Future Worship

Written on May 17, 2009. Written by .

Religion is usually defined by its promotion of belief in some supernatural power. But more fundamentally, we could define religion as a system of morals and beliefs that skews one’s ability to properly compute their life-quality maximization function. According to this definition, there is a subtle and insidious religion thriving in modern society that is rarely discussed-the religion of future worship. Future worship consists of a set of beliefs based around the idea that one should worry about their future. The italicized words are each important. The beliefs suggest that if one is not worrying, then one should start worrying, and that simply considering the future is not sufficient, worrying is necessary. This worry is responsible for many important life decisions and thus produces a large influence on the way the world is developing.

The reason future worship is so difficult to recognize is that it actually does make sense to invest for the future sometimes. There is an ideal level of investment for each person and for each situation, but there is no non-arbitrary place to draw a line that will handle all cases. So by the principle of non-arbitrary distinction, there is no absolute principle that will tell you when you are making a reasonable investment and when you are worshiping the future. But because future worship is based on worry rather than reason, a systematic bias is created in favor of sacrifice and investment. People are led to become disciplined and to rush into things they are not ready for, which has the consequence of degrading their own life quality and making the world less enjoyable for others as well.

Mental discipline emerges as a result of the need to make sacrifices for investment in the future. Major investments like education and career goals usually require that specific actions are taken at specific times regardless of one’s mood. This situation creates a system of pressures and deadlines that can only be managed with a good deal of mental discipline. These pressures are not entirely a creation of modern society – even primitive man had to go out and work to obtain food every so often, which may not have always been the most enjoyable option available. But there are some fundamental differences with the current situation. We now have larger discontinuities in life quality due to our deadlines. If you miss a final exam, you might end up failing the class and be forced to go through a whole lot more suffering next semester. For primitive man, deadlines were generally flexible, meaning that they provided a continuously increasing negative influence on life quality. When a primitive man was too lazy to hunt or gather, he would become hungry, but he doesn’t die until about three weeks of strong, direct incentives to collect food have been experienced. During the better part of these weeks, his body would ensure that he was in the mood for obtaining food. The same is not true for most modern pressures. Your body does not understand the significance of income tax returns, so any incentives that you have to do them will be indirect, through a long chain of abstract, assumed connections.

Ideally, we want to feel like everything we do is for our personal benefit, not just think that it is for our personal benefit. This is the problem with jobs. You think that being in the job is beneficial, but you feel like everything you do while at the job is for someone else’s benefit. The discrepancy arises because there is a disconnect between your motives and your actions. They are only connected through a contract signed a long time ago. No matter how many times you remind yourself of how well you are getting paid through your employment contract, you are never going to be able to get over the natural feeling that doing someone else’s chores is not in your self-interest, even if this feeling is actually incorrect and merely due to the limitations of human psychology.

In addition to such problems caused by discipline, there are the problems caused by rushing. It is now common for many high school students to feel that going directly to college is the only option after graduation. This forces the student to decide on a concentration at just about the time they are sobering up from all the partying they do in their first year on campus. At this age, most students do not have a strong conception of what it would feel like to work full-time in the career they are choosing. By the time they find an internship a few years down the road, they already feel that it is too late to switch majors. Due to the high costs of college, there is a strong disincentive to starting over. So they convince themselves that it won’t be that bad and continue along the path they chose based on insufficient data. Other students might actually have chosen the best concentration for them, but don’t yet realize it and so end up resisting their education rather than enjoying it. And even the lucky students who truly enjoy their studies often wind up over-worked and over-stressed to the point of losing interest in their studies, especially during graduate school.

As a consequence of the discipline and rush induced by future worship, people turn out to be less interesting. Often they must temper their passions and natural interests to support their career goals. And after long hours of draining work, it is difficult to have enough stamina to do anything but to seek recovery through passive forms of entertainment such as television and spectator sports. Such a person is less fun to talk to because they don’t have many unique experiences to talk about, and they are less fun to be friends with because they are always either working or recovering from work. But the harm due to their mistakes is not limited to their acquaintances-it affects everyone in the economy. The future worshiper creates demand for junk television and supports the outrageous salaries of professional athletes instead of stimulating markets for interests that require more active involvement. This makes it more difficult for others to make a living doing genuinely meaningful things. Furthermore, the willingness of the future worshiper to work such long hours makes it much harder for others to live without working long hours. If everyone simultaneously agreed that they would refuse to work more than 20 hours a week and refused to take a pay cut, the world would adjust and still work fine. Of course GDP growth would slow, but the structure of society would not change too much. Why are we still working 40 hours a week then? It is simply because there are too many future worshipers. Consider the example that Bertrand Russell gives in his essay In Praise of Idleness: a factory employs workers for 40 hours per week to produce pins and one day a new invention comes along that doubles the efficiency of the factory. It would be possible to reduce work hours to 20 per week without changing anything else, but that is not what happens. Worker’s pay rates are not determined by their productive output, but by the labor market. The factory owner knows this and just fires half of his staff. Those who got fired find new jobs; all the workers continue working full-time and the factory owner pockets the increased profits.

Many commentators take this as justification for an attack on capitalism. Indeed it does seem that the harshness of free-market competition is responsible for the plight of the workers in this case. In a way, free-market competition is responsible in the sense that it is a necessary ingredient for the situation to exist. But capitalism is not the culprit here. Blaming the problem on capitalism would be like blaming the laws of physics for the bad weather. In both cases there is simply no other feasible option and blame relies on choice. Capitalism is just the way trade (and hence economics) works. You can either have capitalism or capitalism twisted by threats of violence (socialism), but both are fundamentally capitalism.

So if we can’t blame capitalism, then what caused this unfortunate situation? We can only blame ourselves. It is the way we behave that creates the world we live in. The motives for our future worshiping behavior can be explained with the following observations. Primarily, our genes make us competitive and sacrificial straight from birth. Our genes are not concerned with our subjective life quality-they don’t mind if we are constantly stressed and worried as long as that stress and worry is helping us to survive and reproduce. When it comes to survival, our genes’ interests are allied with our own, but from our genes standpoint, it is ideal to be safe and boring so as to make it easier to raise children at a young age, which is not entirely ideal for us. Furthermore, parents assist in the promotion of future worship because they don’t want to have to take care of their children forever. Even if their children would survive fine on their own, they know that they will feel the need to send money if their children are experiencing severe hardship, again due to genetic factors. But they would prefer to just get their children into medical school so they won’t have to worry about this potential burden. Schooling too biases children toward future worship because the whole educational system is setup to convince students that life requires massive sacrifice, and the process is started long before they are old enough to see through the wool that is over their eyes. There is also the factor that the wealthy benefit from the sacrificial behavior of the poorer classes, which encourages the rich and powerful to promote propaganda based on the idea that hard work is virtuous for its own sake (e.g. the Puritan work ethic). Along with such propaganda comes the insinuation that it is somehow bad to not want to work, which is an absurd value judgment. Another factor is that we don’t have good lifestyle options for those who choose not to work. Homeless shelters and soup kitchens are unnecessarily inconvenient. Under an ideal form of government like geolibertarianism, everyone would receive a living wage coming out of the nation’s property taxes, alleviating the compulsion to work and curbing the exploitation of the poor.

Conventional wisdom would say that if a person just does whatever they feel like doing, they would become extremely lazy and their life would be purposeless. Based on real-world evidence, I am quite certain that this is simply not true. It is just one of the many false assumptions that has been implanted into our collective consciousness of our society by Christianity, which declares sloth as one of the seven deadly sins. Though some people may be naturally more lazy than others, I believe that aside from a few depressed individuals, laziness is self-limiting and everyone will equilibrate to natural level of laziness that leaves plenty of room for productivity and purpose in life. People are often deceived by the level of laziness seen on vacations. Of course you will be lazy on a vacation from a hard job, you are in a sort of motivation debt from all the sacrifice that you have been making. But after all that debt is paid off, assuming your vacations was as long as you choose, you would realize that sloth is not as fun as engaging in interesting activities that provide flow experiences.

The obvious question at this point is: How can one actually escape from the religion of future worship in the real world where we have all kinds of financial concerns to deal with? All you really have to do is stop worrying, but of course that is much easier said than done. To stop worrying, you need to convince yourself that worry is unnecessary. This can be accomplished by presenting yourself with a potentially plausible plan and using reason to justify its plausibility and desirability. So here is a generic plan that seems plausible: Be greedy with your time, don’t let anyone take it unless if you have no choice. Start by saving up a year’s worth of living expenses as a psychological security buffer, then live modestly and work as little as possible to get by. Use your free time to pursue your true interests, some of which will lead you to new money-making opportunities that will allow you to reduce your working time further through freelancing and business. Don’t go to college until you find something that you are truly interested in studying. When you do go to college, don’t pay attention to grades. Don’t have expectations for the future, then you won’t be disappointed when your grades are not good enough for the nation’s top medical school. Don’t have goals for the future, just let your rational desires guide you through each stage. Goals are based on the notion that the future is predictable, which is not true, so goals just lead to frustration and disappointment. Following your rational desires is the organic and adaptable way to optimize your life.

The difficult step is to convince yourself that such a plan is in fact plausible and desirable. Since it is hard to predict the future, the best bet is to just try it, but that is not easy either. You need to realize that you can always change your mind. And even if you do change your mind, that doesn’t mean you were wrong. The situation is different and the right decisions in differing situations may differ. You can’t be wrong about lifestyle decisions if you are using your best reasoning. So fill in some specifics such as what type of work you might want to do and see if it is possible. Here is some additional reading that might help.

Read more from the How to Live category. If you would like to leave a comment, click here: 5 Comments. or stay up to date with this post via RSS from your site.

Leave a Comment

If you would like to make a comment, please fill out the form below.

Name (required)

Email (required)



5 Comments so far
  1. bspice May 17, 2009 6:04 pm

    This was a very good article. I’d like to point out that just because the ideal balance between fully worrying about the future, and not thinking at all about the future can be placed arbitrarily doesn’t mean you should favor one side over the other. Ideally you would be capable of thinking about the future to some degree, and making goals based on it, while avoiding the psychological distortion society and family impose on you. It is a safe assumption that you will be alive tomorrow, so you can make plans, and even minor sacrifices today to better your life tomorrow. It is very important to remain observant and logical about these sacrifices to ensure you don’t succumb to worrying about the future, or blindly following sacrificial paths that lead you to careers you don’t enjoy.

    While in highschool and some of college, I’ve always enjoyed having summers off. For the first week or two, I’d be a couch potato, wasting time playing video games or watching tv (doing some other activities as well, but mostly just being lazy). After those first two weeks though, I’d get bored of doing nothing, and I’d start doing more productive things. I’d work on programming projects and learn things just because I wanted to learn them. I strongly doubt anyone could stay truly lazy for much more than 2 weeks if they had no pressures on them.

    I think I need to spend more time analyzing geolibertarianism. At first I think it would lead to the free income you talk about, but after some time, the cost of food will grow. Farmers will be paying for others’ living expenses and for farming supplies needed to produce food, and will need to charge more for the food to offset costs. Land will become cheaper to buy, but the farmers already have enough land, they just can’t afford to pay rent on what they already own. As more and more people see that they can live without doing work, they will quickly jump ship (not people accustomed to high rolling lifestyles, but those who work minimum wage jobs just because they have to). This would lead to wage increases to encourage people to do these jobs. Most of these jobs deal with distribution of food as well, therefore causing food prices to rise even higher. Now in order for you to “earn” a livable wage through land taxes, the land taxes would have to rise higher, just spiralling out of control. There might be ways to fight this spiral, and it might not occur like this, but it could be worth investigating whether geolibertarianism is really the true ideal. I think people shouldn’t get something for nothing. People should at least need to produce something to earn food. Otherwise it would just be the poor taking advantage of the rich rather than the rich taking advantage of the poor that we complain about in traditional capitalism.

  2. cspice May 19, 2009 7:40 am

    Hi bspice, I like your comment, it brings up some good points. First, there is the question of whether goals are more of a good thing or a bad thing. I think it probably isn’t possible to declare all goals as either good or bad. But I do think that the conventional notion that its good to be a “goal-oriented person” is fallacious. Goals make pleasure the eternal preserve of the future. Accomplishing a goal provides a fleeting dose of pride and joy, which quickly leads to stress and sacrifice for the next goal. Not having goals doesn’t mean that you can’t do productive things however. It’s just that instead of saying “I want to finish this project by the end of the month”, you say “I want to spend some time working on this project”. The difference might seem minor, but I think it makes a significant psychological difference if you really think of it that way. You are thinking about what you want to do in the present rather than what you want to have in the future.

    As for your concern about food production in geolibertarianism, I don’t believe that this will be a big issue. First of all, land taxes are assessed in proportion to the value of the land, so farm land will be much cheaper than city land and by an even larger margin than today I would expect since land will be almost free in the country.

    I disagree with your concern that many people will quit working because people will always want to make more money than a subsistence income. Just look at middle class high school students who already get more than subsistence from their parents and yet still want to work part-time jobs. And that is with a full school load, so imagine what happens when they have no obligations whatsoever, they will want to find something to keep them busy. But the difference is that they won’t tolerate abusive working environments, hence reducing exploitation substantially. And this refers to the exploitation that originally stems from the improper definition of “property” when applied to natural resources.

  3. cspice May 20, 2009 1:48 am

    As for your point about “people shouldn’t get something for nothing”, I disagree on two counts. The first is: why not? The natural resources exist and there is no way to initially distribute them unless some person, organization, or government gets them for free because nature doesn’t have a bank account for us to pay into.

    My second argument is that even if we do accept your premise that “people shouldn’t get something for nothing”, this is actually supportive of geolibertarianism. This is because under the current system, natural resource owners are getting the intrinsic value of the resources for nothing. Geolibertarianism is merely offseting this injustice by distributing the free value evenly.

  4. bspice May 20, 2009 3:30 pm

    Regarding “people getting something for nothing”, I suppose I wasn’t stating my assumptions, and in fact my assumptions were wrong. I was assuming that distribution of goods is close to a zero sum game, and that all good require effort going in to get value out. If person A produces some goods, then person B gets some of them through some government policy without contributing anything, person A may be better off in many cases. Its questionable whether this should be forced or voluntary, but in many cases both people are better off by this.

    My second assumption that goods require effort in to get value out is just plain wrong, but I worry that there is not enough food produced naturally to feed everyone. Even if you tried to live in the wilderness and hunt for food, I think the food sources would run out, merely because of the population size. If the land use tax is enough to live off of as you seem to believe, people won’t be chained to their jobs, and will use up more natural resources in the wilderness, if only for the fun and adventure. I’m guessing that the land use tax may not be enough for a person to survive on its own. You may need to use some land of your own and farm it, or earn some money in a different way. This will be especially true in cities.

    Geolibertarianism has good/logical axioms, but it is hard to determine if it is the “ideal economic theory” until I determine what “ideal economic theory” means. It seems like their is an arbitrary line placed in the spectrum between minimalistic economic and political theories that favor freedom and those that provide more protections, services, and planned distribution of goods. In order to determine what is the best, we need some nonarbitrary scoring between them. The distinction between a political/economic theory that maximizes happiness and on that maximizes freedom makes it hard to determine what is best.

  5. cspice May 20, 2009 7:02 pm

    The land tax should ensure that nobody has to pay for housing as long as they are using less property value than average. There is enough land in America for every man, woman, and child to own 7 acres, which is about 18 acres per family. So every family should be able to live on 18 acres of countryside without paying any rent or taxes. Of course, in a city, your share would be much reduced, perhaps only a two-bedroom apartment. If you live on much less than your fair share of land, then you could use the surplus of your dividend to pay for food.

    I think your concerns about food are unjustifiable. Remember that geolibertarianism is still based on free markets. As soon as food becomes at all scarce, there will be many farmers who jump into action due to the profit motive. I do not think there is any reason to believe that guaranteed subsistence will cause any kind of serious economic problem. I think it will change people’s attitudes much more than it will change the overall operation of the market.

    I have yet to define what criteria I use for the term “ideal economic theory”. This may come in a future post. But for now I will say that it is the system that emerges when you toss away all of your biases and follow the principles of justice and social morality. What remains is to show that a principled approach to justice and social morality is the foundation of the “ideal economic theory”. Your example of taking from one person and giving to another would violate the principle of property rights. While it may seem that the situation is improved by considering this transaction in isolation, I believe that the abondonment of the principle it entails is more devastating than can be offset by the minor gains obtained.

© Copyright thrive by design - Powered by Wordpress - Designed by Speckyboy