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Live to work or work to live?

French people were told this week that they would have to toil away for another two years before they could kick their feet up in blissful retirement.

Now, the complete antithesis of bliss is rife in France as protesters line the streets.

French President Emmanuel Macron ordered his prime minister to wield a special constitutional power on Thursday that skirts parliament to force through a highly unpopular bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote.

Associated Press described the fury of opposition lawmakers as echoing the anger of citizens and workers’ unions.

“Thousands gathered at the Place de la Concorde facing the National Assembly, lighting a bonfire.

“Small groups of those chased away moved through nearby streets in the chic neighbourhood setting street fires. At least 120 were detained, police said.”

In Aotearoa, our retirement age is 65, still one year longer than France’s new retirement age.

Al Jazeera data analysis found that Saudi Arabian men, on average, retire at only 47, the youngest in the world, and spend about 26 years in retirement.

In contrast, South African men retire at 60 but only have an average life expectancy of 62.2 – giving them only two years at the end of their life, on average, out of the workforce.

New Zealand fits squarely in the middle, with a retirement age of 65 and an average life expectancy of just over 80.

France sits right above New Zealand in Al Jazeera’s chart.

Although the data comes from mandatory and voluntary retirement, depending on the nation and personal circumstances, it does illustrate our place in the world when it comes to labour.

The line “you work, and then you die” echoes in the back of my mind when I think about retirement.

Possibly, the riots in France are about more than a stealth law change, and instead signal a widespread discontent in the way we spend our lives in the labour market.

Admittedly as a young person, I cannot relate to devoting my entire life to a career, but it is something that is undeniably ahead of me and everyone else I know.

If people are concerned about their lack of time outside of labour, it is interesting to query what the purpose of life is outside of it.

As we usher in a fourth industrial revolution of artificial intelligence [AI], many jobs will be marked as null and void – what will people do with their time to create meaning in a world without employment?

Aside from the fact that many jobs are arguably unnecessary – middle managers, for example – the reduced need for human labour could create a mass panic about the purpose of life.

Humans no longer function within an ecosystem, instead attempting to wrangle it to our every desire, so if we do not play an important ecological role within the earth’s systems, what is our purpose?

It is clear we cannot continue with the mass extraction of materials, and AI may overtake the extraction of human knowledge and labour.

We could be on the brink of a post-human society, where we have manufactured ourselves away from having a function in this world, let alone a job.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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