Who is Worth it?

Commentary, Education, Gerry Bowler

The academic world was all a-twitter a few weeks back with the enormously humorous idea of a “Scholars’ Strike”. The idea was that on September 9th and 10th, university professors would put down their intellectual tools and by doing nothing – or indulging in ever-so-intelligent talking about doing nothing – they would advance the cause of social justice. I think we can all agree that the world supply of racism, bigotry, and “anti-Indigenous, colonial violence” (the special Canadian focus) decreased not one bit after all that effort and two days of posturing.

I’m a big fan of the scholarly life, but I have to admit that while we historians, poets, and philosophers are wonderful people and a great addition to any cocktail party conversation, we are not essential to the conduct of most everyday existence. Tenured academics pull-down serious money but many university departments and whole Faculties could go on strike for decades before anyone noticed the difference. When did you last hear anyone complain “where is a Women’s Studies professor when you need her?” Or say to yourself, “damn, where can a guy get a Petrarchan sonnet celebrating daffodils at this time of night?”

But you know who is essential? Police officers. Those folks who operate the snowploughs. The home-care worker who takes care of your ailing grandmother. Plumbers and electricians. And are they paid in accordance with their importance to our lives? (I pause here for a moment of bitter laughter.) 

So, who do we pay the big bucks to? Professional athletes and entertainers. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi makes $534,297.72. Each day of the year. That’s $138,917,408 annually. Pity poor Toronto rapper Drake whose tuneful warblings earn him only $65,451,471 a year, and please send your donations to help out poverty-stricken Lebron James who was forced to accept a meagre $117,812,648 per annum for something involving a ball and a net. One wonders how Lady Gaga manages to feed herself on a paltry $50,748,000 a year.

Jesus of Nazareth (whose annual income from carpentry work was somewhat less than that of a PGA caddy) once said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Seeing where we, as a culture, are putting our treasure shows us the condition of our hearts in 2020. It tells us that something is very, very wrong with our society.

It says that above all else in this world, we are afraid of being bored.

In North America, we have reached that place in the course of human existence where we have satisfied all of our physical needs. We have enough (and more than enough) to eat, so much so that obesity is a crisis in the industrialized world. We are comfortably sheltered, in warm weather or cold. We have so much money that we can throw away perfectly good clothing because it is “out of style”. We spend billions on alcohol and recreational drugs, on Netflix, season tickets to the Jets, X-Boxes, ear pods, and on music streaming. We short-change cancer research, libraries, inner-city recreation and crime prevention while we make our jesters and minstrels rich. Why?  Because our lives have become hollow. We fear being left alone in a room with only our own thoughts for company.

Where should our treasure be going today?


Gerry Bowler is a Canadian historian and a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Photo by bialasiewicz.