In my regular column in Haaretz, my new article: “Survival in the Age of Willing Joblessness”
The old era, where a job is a necessity, is ending. A new, jobless era is dawning, and we had better be prepared.
Last April, the Census Bureau released a study that found a worrying trend: Many young people have no desire to work although they are perfectly healthy, and the trend is only accelerating. The poll has discovered that “1 in 3 young people, or about 24 million, lived in their parents’ home in 2015.” Additionally, “In 2005, the majority of young adults lived in their own household … in 35 states. By 2015, the number of states where the majority of young people lived independently fell to just six.” But perhaps the most alarming is this: “Of young people living in their parents’ home, 1 in 4 are idle, that is they neither go to school nor work. This figure represents about 2.2 million 25- to 34-year-olds.”
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said that we should “consider universal basic income for Americans.”
Instead of work, millennials often prefer to simply pass the time idling away. Many of them, for instance, choose to stay home and play video games rather than go job hunting. They are not inept or unintelligent, and it is not that work is hard to find. Today’s young adults simply have no interest in finding any. They have lost interest in what this world has to offer.
These data should warn us that there is a different story developing under the surface. The old era, where a job is a necessity, is ending. A new, jobless era is dawning, and we had better be prepared. If we prepare ourselves correctly, we will go through the transition peacefully and pleasantly. If we stall and wait for joblessness to catch us unprepared, the transition will be far more painful.
Basic Income and the Threat of Radicalization
In his recent Harvard Commencement Speech, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, said that we should “consider universal basic income for Americans.” As I have written before, I have no doubt that in the foreseeable future, it will be necessary to provide a basic income to all.
Yet, while a basic income solves the physical necessities, it does not provide purpose and meaning to life. Video games and cheap cannabis will not numb people for long, as it is human nature to search for a purpose. If people cannot find meaning in their lives, they will turn toward the extremes. This trend is already underway, and many young people are undergoing radicalization in their quest for meaning, making them hazardous to society (see the recent Manchester terror attack). Without a solution, the trend will spread and violence and terrorism will make normalcy obsolete.
A Drawn Sword with Poison at Its Tip
In order to shift seamlessly and painlessly from the self-centered modus-operandi we have nurtured thus far into the new era, we must understand the nature of the era at our doorstep and how we should approach it so as to reap its potential benefits and avoid its pitfalls.
When I first started learning with my Kabbalah teacher, Rav Baruch Ashlag (the RABASH), he introduced me to an allegory written by his father, Rav Yehuda Ashlag, known as Baal HaSulam (Author of the Ladder) for his Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar. In his introduction to Tree of Life, Baal HaSulam wrote that the ego is like an angel holding a drawn sword with a drop of sweet, poisonous nectar at its tip. This angel, our ego, forces us to open our mouths and drink the sweet nectar until it puts us to death.
The drawn sword, the weapon of our egoism, threatens that terrible things will happen to us if we do not tend only to ourselves. It promises us happiness if we indulge in self-absorption, but the nectar at the tip of the sword (the brief moments of contentment in life) only makes us crave more of the nectar. Eventually, we become so narcissistic that we lose all touch with reality, as though we have died.
Today, we know that Baal HaSulam was right, but until recently it was not clear that we must find a practical way to shift from the nectar of egoism to the new incentive for existing—the pleasure in positive connections.
A Remedy from Antiquity
Throughout history, only one nation has ever had the privilege of living under a paradigm of positive connections. This nation, the Jewish people, emerged from the group that Abraham the Patriarch established when he saw his townspeople of Ur of the Chaldeans growing perilously self-centered.
During Abraham’s time, people became progressively more selfish all over ancient Babylon (of which Ur of the Chaldeans was a part). The book Pirkei De Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 24) writes that when Abraham walked by the Tower of Babylon, he saw the growing alienation among its builders. They became so uncaring toward each other that “If a man fell and died, they would not pay him any mind. But if a brick fell, they would sit and wail, ‘Woe unto us; when will another come in its place?’” As their alienation grew, “they wanted to speak to one another but did not know each other’s language. What did they do? Each took his sword and they fought each other to the death. Indeed, half the world was slaughtered there, and from there they scattered all over the world.”
Abraham realized that the Babylonians were unable to overcome their egos. To cure his society from selfishness, he adopted a simple approach: Instead of fighting separation, nurture giving and connection.
Abraham’s followers and descendants continued to develop their unity above their growing egos until they forged such tight bonds that they became what the great commentator RASHI termed “as one man with one heart.” Only then, after forging this profound unity, Abraham’s descendants were declared a nation—the Jewish nation. This is why the book Yaarot Devash (Part 2, Drush no. 2) writes that the word Yehudi (Jew) comes from the word yihudi, meaning united.
Over many centuries, the early Jews developed their method by matching their unity with their growing egoism. Every time their egoism prevailed, they strove and bickered with each other. And every time they matched the discord with connection, they rose to new heights of unity. This is why The Book of Zohar (Beshalach) writes, “All the wars in the Torah are for peace and love.”
Shifting Focus toward Positive Connections
The ancient Jews bequeathed to the world the values we still hold dear today. Historian Paul Johnson wrote in A History of the Jews: “To the Jews we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.”
Yet, instead of being “a light unto nations” by lifting the world to the connected level of existence, the Jews have fallen into egoism. Since their decline, humanity has not been able to establish sustainable social structures based on positive connections.
For this reason, now that our egos have exhausted their charm, we have a real chance at reestablishing a society that provides both happiness and meaning to our lives through positive connections and mutual responsibility.
Now that society can provide each person with a basic income, we can focus on enhancing our connections. Since careers no longer interest young adults, they will look for meaning elsewhere, and deep and lasting meaning can be found only in positive human connections.
In a famous TED talk titled “The hidden influence of social networks,” acclaimed sociologist Prof. Nicholas Christakis detailed what science has revealed about the impact of human connections: “Our experience of the world depends on the structure of the networks in which we’re residing and on things that ripple and flow through the network. The reason that this is the case is that human beings assemble themselves and form a kind of superorganism.”
A Whole New Set of Industries—Around the Heart
To shift from individualism to positive connections, we should take advantage of people’s increasing free time to give them training that will help them establish such relationships. Moreover, to guarantee that everyone partakes in these trainings, we should provide basic income only on condition of participation in them.
Mandatory participation as a condition for reception of basic income will serve two purposes: 1) A person who receives free money with no strings attached does not feel obligated to society and will likely become increasingly narcissistic and anti-social. 2) As I wrote above, people without a purpose in life will necessarily search for one, and could possibly be radicalized. The trainings will teach them how to foster positive connections, which will give them the meaning they seek in life.
With today’s technology, providing these trainings can be almost cost-free. Through online meetings with guided workshops, people will learn to connect above their hatred just as Abraham and his disciples did almost four millennia ago. Even the most notorious anti-Semite in American history, Henry Ford, recommended learning from the early Jews in his book The International Jew—the World’s Foremost Problem. In his words, “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.”
This, indeed, is what we have to do. Governments, municipalities, and other organizations should now engage in forming such trainings for people whose time allows them to participate. Once enrolled, the trainees will no longer be regarded as unemployed or jobless. Instead, they will be regarded as employed individuals whose job is to nurture positive connections in society. In the near future, this form of connection will become the most sought-after product on the market. Positive connections are the basis of every sustainable society. Therefore, “production workers” who create connections will become invaluable to their communities.
The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman said in an interview with Tucker Carlson on the Tucker Carlson Tonight show: “Connecting people to people will be a huge job. …I think that the
best jobs will be people-to-people jobs. We’re going to see a whole new set of jobs and industries around the heart, around connecting people to people.”
While Friedman is correct, without a technology at the basis of this new industry, its products will be flawed. This is where Abraham’s method comes in. In my book Completing the Circle: An empirically proven method for finding peace and harmony in life, I detailed the technology of fostering connection over alienation. This technology is applicable for both individuals and organizations, and is very simple to apply as long as you keep this one rule in mind: Every quarrel emerges only so that we can strengthen our connection. This is the modern interpretation of the words of The Zohar I quoted earlier: “All the wars in the Torah are for peace and love.”
In conclusion, the only remedy for the disintegration of our society is basic income for all, contingent upon participation in making new, positively connected and mutually responsible communities, achieved through trainings that will take us from the egoistic era to the age of positive connections and mutual responsibility peacefully and pleasantly.