We are becoming a nation of mobile-renters. We have joined a gig economy. We use ride-shares. We rent office space. We rent housing. We rent mobile offices. We own less and less—we do not even own our e-books and e-media which often revert back to the copyright holder at our death. A video game no longer has a box. It is a digital download.
The World Economic Forum tells us we will own nothing and be happy. Ida Auken said, “Welcome to 2030. I own nothing, have no privacy, and life has never been better.” Or as their marketing said, “You will own nothing. And you’ll be happy.”
Governments have done little to avoid this future. The Canadian government has promised $10 a day of childcare. This makes it easier for both parents to work, which they will have to do in order to pay for the taxes to support childcare. Single-income families will not be able to afford houses. And if both parents work, there is less need to have a standard home. Besides, who can afford one? Renting is the way to go. The USA has likewise pulled back on supporting families through financial support for children or support for longer maternity leave.
The way in which we work has also contributed to this alienation from home, possessions, and family. For most of history, agricultural workers worked as a family. Everyone worked at home. Husbands and wives with children in appropriate ways supported the family. In the Roman era, many businesses were part of a residence. So a husband might work at the front of the home, a wife inside the residence. They partnered in appropriate ways.
But now the nature of work, a movement from working with our hands to work with our digits—pressing buttons, digital work—has alienated us from the land, the fabric of the world around us.
Conserving the Beautiful
It is a law that we love what is nearest to us. We love our family. We love our home. We love our neighbourhood. We want to conserve and protect what is near to our hearts. Everyone is a conservative in this sense. Even a progressive person who loves the environment will want to protect the green space around their home, around their city.
Digital technology and mobile living (gig economy, mobile rentals) have created a sense of instability among us. We get good experiences—as Byung Hul Chan notes, getting new information in the digital age is a sort of experience. New likes, new updates.
The nature of conservatism is basically to preserve what is beautiful since what is truly beautiful attracts us to it. Augustine said in his Confessions that God made us for himself, and we are restless until we find our rest in him. David tells us that he desires to gaze at the beauty of the Lord (Ps 27). The heavens declare God’s glory (Ps 19).
We are drawn to beauty because God is beautiful. Preserving the good, the good of the family of home and country are ways in which we can trace what is beautiful in the world, the marks of God’s good work in creation. The beauty we conserve imitates and points back to the Beauty that God is.
Destabilized by Experiencing without Having
The constant movement and flux of modern life, of the ever-present notification, of the separation of work from physical objects to immaterial digital objects, have destabilized us. Nothing feels lasting. Nothing feels immutable. But these are meant to allow us to rest in stability, a sign that only God can realize truly in His immutable nature.
“Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow,” the Psalmist tells us (Ps 144:4). For us then, God must be our “fortress” (Ps 144:2). God is like a rock because rocks persist (Ps 18:2). The rock represents how God is. Nature explains grace.
And God created it to be this way. We are supposed to find stability in the world around us, because of what it is. But our new age—one which promises a metaverse to abstract us from our body, from our lived reality—will make us live in constant flux.
Experience will be all that matters. Digital experience. New digital information. And as Han notes, information does not give us a story or history. Rather, information adds. It gives us an endorphin high as in when a new notification comes to us.
Building a chair out of a tree you felled in your grandmother’s yard tells a story. It grounds us. The making of it is slow and laborious. That too stabilizes us.
We will own nothing and be unhappy. The loss of place, of physical objects, of the slowness and responsibility of owning will rob us of a natural good that points to a graceful good.
Doug Sayers says
Or as their marketing said, “You will own nothing. And you’ll be happy.”
Probably not as happy as those who own everything 🙂
“Build back better.” (Better for whom?)
1 Cor 15:19 is our ultimate safety net.