Author: Craig Axford

I'm a US citizen, but for most of the past decade I've been living in British Columbia, Canada. I have degrees in both anthropology and environmental studies from the University of Victoria. I am currently working on a master's degree in environmental management at Royal Roads University. I've been a Green Party candidate for the US Congress as well as an organizer for the DNC. I've also served as the program director for a local non-profit environmental group.

Universal Basic Income Isn’t a Challenge to the Work Ethic

Craig Axford | Canada

“Universal basic income degrades the work ethic that is at the core of working-class life,” so writes David Brooks in a recent column in the New York Times. Brooks’ statement echoes the most common attack on the universal basic income (UBI). Like other critics of the idea, he offers no evidence to support the claim.

Universal basic income won’t undermine the work ethic, but it is a threat to some of our most deeply embedded ideas about what constitutes meaningful work. With the large-scale adoption of wage labor beginning in the 19th century, we began to identify work with a paycheck. Instead of a job being a kind of work, jobs came to be seen as the only work that really mattered.

Unfortunately, by connecting ‘worthwhile’ work to a regular income we’ve devalued almost to zero many of the most important and meaningful activities within our society. The most obvious example is parenthood. Motherhood, in particular, has taken the biggest hit.

Being a Parent and Citizen

Every parent knows that raising children is difficult and exhausting work. Especially in the early years when a child is most dependent upon the adults in its life parenting can leave a mother or father with too little energy at the end of the day to do much else. Raising a child is considered a duty, and one that is supposed to be its own reward at that. No good parent, least of all a good mother, would ever suggest society should provide a minimum guaranteed level of financial security in exchange for the honor of giving birth to and raising the next generation of responsible citizens.

Yet in identifying work so strongly with a paying job, we’ve implicitly demeaned those raising our children whether we intended to or not. Work is what we do at the office, at the factory or at the retail store. Parenthood, on the other hand, is a role.

Of course, parenthood isn’t the only work we refuse to validate on the grounds it doesn’t come with a wage attached. Caregivers of all sorts often go unpaid. So do those sacrificing hours each month to help out in our schools, clean up their local park or provide countless other community services. This is justified on the grounds that volunteerism, like parenthood, should come from the heart without any expectation of a monetary reward.

Many supporters of universal basic income could reasonably argue that framing it as a kind of compensation for work our society has so far let go uncompensated is to miss the point of the policy. If an individual decided to take advantage of a monthly UBI payment and, as David Brooks and others fear, opted for sitting on the couch watching TV or playing video games all day instead of engaging in more constructive activities, they would still get their monthly check, no questions asked. UBI is about ending poverty, not making parenthood or community service pay.

While it’s true that universal basic income isn’t intended as compensation for services that society currently doesn’t pay for, at least not directly, it is none-the-less a means of making it easier to raise a family and of empowering people to engage in even more volunteerism. That doing these things is not a condition of receiving a UBI payment in no way changes the fact that determining UBI’s success would in large part rest upon shifting our focus to the kinds of worthwhile human activities that our economy currently fails to even bother to measure.

As RFK reminded us in 1968, our leading economic indicators count just about everything except what really matters. Economic security isn’t just a social justice question. It’s also about creating more space in people’s lives for the things that make life worth living.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. ~ Robert Kennedy, March of 1968

Universal Basic Income and Work Ethic

Critics of universal basic income who insist that placing a floor beneath people’s feet below which they cannot sink will turn them into lazy dullards must have a particularly cynical view of humanity. Otherwise, why would they claim that we are inherently uninterested in leading fulfilling lives? Why do they consistently argue that our species consists primarily of individuals who would sooner gorge themselves on junk food all day than play with their children or grandchildren, pick up a paintbrush, write a little poetry, volunteer at a local care center, or take a class at their local college if given the chance to do so?

Whatever the reasons behind their dark misanthropic assumptions regarding human nature, the evidence can’t possibly be one of them. In their review of the results of a basic income experiment conducted in Manitoba between 1974 and 1979, the economists Derek Hum and Wayne Simpson found that “the reduction in work effort was modest: about one percent for men, three percent for wives, and five percent for unmarried women.”

Of course, by “work effort” Hum and Simpson mean time spent at a paying job. But even if they had found that people spent far less time on the job and a lot more time with their families, would this really have counted as a good argument against UBI? Does time away for the office or factory necessarily translate into laziness? How we answer these questions says a great deal about our priorities.

In reality, a universal basic income would actually help those living in poverty avoid what’s known as “the employment trap”. The employment trap describes a situation that arises far too often among current welfare recipients. Frequently, the only jobs available to them are low-income entry-level positions. These typically minimum wage jobs don’t pay enough to cover rent, food, clothing and childcare expenses, but they can provide just enough money to make someone ineligible for public assistance. As a result, welfare recipients often lose more money than they gain by going back to work.

By making a return to work a requirement of its welfare program, the United States has actually turned jobs into traps rather than escape hatches for the poor. A universal basic income, on the other hand, provides assistance each month whether a person is working or not. With a full-time minimum wage job AND a basic income of roughly $1000 a month, a single mother who chooses to go back to work could increase her annual income to nearly $30,000 a year without being penalized for doing so.

A universal basic income should be something voters and politicians from across the political spectrum can get behind. From the conservative perspective, it strengthens families by empowering parents who want to do so to stay at home with a child during its formative years. From a liberal point of view, it tackles poverty directly and efficiently without the bureaucracy and stigma associated with most of our existing anti-poverty programs.

While David Brooks and other critics of UBI clearly embrace the myth that humans are inherently lazy creatures who are unwilling to do anything constructive with their lives without the cattle prod of perpetual financial insecurity at their back, that’s a false and demeaning narrative that is more suited for the Dark Ages than the 21st century. People can achieve great things under even the worst of circumstances. But they can achieve even more when things are going well for them. Poverty is no longer an inevitable part of life. It’s a societal choice. We need to stop listening to those who seem to think it’s the right one.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him at Medium.com

Other stories you may enjoy:


Get awesome merchandise. Help 71 Republic end the media oligarchy. Donate today to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!

Advertisements

Movements Are Visionary, Not Cautious

Craig Axford | Canada

Hearings, dialogue and debate are, or at least should be, means to an end in a functioning democratic society. Unfortunately, they’re too often ends unto themselves. Promising to study a problem or hold a hearing “to look into it” is what politicians do to make it appear as though they’re interested without ever having to risk their necks by endorsing a particular idea.

So when likely incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans to bring back a select committee on climate change that had been disbanded by the previous Republican majority, it was reasonable for some of the incoming freshmen Democrats to question its real purpose. If committee hearings are going to be held, they’re insisting the hearings be about meaningful climate legislation instead of even more learned testimony on science that’s was settled long ago. As Evan Weber of the Sunrise Movement put it to Politico, “We’ve been talking about the science for the past two decades.”

The incoming Democratic House majority will find it tempting to spend much of the next two years doing little more than poring over Donald Trump’s tax returns, which they will presumably issue a subpoena for early next year. Likewise, the current administration’s cabinet is full of individuals as venal as their chief. It will certainly be refreshing to finally see them all held accountable for their misconduct.

That said, governments don’t build and retain confidence among their citizens merely by diligently investigating corruption. People have proven over and over again that they are willing to tolerate a great deal of unethical behavior in their leaders if, in exchange, they feel they are receiving a reasonable degree of economic and physical security, or even just listened to.

The GOP has mastered the art of creating the illusion that people are getting something in return when they vote for them. Whether it’s so-called “tax relief” or protecting jobs by getting tough on immigration, the Republican Party has consistently been able to convince a significant number of Americans it’s looking out for them even as it stabs them in the back. The antidote to their misleading and often dangerous rhetoric isn’t hearings; it’s direct positive action that translates into real change people can actually see and feel in their lives.

The leadership of the Democratic Party would be wise, therefore, to embrace incoming Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s call for the creation of a select committee that instead of just talking about climate change is charged with drafting legislation to do something about it. She is calling it the “Select Committee on a Green New Deal”.

The select committee shall have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality. ~ Section 2 A(i) of the Draft Text for Proposed Addendum to House Rules for 116TH Congress of The United States

 Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution is similar in its approach, if not yet in its level of detail, to Canada’s Leap Manifesto. That document translates the progressive principles that emerged from the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s into concrete proposals aimed at achieving both equality and sustainability.

We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term…We declare that “austerity” — which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and healthcare, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations — is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.~ Leap Manifesto (Emphasis included in original)

I had the privilege of working as a DNC organizer for three years. I was hired as part of Howard Dean’s 50 state strategy following his election as Chair of the DNC in 2005. Dean’s vision for party-building paid off in 2006 when the Democrats took back Congress, and again in 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidency.

However, the organizing effort that arose from John Kerry’s defeat in 2004 took place in the context of growing opposition to the war in Iraq and a Democratic Party galvanized against the domestic policies of George W. Bush. Then as now, opposition was the driving unifying force on the left. The failure to clearly and consistently articulate what it was for quickly came back to haunt it in 2010.

Yes, there was the passage of Obamacare in 2009, but Democrats have traveled so far from the eloquence and clarity of leaders like JFK and RFK that even when debating universal healthcare they sound wonkish and inconsistent. As I learned upon my temporary return to the United States from Canada last year, even under Obamacare, plans with high premiums and deductibles are still the norm. Mandating the purchase of insurance that doesn’t really provide much coverage is a curious policy to emerge from a political party with a base that consistently argues healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

The Green New Deal and Leap Manifesto offer the left a way out of the political wilderness they’ve been wandering in since at least 1980. These initiatives provide something to be for. They can finally transform the left of the 21st century into a movement that wants to say YES! to something.

By uniting both labor and the environmental movement behind an effort that creates good paying jobs while providing the public with clean technologies that improve lives in both rural and urban communities, the Democratic Party could ensure itself decades of majority status not unlike the one it enjoyed from the 1930s through 1994. It seems like the obvious choice for them to make. So what’s taking Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Leadership so long?

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com

Other stories you may enjoy:


Get awesome merchandise. Help 71 Republic end the media oligarchy. Donate today to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!

It is the Best of Times, it is the Worst of Times

“This illustration depicts NASA’s exoplanet hunter, the Kepler space telescope. The agency announced on Oct. 30, 2018, that Kepler has run out of fuel and is being retired within its current and safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 exoplanet discoveries.” Credits: NASA/Wendy Stenzel.

Craig Axford | United States

 We live in an age of discovery far beyond any other our species has experienced so far, yet we hardly seem to even notice. We live in an era of staggering loss, but we seem paralyzed by the immensity of the problem. Had Charles Dickens foreseen the early 21st century, he may very well have reconsidered his opening line in A Tale of Two Cities.

Over this past week, two news stories drove home the point that we’re living in an extraordinary time. The first broke on October 29th. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced the results of a report indicating that between 1970 and 2014, global wildlife populations had declined by a staggering 60%. Even if their estimates are off by half, a 30% decline over such a relatively brief period would still be alarming.

The second story, coming just one day after the first, was NASA’s announcement that its Kepler space telescope had run out of fuel and would no longer be continuing its stunningly successful search for exoplanets. NASA’s Kepler had discovered more than 2,600 planets orbiting other worlds during its lifetime, further dislocating humanity from its perceived place at the center of the universe. By revealing “that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars”, NASA’s Kepler seems to support those convinced that we are unlikely to be the only place in the universe where life has emerged.

The tension these two stories represent stirs something deep within me, and not just because they arrived within 24 hours of each other. Because of their coincidental relationship to my own personal arrival on this planet, they each, in their own way, reflect the seemingly conflicting currents of history that have become increasingly evident with age.

 I was born just one month before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon. I also entered this world just a few months before the WWF’s baseline year of 1970. So the 60% decline in wildlife populations and the nearly 28,000% increase in the number of known planets discovered during my lifetime is jarring, to say the least.

 As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not fond of adopting either optimism or pessimism as default outlooks. Going through life either perpetually cheerful or gloomy seems like avoiding confronting the world on its own terms, even if an often unconscious one. Even terrible news for us is good news for somebody. If you and bunch of your coworkers get laid off, odds are the company’s shareholders are happy. Even a corpse can be a reason to celebrate if you’re a bacteria or a vulture.

 I’m also not too keen on the way we often describe ourselves as a species. We tend to point to our impact upon the planet as though it was an indication either of genius or stupidity, leaving little room for the vast landscape of complexity and nuance that lies between these two extreme assessments. It’s just trade-offs all the way down.

As the Kepler telescope and all the other probes we’ve sent into space demonstrate, we aren’t idiots. That said, as the WWF study reminds us, scaling up our civilization to this point has also too often been an ad hoc operation that fails to consider all the possible consequences of our actions or quickly correct for them once those costs have become clear.

The progress paradox refers to a curious phenomenon that social scientists have documented over and over again: that there is often an inverse relationship between objective improvements in human well-being and people’s reported overall happiness. While those living in extreme poverty will report significant gains in personal life satisfaction following increases in income and access to resources, these gains don’t continue to follow a linear trajectory as income continues to grow. Instead, people’s happiness growth curve begins to flatten once their basic needs are satisfied. For many living in the wealthiest nations on the planet, they have even take a U-turn.

In a recent article published in the October 2018 issue of Science, researchers Carol Graham, Kate Laffan, and Sergio Pinto cite both the United States and China as strong examples of the progress paradox. “The United States has one of the wealthiest economies in the world,” the authors state, “yet life expectancy is falling owing to deaths driven by suicides and drug and alcohol overdose. This particularly affects Caucasians with less than a college education.”

In China, which “is perhaps the most successful example of rapid growth and poverty reduction in modern history,” with GDP increasing “fourfold between 1990 and 2005” and life expectancy during the same period skyrocketing by more than 6 years, life satisfaction none-the-less dropped significantly as the nation’s middle class ballooned and overall health improved. Graham, Lafan, and Pinto report that there too “suicide increased, reaching one of the highest rates in the world.”

In China’s case, however, it wasn’t those lacking an education but those with one that was “the unhappiest cohorts” surveyed. While they “benefited from the growing economy,” they also had to endure “long working hours and a lack of sleep and leisure time.”

It’s difficult to appreciate all the new planets being unveiled by instruments like the Kepler space telescope when our lives here on Earth don’t even allow us to get enough sleep. Furthermore, all our city lights are blocking out the stars that our ancestors previously enjoyed: stars that we can no longer see without first traveling great distances deep into the heart of one of the few remaining desolate landscapes large enough for us to escape the nearly omnipresent urban glow.

This rapid scaling up of our civilization without regard to its toll on the individual psyche is also happening without much regard to its toll on nature as a whole. Our inability to find the time to spend even just a few hours each week outside smelling the roses, let alone spending a leisurely weekend in the woods now and then, is directly connected to our failure to find the political will to protect the environment upon which all life, including our own, depends.

In his book On Trails, the Canadian author Robert Moor writes “We can travel at the speed of sound and transmit information at the speed of light, but deep human connection still cannot move faster than the comparatively lichenous rate at which trust can grow.” As with individual connections to one another, so it is with connections to our wider world. Slowing down enough to observe and build a relationship with the earth can only happen at a “lichenous rate”.

We cannot continue to pull ourselves out toward the stars and toward an ecological crash simultaneously. Sooner or later the lights will need to be dimmed not only for survival’s sake but so that our children can again see what it is we are reaching for. Reaching into the heavens can sustain our spirits and bring us the wisdom we need to carry on, but only if we take the time to look at what we’re finding there. Ultimately, even our loftiest achievements are still grounded here on Planet Earth.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him at Medium.com

Other stories that you might enjoy:


Get awesome merchandise. Help 71 Republic end the media oligarchy. Donate today to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!

Featured Image Source

A Glass Half Full is Still a Serving of Possibility

By Craig Axford | Canada

The poet Florence McLandburgh, writing under the pen name McLandburgh Wilson, described the two competing perspectives we have convinced ourselves people see the world from using a pastry metaphor:

Twist the optimist and pessimist

The difference is droll:

The optimist sees the doughnut

But the pessimist sees the hole.

But who sees both the doughnut and the hole? Who sees the baker filling tray after tray with colorful pastries to say nothing of the sugar cane workers toiling under a tropical sun to provide him with the sugar to sweeten them? The world is far more interesting and complex than those who would have us see only the optimist’s doughnut or the pessimist’s hole would have us believe.

What optimism and pessimism really function as are ready-made prediction generators. Because they are outlooks, not the product of careful analysis, they apply their built-in doughnut vs. hole perspective to everything they encounter before bothering to learn much if anything about it. Optimism and pessimism, like most ism’s, presume to know the world without having to make any real effort to understand it.

Rarely, if ever, does a realist find life presenting her with situations that obviously justify either cheerful prognostications or dire statements regarding pending doom and gloom. Because the universe is a probabilistic place, the chance that things will turn out favorably eventually is constantly being weighed against the possibility of failure. Optimism and pessimism place extra weight on their respective side of the scale before we even have a handle on the full extent of the problem.

So far in the human experience neither the enthusiastic ‘Everything will turn out okay in the end’ nor the defeatist ‘We’re screwed’ have proven themselves accurate summations of our experience. The jury is still out, and it is going to remain out until extinction finally catches up with us. To extend our race against time constructive assessments are what’s called for.

To clearly understand the possibilities inherent within a situation it’s necessary to take a somewhat longer view than either those prone to wearing rose tinted glasses or their counterparts dressed in rain-gear expecting the sun to give way to a downpour at any moment tend to take. Optimism and pessimism, to the extent they are useful attitudes at all, are best suited to assess proximate personal circumstances that lend themselves to quick calculations and linear thinking. Will you do well on your final exam? Or, will you get the job you just interviewed for? Will someone you’re attracted to agree to go out on a date?

A realist, on the other hand, is curious rather than either Pollyanish or circumspect. She is a possibilist with a willingness to risk a certain amount of failure in order to test the limits of what can be done. She knows that in the long run mistakes are as crucial to success as positive results are.

Neither optimism nor pessimism sees failure as a silver lining, though the optimist will often say they do after the fact. Their focus is on likely outcomes rather than possible ones, which leads each to ultimately see success or the lack thereof only as a confirmation of their earlier predictions about how things would go.

It’s easy to forget that the very act of predicting the likelihood of a particular outcome has the potential to make the outcome we predict more likely than it would be otherwise. As part of the equation, not objective calculators of it, the act of viewing the world optimistically, pessimistically or realistically each come with considerable ethical baggage. We owe it to ourselves and our posterity to cast the problems we encounter in a light that maximizes the chances things will turn out as they should.

Because the attitudes we bring to the issues we face come with an inherent self-fulfilling prophecy quality, neither optimism nor pessimism is ethically scalable much beyond our own personal day-to-day affairs. For example, it isn’t a long cognitive walk from taking the position that we don’t think people will deal with climate change to losing faith that people can deal with it. Once we’ve concluded that’s the case there’s no point in trying and presto, our prediction that anthropocentric climate change cannot be resolved comes that much closer to becoming a reality.

Likewise, the “optimistic” view that the market, technology or some combination of the two will come to the rescue without us really having to do much of anything at all justifies inaction. In this case, instead of taking a fatalistic dose of pessimistic cyanide to kill our political will we’ve gotten drunk on wishful thinking. But either way, climate change becomes less likely to ever be proactively dealt with.

Will and won’t are conclusions about a future we don’t believe can be changed. They do not call us to action but rather summon us to take our seats. Likely and unlikely are better. They, at least, accurately describe our world in probabilistic terms. But if our goal is to inspire people to make the world a better place, likely and unlikely are hardly words that stir the soul.

However, if we find things that we can do that we also should do, with the right arguments it’s possible to get people to move mountains to get them done no matter how difficult they may seem at first. Optimism and pessimism only deal directly with how likely we are to do the right thing. By themselves, neither offers an inspiring vision of their own for why the right thing is both possible and worthwhile.

American politics provides us with a case study in just how toxic pessimism, in particular, can be. Until Bernie Sanders nearly toppled Hillary Clinton’s dream of winning the Democratic nomination in 2016, Democrats in the United States were extremely fond of arguing that Americans won’t accept a truly universal healthcare system. It was primarily for this reason that a public option never even received a floor debate during the struggle to pass Obamacare in 2009 and 2010.

Until 2016, with each consecutive election cycle that passed without anyone making the principled argument for Medicare for all the likelihood of the American people ever really embracing the concept appeared to drop even further, thereby confirming the conviction that Americans won’t accept it. We see a similar dynamic at work in the gun control debate, which likewise is full of rhetoric about what the American people will and will not politically accept and almost completely devoid of any discussion of what a truly rational gun policy should be.

What Senator Sanders did in 2016 showed the left the merits of framing their arguments around what both can and should be done instead of what they’ve convinced themselves will or won’t happen. He proved that just by forcefully arguing for what he believed was right, the needle of public opinion could move to make the unlikely more likely.

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible. What’s possible has to do with what can occur, improbability aside. What’s likely to occur in the near to medium-term can serve as a worthwhile calculation when it comes to determining the degree of difficulty and formulating strategy, but should never get in the way of fighting for the right thing when it is possible to do it.

Probable and possible are not the same thing, in spite of our tendency to conflate them. As leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, FDR, Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, and RFK all understood, what is possible but improbable today can become probable tomorrow if we consistently and unwaveringly pursue it.

Florence McLandburgh was right to associate optimism and pessimism with a sugary pastry. Cognitively speaking both are full of empty calories. They draw attention away from our aspirations with unfounded speculation about the relative ease or difficulty associated with making them a reality. Life is full of possibilities. That’s really all anyone needs to believe in order to keep moving forward.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com
Other stories that you may enjoy:
Democracy Is Infuriating. Stop Taking It Personally
Pulling the United States back from the brink means those living in the “home of the brave” will need to develop a…medium.com


Get awesome merch. Help 71 Republic end the media oligarchy. Donate today to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!

Making Room for Reflection in the Learning Process

By Craig Axford | Canada

Stillness is the sort of thing we don’t really appreciate until we have felt its absence for a while. The chance to sit and reflect upon our experiences is essential to integrating the learning we squeeze from them into our lives. That means occasionally putting our life on pause for a while, which is hardly a fashionable thing to do these days.

A few days ago, I completed the first of three residencies required by my master’s program. Each residency is three weeks in duration and, if the first one is any indication, they will all involve long days in the classroom followed by more hours of work on various projects stretching well into the evening.

This recent pedagogical sprint still leaves me rather dazed. Hundreds of PowerPoint slides, numerous spur of the moment classroom readings, and one major high-pressure group assignment left little room for anything like reflection. To figure out how, why and when to incorporate the learning of the past 21 days will likely require much more time than the residency itself took from my life. Even then, much of the program’s content will at best be only dimly remembered.

Education, at least in the form typically proceeded by the qualifier “public”, usually strives for efficiency. Getting the most information possible to the greatest number in the shortest time supposedly maximizes social benefit at minimum cost. The slow contemplative pace the academy was once known for is now seen as an indicator of waste.

But personal downtime is as valuable as time spent behind a desk listening while the professor clicks through her slides. So is time spent discussing the concepts being presented and debating their merits with others. Learning is not a passive process; nor can it be rushed liked a download via a highspeed Internet connection.

The word contemplation derives from the Latin templum, which translates as “a place for observation.” Temple likewise traces its roots to this Latin noun. By adding the prefix con to templum we literally have the phrase “with(in) a place for observation.” That’s a door no program, no matter how well designed, can force us to walk through. However, how our educational and corporate institutions operate can disincentivize making the effort.

Contemplation is not synonymous with the kind of instantaneous and often faulty observations we associate with witnessing a car accident or the rushed decisionmaking forced upon us by often arbitrary deadlines. A certain degree of intentionality is built into it.

I don’t blame the university, my professors, or the students I was studying with for the pace of my recent experience and the stress that it imposed. My program is designed for working adults, most of whom are either already working in the field they are studying or have some background in it. Few if any of my instructors or my classmates enjoy an abundance of spare time. However, that our lives have become so busy is all the more reason to put contemplation on the calendar.

We live in a culture that insists upon interrupting us at regular intervals. Making time for reflection and to play with the ideas we encounter is essential to getting the most from our experiences. That making room for contemplation requires more effort than it used to is no excuse for failing to do so.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com

Other stories you may enjoy:

Grandma’s Painting
A reflection on art, memory & meaningmedium.com


Get awesome merch. Help 71 Republic end the media oligarchy. Donate today to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!