an obession with first principles

Do What You Love

Posted: Wednesday Jan 22nd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Politics, Power | View Comments

There has been an article running around lately called In the Name of Love: Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers. I was of two minds when it initially hit everyone in the social world. The article is both very correct, and very, very wrong. And I want to put down my reasoning on the article. I happen to think that “Do What You Love” is the very way out of our labor situation. Everyone ought to be able to do what they love. And the problem is that they cannot. The writer’s problem is that he has swallowed whole the moorings of capitalism and unable to see the system is the very problem, rather than one class of worker causing the plight of another class of worker. They are both workers and subject to the capitalists.

The problem with DWYL, however, is that it leads not to salvation but to the devaluation of actual work…

I vehemently disagree with this statement. I think we’ve misunderstood what “work” is, and what “bullshit work” is. When speaking the service class, or, “jobs no one wants”, we should all be doing them in our spaces. Why punish someone into doing what we refuse to do?

“…and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers”

I agree with this entirely, but i don’t believe this statement follows from the first

“But why should our pleasure be for profit?”…”labor is not something one does for compensation but is an act of love”

Hear, hear!

“If profit doesn’t happen to follow, presumably it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient”

This is the first time we see the writer has swallowed the notion that “the market is always right”. Obviously, if you can’t make it doing what you love you’re not trying hard enough, not doing it right, and are rather forced to do something you don’t love to make money.

I happen to think the Steve Job’s quote is spot on. But to suggest that Apple’s exploitation of the international labor market is the only way that Steve Jobs can do what he loves is entirely fallacious. I don’t see how the Jobs quote and the Thoreau quote are at ends. Thoreau would lead me to hire Jobs to solve certain problems.

“Those in the lovable-work camp are vastly more privileged in terms of wealth, social status, education, society’s racial biases, and political clout, while comprising a small minority of the workforce”

This is entirely true, except the last clause. It isn’t a small minority, its a minority, but not small.
The problem with the writers’ point of view, in my opinion, is that he agrees with the basic assumptions of capitalism (market forces, labor and wage theory) and then is pitting one class of worker against another. The writer is doing the work of capitalists by getting those in service positions angry at “creative”/white-collar workers. Those who do “unloved work” in his terms, need just as much rescue from capitalism as do those who are doing “work” that they love. Both workers need to band together and overthrow the capitalists. “Do What You Love” can be the most pro-labor argument around — once you critique the system within which it operates: capitalism.

The writer is taking an incidental relationship; those from another class were able to do what they love within capitalism, while those from a lower class were not, and make it a causal relationship; only because the lower class can the higher class, without ever mentioning the true causal relationship — those with capital are exploiting all workers.

“If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves, what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.

Hear, hear! This is precisely the argument we should be making. But not against workers who are able to do what they find existentially fulfilling — against the capitalists that exploit the labor of those who work doing what they hate, and exploit the labor and profit of those doing what they love

“Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

And if we did that, more of us could get around to doing what it is we really love.”

This is the critique he never makes in the whole article, and should have been making all along Do What You Love is the way out — but the article makes the wrong enemy, other laborers, rather than the capitalists


On Cops

Posted: Thursday Apr 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Power | View Comments

“Cops don’t beat up burglars”, he observed. If you want to cause a policeman to be violent, the surest way is to challenge their right to define the situation. This is not something a burglar is likely to do.36 This of course makes perfect sense if we remember that police are, essentially, bureaucrats with guns. Bureaucratic procedures are all about questions of definition. Or, to be more precise, they are about the imposition of a narrow range of pre-established schema to a social reality that is, usually, infinitely more complex: a crowd can be either orderly or disorderly; a citizen can be white, black, Hispanic, or an Asian/ Pacific Islander; a petitioner is or is not in possession of a valid photo ID. Such simplistic rubrics can only be maintained in the absence of dialogue; hence, the quintessential form of bureaucratic violence is the wielding of the truncheon when somebody “talks back”. David Graeber

From: ON THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF GIANT PUPPETS:
broken windows, imaginary jars of urine, and the
cosmological role of the police in American culture


Wendell Berry

Posted: Wednesday Apr 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, History, Power | View Comments

We are living in the most destructive and, hence, the most stupid period of the history of our species. The list of its undeniable abominations is long and hardly bearable. And these abominations are not balanced or compensated or atoned for by the list, endlessly reiterated, of our scientific achievements. Some people are moved, now and again, to deplore one abomination or another. Others–and Hayden Carruth is one–deplore the whole list and its causes. Must protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvements and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protestors who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depends on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.
On Difficult Hope by Wendell Berry, a reflection on Hayden Carruth’s poem “On Being Asked to Write a Poem Against the War in Vietnam”


Libertarianism and Society

Posted: Saturday Mar 31st | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

As Ron Paul continually runs for higher office more and more people are hearing some of his policies, and thus the word libertarian. This post isn’t about Ron Paul. Nor do I imagine that people who aren’t following politics, but now hear “libertarian” actually know what this political philosophy is actually founded on. I sure didn’t, but I saw a very in depth discussion on Reddit (yes, deal with it). So I wanted to dissect the underpinnings

The poster goes on to describe libertarianism as wholly wrapped around the defense of personal property (which includes ones person) and pure utilitarian ends. Any action undertaken by anyone — including the state — to remove personal property (which, in some way, includes currency) is understood to be immoral. Taxation is thus immoral. The poster goes on to suggest that a privatized court and police is a system that will work. I want to stop and consider these elements (ignoring his talk on education, with which I am fairly sympathetic).

First, I am surprised that a political system would revolve, wholly and purely, around property rights. This means that the political system will inherently favor those with more property over those who have less. It is a system devised explicitly for the powerful. A person with more property can gain more property easier than a person with less (Especially when the property in question is land and resources).

Second, I am surprised that any political system could ever describe state-printed currency as “property”. The currency would not exist without the state, just like “free” markets. All historical societies we have studied have no markets, and no currency until a state creates them. “Primitive currencies” are not currencies at all, and are traded to resolve issues of status, dignity, and un-payable debts. If the state prints the currency it has the ability to extract from the state-created markets a percentage of that currency for creating and maintaining said currency and markets.

Third, I am surprised by the naivety of the libertarian belief that “every man is an island” is demonstrably false. We have always, are now always, and continually will always be in relation to the other around us. To act as if that is not the case is naive and ignorant. This is, again, born out by the evidence of all communities which care about one another. In the case of communities that are bound together there is often a social interplay of resolving of debt – but there is the unquestionable motive to care for the other as one’s self. With the understanding that they will do the same when it is necessary.

Fourth, I am utterly shocked by the proposition that a private court and police system will work. We have seen the slide of previously “free-er” markets into very rigged and non-free markets (as the poster admits). First, any state or private entity capable of enforcing penalties must be powerful enough to violate the guilty’s defense of personal property. Why would you trust a private system rather than a public one? I understand the argument of “once a private company violates trust they’ll lose in the marketplace”. But if the private company is capable of violating personal property rights how do you stop them? Other companies step in? What happens in the case of collusion between companies? This system slides right back down into rigging the game.

There is a nice correlation between government corruption and the rise of powerful multinational corporations which can donate endless to the political cycle. It seems only a public, and transparent state, staffed by citizens which can, and must, be mindful of how much power the state acquires. Only with true and accurate information about these people can we choose (ostensibly through voting) who to trust with dispensing the state’s abilities. The troubles with our democratic and representative system is that our voting systems, districts, etc are rigged to hold power, those elected are not representative whatsoever (either in ideology or in material wealth), and the inability — likely due to both of these factors combined with corporate money — to get true and accurate information about the people and the process.

It seems to me that property ought not be the central issue of a political philosophy — especially in our digital age when “property” is becoming a very gray area.


Control is Fear

Posted: Sunday Mar 4th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising | View Comments

There was an odd confluence of mental events this weekend. Yesterday I had a brief, but interesting conversation with some friends about cars, cyclists, and pedestrians (abbreviated as “peds”). And this evening I decided to relax by watching The Dark Knight. To me the Joker is one of the single greatest characters conceived and executed on film in my time. The main character in the movie is not Batman at all – its the Joker. The mental explosion occurred during the scene where the Joker is talking to Harvey Dent. This conversation results in the psychological creation of the villain Two Face in the mind of Dent. I couldn’t find a transcription of the speech, so I transcribed it:

Do I really look like a guy with a plan?

You know what I am, I am a dog chasing cars, I wouldn’t know what with it one I caught it. You know, I just do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon has plans. They’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers have pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So, when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I’m telling the truth.

It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer and had plans, and uh, look where that got you.

I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even when the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that, like, a gang-banger will get shot, or a truck load of soldiers is going to get blown up, nobody panics. Because it’s all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die then everyone loses their minds.

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos. Its fear.

The more I follow politics, rhetoric, and watch the American culture the more I realize that fear is its true disease. And the symptom of fear is control. But I want to describe how these two events from this weekend coalesced to show me this.

There have been psychological tests to show why people in cars are less observant: it is because they are sitting in an entirely concealed box and thus removed from the world. And the more gadgets we add to cars (full suspensions, automatic transmissions, anti-lock brakes, navigation systems, automatic parking systems) the more we are removed even from the car itself. Experienced cyclists, however, are hyper-aware (as this recently posted comic points out). Taking a pothole with my full weight will hurt my ass (perhaps even the family jewels) if I’m not paying attention and get off the saddle. Peds, cars, dogs, and doors are all things that can seriously hurt me. I hear the car approaching me from the rear. I stare down the driver approaching on the side street so they don’t roll all the way into my lane. I even talk to myself as if they can hear me. I can feel my tires reacting to the road surface, and how that changes when I roll over paint, because I don’t have a full suspension. Because of the design of bikes I am forced to be hyper-aware of my situation. While my abilities control the bike – I have very little control over the situation and am one of the most vulnerable people on the road. As the driver of a car there are a million systems and you only have partial control over your vehicle. Because you are in a climate controlled box you are disconnected and only partially attentive to the real world outside your car. But they feel as if they are in total control. Until someone, like a cyclist weaving through gridlocked rush hour traffic, shows them they are not in control. Not at all. They’ve just built a box of illusion to keep them from their fears (other drivers, inclement weather, poor driving skills, etc.)

But perhaps the single best example of this control phenomenon is the American government. We are always told that our country is the best country (whatever that might actually mean). We are “exceptional”. And we know what that means when we see how we act. The United States can act unilaterally without any repercussions on the world stage. The only repercussions are the hate we have created around the world for our government. The government sets up puppet regimes, has military bases all around the world, and has bombed every region of the world. Why? One word: control. They need to control other governments. They need to control markets. Markets aren’t “free”. They are only allowed to do what we say they can do. Which is fundamentally true as we make the market. They market doesn’t objectively exist. We cause it to come into existence. However, as in 2008, we are finally seeing what matters. The government saved the fundamental money-making mechanisms from failing. But they didn’t save anyone else from the fallout. Not home-owners. Not business-owners. Not municipalities. Not pension plans. No one else get saved. The fear was not “what will happen to these people”, but “what will happen to our money-making mechanism”. This also goes for the auto-industry (no matter how much other influence we can attribute to our love affair with cars) we need to have a car industry for control.

It is clear, at least to me, how much the GOP thinks they need to control: almost every other country on earth (“Let’s bomb Iran”), down to every women’s uterus. I have no concept of what a small government could possibly look like when you fundamentally need to control that many different points of interest. The democrats also have their control issues. But both issues are rooted in deep-seeded fear. And this is why I love The Dark Knight’s Joker so much.

As his speech goes: “You know, I just do things.” He is doing what he is innately driven to do. He is entirely free. It is sad to watch what his freedom is being used for, but it is freedom nonetheless. The 500 channels of TV, 4 GOP candidates, and multitudes of genres within which to re-style ourselves (whether it be hipster, thug, geek, gamer, cyclist, chic, anglophile, steampunk, stoner, jock, popped-collar or whatever) are not freedom. Freedom of choice does not equate to freedom. Freedom is the condition of a person. Civilization has never been geared towards being free. Sometimes we find it where we are. Other times we have to go get lost in order to find it. But being free is the all-important bit, not the proliferation of meaningless choices. The Joker is free from having to control, because he is not afraid. The institutions of the world are deathly scared of losing their grip, their place, and their meaning. Because of that they are incredibly controlling. They have power and they will use every last bit of it to keep their place.

I grew up in a distinct culture of religious fear which required a great degree of control. It took me a long time to realize there isn’t a single reason I should be seeking control over anyone else. I was very afraid of people. All the people around me implicitly taught it to me by how much fear of others they had. So long as everything is going according to the plan we are fine. But as soon as the accepted order is disrupted we have a lot of problems. Once we were forced to look at something in the microscope it took over our entire minds to re-order the world.

It is a funny thing that we, as a civilization, are determined to control the world. When, if the biblical narrative can tell us anything, it tells us that God isn’t controlling. God acts. There is a big difference. We believe that the God we believe in is sovereign yet we approach that sovereignty with such an ignorance to believe that God must act as we do.

“You wanted God’s ideas about what was best for you to coincide with your ideas, but you also wanted him to be the almighty Creator of heaven and earth so that he could properly fulfill your wish. And yet, if he were to share your ideas, he would cease to be the almighty Father.” Søren Kierkegaard

This is not a more sophisticated attempt at the pithy: “God works in mysterious ways”. Perhaps the other way around. God is sovereign by his being, not by his action or non-action. God is not fearful and therefore does not seek control. I am not fearful, and therefore I do not seek control. I simply act. I do what I desire to do. And when that means I take my life into my hands by riding my bike through traffic with the meager skill I do have, I am free. And that freedom is why I get so much joy from doing what I desire to do. Because I am not afraid that I don’t have control over everything else. Because I don’t need that control. A truly free man is dangerous, just as the Joker was dangerous. This is why protests are violently quelled. People sitting on their couches enamored with their freedom of choice don’t see their chains. The people yelling in the streets have thrown off their chains.

If I had no joy, then I would be desperately afraid to hold on to the meager materials that I do have in order to be merely content. Content is the enemy, the illusion, of joy.


Crux

Posted: Wednesday Nov 9th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising | View Comments

The crux of the matter is not correct reasoning but an existential act of appropriation, rejection, or transformation. Such an act does not have the universal validity of a ration statement. Only their existential repercussions endow such experiences with meaning.
Karl Jaspers, Anslem and Nicholas of Cusa, p.86


The Second Bill of Rights

Posted: Tuesday Nov 8th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Politics | View Comments

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher that ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people – whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy expanded – these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all – regardless of station, race, or creed.

    Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops of farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home and abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education;

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

President Franklin Roosevelt, excerpt from State of the Union, January 11, 1944


The Church is historically and intrinsically an artistic operation – Brueggemann

Posted: Sunday Oct 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Epistemology, Philosophising | View Comments


Colbert the Modern Cervantes

Posted: Sunday Sep 25th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Dialogue, History | View Comments

As Cervantes realized in the context of the newly born mass culture of the Catholic, imperial, Spanish state, irony expertly wielded is the best defense against the manipulation of truth by the media. Its effect was and still is to remind its audience that we are all active participants in the creation and support of a fictional world that is always in danger of being sold to us as reality.
‘Quixote,’ Colbert and the Reality of Fiction

Never forget to pay attention to which reality you are being sold


Twinge

Posted: Thursday Jul 14th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Sociology | View Comments

I twinged hard when reading this

I want to be a good person. But I feel like with everyone there’s mostly just darkness and we try to turn on the tiny flashlight inside so there’s a little bit of light. I guess one goal is to make that light larger and larger every day. But who knows? I don’t know anything.

I look over at Claudia, sitting on the couch in the next room, working on her own blog posts, sipping coffee, her long legs stretched out on the coffee table, typing away. She seems very happy. Maybe she’s the one person in the world with no darkness. Sometimes it seems that way to me. Maybe I’m just fooling myself. I hope to god I have the mental skills and acting ability to never take off my mask. I’m afraid for her to see the real me.James