Original recording by Alan Watts. Transcript follows.
We have an absolutely extraordinary attitude in our culture and in various other cultures, high civilisations to the new member of human society. Instead of saying frankly to children: ‘How do you do? Welcome to the human race!’, we are playing a game and we are playing by the following rules. We want to tell you what the rules are so that you know your way around and when you understood what rules we are playing by, when you get older, you may be able to invent better ones.
But instead of that, we still retain an attitude to the child that he is on probation, he is not really a human being, he is a candidate for humanity. And in just this way, we have a whole system of preparation of the child for life, which always is preparation and never actually gets there. In other words, we have a system of schooling which starts with grades. And we get it always preparing for something that’s going to happen.
So you go into nursery school as preparation for kindergarten. You are going to kindergarten for preparation for 1st grade and then you go up the grades till you get to high-school and then comes a time when maybe if we can get you fascinated enough with this system, you go to college. And then when you go to college, if you are smart, you get in the graduate school and stay a perpetual student and go back to be a professor and just go round and round in the system. But in the ordinary way, they do not encourage quite that, they want you [to go to] after-graduate school or after-graduation, commencement as it’s called, beginning to get out into the world with a capital W. And so you know, you’ve been trained for this and now you’ve arrived. But when you get out into the world, at your first sales meeting, they’ve got the same thing going again, because they want you to make that quota and if you do make it, they give a higher quota. And come along about 45 years of age, maybe you are a vice-president. And it suddenly dawns on you that you’ve arrived with a certain sense of having been cheated, because it is just the same life as it always felt. And you are conditioned to be in desperate need of a future. So the final goal that this culture prepares for us is called retirement – when you will be a senior citizen and you will have the wealth and the leisure to do what you always wanted but you will at the same time impotence, rotten prostate and false teeth and no energy. So the whole thing from beginning to end is a hoax.
You are involved by and large in a very strange business system, which divides your day into work and play. Work is something that everybody does and you get paid to do it because nobody could care less about doing it. In other words, it is so abominable and boring that you can get paid for doing it. And the object of doing this is to make money. And the object of making money is to go home and enjoy the money that you’ve made. When you got it, you see, “you can buy pleasure”.
And in myriads of ways, you see, you go home, you are with the wealthiest people in the world and you would think that having earned your money and go home, you will have an orgy and great banquet and so on, but nobody does. They eat TV dinner which is just a warmed over airline food and then they spend the evening looking at an electronic reproduction of life which is divided from you by a glass screen. You can’t touch it, you can’t smell it, it has no colour, except maybe for very wealthy it has colour. But by and large, it doesn’t. And you look at this thing and you have a strange feeling, you see, that the whole procession of grades that was leading to something in the future, to that goody, that gorgeous voluptuous goody that was lying at the end of the line never quite turns up.
And this is because from the beginning, we condition our children to a defective sense of identity. We condition the child in a way that sets the child a life problem, which is insoluble. And therefore attended by constant frustration and as a result of this problem being insoluble, it is perpetually postponed to the future. So that one lives, one is educated to live in the future and one is not ever educated to live today.
Now I am not saying that, you know, the philosophy of carpe diem: “Let us drink today, for tomorrow we die” and not make any plans. What I am saying is that making plans for the future is of use only to people who are capable of living completely in the present.