SEPTEMBER 26 — Hanna: You never wanted a regular-type life?
McCauley: What’s that? Barbeques and ballgames?
As every movie fan knows, one of the best scenes in the 1995 movie Heat was when the two main characters, a cop and a thief, talk over coffee.
During their chat, Vincent Hanna (played to suave perfection by Al Pacino), the cop, asked Neil McCauley (played with equal gusto by Robert de Niro), a guy who plans truck heists, whether the latter wanted a “regular” kind of life.
McCauley’s reply (see above) is something I’ve never forgotten for 30 years.
What’s a regular-type life anyway? BBQs and baseball games? College and the corporate world? Malls and weddings?
McCauley (and, to some extent, Hanna as well) belongs to that group of individuals for whom the “normal” life — condensed into “Study hard, get a job, settle down” — hardly applies.
And whilst Heat is fiction, I suspect many real people are already taking alternative routes towards life.
The formula isn’t so bad, is it?
It certainly sounds like good advice. It’s very in line with tradition. And many people have reaped the benefits of this approach.
Study hard to make it through school as a top or near-top student. Apply for a job that pays the bills and maybe allows for an overseas trip or two a year. Get married and have kids, live in a nice house which allows more than a few Instagrammable moments every now and then.
Still, many folks today — especially from the younger generation — will wince at this.
They’re not as sure as their parents and grandparents that such a recipe is even possible, let alone feasible.
They’re almost certain it’s no fun. The more radical folks claim that to buy into this approach completely will strip us of agency; it turns us into robots.
It’s essentially a conveyor-belt kind of life, turning us into the human version of a capitalist factory product.
The system needs its slaves and this is how it produces them. Not only by making “Study hard, get a job and settle down” an ubiquitous trope for living but making its negation darn near socio-psychologically impossible.
Try teaching school kids today to not “study hard”. Or advising college grads to not find a good job (or, worse, to leave one). Or promoting a “carefree” life where one does not “settle down” in any meaningful sense of the word.
You’d be lucky not to be burnt at the stake for such heresy.
But times they are a-changing...
More and more people today realise that academic qualifications are no longer the Holy Grail many Asian educators and parents proclaim them to be.
It’s not that the newer generation is embracing stupidity or non-intelligence (duh); it’s that they’re asking if learning can or should legitimately be encapsulated via institutions issuing scrolls.
More people are also waking up to the fact that in the real world outside academia, only certain kinds of knowledge bring about success (whatever that is) and such knowledge normally can’t be “reflected”‘ in a Bachelor’s degree transcript.
More and more people today realise that academic qualifications are no longer the Holy Grail many Asian educators and parents proclaim them to be. — File picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Likewise, people only need a few years in an office to recognise that human resources are often the least concern in the corporate sector.
An employee could be literally sweating blood and tears for the organisation but his entire output for weeks could be translated into a mere half-percentage on the KPI sheet.
Therefore, the number of “company men and women” (those who remain loyal no matter what) will slowly be falling over the years.
People will begin nurturing alternative income streams, short-cuts, their own businesses, etc. With the dangers of workaholism and the hollowness of bullshit jobs being made more apparent, this trend will practically grow itself.
Finally, not many are even sure what “settling down” means today. People want to travel. They want exciting multi-project careers. They’re more fussy about who they want to marry; some don’t even believe in marriage anymore. And some simply want a unique lifestyle away from the drudgery of 9-to-5 (see note 1).
The bottom line is people are moving away from long-held views of what the goal of life should be. What was seen as a source of security and happiness may now be perceived as oppressive, unattainable and, well, boring.
I guess we’ll see?
* Note 1: The concept of lifestyle design was first popularised by Tim Ferriss in The 4-hour Work Week: Escape The 9-5, Live Anywhere And Join The New rich. (2011), Random House. Long and short, this is about deciding on the kind of life you want (eg, sail around the world, stay a year in Brazil, climb mountains every week, etc.) and rearranging your finances in order to make it happen here and now instead of waiting until “retirement” decades away.
** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.