Who doesn’t? I want my work to be part of my life, but not the end of it.

In the past, whenever I dwelled on this my solutions came in the form of stern commands to myself, for example, “Quit whining. Suck it up. This is life. Grow up,” etc. And for the most part, that’s what I did. I showed up, I made a buck, I did what I had to do. I got a job that wasn’t perfect, but it paid the bills. Then I got laid off. I was scrambling, and my wife was working long hours to keep us afloat. That was a couple of years ago, and as I faced looking for a job, and then maybe finding a job, I realized I needed a major change. I applied for a job teaching English in rural Japan, and I was lucky to get it, and so I left my world behind.

In my time in Japan, I’ve learned two very important things. First, I realized that I need to be around people like me. I love Japan, but boy do I get lonely out here.

Secondly, and just as important, I learned that I don’t need much to be comfortable. My wife, son and I live in a small apartment. I take home about $2,000 a month, much less than we did in New York, and we never go without. We don’t count our pennies, we don’t feel as if we’re making a sacrifice, we take little trips and we buy what we need. The thing is, we just don’t need to buy much stuff.

So, now that I know I don’t need much money, and I want to be near friends, what to do? I read that the healthiest lifestyle involves low intensity exercise throughout the day. I keep having these crazy fantasies about getting some land, putting some shipping container houses on it, and living with friends on the cheap. A place with gardens, bike paths, and always someone to talk to or start a project with. I have some savings, so this dream isn’t completely impossible. The hard part is convincing others to join me.

I’m not talking about a commune, or even an active rejection of modern life. I’m just talking about a way of life that puts having some fun at the center, a way for people who want to garden, to make music, to play games, or to just have a good conversation, and live cheaply enough that we’re not working all our waking hours to pay the bills on a lifestyle that keeps us in our seats, dreaming of a better life. As I contemplate a return to the US, I realize that I don’t want to return to a life of scheduled exercise, paid for entertainment, and constant worry about the rising monthly costs on a life that I’m barely living. I want to live with friends, have fun, and enjoy this midlife crisis I seem to be having.

In short, I want to make a retirement community for people who want to retire from the rat race, but not from their life’s work. I want to find a way for people to make what they really care about the focus of their life. How would we make a living? I’m not sure. I do know I don’t need that much to thrive and I like to move around during the day. What do you think? Am I just dreaming, or can this be done?

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Replies to This Discussion

Sadly, I have not lived abroad, nor even had the opportunity to visit any foreign country, so I find it extremely interesting to read what you and Misty have said about your experiences. I have read that foreigners who have visited long term or immigrated here find themselves feeling extremely isolated as well. Americans also seem to feel very isolated from each other. We often don't even get to know our neighbors who have lived near to us for years. We tend to isolate in our own bubbles, closely connecting only to our immediate family and a few chosen good friends, and do not seem to go out of our way to include others. Walking my dog throughout my neighborhood I rarely, if ever see anyone outside of their homes, no kids playing on the block with other kids, everyone holed up in their air conditioned homes, playing video games or socializing on the computer.... Perhaps this is another reason why the church takes on such an important social role in so many people's lives?...
i can attest that all of my friends, most of whom are comfortable financially if not affluent, avoid thinking about anything distressing... If they do trespass on some important and disturbing news, they quickly distance themselves using the excuse that somehow they can't be bothered, or that there is nothing they can do about it so why get upset. They shrug, then move on to a more comfortable topic on their mind reflecting on their personal life. Is this not astonishing? How are we capable of shuffling away, sweeping under the rug, all things that make us feel uncomfortable that seemingly doesn't immediately impact our day-to-day lives? I know that I do this as well at times, but I am more often plagued with concerns and devour as much information as I can despite it negatively impacting my thoughts and well being....

(I would have more to say, but my dog is begging to go out and my daughter needs a lift... Hope to respond more later)
Wow! Both Sydni and Vespertilio you couldn't have said it better for me. I crave deep conversations all the time. The only person I can have one with is my best friend of 35 years, whom I haven't seen in 20 years (e-mail and voice keeps us in contact). Additionally one of the people I work with is somewhat intellectually inclined and is bothered by all of the deniers our there also (i.e. the religious, right-wing, etc.). This also kinda came up recently in a one of the innumerable extended family parties. My eldest (who my spouse and I raised without my trying to educate her to be a skeptic) recently got engaged to a evangelical right wing wealthy republican. I personally don't want to have much to do with his family (what's there to talk about). My spouse's family, who are extremely affluent think that people's politics, religion, beliefs, and attitudes toward their privileged position are really not important. I tried at this party to engage anyone in a group of 10 relatives (doctors, lawyers, PhDs, entrepreneurs, pharmacists) in a discussion of why beliefs matter and they all acted like I was nuts.

The problem as I see it is that education is a waste for most people. For some, education expands their thinking and opens up doors of discovery both intellectually, artistically, philosophically and emotionally, but for most it merely is a way to higher mindless status. (We all are just a troop of dominance obsessed baboons on the savanna (with lawyers being the worst - I speak from the experience of being one)).

Also from experience with Asian culture, "family" is the "church, synagogue, temple" of the East. Organized religion is the social link in much of our culture and "family" (not in the Western nuclear sense but in the much more expanded "all my in-laws, relatives distant relations" sense) is the social link in Eastern cultures. Hence, why some of the people who have gone to the East can't break into the culture because they are not family.
I understand your need to socialize! We are social creatures and being an atheist can be very isolating. I lived in Houston (it merits being called the SOUTH to me) for a year and remember that when I met people for the first time most of them asked me what church I attended in the initial conversation. I have also thought in the past of attending a Unitarian church as they are the most liberal and least dogmatic of the denominations. However, with any church, the members there have to have many subjects that would just be out of bounds, so... (kinda like my relatives in the last post). You should consider the "Meetup" page for your area. I have found an Atheist/Freethinkers group here (not hard in the SF Bay area) that I attend and it is so great to get together with like minded atheist skeptics.

I get RSS feed so I read the article you spoke of. I know that most people don't think but just feel their way to their beliefs. As the article stated, we tend to chose who to listen to so as to support our own positions. I like to think of myself as an atheist and skeptical scientist (only operating as a lawyer due to foolish mistakes when I was younger). However, if I only read Skeptic magazine, Scientific American, The New York Times, Pharyngula (PZ Meyers blog), and this site, am I doing just what the article said and only reading those things that support my beliefs? I try to remain open minded, but does that mean listening to Rush Limbaugh or watching Fox News has to be included??? I think not. We should welcome challenges to what we understand, but not waste our time on fruitless argument. I hope I remain open-mined enough to change with time and in the face of a good argument, but who knows. As atheists and skeptics I think we have to be open to new knowledge, but....

I think we all have to be into the Karl Popper mode of thought and attempt to falsify our beliefs rather than just be "pruning the hedge". Only through attempting to falsify a theory does it become more robust.

I concur with your thoughts on an educated electorate in this country. But look at much of the EU, they appear to have liberal democracies that although not perfect seem to be heading in the right directions. I think this country is carrying a heavy legacy of its Puritanical religious history and will so for a long time. Maybe we should move to Europe.... Maybe that is what this Escape group is about???? We all emigrate to Europe!

There was a video posted on this site of a recent TED talk by Michael Schermer, you should check it out.
You might be right about stereotypes and you may have had moving deep friendships with Asians. However, my experience with over 30 years of being intimately involved with Chinese-Americans is that they are very insular (while being outwardly friendly - as most people are). Maybe the people in China are not as insular and I am mistakenly extrapolating from an immigrant community (I know that other immigrant groups have always been quite internally focused due to the inherent prejudice against out-siders most dominant groups have). Not to mean that there can't be exceptions but we are all cultural beings. We, by being part of this Atheist group are a strong argument for rising above our dominant religious culture. A lot of us probably had a religious upbringing and even if we didn't we were surrounded by this overtly religious culture.

Additionally, I did not intend on suggesting that Asian cultures are any less thinking than our own (witness most conservative republicans). My only large point was that Asian culture has given the preservation of the extended family (and its memory and honor) the same level of importance and social value that the western cultures have given to religion. My mother-in-law puts as much emphasis on The Family and its welfare, status, and preservation that My Father gave to his religion, and he was a fanatic (in my opinion). Hence, although my perceptions could be skewed, I think that when one lives in Asia and has difficulty "breaking in" to the social environment it is a distinct possibility that it is due to not being part of a Confucian family.

Your point that good people are good people no matter where they grew up is well taken. However, I am not interested in non-thinking good people who go along with the status quo of their culture. I want to associate with critical thinkers who question this hell bent course of environmental destruction we seem to be on. Being members of this group already show that we are critical enough to throw off religion. These are the people I want to associate with and not just general good people. The road to HELL (environmental, or other self-destruction) is paved with good people. We need more questioning skeptical thinkers.

thanks for the interesting (and thought provoking) replies!!!!!!!!!!
Now that was funny Jean Marie... Laughed Out Loud!

I totally agree with you about not limiting myself to only making atheist friends, but it's a nice bonus when I do meet and make friends with one. But I know for a fact that I could not become super close friends with a fundamentalist or devout religious person, it just wouldn't work. And as far as a romantic relationship goes, I would never get involved with anyone seriously religious, that too would never work out for me. I've been involved with men who said that they believed in god, but they were 'godless' in the way they lived their life. It NEVER became an issue between us, other things were far more irritating in our relations than religion was.

I do have old friends who believe in many new-age type belief systems, and they had taken it for granted that I somehow understand, accept and believe as they do. For the most part, I just used to go along with their 'magical thinking' conversations when it came to astrology, crystals, alternative healing stuff, etc. I did let them know that I didn't have 'faith' in that crap, but somehow that didn't stop them from talking about this stuff with me, since I never made much of an issue of it in the past.

That's changed now. I don't want to pretend anymore that I go along with it, or allow them to assume that this type of conversation is OK with me, and will be accepted without confrontation... Now, whenever they bring up some crazy, unproven, delusional topic with me, I tell them straight out what I think and why. For me at least, these friendships are better because they usually think twice before they talk to me about this stuff. What a relief not to have to pretend not to be put off by their 'spiritual' meandering mind-warps. Otherwise, we have plenty to say and enjoy about each other, so the friendships have remained intact and strong.
I am reminded of Stephen J. Gould. Even though I think he was sometimes incorrect(Non-Overlapping Magesteria) one of his great contributions to my personal thinking was historical contingency. I took it to mean that when evolutionary history played out, that the path evolution took to a point could never be repeated if the tape was played over again. On a personal level I take that into account also. Every life taken at whatever point you want to observe it is a product of the events leading up to it and if you re-ran the life again and other choices(free will) were made the outcome would be entirely different. Maybe because of my age and the fact that my last children are just getting ready to start making some of those irreversible (and even though one could argue that nothing is irreversible and we can always remake ourselves, I would argue that some choices constrain future ones) life decisions I am more impressed now than ever that some of the choices I made long ago continue to play out now even in late middle age. (wow, was that a rambling lead in?:))
Hence, I made decisions long ago not to have many friends, if that meant I had to put up with religious thinking, woo, etc on their behalf. I chose occasionally to ignore it but that never seemed to work out. My only close friend I found over 35 years ago and although we only occasionally talk I know there is another mind in this universe that I can communicate with and that although I would have liked more friends I wanted more than just people who I talk to but whose thinking was screwed up. I ultimately have sought some solace in science and definitely in literature/books.
Would I have liked more friends? Yes, without a doubt. However, I would prefer reading Dawkins, Schermer, Dennett, Asimov, or Scientific American to being with people who profess any religious beliefs. Lonely sometimes, Yes, but to have most of the greatest thinkers as a source of comfort can sustain one.
I was sometimes lucky in the decisions I made and sometimes I made the wrong decisions and still pay the consequences. Yes, there are some regrets(such as would I go to law school again, HELL NO).
Currently my greatest joy is that at least some of my children are skeptical critical thinkers and think religion is a hoot.
Jean Marie, I would say that I don't limit myself to atheists (as that may be a too narrow definition), but I just don't have the patience for religion and stupid thinking at all anymore.
Additionally, as you may have surmised my spouse is Chinese American. My experience is that this experience of being outside mainstream dominant white culture (i.e. many Chinese saw what happened to the Japanese in this culture and took it to heart - i.e. if you are a different race you are never truly American) has driven at least some Chinese Americans to focus on FAMILY to such an extreme that they make few if no friends. In my extended Chinese American family there are few friends and Friends are frowned upon. Hence, I made a choice to join this Family and said choice constrains me to this day. At least, there is no religion, but one has to experience how all encompassing FAMILY is(kinda like the Italian Mafia).
This group and the free thinkers like you, Syndi and Vespertilio are a joy to have found!!!
If I understand Vespertilio correct, he is not criticizing the people outlined here. I agree with him that most of society is in the "rat race" to distract themselves from thinking and discovering the existential pointlessness of their lives. Being an atheist I find that Vespertilio is correctly making fun of their "spiritual" plight. Meaningless lives is all nature gives us, we must give our lives meaning and for most people living rat race lives just kinda shows how little spirituality they get from their lives and (obviously) their religions. One has to LOL in the face of nature's meaninglessness and then give it meaning (god, is this gibberish??). That is what the people in this "example" are doing and I applaud them for the meaning they give their lives. I chose to give mine a slightly different meaning but admire their lives as well. WE all need to escape unthinking, meaningless, irrational, and destructive lives and ways of living. Some are just further along than others.


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