Arbeit Macht Frei

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Hugh Akston
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Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Hugh Akston »

A thread for discussing work, employment, and the workplace in the 21st century.

Not your work/place specifically of course, because we have other threads for that.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Hugh Akston »

How to care less about work
We live in an age of “total work.” It’s a term coined by the German philosopher Josef Pieper just after World War II—describing the process by which human beings are transformed into workers, and the entirety of life is then transformed into work. Work becomes total when all of human life is centered around it; when everything else is not just subordinate to, but in the service of work. Leisure, festivity, and play come to resemble work—and then straight-up become it.

Even our co-circular habits play into total work. People work out, rest and relax, eat well, and remain in good health for the sake of being more productive. We believe in working on ourselves as well as on our relationships. We think of our days off in terms of getting things done. And we take a good day to be a day in which we were productive.
To get started, we need to become less attached to our notions of work. The Buddha helpfully suggests that there are “three poisons” at the root of our attachments: attraction, aversion, and indifference. In this case, to become less attracted to, and therefore less hung up on, notions of career success, you should pay close attention to how those occupying positions of power are often over-extended, run ragged by infinite demands and herculean ambitions. They are rarely leading well-rounded or well-ordered lives. The cost of their single-minded striving for success is unvoiced suffering, loneliness, and the loss of other things worth caring about. If career success too often brings misery, then should it be esteemed as highly as it usually is?
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JasonL
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

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Counter - care a lot about it, advance, seek salary and bonuses live within your means esp not too much house and save like mad. Turn 40. You now have reputation, savings and options. Let the zen flow through you. Opt out of busting it all the time, move into role where you can educate others or work on projects. Keep head down and add value not through sweat but through accumulated network, knowledge and reputation. Go home, do your thing, take vacations have fun. Savings will continue to compound, shift into current consumption buy fun stuff.

Essentially think about a life in total and crush it while you have time on your side in the math of compounding. One you have mastery you can do things of high value with little sweat, so make sure you don't just keep sweating if you don't want to. Prolly about 40 is a consideration point.

ETA: zen and Buddhism in general fail to account for future planning

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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

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Hugh Akston wrote:
14 Aug 2017, 18:55
How to care less about work
We live in an age of “total work.” It’s a term coined by the German philosopher Josef Pieper just after World War II—describing the process by which human beings are transformed into workers, and the entirety of life is then transformed into work. Work becomes total when all of human life is centered around it; when everything else is not just subordinate to, but in the service of work. Leisure, festivity, and play come to resemble work—and then straight-up become it.

Even our co-circular habits play into total work. People work out, rest and relax, eat well, and remain in good health for the sake of being more productive. We believe in working on ourselves as well as on our relationships. We think of our days off in terms of getting things done. And we take a good day to be a day in which we were productive.
To get started, we need to become less attached to our notions of work. The Buddha helpfully suggests that there are “three poisons” at the root of our attachments: attraction, aversion, and indifference. In this case, to become less attracted to, and therefore less hung up on, notions of career success, you should pay close attention to how those occupying positions of power are often over-extended, run ragged by infinite demands and herculean ambitions. They are rarely leading well-rounded or well-ordered lives. The cost of their single-minded striving for success is unvoiced suffering, loneliness, and the loss of other things worth caring about. If career success too often brings misery, then should it be esteemed as highly as it usually is?
Sorry. I am not buying it.

In the pre-industrial age, the majority of people - the peasants - worked hideously long hours just to survive. We may speak of bread and circuses for the Roman masses, but even if you (falsely) assume they did nothing - the urban underclass was a tiny minority of Roman subjects. The vast majority were peasants or slaves who either worked dawn to dusk or starved.

In the industrial revolution, the early socialists and communists fought to improve working conditions, not to make workers better.

By the twentieth century, it was the time-and-motion engineers like the Gilbreths who sought to make workers more productive. Unions and workers were trying to get a piece of the good life for themselves.

Workaholics were not identified as a type until the second half of the twentieth century and, for the most part, the term 'workaholic' was pejorative.

Only in the late twentieth century did the notion of 'work as something to enjoy' arise. I think it is a ridiculous notion except when applied to the few people who can get true intellectual stimulation from their job. For most people, work remains drudgery and not a goal in itself.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Jennifer »

When the 40-hour workweek was implemented (replacing workweeks which commonly would last 70+ hours), most futurists predicted that as technology improved, working hours would continue to shrink for the majority of people.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

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Futurists are uniformly terrible except for a handful of things they happen to say that turn out.

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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Aresen »

JasonL wrote:
14 Aug 2017, 21:42
Futurists are uniformly terrible except for a handful of things they happen to say that turn out.
It is more like a bunch of hunters in a blind firing loads of buckshot at a flock of ducks. Some ducks are going to get hit; the majority of the buckshot will disappear into the swamp.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Hugh Akston »

Aresen wrote:
14 Aug 2017, 22:12
JasonL wrote:
14 Aug 2017, 21:42
Futurists are uniformly terrible except for a handful of things they happen to say that turn out.
It is more like a bunch of hunters in a blind firing loads of buckshot at a flock of ducks. Some ducks are going to get hit; the majority of the buckshot will disappear into the swamp.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Jennifer »

No doubt, futurists are wrong more often than right; that said, I'm rather skeptical of the notion that no matter how advanced technology gets, the majority of adult humans (except for a relative handful of independently wealthy types) will have to spend the majority of their waking hours trudging away at Work with a capital W.
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Jadagul
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Jadagul »

I mean, that's hardly true now, unless you sleep 90 hours a week.

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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Jennifer »

Jadagul wrote:
14 Aug 2017, 23:10
I mean, that's hardly true now, unless you sleep 90 hours a week.
True; I should've specified "during the workweek" (assuming one sleeps the standard 8 hours per night).
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Fin Fang Foom »

This thread title is in poor taste.

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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Eric the .5b »

Fin Fang Foom wrote:
14 Aug 2017, 23:38
This thread title is in poor taste.
Agreed.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Aresen »

Eric the .5b wrote:
14 Aug 2017, 23:56
Fin Fang Foom wrote:
14 Aug 2017, 23:38
This thread title is in poor taste.
Agreed.
This is the Gryll, after all.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

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I liked this a lot less than I hoped to.

For one thing, I don't think it's particularly clear what the "total work" idea is or how this fits it. I'm not familiar with Pieper but some quick reading suggests "utility" may have been a better word choice than Taggart's "productivity" but anyway. Take this.
Taggart wrote:It’s a term coined by the German philosopher Josef Pieper just after World War II—describing the process by which human beings are transformed into workers, and the entirety of life is then transformed into work. Work becomes total when all of human life is centered around it; when everything else is not just subordinate to, but in the service of work. Leisure, festivity, and play come to resemble work—and then straight-up become it.
Even our co-circular habits play into total work. People work out, rest and relax, eat well, and remain in good health for the sake of being more productive. We believe in working on ourselves as well as on our relationships. We think of our days off in terms of getting things done. And we take a good day to be a day in which we were productive.
Does "people" in the bolded sentence mean "many people," "some people," "all people"? It's not at all clear to me that most people exercise and eat well to be more productive; at least some do it to feel good, to enjoy a longer life with their family, etc. As for days off: aren't people often trying to "get things done" that they actually want to do, i.e., not necessarily work? Surely many people are trying to cram as many leisure activities as possible into their days off (Pieper is explicitly pro-leisure). And as far as "working on ourselves," well, it seems that's what Taggart spends most of the rest of the column advocating. His whole program for caring less about work and more about other things that "matter more" is one of working on oneself (and probably on one's relationships as well if it's going to be successful). So I think there are some definite word games going on up front.

He also makes the assumption that people are only focused on work to begin with because society considers it important, rather than because the other parts of their lives are even worse than work.

So, the program:
Taggart wrote:Once you’ve detached the notion of success from that of happiness, you need to work out how else to find that satisfaction—but without actually achieving anything. This exercise opens us up to Oscar Wilde’s famous dictum, “All art is quite useless.” We can refute total work’s claim that only useful things are valuable by taking Wilde at his word, and considering how we can perform fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments in our own lives.
For example, we could partake in the “art of roaming” without an aim or plan. This is an idea advanced by French theorist Guy Debord, who proposed that we let ourselves “be drawn by the attractions of the terrain” and the encounters we discover. Alternatively, we could write a haiku, walk through the woods in the spirit of “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku), or lie perfectly still in a moving rowboat, as 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau reports having done in Reveries of the Solitary Walker. We could take part with others in breaking out of an escape room, immerse ourselves in sensory deprivation tanks, or practice calligraphy, an art that master calligrapher Kazuaki Tanahashi calls “brush mind.” By these means, we can plunge into life, engaging our senses while suspending our buzzing, noisy workaday concerns.
Once we’ve gotten the knack for embracing the idea that certain things in life are wondrous because they’re not focused on getting through, onto, or ahead of something, we can turn our attention to ourselves, inquiring into our own lives. Socrates’ great insight involved showing his conversation partners that they thought they knew themselves, but it turns out that they didn’t.
Are "productivity," "work," "achievement," and "utility" the same as "getting through, onto, or ahead of something"? Does the writing of a haiku not produce a haiku? Is the kind of self-exploration he goes on to outline not productive of a different kind of self, a different outlook, a different way of experiencing the world?
Taggart wrote:Following Socrates’ lead, we can ask ourselves, “If I’m not just a worker, then who am I?” Let this question sit in the back of your mind for a few weeks before you try to answer it. “Who am I?” you might ask while getting bogged down at work. “Who am I?” you might think while you notice your thoughts inclining once again toward completing tasks, planning, strategizing, and making insurmountable to-do lists. “Is this who I am? Is this all I am?” This philosophical question, posed over and over again, is intended to arouse great doubt in you, inviting you to prod your deepest ambitions, why you’re here, and what it’s all about.
Again, it seems to be word games: these philosophical questions will "arouse" doubt, but somehow not "produce" it?

I won't waste too much time complaining about other dopey stuff like the suggestion people have a "destiny" or that some things are "truly meaningful," but I will say it strikes me as absurd that he doesn't mention one of the easiest, most popular, and most accessible ways of choosing aimless contemplation over utility, namely drugs. Hallucinogens in particular are a massive blind spot of the column. He also pretty much leaves out meditation, and by dismissing exercise in the second paragraph as just more "work" he also leaves out another popular, accessible form of meditative activity that people frequently report puts them in more of a "flow," makes them feel more embodied, and fosters significant psychological exploration.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

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nicole wrote:
15 Aug 2017, 09:55
Are "productivity," "work," "achievement," and "utility" the same as "getting through, onto, or ahead of something"? Does the writing of a haiku not produce a haiku? Is the kind of self-exploration he goes on to outline not productive of a different kind of self, a different outlook, a different way of experiencing the world?
The product of art is not necessarily the point of the practice of art, particularly when it comes to meditative arts like haiku or calligraphy. I took the broader point to be one of altering one's perspective away from the mindset of productivity (i.e. what is the end product). You could certainly make the case that the end product of that project is a self with an altered perspective, but that too is a bit of a semantic game.

I will agree that he makes his argument rather sloppily, but I won't fault him for failure to address every alternative because who knows what his space and time constraints were.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by nicole »

Hugh Akston wrote:
15 Aug 2017, 11:11
nicole wrote:
15 Aug 2017, 09:55
Are "productivity," "work," "achievement," and "utility" the same as "getting through, onto, or ahead of something"? Does the writing of a haiku not produce a haiku? Is the kind of self-exploration he goes on to outline not productive of a different kind of self, a different outlook, a different way of experiencing the world?
The product of art is not necessarily the point of the practice of art, particularly when it comes to meditative arts like haiku or calligraphy. I took the broader point to be one of altering one's perspective away from the mindset of productivity (i.e. what is the end product). You could certainly make the case that the end product of that project is a self with an altered perspective, but that too is a bit of a semantic game.

I will agree that he makes his argument rather sloppily, but I won't fault him for failure to address every alternative because who knows what his space and time constraints were.
Sure. I just think it would have been more effective to approach it from the other direction; instead of trying to argue that certain desirable activities never produce anything, he should have actually attacked the idea that productivity is per se desirable, thereby promoting the importance of process over ends.*

*Although, of course, I would say that instead of trying to get you to care more about other things, he should have just tried you to care less about work; that rather than trying to convince you other things were more meaningful simply that work is not meaningful.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Hugh Akston »

Agreed
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

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I can get as far as appreciation of the null set as a decluttering exercise that allows one to probe into their more authentic set of preferences which may be distinct from their expressed preferences generated from thoughtless adherence to social expectations. I get that. My problem with this kind of thing though is at the end of the road isn't a nothingness to be celebrated. It's a replacement of a thoughtless set of values with a thoughtful set. With a clearer form of "what kind of person do I aspire to be", yeah it might be that you super dig moment to moment meditative existence but maybe you just identify upon reflection other things you get jazzed about. That new set of things creates new aspirations and goals and things to work toward and there's totally nothing wrong with that. If you have any set of authentic preferences other than the nothingness and the now, you should put some thought and calories into effectuating those preferences or that's just another betrayal of self.

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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Dangerman »

Ask someone with nothing to do how they feel. Is work only defined as what we do that's not strictly for pleasure?

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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

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nicole wrote:
15 Aug 2017, 09:55
Does "people" in the bolded sentence mean "many people," "some people," "all people"?
That's the part I can't get past. He's "a practical philosopher, [who] speaks daily with individuals from Silicon Valley to Scandinavia about their obsessions with work—obsessions that, by their own accounts, are making them miserable." That's a notable selection bias right there. Of course he's going to meet people obsessed with their work, the kind that might exercise for the sake of productivity. They're coming to him for help. Obviously, a lot of Americans don't eat well or exercise, and many who do do so for other reasons. His characterization of work also reads tailored for a certain kind of white collar work. Maybe this piece is intended for a certain audience, but then he begins by defining our 'age' by this behavior.
In this case, to become less attracted to, and therefore less hung up on, notions of career success, you should pay close attention to how those occupying positions of power are often over-extended, run ragged by infinite demands and herculean ambitions. They are rarely leading well-rounded or well-ordered lives. The cost of their single-minded striving for success is unvoiced suffering, loneliness, and the loss of other things worth caring about. If career success too often brings misery, then should it be esteemed as highly as it usually is?
I have no idea if this is true. It's a stereotype that I'm sure is true at times, but I have no idea how common this is. And it's a leap to go from people in "positions of power" to "career success." How many of us, even those in SV, are looking for positions of power, or equate that with career success? Of the people I know who I think considers themselves successful - small business owners (in competitive industries in NYC, no less) and senior level guys at companies - none seem to live up this stereotype. Maybe they're secretly miserable, but considering how they all like to shoot the shit and gab about their non-work lives while they're at work, I think they're doing as well as can be expected of intelligent creatures with biological needs, and no worse than past generations.
“Is this who I am? Is this all I am?”
Yes. Deal with it.

...I don't know, I've been in a mood lately. Still, to the general thrust of the piece, I'd counter with one of my favorite Veep lines: "It's not the job that's depressing. Life is depressing."

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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by nicole »

JasonL wrote:
15 Aug 2017, 11:52
I can get as far as appreciation of the null set as a decluttering exercise that allows one to probe into their more authentic set of preferences which may be distinct from their expressed preferences generated from thoughtless adherence to social expectations. I get that. My problem with this kind of thing though is at the end of the road isn't a nothingness to be celebrated. It's a replacement of a thoughtless set of values with a thoughtful set. With a clearer form of "what kind of person do I aspire to be", yeah it might be that you super dig moment to moment meditative existence but maybe you just identify upon reflection other things you get jazzed about. That new set of things creates new aspirations and goals and things to work toward and there's totally nothing wrong with that. If you have any set of authentic preferences other than the nothingness and the now, you should put some thought and calories into effectuating those preferences or that's just another betrayal of self.
I think it's valuable to get away from Taggart again and toward what appears to be the underlying argument in Pieper's work. From a New Criterion review of a new edition of Pieper's major work on leisure and culture:
For Plato, for Aristotle, for Aquinas, we live most fully when we are most fully at leisure. Leisure —the Greek word is `Gscolhv, whence our word “school”—meant the opposite of “downtime.” Leisure in this sense is not idleness, but activity undertaken for its own sake: philosophy, aesthetic delectation, and religious worship are models.
This suggests that rather than getting hung up issues of "productivity," Taggart might have been more concerned with the idea of doing something for its own sake rather than instrumentally.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by MJGreen »

nicole wrote:
15 Aug 2017, 09:55
I will say it strikes me as absurd that he doesn't mention one of the easiest, most popular, and most accessible ways of choosing aimless contemplation over utility, namely drugs. Hallucinogens in particular are a massive blind spot of the column. He also pretty much leaves out meditation, and by dismissing exercise in the second paragraph as just more "work" he also leaves out another popular, accessible form of meditative activity that people frequently report puts them in more of a "flow," makes them feel more embodied, and fosters significant psychological exploration.
I feel that way about his silence on video games, which makes him look way out of touch. It's an important question for his thesis, since they can be taken either way. They can be a meditative time waster that clears your mind as much as walking or lying in a damn rowboat*, or they can be their own form of work, nagging you with tasks and a bunch of new goals to meet. These goals can be done for their own end of entertainment, or for some further end and idea of personal success (e.g. ranking high in multiplayer). If you're going to give us practical advice, wouldn't you want to comment on the most popular form of entertainment today?

*I'm supposed to go rent a boat and row out to a secluded area to think? that's just more work!

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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Hugh Akston »

I don't think the specific content of the leisure activity matters as much as the distinction between the meditative/experiential vs productive/aspirational mindsets. Drugs, books, painting, knitting, video games, running, pr0n, whathaveyou all seem like perfectly cromulent activities so long as they are practiced without any kind of fixed goal or product in mind, but rather for the experience of enjoyment.

TBH that sort of approach seems more intuitive to me. I think it would be more challenging to argue the opposite position that work and accomplishment add meaningful value to your life.
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Re: Arbeit Macht Frei

Post by Dangerman »

Lots of people (like me) do a certain amount of socializing around, if not in, games and related stuff online. I'm hanging out in voice chat just for conversation in a similar way that someone might hang out on the corner 20 years ago. But some of that socializing has involved maintaining the spaces, which is work (like on a large scale you'd hire or pay someone to do it).

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