I've tentatively scheduled a recorded Q&A session with just myself and Frithjof for next Wednesday, 8/23. We'd like to get YOUR questions (and challenges, and responses) that arose out of our interview with him in in PEL ep. 83.
You can write them as comments to this post, or e-mail me directly.
Details will the forthcoming re. how you will be able to listen (or maybe even watch) the resulting session.
we are now coming to understand how social-skills/response-abilities like paying attention to things that don’t interest you, learning to tolerate failure/frustration, considering the wants/needs of others, etc, are learned or not at a fairly early age (and like language acquisition are much harder for older learners) so for the growing number of people suffering from socialization- poverty/deprivation how will we get them up to speed so that they will be work/training ready?
Philip C. says
I just listened to the Bergmann episode a few days ago, and I really enjoyed it. My most pressing question regards the possible limits of new technology’s ability to implement so-called “new work” standards of sufficiency put forward by Bergmann. He seemed optimistic about the capacity of technology to empower individuals to do what they love, but it feels a bit vague here (the only specific example I recall were 3D printers and the motorcycle). Clearly new technologies require new resources that are taxing on the environment and on individuals (e.g. the primary material needed for modern batteries in items such as solar panels, namely lithium, is located in politically unstable regions), create/require new jobs and thus more labor (programmers, hardware engineers, etc.), more expenditures (3D printers aren’t cheap), more compartmentalization of labor (the more complicated the gadget, the more steps in production), etc. It seems that technology has made it possible for geographical regions lacking in natural resources to still maintain a degree of relative self-sufficiency, and our reliance on technology will increase as potable water and tillable land becomes more scarce.
I am completely on board with Bergmann’s proposal that we should place emphasis on our place within a local community, on sustainable living, and we should prioritize less production and consumption (which implies less waste and stress). With 4% of the world’s population consuming 25% of the world’s energy, the US is by far the most wasteful nation per capita, not including the amount of labor exported from other countries. Now it looks like China is following the US’s footsteps. I agree we need to seriously reevaluate our wasteful lifestyles, cut back on excessive consumption, but I think it’s unclear to me exactly how radical or modest this lifestyle change should be. There are the obvious things like turning off the electronic appliance when you’re not using it. There are the slightly more difficult lifestyle changes: commute using public transit, bike, motorcycle, etc. whenever possible. Then there are wasteful luxuries in life to which individuals in “first world” countries have become attached, consumer products such as video games, amusement parks, fast food, etc. What things can and should we do without? Where is the message of necessary sacrifice that most people don’t want to hear?
Wayne Schroeder says
It is precisely the “possible limits of new technology’s ability to implement so-called “new work” standards of sufficiency,” the support of current structures of political/economic power to implement the technology needed by the “poor” to produce their own self-sustaining needs. That would not be prudent. “Self-sustaining” is not good capitalism and thus does not appear to be likely.
I can’t help but feel that the real barrier to any changes in the work system is the existence of money. Although Professor Bergmann’s comments about the evolutionary altruism of mankind is correct, we also understand that conflict and competition are essential components in the evolutionary process, and we, by nature, are competitive and resource-seeking on an individual level. The existence of money allows “the worst” of that kind of behavior and will always result in an imbalance of resources. Thus, my question is: is it possible to have a work system without the existence of money? What would that look like? And how on Earth could that happen on a global level?
if we don’t have a token system how will we exchange differing goods/services? Isn’t the basic question more about how do we deal with the fact that we have limited resources, and differing desires/interests, so how to manage these ineliminable features of the human condition ?
Wayne Schroeder says
I guess in my mind the existence of any kind of token system like money leads to such great disparity by its very nature. In order to even ask the question of how to manage our differing desires/interests, it seems to me such a system needs to change. It is beyond me, though, how that can happen or what that would look like.
Daniel Horne says
The best example I can think of is the onset of the Dark Ages, circa 500-800AD. Western Europe went from a primarily money-based economy to a primarily barter-based economy within a few generations. (Of course, barter existed during classical times, and money was still in limited use during the Dark Ages; it’s a matter of degree.)
The transition does not seem to have improved people’s material or social lives for the better, and it certainly didn’t prevent social disparities of wealth or power. The not-particularly-pleasant outgrowth of the decline of money was the rise of a feudal economic structure, where warlords (kings) secured the services of armed thugs (knights) using the promise of land grants, as opposed to cash.
In exchange for the promise of land, the thugs served as tax collectors (and/or pirates) for the warlords, requiring slaves (serfs/peasants) to provide the warlord services or agricultural goods (either labor upon the manorial estate, or a fraction of their crop):
I think it’s a mistake to think of money as leading to disparity; it’s simply a tool which can indicate and/or facilitate a particular kind of social disparity. But inequality is inherent to society; the disparities simply manifest themselves differently when money is removed (or reduced) within the equation.
Brian R Barr says
Hi Daniel, while I somewhat sympathize with the view that money reflects social structure, your feudal example isn’t remotely like the hard reliance on money we have today. In feudal times peasants could barter, whereas the barter economy of today is virtually nonexistent. I’d agree to a certain modification of your view though; as long as money can be used as it is today – well beyond the scope of shared social capital – as a purely physical property – it is rather like a scoreboard. Sure, we don’t HAVE to believe in it, like we don’t HAVE to believe in owned territory, but money is now a very sure part of the problem of disparity; it may be a scratch better than pure force, but it certainly isn’t anywhere near a form suggestive of socially important things such as the value of actual people and their actual actions, it’s not even remotely like reputation.
I saw a show the other day talking about people using microwave towers to enhance their micro-trading by speeding up data connections by fractions of a second. This no longer even has anything to do with people organizing to get what they need. If everyone got together to reward the people we find most useful and respectful – would we find it acceptable for any individual to own multiple mansions, or the wherewithal to own whole towns? I think we have to look at money itself, if that isn’t the current battle line then it would seem to me that violence would have to be the next alternative.
My question for Mr Bergmann
Where do I sign up?
Daniel Horne says
Thanks! But that we have virtually no barter today doesn’t refute my point; that is my point.
You say that people could barter in the Dark Ages, whereas people nowadays don’t. But “don’t” isn’t the same as “can’t”. We don’t barter — by and large — because we don’t want to; money is far more efficient. We certainly can barter if we want; the evidence is on Craigslist. The reason we don’t barter isn’t because we are prohibited from doing so.
The people of the Dark Ages who transitioned away from money to barter didn’t do it because they thought barter was superior to money. It wasn’t a choice at all. Centralized government had collapsed, society was in anarchy, and communities were forced to reorganize into atomized agricultural manorial estates. That is, the people of the Dark Ages used barter because they had no other choice, not because they were “allowed” to do so. This state of affairs simply deepened social inequality, it did nothing to help.
But the more important and less debatable point is this: simply doing away with a money economy does nothing, in and of itself, to remove social equality. As long as there’s someone (or a group of someones) down the road who is bigger, meaner, and more violent than you, social inequality will exist, regardless of whether or not you live in a society based on money.
Money is part of the problem of today’s inequality, in the same way a cough is part of the problem of having a cold. But the cough isn’t the origin of the cold.
Mark Linsenmayer says
Stanley, My impression is not that the point is to get rid of money, but to marginalize it in our lives somewhat.
Currently, many of our interactions with others are economic, but many aren’t: we have friends and families, maybe you go to church or play in a band or are in a club… certainly you participate on this board… we vote (hopefully), and I’d venture that for most of us, the pursuit of an education is not a primarily a matter of economic calculation (making an investment to get a better job later). A main problem with modern society is that SO MUCH of our lives is money-based. If prices and wages were such that we could work 3 hrs per day and have enough to live well on (and given our level of abundance due to increased productivity due to technological development, there’s no reason we couldn’t make this a social goal), then that many more hours of our lives would be there to fill, and there’s no reason that our innate competitiveness shouldn’t help kick-start our activities during that time (people don’t just play sports for money!). When I think about our competitive nature, I DO NOT think about the long, slow process of working at my job to get a promotion that they other guy doesn’t get and overall thumbing my nose as someone with a good job at those who don’t have one. Having a nicer car than you do is a crappy way to dominate; I can’t imagine a hyper-competitive person who would really be satisfied with such an achievement. No, instead we create these competitive edifices that go way beyond economics to trammel each other, and at the other end of the scale, competitiveness can just be an ape-like strutting around daring someone else to diss me by giving me a funny look or not getting out of my way.
Mark (and others), thanks for the comments. I appreciate the idea that focusing on money shouldn’t really be the main issue, that disparity in society will manifest itself regardless, that competitiveness among people may not be driven primarily by money, and that there is a better way (hopefully) to live our lives. Money is inextricably tied to resources, though. Resources will always drive us, and I’m not sure we as a species can say “that’s enough.” The analogy that comes to mind is the one of sugar and the craving of sweets. Human ancestors had no significant access to sugar, though as a fuel in the “nasty, brutish, and short” world of nature, it had many benefits in small quantities. The human body evolved in such a way to crave sugar for this reason. In today’s world (at least in central Ohio, where I live), you can walk down the street and buy a candy bar that has 1000x more sugar than the human body could ever need. Despite that, our body still says “give me my Snickers bar! Nom, nom nom…” I think as long as we have access to such a potent superstimulator of human behavior like money, and the freedom to pursue it, too many people will not be content with working just 3 hours/day. People will always want more. If such an imbalance can exist, then this idea of New Work seems stymied from the start (at least in American society). So, how does one change that?
Mark Linsenmayer says
I don’t see a problem with some people choosing to work more of their time for a wage, and I don’t see a clear way to foster a culture where people expect to have to work much less. What we should be fighting for now is to make working less a feasible and respectable lifestyle choice. So many people would at least like to keep their work within school hours (9-3 or so) so that they could spend time with their kids, and working for that politically seems a no-brainer to me.
Still there are two issues here: Can “the plan” add up? Meaning can these technologies enable one to have not just a passable but a “elegant” lifestyle (Bergmann’s word)? Well, we’d have more time, and so more time to work on our homes, our stuff, to make it nicer. And if 3D printing is supposed to enable us to have perhaps functionally simpler but much more customizable while still cheaper things, then we can be very aesthetic about our surroundings.
Second, as Matt Cole asked in essence below, how do we prevent, e.g. some rich person from coming along and buying the community fabricating center or whatnot and charging the rest of us more and more to use it? Or buying up all the raw materials that we need to fabricate with, or patenting all the seeds, etc. etc. The short answer is that we need legislation so that wouldn’t happen, but to say more would require anticipating more specific, realistic scenarios.
Toby K says
Hi Mark and Frithjof,
Firthjof, the way you have begun to put the principles of New Work into practice in places like Detroit reminds me very much of the anarchist idea that we should seek to ‘build the new world in the shell of the old.’ Have you drawn inspiration from anarchism in your work? Do you think that a world of New Work would include the State?
Will you call it “Postcognition of Ep 83”? That almost sounds like the thinking is over … hehehe. Only thing worse would be “Postmortem with Frithjof”.
Daniel David says
I thought the Bergmann episode was great, I just wished it was longer. I really wished I’d done the Not School group, since I got the feeling that the book probably fleshed certain things out better. I thought Professor Bergmann made a lot of good points: local production is more resilient to hazards than systems in which food and other necessities are being shipped from across the nation or the world, the right kind of work can be an end rather than just a means, probably even a little know-how combined with proper technological resources could greatly improve the situation of many people across the globe .
Many people on the left have laid out similar programs with minor variations (http://www.billmckibben.com/deep-economy.html), but they all seem to need to exist in symbiosis with a larger subsidizing entity or entities which, as these independent communities grow and become more autonomous, might not end up being compatible with their desire for independence. It seems inevitable that a confrontation will arise between the global reach of capitalism-as-usual and any New Work community that gets big enough to make a clot in the system. Likewise, there are sure to be places, times or situations in which simply avoiding an adverse political environment isn’t an option. What is New Work’s prescription in those cases? Seth tried to raise a similar question a few times, but it didn’t really seem to get answered.
While it may be a strength that New Work does offer “market solutions” in the sense that co-ops are still participating in the normal economy, this also means the people are still at the mercy of the economy. If it hits the rocks, as Bergmann believes it’s likely to, then will the participants in these collective ventures really be insulated enough? Mark mentioned health care as an obstacle, and it certainly seems to be one that will leave these communities at the mercy of the global system in a big way. Urban gardens are also great, but they can really only hope to be a fractional supplement to the food needs of large cities. Some New Work communities might be in an environmental situation that leaves them entirely unable to grow their own food. If they still have to trade for necessities, how robust can they be?
3D printing and other new tech marvels are exciting for sure, but I’m a little worried that the zeal over them might be causing people to be a bit overconfident about the problems they’ll solve for us. (I was also unclear on who pays to set New Work communities up with this tech). This seems to be the theme of our current fascination with technological solutionism. The political and social ramifications for 3D printing alone are surely unfathomable going in. Many people believe it will initiate a sea change on par with the communications revolution. If that’s any guide, it will also bring an onslaught of disruptive new problems that will still be with us when the next new technological wave crests. I was discouraged that Professor Bergmann seemed to have no critical eye (at least that were expressed in the podcast or on the New Work site) toward the role of the changing technological milieu beyond it’s possibilities for making our stuff. Am I simply unaware of a deeper analysis in his work or does he see nothing but progress in these technologies?
Daniel David says
One more bit – I also wondered if Professor Bergmann had anything to say on over population, specifically whether he believes technological solutions have that in the bag, so to speak. This is a major issue in many of the kinds of places he spoke of working in, and on the whole it’s hard to imagine New Work or any similar project being sustainable over the long term if this isn’t somehow addressed. (http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/studio/multimedia/20130910/index.html)
Mark Linsenmayer says
This is great; however, help me do the work in breaking this up into usable, short questions.
Daniel David says
Roger that. How about these:
1) What effect does Professor Bergmann foresee new technologies like “The Fabricator” having on society as a whole? Will they bring only benefits, or challenges as well?
2) What does one do to promote New Work in an adverse political environment when leaving it is not an option?
3) Won’t co-op business ventures still leave communities at the mercy of a failing economy, especially when they still rely on this economy for necessities like sufficient access to food and health care?
Mark Linsenmayer says
For future posters here, I should emphasize that I’m more likely to be able to use a question in the Q&A if it can be phrased as a sentence or two rather than multiple paragraphs.
Adam Swartz says
Thank you for the opportunity Mark!
2 part question:
1. Are there any examples of New Work taking hold within communities that are not in crisis. That is, bourgeoisie/middle class folks (like many–I suspect–of us here PEL types) who are making a living but feeling the pressure to put far too many hours towards work that does not energize them in order to support themselves and families.
If so/if not:
2. What is the future vision for New Work regarding these communities? What are Frithjoff’s thoughts as to how New Work could take hold–or not–in such circumstances?
Wayne Schroeder says
How do you know when you are actualizing a “new work” or whether you are simply repeating an “old (part of the problem) work” which is going nowhere? What are those guidelines?
Wayne Schroeder says
This question is barely intelligible without further explanation. The way I see Bergman is that he is recapitulating the stages of society within the ontogeny of each new work social group: 1) Agricultural, grow your own food; 2) Industrial technological, create your own technology (3D printers–someone made a working gun using this technology and had to surrender the plans to the government) 3) Capitalistic, create a business for economic self sustenance. Perhaps this condensation of Society within each society represents some new philosophical ontology which can be elaborated, or perhaps there is an original telos to which it can be tied, or does he default to a Zizekian position of the unknown?
Mark Linsenmayer says
Wayne, I’m not going to ask him any question (the recording is supposed to be today) with the word “ontogeny” in it. The answer to your original question, I think is simple. New Work is just work that you find fulfilling, that really energizes you.
Though some people can get this through traditional jobs, most people can’t, so New Work is also the system by which you enable people to find and pursue a calling of this sort (and as was pointed out on the podcast, finding a calling is difficult for many and definitely not an all-or-nothing procedure; even doing crappy work FOR YOURSELF may be a marked improvement in terms of self-energizing over wage slavery). So pursuing New Work can’t just be pursuing your own calling, where you (most of us reading this, anyway) are already in an affluent society and maybe can pull off not selling so much of yourself that you have no energy for doing what you really psychologically need to do. There’s a social component too, but lucky for us, being of service to others (political action and charity and such) is part of what often energizes us, so that too can be part of a calling.
Mike Davies (UK) says
Hi, was inspired by the conversation with Frithjof Bergmann. It is encouraging to see that practical things are actually being done to develop new possibilities for humanity – that there are “really existing” alternatives.
Here is my suggestion for a question to ask Mr. Bergmann:
In what ways – practically and ideologically – does New Work differ from socialism, as it has so far been formulated?
I am interested as someone who has recently been involved with socialism, but who found himself somewhat disappointed, perceiving an almost quasi-religious adherence to outdated “vulgar” Marxist axioms, instead of a reformulation of socialism that is relevant to the specific features of the 21st century world we live in, which Marx could not have anticipated. On the other hand I agree passionately with much of Marx’s terminal diagnosis of the capitalist economy, and socialism’s critique of the individualistic principles of capitalist ideology, and like Mr. Bergmann I am depressed by the idea that there is no possibility of a workable alternative to capitalism.
By the way, here is a Marx quote (offered in a non-dogmatic spirit) that came to mind listening to the episode, when Mr. Bergmann compared work to a form of disease for many people:
“First, the fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind… Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague.”
Mike Davies (UK) says
Apologies Mark – I just spotted your request for shorter posts! Two succinct questions then would be:
1) In what ways – practically and ideologically – does New Work differ from socialism, as it has so far been formulated?
2) Should those in the wealthy developed world who engage in New Work expect a lifestyle of high consumption such as the middle class in the developed world now have. If not, is there a role for a new popular philosophy to promote new life values, and a new (or old) conception of the good life, one which recognises that creative activity is far more enjoyable than passive consumption.
how will these new work(ers) compete in the world of big data mining and the resulting politics of a handful of oligarchs setting the markets and all to suit their interests and divesting from public institutions/infrastructure?
or is this a kind of call to simpler, lower tech, off the grid-ish living along the lines of Wendel Berry’s call to return to the land?
I would like to ask Frithjof Bergmann:
1) From a political lens, David Harvey claims a zero growth state in GDP does not suggest a zero growth state in human development. In reframing from ‘human capital’ to ‘human development’ Harvey thinks alternative institutions, utilizing corporate organization skills are needed to bear the burden in applying political pressure for long-term development (reform). Does he agree?
Adam Balch says
Can you please ask Professor Bergmann to explain in more detail the New Culture that he hopes to create? I think that’s a very important part of New Work and I can’t seem to remember too much being said in the podcast about it. Or are there blog posts featuring it? In either case, I think that the philosophical training and knowledge that both you guys have can potentially make that an interesting conversation in itself.
– During the podcast, all of you touched on a major hurdle, legislation and gov’t intervention. However, it was only discussed in the light of big biz and lobbyists. My questions is: How successful can the New Work initiatives be with the back drop of Social programs such Unemployment insurance, Medicaid, and EBT? Can there be true motivation for New Work in communities filled with those receiving thousands a month in benefits? (I have personally witnessed poor motivation in this environment, when someone earns 2K a month in cash, 600 a month for food, and free medical. It makes life frustratingly easy and people lazy.)
– Second question: When will he begin to “Franchise” these thoughts and ideas? I feel there are many smaller communities in the US that would be very willing to follow through on many of these policies but have no knowledge of them. Perhaps having an almost franchise like system, the word can spread and assist those attempting econ development under the old models.
Rachael W says
I’m wondering about how education fits in with New Work. Currently, in the US at least, undergrad studies are expected to serve as both broad education and job training. It is difficult to do both well at the same time, but both woud seem important for New Work. Do we need a system of New Education as well?
Wayne Schroeder says
In my understanding, a system of New Education would replicate what the old concept of University was all about: capacity to transcend self centeredness by: learning a foreign language (become self aware of your own cultural/language origins as compared to others); learning the language of mathematics (become self aware of your own non-mathematical origins); learning the language of language (become self aware of your own language/Novel/literature origins; learning the language of science (become aware of your own lack of scientific thinking); learning the language of people (become aware of your own lack of empathy), etc.
when and where was that the working model of the University?
Wayne Schroeder says
That is in the catalogues and philosophy of the Universities of California for one.