Retirement is an unnatural act.
Perhaps more accurately it is the final act in a series of unnatural events that punctuate our modernity. In the extremely short period of time that the concept of retirement has been around it has managed to become so ingrained into our psyche that we don’t even consider that what we are doing is contrary to our biology .
Let me start my tirade with the industrial revolution. Arguably this is the time where things went both really right for us. And also really wrong. Although maybe we can just skip the evolutionary anthropology paragraph and just agree that we are not designed to sit all day in a cubicle farm, under artificial light, replying to email. Afterwhich we come home, expose ourselves to more artificial light, sleep for five or six hours and then repeat the entire process. For forty five years.
We are essentially large hairless primates. Primates that can cooperate effectively to get stuff done, but basically we are still monkeys. In the wild primates live in large family groups, as did Homo Sapiens, until very recently. In fact imagine for a moment that we lived now as we had evolved to. As opposed to all the craziness we have recently foisted on ourselves. What would that look like?
Lets imagine that as a social mammal I would have grown up in a large communal home with my grandparents, my parents and all my siblings. Lets just pretend it’s always worked like this. (in my utopian analogy there are strong property rights and everyone believes in Libertarianism) Because our family has never moved and that land belongs to us we have managed to harness potentially the biggest factor in financial independence, inter generational wealth. We pool our resources and share assets like communal appliances and cook communal meals. In fact because there is no food scarcity in our modern world (ie we don’t have to grow our own food or hunt for it), the savings associated with living in community and the level of technology available to us we find that we would hardly have to work at all.
This is obviously in direct opposition to the way we live now. We can’t wait to move out and get indebted buying our own home. Then we have to repurchase everything we had had while we lived with our parents, and then have to work like crazy to afford all this new stuff. If we are considered savvy we save and invest our money so that we can afford to ‘retire’ in our twilight years before spending our final chapter surrounded by strangers in some palliative care facility our kids have put us in.
Not only do we see nothing wrong with living like this, we embrace it.
In a tribal culture you don’t move out. When you procreate your tribe helps to raise your children. When you get old you don’t get sent off to a ‘home’ to die quietly, you live out your life surrounded by your family and the people you love.
OMG. I hate my parents. They drive me mad. And you’re suggesting I live in close proximity to them… forever?
And therein lies the rub.
On the one hand we are encouraged towards independence, we fight for control, seek out power and dominion over others. All the things that make habitat cohabitation socially challenging. Yet until recently this is how we lived. In some cultures it’s still how people live. Its just my Western culture seems to have forgotten how to live this way. We perpetuate a broken system that splits up our family’s, destroys our social bonds and makes us poorer, both in monetary terms and in quality of life. It makes no sense.
I think the misconception is that only new age hippy families live like this. Or poor people. And that you either have to live in a teepee in the woods next to a rusted out Buick or in single room corrugated shack in a shanty. The truth is with modern architecture we can design dwellings that make communal living a breeze. We’d have more money, more free time and likely lead better, more social lives with better mental health.
I think we might already be too far gone. Far too self involved. We have taken our biggest asset as a species, our ability to communicate and cooperate and made it redundant. Imagine the possibilities if we worked together like we were meant to, instead of trying to do everything on our own. I think that would be quite something.