In previous blogs on this site I have been emphasizing the importance of bringing the whole of one’s personal life into the logical spotlight. And I have been critical of the way people in general, and academics and scientists in particular, limit their rationality to what is technical, abstract and impersonal, thereby keeping it well away from their deepest emotional attachments. So it is only fair that I turn the logical spotlight around and direct it towards my own life. In particular, I will use this blog to examine the way I earn my livelihood.
The question of how to generate an income is a challenge for anyone who seeks to lead a truthful life and become perfectly wise. How does one gain a livelihood from a society that is steeped in falsehood, dishonesty and lies, while remaining faithful to the truth? Is it possible to remain uncompromising in one’s thought and behaviour and yet flourish in the modern world?
There are two specific issues involved. The first issue is time. The spiritual person needs a lot of free time so that he can learn to think properly, develop his meditational skills, apply his reasonings in a sustained manner and open his mind to the Infinite. The second issue is values. Can a spiritual person give his blessing to a system that actively promotes ignorance, false values, irrational beliefs, bigotry, confusion, pettiness, deception, exploitation of the weak, emotional orgies and violence? Can he be party to a system which instinctively smothers wisdom and truth at every available opportunity? These two issues ultimately merge into a single fundamental question: What is the best way for a thinking individual to live the highest life and contribute strongly to the future of the human race?
The solution I have come up with is not the only solution available, and I am not necessarily advocating that people should replicate what I have done. Every person’s circumstances are different. But it is very important that you think through the manner in which you lead your life and earn your income. Indeed, everyone should be doing this, regardless of whether they have spiritual aspirations or not. Just because someone pays you a wage, or gives you money for your goods or services, and you are surrounded by a loving family, it does not automatically mean that you are doing the right thing and leading a decent life. After all, even drug dealers and weapons smugglers can claim that.
In the first half of this blog I will outline some background information about my life and the choices I have made, while in the second half I will explain the reasons behind these choices. My main motivation for writing about this subject is to give this site some ballast, to give readers a sense of my personality and a glimpse into my roots. One of the problems with the internet is its encouragement of anonymity. Although the internet is a wonderful tool that allows us to communicate with others from all over the world, the fact that most people hide behind pseudonyms only serves to make discussion less interesting and less substantial. The popular term “keyboard warriors” is very apt in describing those whose fearlessness in the cyberworld derives purely from being an untraceable nobody behind a computer. Although there might be plenty of earnestness and fire in the things they write, there is no blood in their words, no personal sacrifice, no risk, and thus no depth. Indeed, most discussions (or arguments) on the internet have little to do with truth. They are more about people taking out their frustrations and bludgeoning people to death. It all amounts to a lot of sound and fury about nothing.
Many who read this particular blog are likely to be disgusted over the way I live my life and will instantly dismiss everything I have to say on any subject at all. Others will be somewhat contemptuous, but nonetheless they will continue to respect the quality of my thought, although their estimation of me will probably be lowered. And then there will be some who won’t have any problems with it at all – in fact, they will probably find the whole thing highly amusing and have even more regard for me. I have experienced all of these varying reactions in my everyday life, and continue to do so. So I am well used to it.
Anyway, to business. A little bit about my life:
I am 48 now and I have not been employed in any official capacity since I was 22. The only time I had a full-time job was back in 1982, the year after I left school, when I worked as a chainman for twelve months. I then studied surveying for several years at the University of Queensland, during which I was supported by my parents and had several part-time jobs. By the time 1987 rolled around I had completed my course and was living in the countryside as a drop-out, my only income at this stage being unemployment benefits (or “Newstart Allowance” as it is known) and occasional help from my father. It was during this period that I began to take a serious interest in philosophy, mysticism and spirituality. I remember saying to people at the time that I wanted to be a spiritual man “just like Jesus or the Buddha”. And ever since then I have been relying on social security payments for my livelihood.
Australia is a wealthy country and enjoys a fairly generous welfare system that was established at the end of World War II. But nonetheless, there are strict guidelines in place that have to be met before one can receive a welfare payment. In order to receive a Newstart Allowance, for example, one has to provide evidence on a fortnightly basis that one is genuinely looking for work. As I had no real interest in finding work, I initially started my career as a welfare recipient doing what a lot of other young drop-outs did at the time – namely, pretend to look for work and provide false information on the fortnightly forms. Occasionally, I did apply for jobs so that I could receive rejection letters which could be offered as proof that I was looking for work, always making sure during the process that they were jobs I had no chance of getting. For example, I remember once applying for a carer’s job at a women’s refuge, to which they politely replied that after some consideration my application was unsuccessful (they were careful not to mention that it was because I was male!).
This went on for several years. Each fortnight I continued to compile a fake list of employers that I supposedly contacted and each fortnight I continued to put down false information on my Newstart forms. I was not overly concerned about this deceptive practice during this time – indeed, I hardly gave the matter a thought, as my days and nights were thoroughly consumed with the process of developing my thinking and meditating abilities. But eventually my conscience caught up with me. I could no longer ignore the clash between my desire to worship truth in all aspects of my life and the dishonest manner of my livelihood. And so one day, in early 1993, I made the decision to stop providing false information on my fortnightly forms and began telling the Department of Social Security (DSS) of my true intentions – namely, that I had no desire to work in any capacity as I needed to devote all my time to wisdom and the understanding of ultimate reality. In other words, I informed the department who I was, what my values were, what I wanted to do with my life, and then left it up to them to decide what to do with me.
I had no idea what would happen, as I did not know of anyone who had gone down this path. There was no precedent as far as I knew. There was every possibility that I could have ended up on the streets with no income at all. But I was young and did not care. I was fully prepared to live on the streets, if it ever came to that (and still am, if it ever comes to that, for it is still an ever-present danger). I reasoned that I would get by somehow, that starving to death would be an unlikely occurrance in a first-world country such as ours, and that even though it would be rough I would still have plenty of free time to do my real work.
In any case, my values and intentions were dutifully conveyed to the DSS and wheels were set in motion. I was examined by social workers, referred to occupational psychologists, told to undergo various tests, sent to see government psychiatrists, and so on. Eventually it was decided that I should apply for the Disability Support Pension (DSP), which is a welfare payment made to those deemed to be unemployable, either because of long-term physical injury or mental illness. This pleased me because it meant that I would be able to receive an income without having to engage in any form of lying and I would have all the time I needed to pursue my philosophic work.
The actual process of applying for the DSP proved to be a challenge, however, for I had no recognised medical condition to speak of, never saw a treating doctor (other than a general practitioner for minor ailments), and never took medications of any kind. Even filling out the application form was difficult as most of the questions focused on medical matters, leaving me with no choice but to leave most of it blank. Realizing that I could not simply hand in a blank application, but not knowing what else to do, I eventually made contact with a social worker within the DSS who helped me write something that was somewhat passable.
At root, my condition was philosophical, rather than medical. I was applying for the DSP on the basis that I had a strong philosophic nature and valued wisdom “excessively”. Even though my livelihood was on the line, I found the whole situation very amusing and I had a lot of fun dealing with the system in this manner. And I quickly realized that I had an opportunity with this application to make a statement about the nature of our society. I thought to myself that if I presented myself as truthfully as possible, telling everyone concerned that I refused to seek employment because I wanted to exclusively focus on spiritual matters, never exaggerating any quirks or eccentricities I might have, focusing all attention upon the fact that I was healthy and fully-functional and yet choosing to take my spiritual conscience seriously, then I would be forcing the government, and by extension the whole of society, to reveal their attitude towards spirituality and wisdom. In other words, it became my ambition to gain this pension solely on the basis that I valued wisdom. I wanted to prove to myself, and to others, that society does indeed regard the valuing of wisdom as a form of mental illness.
Some years later I gained a copy of my social security files under the Freedom of Information Act and so I can provide the reader with a glimpse of what went on during that time. It does make for interesting reading. For example, here is the report written by the social worker mentioned above: part one, part two, and translation. And here is another report written by a couple of psychologists who also examined me during this period: part one, part two, part three, and part four.
It took around 18 months before my case was resolved and I was granted the DSP on the basis of having a Schizoid Personality Disorder, which suited me fine. Such a label does fit me to some degree, in that I am solitary in nature, relatively emotionless, and apathetic towards society’s goals and values. There is little doubt that my personality is fundamentally different from the norm. It is all a matter of perspective, of course. From my point of view, the human race is utterly mad and I am one of the few sane individuals around, so I can easily see how most people would view the matter in reverse. I sometimes say to people, “If you don’t have a personality disorder, then there is clearly something wrong with you.”
That was in 1994, and now it is 2012 and I am still on this pension, which means for all that time I have been receiving an income from the government – that is to say, from the Australian taxpayers – and have contributed nothing of any economic value in return. The only things of worth that I produce are my philosophic writings on the internet and my philosophic interactions with people in daily life, all of which I do for free. In many people’s eyes, I am a bludger, a parasite who leeches off the hard work of my fellow Australians. Their sense of “fairness” flares up whenever they think about someone like me. They feel that I am letting the side down, as it were. This is a perfectly understandable view on their part, so it is only natural to ask the question: How do I actually justify what I do?
It all turns on how valuable my philosophic output is. If it is of authentic value, if it helps people to become more rational and more profound, perhaps even stimulating them into realizing the nature of reality, then I am making a genuine contribution to society and earning my keep. There are many different ways to contribute to society. It is not all about digging things out of the ground and producing tangible goods. There would be no richness to our culture if that was the case. There would no sophisticated forms of art, music, mathematics, philosophic thought, humour, and research; and there would be little in the way of health services, such as psychological therapy and counselling. The contribution I make to society falls somewhere within the realm of all these things.
On the other hand, it could be argued with some validity that the nature and scope of my work is not for everybody. It is true that many people cannot make any sense of my vocation. It completely goes over their heads. But even so, they are still benefiting in an indirect sense. There might be only a few people in the entire world at the moment who can appreciate and benefit from the sort of work I do, but in time this could change. If more and more people strive to become rational and wise, all the while influencing yet more others in the process, then this will have a rippling effect into the rest of society. Just as Western civilization has become more open-minded and mature over the centuries due to the influence of scientists, even though the specifics of their work are baffling to most people, so too rational philosophers can create intangible, yet meaningful, benefits that stretch far beyond their own individual lives.
I firmly believe that my work is of tremendous relevance to all human beings, whether they realize it or not, and thoroughly deserving of the small pittance I receive for it. There are a lot of people, such as politicians, public servants, administrators and academics, who also derive their income from the taxpayers. Can they also claim that their work is of great significance to humanity? Many professors enjoy enormous salaries that completely dwarf my income for work that has a fraction of the value of my own. Should they be called upon to justify their parasitic ways?
Some argue that I should put my work in the market place and try to sell it. This sounds fine in theory, but it is unworkable in this case. We live in a world where people have minimal interest in the great truth of existence, and they certainly do not want to read material that directly challenges the falseness of their lives. That is very, very unmarketable. People generally prefer to read nice, fluffy pieces that affirms their values, not attacks them. The Buddha himself could materialize in front of these people and speak the greatest truths in the most compelling and direct manner, and still they would find a way to block it all out. You cannot even give this stuff away. I have spent my life offering my work up for free and still barely anyone is interested. The chances of my being able to sustain a livelihood without compromising my work are approximately zero.
Of course, if I had a mind to, I could play the game. I could find a robe of some kind, for example, give myself a fancy title, plaster a permanent smile on my face and speak glowingly about the importance of love and compassion, and I would probably be able to gather a sizeable following and derive a livelihood in that way. But that would be selling my soul to the devil. If you ever see a guru or a spiritual teacher with more than a couple of followers, you can be sure that he has compromised his teachings and leads a duplicitous life. His words might contain some truth on the surface, but underneath it all he resorts to the lowest common denominator and happily gives his followers what they want by affirming their deluded values and feeding their egotistical fantasies. This is one of the reasons why I consider myself fortunate to be on a pension. I don’t have to kowtow to an audience for the sake of gaining their approval. I can speak my mind freely.
It is often said to me that if everyone followed my path and went on the dole in order to think, the economy would collapse and no one would benefit. While this is undeniable, who really thinks this is likely to happen? And even if it did happen, even if everyone was suddenly seized by the spirit of reason and began to take truth seriously, they would not be foolish enough to allow things to fall apart. Becoming more conscious and rational does not mean becoming more stupid. In a rational society, we would all be doing our bit to help with the practical running of the economy. And I too would be doing my bit.
Many working Australians complain loudly about the “dole bludgers” who live the high life at the taxpayers’ expense, but the truth is very few people at the moment can bear such a lifestyle. Most people need structure and purpose in their lives and instinctively look outwards to society to provide these things for them. I have personally known quite a few people, intelligent types with an interest in philosophical matters, who have attempted to live for an extended time on the dole and it was not long before they were crawling up the walls in boredom and frustration. To them, it felt like a living death. You really need to have a strong inner purpose and a mind that can create its own entertainment to find life on the dole fulfilling. When you are on the dole you have no money to do anything, you are on the lowest rung on the social ladder, men treat you with ridicule and contempt, women look past you as though you were invisible, and you have endless amounts of time to brood. For most people, this is the very definition of hell.
The question of having free time into order to properly settle the mind and think clearly is not the only issue at hand. There is also the question of values. Given the way society currently is, it is impossible to imagine anyone lasting a week in an employment situation while remaining faithful to the truth. Can you imagine asking the boss for three days off because you wanted to explore a fantastic new insight into reality that occurred to you overnight? Or the boss’s reaction if you refused to perform a particular instruction because you considered it to be dishonest and exploitative? You would be out on your ear in no time. Employers demand loyalty – to them. They could not care less about your mental and spiritual development.
It would be a strange thing indeed if you observed a person who is committed to the principle of human equality working for the Ku Klux Klan. The clash of values alone would be striking. From my perspective as a spiritual man, nearly everything that happens in society, both within the work-place environment and beyond, is equivalent to the inner workings of the Ku Klux Klan. The same kind of insanity and violence is in play, although expressed in a multitude of different ways. How could I, a lover of truth, possibly involve myself in these places in an official capacity and actively promote their values? It is unthinkable.
Some people have told me that if I feel so strongly about these matters, then I should completely divorce myself from society and live on a plot of land somewhere, growing my own vegetables and living a self-sufficient lifestyle. However, divorcing oneself from society is not the answer. It is a sign that one has given up on the human race, which I have not. I want to help people. I believe in the capacity of the human brain and its potential. We can see in the technology around us what a marvel the human mind is. It just needs help in being liberated from its limited frameworks. People sometimes need a spark, a stimulating interaction, to help free their minds from their habitual ways of looking at the world, enabling them to see that what they normally consider to be important is really not so important. Being on the pension allows me to provide some of these sparks, while remaining true to myself.
It is not a perfect solution, by any means. It undermines my credibility as a citizen of the world and a member of the human race, but is balanced out by the way it allows my thought to become as pure, deep and intelligent as possible. I will leave it to others to judge whether this strange child-like combination has any value. I personally believe that my voice is unique and worth hearing, even though it does rely on economic support from the community.
Perhaps a better solution for someone like myself would be to have a wealthy patron who believed in what I did and supported me financially, a bit like how artists used to be supported in centuries gone by. That would probably make my lifestyle seem more valid, in many people’s eyes at least. But even here there would be problems, as one would have to take into account how the patron makes his money and what his own ethical practices are. At this stage of our evolution as a species, no solution will ever be perfect. The only perfect solution would be that if our entire society became sane, wherein everyone was rational and honest with each other, wherein truth and wisdom were valued above all else, and everyone was constructively helping with the practical aspects of managing the economy in an intelligent, non-selfish manner. But I cannot see that happening any time soon.