Might as well get this crush of Not School-related posts up in one wash so we can get on to other things...
In our Marx episode we talked at the end about what happens after technology makes all of our jobs obsolete. I purposefully cut that line of discussion short because we're planning a whole episode on it, which will involve either reading works by or (if I can make it happen) interviewing Frithjof Bergmann, the U. of Michigan Nietzsche/Hegel/existentialism scholar who's dedicated the bulk of his professional life to this project. It appears that an English version of his 2004 German-only book Neue Arbeit, Neue Kultur will soon be released, and the first 50 pages are now available online. I've glanced at it, and it seems like a hoot, so I'd like some folks to jump on and read it with me during July and have a recorded discussion at the end of the month so we can see if this would be a good reading to have PEL cover. Should be a lot of fun. I've just created a proposal to this effect that you can go sign onto if this sounds enjoyable, and if I get even a couple of folks to join me, I'll create the group itself within the next couple of days (though I'm open to persuasion to push this off until August if that would be better for a lot of people).
As an undergrad, it was Bergmann's influence that got me into political/ethical philosophy, and I continue to think this issue to be much more important for us to engage than other contemporary moral problems studied in philosophy classes (abortion, just war theory, etc.), much less abstractions like social contract theory. As interesting as it is to figure out what would justify us in condemning torture, or deciding on principles to resolve controversial moral dilemmas, or even studying things like how we make choices or how political groups work effectively, in all those cases I feel like I'm engaging in an academic exercise. On the flip side, I find most political battles just too theoretically simple, where the opposition (sorry, conservatives) arguments are laughable and knee-jerk enough such that while it's a social problem that they won't just be less stubborn (no, Obamacare is not tyranny), political action becomes intellectually unchallenging.
But this issue, for me, is what it's all about: the thing about our society that is most damaging to us as individuals, does more to crush our spirits and our creativity and our will and ability to do much of anything that would really matter to us. It matters less to me whether we're actually on a path to inevitable, massive unemployment brought about by automation as many predict. To me, it's enough that technology has already made it so that WE COULD restructure the job system so that each of us is devoting much less of our day to making a living if we just recognized this as a desirable and attainable social goal. (Disclosure: I got a gig working from home, setting my own hours, without which I likely could not put energy into PEL, and before being in this situation had even basically given up playing music for a couple of years.) I should point out initially that none of this entails getting rid of capitalism as the means for producing goods, which is much more efficient than the alternatives, though it would be facilitated by decommodifying as many of the essentials as possible, e.g. through nationalized healthcare. The focus, I think, needs to be at this stage on elaborating and spreading the vision of how cool a society we'd have if this change successfully took place rather than committing whole-hog to any one policy step one sees as necessary. The bigger problem politically (the reason that Bergmann basically gave up on the US and has been involved more in Europe and the third world over the last 15 years) is that liberals now fight only defensively, to put limits on particular corporate abuses, and the culture doesn't even allow anything that smacks of utopian thinking just because some particular social experiments of the past didn't work out, as if the abuses of Lenin and Stalin and Mao have ruined things for all reformers everywhere for all time. This is a task for philosophy to take on.
I've written about this in the past and linked to a video of Bergmann talking here and here.
For other Not School offerings in July, read this and this.
Sounds interesting as I’ve been flip-flopping back and forth on the topic. Interested if Bergmann resonates with Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky: “In Praise of Leisure.”
thanks for the link, always good to learn of a new thinker, as to who might own the future:
@Mark: especially as a musician you might be interested in the 2 books of Jaron Lanier (it’s not philosophy but he’s very smart).
Khary Tafari Robertson says
I agree, though I would say Lanier has his own philosophical merits as well depicted in his righting. He has a very unique view of materialistic transhumanism, that differs from the typical view of the technological singularity.
Well, this topic was a bit of an obsession a few years back . That said, reading the previous PEL blogs linked, I prefer passion and hope this doesn’t turn out to be a “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary Shteyngart.
This might be a better description of Shteyngart fiction novel that’s in agreement with Jaron Lanier.
Adam Swartz says
Thanks for this, Mark. I think your comment about the lack of utopian or even slightly-forward thinking in society to be an apt one. This whole issue of work and the role it plays in society feels indeed like the background noise behind so many other existential issues these days. By that I mean, there are those of us who obsess about balancing all their respective projects and passions in pursuit of a meaningful life. For such folks, the underlying bass-line of that song is always how to earn a living. In fact when thinking about such a “balanced” life the Job is the perennial pink elephant keeping one end of the scale pinned to the ground…
I’m working my way through the Bergmann’s text and find it very provocative. Also @dmf thanks for the link to Lanier.
sure, you might also be interested in:
THE CULTURE OF THE NEW CAPITALISM
What are the differences between earlier forms of industrial capitalism and the more global, boom and bust version of capitalism that is taking its place?
In recent years, reformers of both private and public institutions have preached that flexible, global corporations provide a model of freedom for individuals.
But as Professor Richard Sennett explains with this latest economy model come new social and emotional traumas that only a certain kind of person can prosper from.
Wayne Schroeder says
Watch this video–you will want to share it with your friends (a graduation speech regarding work, life, etc.):
In 2005, author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. However, the resulting speech didn’t become widely known until 3 years later, after his tragic death. It is perhaps the most simple and elegant explanation of the real value of education (a proper philosophical perspective?), and how to apply it to work/life. Enjoy.
Read the full speech here:
not sure that the talk really gets to dealing with the daily politics/economics of working life in our collapsing economies and even his book the Pale King already rings with a kind of nostalgia of a time past.
Aren’t Wallance’s writings dealing with getting beyond our individual self and the me complex suggesting American media culture is all about worshipping our individual selves and why working life is collapsing? I understand the caution of nostalgia in literature if taken to an ideological extreme (due to Nazism) but I don’t understand why you don’t think Wallance didn’t deal with collapse of American society.
I mean self-sufficiency is a rather stranger slogan isn’t it?
I don’t see any examination/recognition of the all too human political/structural forces that make our economies what they are, or substantial suggestions about how to organize publics to resist such forces in his work do you?
Mark Linsenmayer says
Not sure. I don’t know what’s in the other 300-400 pages of this book beyond the 50 that are posted. He talked about such issues from the perspective of individual psychology, e.g. how a lot of the assumptions that economists make about people pursuing their rational self-interest are bogus, how people want drama and follow fashion and are (in the Hegelian spirit of recognizing that growing a self is an accomplishment) tossed and turned in a lot of energy-wasting directions. He thinks that ideas really are causally efficacious, that both in the various Communist revolutions and the American/French revolution and the Protestant/Catholic wars it really was not just political forces (though it was that) but ideas that incited millions to throw their lives into things, so that our chief task re. the change in work is to to change hearts and minds and inspire people to go out and do things. He talked nostalgically about 60s activism… about how at that point if you had a political conviction you’d go out and DO something, whereas now (lecturing to us in the early 90s, that is) that’s seen as passe. So I’ve not talked to him about the 99%ers or any of that.
If you’re looking for someone to speak to the logistics of organizing, I don’t know that that’d be his specialty.
hey ML, I was referring to DFWallace do you mean Bergmann, my sense from this recorded talk ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVOVbHI32is) is that he does indeed address the kinds of concerns that I was raising, whereas I think that DFW wanted to be Delillo and ended up closer to Douglas Coupland with a kind of touchy-feely stoicism…
I watched an uncut interview with Wallace and think he does examine/ address the questions you raise.
Timely video and one I am going to share, Wayne. Thanks for posting it.
Mark Linsenmayer says
DMF, that’ll teach me to read my comments via the WordPress back-end that doesn’t make the threads clear!
I’m coincidentally listening to an audio version of Broom of the System right now. Fun, and the guy obviously took a philosophy class, but nothing particularly revelatory there from a philosophical perspective.
I’ve gotten farther into Frithjof’s tract here, and you are right that he is actually VERY concerned with analyzing our historical situation and the factors that have made us feel like we have no political efficacy at this point.