I sometimes believe that we reach our highest human potential at some time during the earliest years of our childhood. In those early days we are all poets, artists, scientists, fearless explorers, and relentless questers after knowledge. Then, just as we are revelling in the joyousness and sensory overload of sheer existential experience, we find ourselves sitting cross-legged on the mats in Mrs. Urquhart’s kindergarten room, or behind the grey desks of Mr. Stredder’s second grade classroom, and the process of social indoctrination and creative neutering begins. By the time we get to the end of high school, any potential we may have had for unalloyed wonder and truly original thought has been pretty efficiently sucked out of us by the long twirlie-straw of societal expectations, and the ominously looming demands of adulthood.
Perhaps some of us have a brief remission during our university years, when we suddenly fall in love with whatever shiny, esoteric forms of thought seduce us. We are dazzled by the sweeping plains and breath-taking vistas of new knowledge we are exposed to. We fall in love with art history or quantum mechanics. We are beguiled by the sweet spell of Bauhaus design, Florentine madrigals, or the byzantine intricacies of cliodynamics.
Ultimately, though, it proves to be a false remission. At some point, our spirits crushed beneath the landslide of student debt, we wake up from the dream and realize that the whole point of university was not to make us wiser in thought and richer in knowledge, but merely to better prepare us to take our proper place amongst the gnashing teeth and grinding gears of the capitalist machine. As John Lennon once wrote, “You think you’re so clever and classless and free/ But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.”
So, those of us who are even lucky enough to have the chance to sell our souls, enter the workforce. Perhaps we find ourselves, for many years, handcrafting espresso-based beverages. Perhaps we find ourselves working in an accountant’s office above a sex shop in Soho, laundering money for the Russian mob. Either way, we are at the tender mercies of the Human Resources Department, squirming like some ill-fated songbird being slowly crushed by an iron-fingered, velvet-gloved fist.
Make no mistake, the most important battle in the universe, as far as your soul is concerned, is waged not between Good and Evil, but between Personal Freedom and Human Resources. They are all seeing; they are all knowing. It doesn’t matter whether you work for Ikea or the Yakuza, you work for Human Resources. They want to own every atom of your being, and command every precious moment of your time. They do not want you to think for yourself. They do not want you to play. They do not want you to dream. They want you to network and collaborate. They want you to attend corporate team-building exercises during which you will role play, pretending you are a tree. At some point, you will be encouraged to share your innermost dreams and aspirations with some douchebag named Ron from the Marketing Department.
All may not be completely lost, though. Those of us who have the strongest will to survive with at least a gram’s worth of our soul intact may find some small measure of redemption and relief. Perhaps our inspiration and joy has not been absolutely obliterated. Perhaps, every now and then, we find ourselves daring to eat a peach, capable of bending or breaking the rules. We phone in sick on a Thursday, and spend the afternoon wandering through an art gallery, composing ghazals, or doing tequila shooters with our best friend who happens to be a high end, transgender dominatrix, for example. Maybe, just maybe, we hang onto, or reclaim, that tiny spark within us that the world of social regulation has been working so hard to snuff out. That, at any rate, is my dearest hope for you, kind reader.