July is over, and with it another month of Not School. Join up for some August action, which looks to include some Kant, Jung, David Foster Wallace, Lyotard, the philosophy of computer programming, maybe some more Marx, and more if you get in there now and propose something you'd prefer!
My main activity this month was a group on the recent (well, 2003) work of a former prof of mine at U. of Michigan, Frithjof Bergmann, writing about alternatives to the job system. Read about the group here.
Last Sunday we recorded a full two-hour discussion on (the 50 page intro to) his (as yet unpublished in the U.S.) book New Work, New Culture. I was joined by Jason Durso, Khary Robertson, Leland Gregory, Andrew Miles, Michael Burgess, and Tammy Gottschling, making this I believe the largest group we've ever attempted in a free-form PEL-style format, though in this case most of us had our webcams on and also used the text chat feature to do a little policing to make sure everyone got to talk.
And boy did everyone have a lot to say. I think we all agreed that the problem Bergmann identifies is legitimate and urgent: that it's unrealistic to think that the world economy will produce anywhere near enough full-time jobs to employ even most people as technology continues to make more work unnecessary, and that our cultural tendency to rely so much on jobs as the sole means of resource distribution and really to define our lives is psychologically and socially damaging. Beyond that, there was some disagreement about the quality of Bergmann's analysis of the social barriers preventing us from even seriously imagining change, and of course there was a lot of confusion and doubt about the specifics of Bergmann's proposal, which involves ultimately a mix of traditional work (say, 10 hours a week), plus pursuing a "calling" (work you really want to do, with counseling centers to help you figure this out), plus high-tech self-providing (think of how we currently use the Internet to do things for ourselves that travel agents used to do, and then imagine comparable technologies deployed to enable cheap, localized production of food and other necessities).
I always keep in mind when reading Bergmann that, even though he was the "Marx" guy at the University of Michigan (i.e. he was one of two that taught Continental figures, Marx and neo-Marxists among them), he thinks that if you think you need a revolution to achieve your goals, then something has gone wrong with your thinking. Like Marx, though, he eschews purely theoretical philosophy (so his conception of New Work comes out of a Hegelian/Nietzschean analysis of human nature and freedom; we dwell on these things not to just figure ourselves out but to change the world), and he points to the influence of Marx's ideas (among many others, e.g. the ideals of democracy and equality, and the creeds of Protestantism/Catholicism) as demonstrating that philosophy matters, that the ideas people have about the world really can have fairly direct political effects. Consequently, his essay could be seen as primarily a piece of rhetoric to convince you that there is a problem and shake you up into acknowledging it to be a problem, which is just being able to conceive of a solution, as it is our common political tendency basically to never admit that insoluble problems are something we should even be spending time on (i.e. that they exist as problems): change what you can and live with what you can't and all that.
I don't think that Bergmann's prescriptions involve overthrowing capitalism, and in fact it's capitalism that allows things to actually get done, whereas in totalitarian states you just get can't the resources you need from point A to point B and otherwise organize efforts to produce things effectively. What needs to change is the job system, and capitalism will in fact run more efficiently and warp the rest of the society less if we in effect deprive it of its power by not making all of our livelihoods so utterly dependent on it. Capitalists should go ahead and institute whatever technologies will enable them to produce most efficiently regardless of what this does to jobs, and local (and national!) governments should not grovel on their knees with tax breaks to businesses just to get them to please give us all a few more jobs (and here rather than there).
If you decommodify necessities (like health care, and like we've essentially already done to electricity, water, the postal service, emergency services, much of the transportation system, and primary education), then there's still plenty left to motivate/profit private industry, and much of the rest of Bergmann's suggested improvements are not actions taken by governments but strategies to be adopted within communities and within industries that are intended to have their own appeal, to be obviously superior to the alternatives. In our discussion, the comparison was made to New Work being like the iPhone that comes out and achieves widespread adoption and imitation just because it's obviously better than the insecurity, lack of freedom, and and spirit-crippling character of a what passes for a full-time job these days, particularly in less affluent nations, but here as well, where even those in successful, stable careers are often crippled by their daily activities. Work should be designed to serve people, not people to serve work.
It's the latter sentiment that Bergmann seeks to press home in what we read, and even some of the details I've provided above about decommodification are missing from the text, the body of which (i.e. the part that we didn't read and that I've not been able to get ahold of in English) seems to be a report on all the various activities that the New Work organization and its many centers and projects. Even that presentation is given as an invitation for readers to join in this overall effort of strategizing and trying out different ways to react intelligently to the fact that jobs are just plain running out, and there's no way to undo the mechanization that removed the need for so many manufacturing and farming jobs or to undo the information revolution that more recently has removed the need for so many service and office jobs. Instead of trying to shove the genie back in the bottle or slow the inevitable, we have to actively embrace and plan for a future with few to no full-time jobs, instead of pretending that the present system is a product of nature itself and so just can't be changed. If we do that, we're all screwed.
Become a PEL Citizen to listen to the full discussion.
“Instead of trying to shove the genie back in the bottle or slow the inevitable, we have to actively embrace and plan for a future with few to no full-time jobs, instead of pretending that the present system is a product of nature itself and so just can’t be changed. If we do that, we’re all screwed.”
That is my biggest concern, that I didn’t articulate it as I would have liked during our group discussion.
There is an article I’d like to share because I think it is/will effect most “blue color” workers at home and abroad. The article is a write-up on a talk given by David Simon, who was a crime reporter for “The Baltimore Sun” and creator or “The Wire”. I quote:
“Simon described Baltimore as being “very typical of a post-industrial American city,” where those without a college education are hard-pressed to find an honest job that can support their families. The factories are closed. One-half of the African-American adults in Baltimore are unemployed. But despite all of this, there is one place that’s always hiring: the corner.
But the war on drugs is actually making Americans less safe, Simon argued — not just in Baltimore, but in cities throughout the country. Drugs are purer, prisons are for-profit and America locks up more prisoners than any other country in the world — including Red China.”
He’s concerned about the Americans who are “left behind.” I think it’s good to be proactive and will take cross collaboration between all groups. We need new ideas and creative solutions that requires action now.
“the audacity of despair”
I’m listening to Episode 20: Pragmatism – Peirce and James. I think this podcast in particular really ties into this blog discussion, in that, when we doubt something vs. believe something we are struggling to act. I’m reminded of the essay you posted re “Enactivism.”
Two questions: (1) When I think about our individual human mind and how we (individually and collaboratively) organize our efforts by interacting and act for the common good, what is your thinking about how a private institution utilizes statistics/data for social engineering and civics planning in a particular community? (2) In David Simon’s talk “The Audacity of Despair” how do you reconcile how a private institution utilizes stats to present a picture that doesn’t support practical experiences, human equality for minority groups, and rise among our youth living in poverty?
I agree with Mark’s clarity re the practical implications – that philosophy does matter. He states, “Like Marx, though, he eschews purely theoretical philosophy (so his conception of New Work comes out of a Hegelian/Nietzschean analysis of human nature and freedom; we dwell on these things not to just figure ourselves out but to change the world), and he points to the influence of Marx’s ideas (among many others, e.g. the ideals of democracy and equality, and the creeds of Protestantism/Catholicism) as demonstrating that philosophy matters, that the ideas people have about the world really can have fairly direct political effects.” In that sense, how do you reconcile the theoretical when the practical and data contradicts an institution’s philosophy, dmf?
lots there to your comment so I may not address it all, Sennett is a pragmatist, as am I, and there is a humanist movement there against social-engineering, against treating people like machines/resources, and into craftsmanship/care-ethics So the work, broadly speaking, is against the tyranny of the means (and the just plain mean) and in favor of what Donald Schon called reflective practices and Hubert Dreyfus calls expertise, as to how to actually hold institutions accountable to such standards I have to date failed miserably but am actively searching for workable alternatives and would welcome any and all suggestions from PELers.
Sennett on “brutal simplifiers”
Thanks for linking this pdf, it’s interesting and kind of strange. I’m not sure where Rorty is coming from regarding Henry Kissenger (pg. 8) but his views remind me of Peter Drucker’s. I laughed when reading his comment re intellectual worry and Marxism (pg. 12).
I wanted to ask you a question about his comment re student complacency at Princeton in contrast to Columbia and Berkley in the late 60s:
“Q: One of the things I found most interesting in “Arguing the World” were the accounts that Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell gave of how they felt when the students took over Columbia in ‘68; in some ways they were quite on their side and yet they were furious that the institution of the university was being attacked. I guess things were slightly different at Princeton, but I was wondering how your own institutional location affected the way you experienced that period.
RR: I can tell you one story. The night after the students had occupied Columbia there was a meeting of purportedly left faculty in the house of a millionaire professor of history. We were all to discuss the question of why our students were so complacent—why hadn’t they occupied Princeton’s buildings? I thought this was the stupidest
thing I had ever been asked. Obviously this guy had made a big mistake in asking me to the meeting. I managed to keep my mouth shut, because I was the only person there who thought they shouldn’t occupy university buildings. Eventually some students did occupy the
administration building. They were served coffee and donuts, and eventually went away.
…But most of us had no interest in the students taking over the university. Every once in a while the students would take over or barricade something— some center that was financed by the Defense
Department, doing classified research—so we would go and bail them out. But it was just a series of ritual gestures. I think the reason why Princeton wasn’t like Berkeley or Columbia was the absence of street people. If you weren’t a university student or rich you simply couldn’t afford to live in Princeton. Whereas Columbia and Berkeley were near places where people without money could live.”
How do you understand institutional accountability and standards? Are you speaking from a position a part of institution or as an insider who is part of an institution as a whole? I mean, does it bother you that some view the university as a monopoly that’s utilization of power is viewed as a social harm rather than a social good? How do you reconcile that while identifying with the values of a university education?
your 1st question is a bit too wide in scope for this little reply box so I’ll jump ahead, I have worked in higher-ed, private-for-profit corps, govt jobs, and NGO’s but now have a private clinical practice and do some consulting and adjuncting, so have been an employee and a manager including several positions on boards and quality-mngt-review/program-development. I didn’t know that colleges where seen as monopolies (aren’t there too many as opposed to too few?) but do think that they shouldn’t be making money, beyond costs, off of education and that student debt in this country (USA) is a crime. Not sure what the values of a university education are really I think that they should be taught more in a learning by doing mode, like studios or labs, and not in lecturing at students and that isn’t really a popular idea (or at least I haven’t had much luck selling it), there is a reason I pitch in here under the tent of the partially examined life. Is that close to what you were asking after? Rorty and I parted ways in terms of research over what I saw as his overestimation of the powers of liberal-arts/book-learning and he saw my work as not being in the realm of philosophy which was a bit odd given his leveling of academic philo but such are the habits of a life’s work…
Re: “Not sure what the values of a university education are really I think that they should be taught more in a learning by doing mode, like studios or labs, and not in lecturing at students and that isn’t really a popular idea (or at least I haven’t had much luck selling it), there is a reason I pitch in here under the tent of the partially examined life. Is that close to what you were asking after?”
Possibly. I was more thinking about your comments re a humanist movement against social engineering, not treating a human being like a cog in the machine but to a more care-ethics, [getting back] long term investment and development of the skills of a laborer/student picking-up on the interview and our discussion of automation, high-skills/low-skills in the context of regional and global economies re the question posed to RR “the university overstepping its bounds.”
Q: But the particular thing about the demonstrations at Columbia wasn’t so much that people from the outside were coming into the university and threatening its authority, but that the university actively and perhaps wrongfully exerted its authority when they moved east
into Morningside Park and began construction in Harlem without any notification whatsoever to anyone in the neighborhood. I wonder if you would see that as a case not of outsiders coming into the university
setting, but of the university overstepping its bounds.
It’s a very interesting interview that really draws on problem and solutions argued by Bergmann and PEL’s observations brought into our discussion – for example the developing of greener commodities opening new markets solar and electric (auto industry – Flint Michigan, which is one of many American cities as manufacturing has moved over seas. These jobs probably won’t be coming back.
That brings me to a differentiation made by Swallerstein, “You seem to see capitalism and totalitarianism as opposites, but actually, totalitarianism is a political system, while capitalism is an economic system” which I think is important. The differentiation helps remain in the complexities of the situation instead of generalities.
Anyway, I thought the RR interview was a wonder contribution in this blog. Most especially the questions raised in the section: “The Politics of Difference,” which looks more closely at the humanities and social sciences.
I think this comment by Rorty, “Yeah, if we’re talking about the politics of difference. But why are we talking about the politics of difference? I
just don’t see what was wrong with the politics of individuality, conjoined with the usual attempt to repeal this or that law, overcome this or that prejudice, and so on” is prime. My impression reads work by authors who are NOT American is it’s a similar question pondered by, say, African men and women in dialogue with African Americans re culture and group identification.
somewhat clearer (these are very broad subjects), the modern humanist movement (so to speak) was really more about a kind of cosmopolitanism that got transplanted into the US academy with the creation of the New School and roughly married to a more homespun variety tracing back to Emerson and co. via Dewey (who if memory serves, ha!, got one of the 1st PhDs in philosophy in this country). I find the turn to practices after Rorty (and the emphasis on the particulars at hand in any situation) to be key to making actual changes but one can see how this undercuts (and should undercut) academic pretensions in the humanities/social-sciences to discovering some kind of overarching laws/theories as one finds in say physics that can than be applied as engineering. Does that help?
Is Vico’s thinking equivalent to Relativism? Is this why Rorty criticized the humanities and his own school of analytic philosophy?
the question of what is “Relativism” is a bit dicey so let me just say that Vico was for rhetoric/poetry, local themes/cults, and what moved the psyche, and this would accord with Rorty and his distaste for meta-physics and his enthusiasm for the agora of ideas.
Rorty wasn’t opposed to the sciences or such but had much in common with the Romantic strains of humanisms for whom Vico is a kind of fore-father.
Rorty championed most of the humanities (more taken with literature than I think ‘it’ is due in terms of its powers to shape lives) but was often in the business of undermining any pretensions of uber-knowledge/God’seye-perspective from philosophies of all stripes (he annoyed the Derridians as much as his home “team” and even the few and embittered orthodox pragmatists still spit on his grave.)
for a thoughtful/entertaining defense of the academic humanities see:
I bit wide, a bit broad, a bit dicey, ending with Terry Eagleton’s criticism that the humanities possible marriage with culture has lost its power to critique it. That is tragic.
ah, well the times are not rosy for ‘high’ culture or much by way of even the middleground/middleclass, and yes for better or worse philosophy takes on big topics and than slices and dices them in a variety of running critiques/conversations that don’t lend themselves easily to blog-commenting threads but we do what we can with the tools at hand in the rag&boneshop of the heart…
There’s an article with few comments but the comments are worth reading – especially, Bartmoss from Germany re “neo-industrial revolution.”
Columbia University was building a gym in Morningside Park, which community residents could use as well as students, but with a separate entrance and section for community residents (who happened in many cases to be African-Americans from Harlem).
However, my take is that only a small very politized group of student leaders saw university expansion as an important issue.
For the rest of us, the issue was Viet Nam, Viet Nam and Viet Nam.
First of all, the fear of being drafted concentrates a boy’s mind wonderously.
However, the main thing is that we felt swindled, swindled by our upbringing and education, which had taught us that America was good, that our leaders never lied and that they were always right.
We were very innocent in those days: U.S. policy in Viet Nam and Johnson’s constant lying woke us from our slumbers.
We saw the liberal elite, the Columbia administration and faculty, as complices of the Johnson administration and the CIA, even if they were nominally “doves” on the war. They had played along for too long in the lies about the goodness and rightness of America.
As to the differences between Columbia and Princeton students 68, I’d say (without any scientific evidence) that Columbia attracted a slightly different type of student body, kids who sought an urban campus, who had no problems with living in a neighborhood (Morningside Heights) which in those days was less glamorous than it is today, who did not want to go to a traditional sheltered Ivy League campus such as Princeton or Dartmouth, etc.
Your differentiation about political and economic systems was awesome, which lingered in my mind long after wrapping-up our discussion. Thank you for your thoughts (appreciate) and they are refreshing in there honesty.
The Richard Rorty interview provided by dmf is very interesting. I don’t follow Rorty’s comment about Henry Kissinger, in thinking about the Vietnam War. Kissinger said the U.S. was Br’er Rabbit stuck in Tar Baby (not a racial slur) – get out.
“We saw the liberal elite, the Columbia administration and faculty, as complices of the Johnson administration and the CIA, even if they were nominally “doves” on the war. They had played along for too long in the lies about the goodness and rightness of America.”
Can I ask if your opinion has changed?
P.S. Lots of good comment now on the NYTs article.
Have my views changed?
A young generation, which in social terms represents a paradigm shift, as did that generation which occupied building in 1968, tends to be very hard on the older generation and their paradigm.
After the success of the new paradigm and after its weaknesses and defects become manifest, the younger generation, now not so young, learns that they are as often as corrupt as the older corrupt generation and that most importantly, we act very blindly, that we are generally unaware of what we are up to in social terms, that most of our social praxis is through a glass darkly.
So, yes, the liberal elite of the 60’s was complicit in the cold war project, in polite racism, in sexism, in repression in the 3rd world and closed their eyes to much evil, but if I had been in their shoes, I might have done worse.
“Rorty championed most of the humanities (more taken with literature than I think ‘it’ is due in terms of its powers to shape lives) but was often in the business of undermining any pretensions of uber-knowledge/God’seye-perspective from philosophies of all stripes (he annoyed the Derridians as much as his home “team” and even the few and embittered orthodox pragmatists still spit on his grave.)”
Do you by chance follow reports by the Public Religion Research Institute and changes in Catholicism? If you do, can I ask what you think about the survey “Do American Believe Capitalism and Government are Working, ” specifically pg.12 (highest economic priorities by selected groups)? What do you make of it on a national and global scale?
hi Tammy, just skimmed the report (and so may have missed something vital so pls let me know if I did) and while I was pleased to see that discontent/disbelief in the American pipe-Dream is reportedly high I’m not at all convinced that this will translate into social/political mobilization/organization, was just watching Iowa PBS on the drastic decline of family farms in the 80’s and tragically only a tiny fraction of those folks pulled under by the markets and banks got politically active and we know how politics in Iowa has shaped up since then, so I see more gridlock and decline and more right-wing fear-mongering-populism at home and less interaction/influence abroad, not sure what happens then but the history of such trends is disturbing…
Thanks. I think we’re all aware of our own human strengths and failures individually and collectively. What’s strange to me is according to a Pew Research poll about NSA tracking the youth differ on principle but less on practice with the older age groups.
I was thinking about the poll and reading “The Limits of Irony: Rorty and the China Challenge.” Again, thanks.
Thank you too. I’ve enjoyed conversing with you.
Leland Gregory says
Indeed, unskilled workers are becoming increasingly marginalized in our society.
An important part of what Bergmann seems to be communicating is the trend that this sort of condition, people falling through the cracks, is moving it’s way up the economic/educational/talent scale. Right now it may just be blue collar workers, but in time more and more advanced jobs will become automated. More and more humans will be made economically obsolete.
In light of this, it’s not about the successful people trying to save the unsuccessful people, it’s about reorganizing the system so that small differences in socioeconomic status (or capital) don’t amount to a large disparity in the standard of living.
You seem to see capitalism and totalitarianism as opposites, but actually, totalitarianism is a political system, while capitalism is an economic system.
The opposite of totalitarianism is democracy and it is quite possible to have socialist democracy, just as it is possible to have a totalitarian political system with a capitalist economy.
can one really/meaningfully separate politics and economies?
Whether you can or cannot separate politics from economics, the only alternative to capitalism is not totalitarianism.
A suggestion presented is we need a more profound critique of capitalism in terms of how it arranges power through the framework of socioeconomic philosophy (economic democracy), which is a critique shared with Sennett and Simon.
The open discussion after Sennett’s talk, “The Decline of the Skills Society” is a good demonstration of the two contrasting economic views.