As I prepared for our recent podcast on New Work and we interviewed Bergman himself, I found that I have many sympathies with the project. Even without an analysis of the calamitous effect of the current job system on our economy, I can buy the fact that our job system is a structure with rules, implicit and explicit, that are optimized for some people (those with capital) and not for others. I can also buy the notion that we ought to change it and that we can change it. I’m also on board with the notion that work is an enlivening activity in our lives, maybe the enlivening activity. Bergmann was fond of contrasting the power of work to enliven our lives against the power of sex – saying that good work will even keep us from good sex – as an indication of the potential for work to capture us. Reflecting particularly on my early days of grad school, my wife would probably agree, though she wouldn’t agree that it is good for us.
The key here (and another common refrain), both in his work and, from what I’ve read, within the New Work movement, is that the work which will enliven and not deaden our souls, that with enrich us as workers, is work that we “really really want to do”. Bergmann admits during our podcast that it is hard for people to find what they “really really want to do.” So hard, in fact, that an important part of the New Work project is to have training/counseling centers to help people sort this out. I have no doubt that such counseling can help individuals renew their work and their understanding of self in the face of a semi-revised job system. However, I’m skeptical that finding “what we really really want to do” is the balm for our souls in this job system or any job system.
I am skeptical because I think it is a mis-interpretation of how our souls best get their motion and get steered. Certainly, it is a common refrain – “Find what you really really want to do, stick with it, and you will be satisfied”. The most common version is “find your passion and the rest will follow”. I ought to copyright that phrase and its cousins – I’d make a killing from the licensing fees each spring due to commencement speeches alone. Steve Jobs’ famous commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 is a good case in point. Here’s a small cut:
You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
I love the speech. It wonderful and moving, maybe even more so since his untimely death. It would have been thrilling to be there in person to hear him deliver it. His appeal to our passions as the proper motors of our souls cuts through like a howl in the wilderness. There may also be some bit of it that is true – true enough for it to be seductive. Still, I contend that passion is highly over-rated and mis-understood as a motivator, especially for anything that we would consider “work”. Passion, and its neighbor, obsession, are simply unreliable in this regard. It’s not that passion or obsession can’t play the role of motor for the soul. They can. The problem is that it’s most often a motor of duress, of fight or flight, that grabs hold, but, once satisfied, cuts one loose.
My favorite analogy for living is sailing (feel free to pick your own) in which our souls are boats on the sea. We have some control of that boat. We can pull in the sheets to adjust the sails. We can turn the tiller and adjust the rudder. We can direct ourselves upwind on a beat, heeled to the wind with the foam running over the leeward gunnel, or downwind with the sails all the way out being pushed along and surfing the waves. We can navigate to our destination, far off in the distance. Though we might need to tack many times, pointing ourselves away from that destination, with thought and determination, we will finally arrive there. Additionally, we don’t have control of our environment. We don’t control the waves. We don’t control the currents. We don’t control the broken lines or failed winches. We don’t control the storms.
One of the most important things about sailing is understanding that you have no steerage without motion of the boat. The rudder simply does not work to move your boat unless water is moving over it. Sitting dead in the water, you can turn that tiller all day long and you’ll never change direction. Just as in sailing, the key for our souls is to keep in motion, to find the wind that keeps water flowing over the rudder. Passion doesn’t do this reliably. Passion isn’t a motor that can be tuned or a disposition that can be cultivated. As Jobs says, passion must be found and then kept. I’d add the corollary – when it leaves, you’re dead in the water. Passion and obsession are like coal. Once found, they are mined and then burned and what is left is dust and smoke.
Phillip Lopate has a new book on the craft of literary nonfiction in which he addresses the question of obsession and the supposed need for it as a writer. His observations apply here as well. He notes a student who had confessed that she’d been told to write about her obsessions, but that she was concerned that she didn’t have any, and feared that it indicated her shallowness. Lopate concedes that obsession (and obsessives) exist, but considers it over-rated and much more rare than is typically indicated. (I would add that obsessives are most likely to point out that obsessions are a great motivator.) He sums up:
Maybe obsession is a tool better suited for fiction; we nonfiction writers don’t need it. Then what is needed to generate nonfiction? I would say curiosity. It may sound more tepid than obsession or passion, but it is vastly more dependable in the long run. You follow out a strand of curiosity and pretty soon you’ve got an interesting digression, a whole chapter, and book proposal, a book. The solution to entrapment in the narcissistic hothouse of self is not to relinquish autobiographical writing, but to expand the self by bringing one’s own curiosity to interface with more and more history and the present world.
Our lives, in a very similar way, are nonfiction. We worry too much about finding what we “really really want,” finding our obsessions.
So, back to the beginning. Regardless of the practical matters for building a better job system, I am skeptical that the solution for our souls is to find work that we “really really want to do”. Rather, we need to cultivate the parts of our being, the parts of our intellect and inclinations, that give motion to our souls. I agree with Lopate here – curiosity is a much more reliable source of motion. It may be less sexy, but it will keep water running over the rudder and you’ll be able to maintain steerage.
Mark Linsenmayer says
This topic has brought an interesting distinction forth to me: In a typical intellectual conversation, e.g. one of our podcasts, one of us says something, then another adds something else, hopefully something smart, and often it’s not clear, and it doesn’t even really matter, whether the second person disagrees with the first. Agreement is not the point: exploration of the topic is, and all insights (so long as they’re insightful) are welcome and helpful.
On the other hand, when you’re contemplating practical action, differences matter only insofar as they affect the outcome. Now, many of the actions I contemplate in a group are about how to communicate such and such in my job, so a small difference in nuanced opinion actually can go directly into the text that we produce.
In contemplating the New Work project in general, we’re doing something in between; I think a comparable situation is the troublesome disagreements between Freud and his followers. It would be childish for him to so fall out with Jung, and Lacan to run into trouble with the Freudians, etc., if it were just a matter of a philosophical dispute, like Nietzsche not liking Wagner any more. It’s because for the psychoanalysts, this wasn’t just a pissing contest but was supposed to determine real actions: how patients get treated.
For Bergmann, the situation is similar: he’s recommending action, yet we the listeners are not for the most part in a position to do something right now to take such actions, or insofar as we are (we can all go start looking for cohorts for community production), these actions don’t hinge on the nuances of Bergmann’s account of human nature.
My point re. this post is that I think that while Dylan is hitting on an insight about human motivation that can and should inform how we can think about filling our time if and when job pressure is lifted (and note that in the Q&A, Bergmann expressed a similar disgust with the cheapness of the “follow your passion” doctrine), I’m not sure this is a distinction that makes a difference in action, unless Dylan is suggesting that while yes, passion is something that can’t readily be accommodated by a paid, full-time job, what he’s suggesting we are is a more appropriately sedate animal whose talents can very well be accommodated by wide variety of structures, and that the current job system it a pretty good fit for at least many of us.
So, Dylan, is there a practical upshot in the difference you’re suggesting? When I brought up the techne of motivation idea that we discussed prior to the Q&A with him (that I take it to be the root of this post), he seemed pretty sympathetic. Though the idea of “a calling” has been an inspirational one for many involved with New Work, anyone who actually has experience with such a calling knows that it’s not all passion: that a great violin player who has gotten enough satisfaction out of his excellence has in addition to his passion a number of habits that this passion has enabled: that it’s hard work and not just a continuous orgasm. Even in our podcast discussion with him, he was pretty clear that satisfying work is not just a matter of a single calling or passion that, if you don’t find you have one, there’s something wrong with you, and in the Q&A he went on to clarify that a lot of times what people identify as their passion is just something to cover up them dealing with themselves in a real way (my example would be 50+% of adolescent boys’ desire to be a rock star).
Regardless, there’s some interesting work here to do in elaborating what it means practically to “cultivate the parts of our being, the parts of our intellect and inclinations, that give motion to our souls.” I see this as part of the New Work project, not an alternative to it.
I wasn’t sure what the distinction was supposed to amount to, either. What’s the difference between passion and curiosity, Dylan? Is it just that “passion” has too strong an association with swooning lovers and Mozart feverishly scribbling symphonies in ‘Amadeus’? What would be the difference if Steve Jobs had said “find what you’re curious about” instead of “find what you love”?
I’m 21 so this conversation is very pertinent to me…
Dylan Casey says
I haven’t yet listened to the Q&A with Bergmann. My intention in this post was not to take on a deep criticism of New Work perse. As I say in the beginning, I have many sympathies with the project as a whole, particularly the argument that the economy is built by us involving rules we make and that we can change those rules to have an economy that works differently and better for more people in all sorts of ways. My initial question was philosophical/psychological regarding the sources of our motivations, the way we shape them, the way they shape us, and the way we tend them.
However, the call to practicality indicates a couple of things to me. First, that New Work is more about economics and justice than anything else. That is fine (and probably good), but it means that presenting New Work as good for our souls based upon what our souls are like is really a rhetorical move, not a substantive one.
To me that there are broadly two kinds of problems in the job system. (This is apart from Bergman’s analysis of the seven tsunamis.) One is the problem of economic entrapment where people are literally fighting for even their basic subsistence. The other is the problem of being nominally satisfied in one’s subsistence, but still being dissatisfied in ones’ activity. (Mark called it ‘ennui’ in a previous post.) New Work’s first goal is the eradication of poverty and, to that end, is deeply concerned with the first problem. The second problem is a kind of rich man’s problem that is common (though certainly not universal) in rich countries, e.g., the US, Europe, etc, and has the character of entrapment as well — the sense that we are hemmed-in by economic structures that are not of our own devising that are difficult to escape. I suppose that I believe that sound habits of mind and body enable us to endure as well as flourish in all sorts of situations, though getting them at all may well be a rich man’s education and be a bit pollyannish.
I’m not surprised that activity which “cultivates the parts of our being, the parts of our intellect and inclinations, that gives motion to our souls,” is consonant with New Work. (Indeed, this would mean that, contrary to what I just said, New Work isn’t all about economics and justice, but really does have a notion of soul and human good underlying it.) My point was that, in general, one does not cultivate passion, rather one is subject to it. Hence, the notion of finding your passion and then tying yourself to it. I link deep passion with obsessions and grant that they can (and do) drive people, but I would contend that such fuel is often short-lived. (And often dangerous. Despite liking his speech, everything I’ve read about Steve Jobs in his work indicates to me that he was a tyrant whom I would not want to work for.) Glossing passions and obsessions may be too facile, but I would stand by the point that passions are controlled or endured, not cultivated. I do think that one can cultivate curiosity, just as one can cultivate good taste, ethical behavior, and friendship. I also think such cultivation bears more fruit in adverse circumstances than passion does. In the end, this is why I don’t cotton to “find your passion”. It seems too passive to me and implies lots of waiting around or feverishly searching for something that moves me rather than moving myself. I think moving yourself, and, particularly, doing what you want to do, is actually very hard. It requires habit, self-training, and cultivation of its own.
This doesn’t really answer Mark’s question about practical moves toward a more satisfactory job system. I’m not sure I have an answer there that doesn’t amount to a kind of broadly understood entrepreneurship, which is what the New Work enclaves look like to me — entrepreneurship crossed with cooperative sensibility.
Dylan (& Mark),
What are your thoughts on the fact that human beings are, often times, always changing, evolving as the years pass? When what were once passionate endeavors become uninteresting and even burdensome? I also think that our world today, with all of its technologies, is detrimental to our souls in that the comfort of being a big fish in a small pond is pretty much over. Because of social media, all media really, each of us is just one of billions. As an artist I find it difficult to even bother making art… Nobody cares. But then I do delude myself into believing I “need” to make something. Is that passion? I am interested in New Work and am happy for Prof. Bergmann that he has found a passion that fills his soul. But how does one get beyond the fact that there are tens of thousands, if not millions, of people vying for recognition? Was it Li Po who would sail little burning paper boats of poems down the river? It must be nice to not care if your work is ever noticed by another! For most of us I believe our work is most satisfying when it has a positive influence on others and they say so. I guess I just need to be patted on the head sometimes in order to feel like what I’m doing is worth it…
Passion seems to be what fuels curiosity, what keeps it going.
For example, I may be curious about the date of the Munich conference and I’ll look it up in Wikipedia.
I’ll skim through the article and in less than 5 minutes, my curiosity about the Munich conference has been satisfied. If I’m a bit more curious about it, well, I’ll take a book out of the library about it and read it.
However, only if there a passion behind my curiosity will I be motivated to do original research about the conference or to read all or most of the literature on the subject.
Now, curiosity without passion about the Munich conference might well be part of my general project of being a well-informed person about historical events, especially those historical events which are often cited in the media. There are lots of things I’m curious about on a Wikipedia level.
Why a curiosity with a passion about the conference might arise is more difficult to explain, but I can imagine someone becoming fascinated and then obsessed about the process of apeasement, about how Chamberlain and Daladier lied to themselves about what Hitler was up to, about the dynamics of Hitler’s sociopathic demagogy, etc.
Mark Linsenmayer says
What might be useful here is Nietzsche’s distinction between a reservoir of energy and the (often very mild) directing force. Passion and curiosity, on this model, are not two different things. Rather, there are activities that give us energy and those that sap us of energy. Curiosity is part of the mechanism by which we direct ourselves, part of the process by which we get involved with things in the first place, perhaps thought of as a general open-mindedness, an alertness that makes it possible for us to engage in new activities at all. It also (given that people’s curiosity is generally not a matter of universal open-mindedness, but is directed into certain fields) expresses the fact that a moderate level of energy has been built up into a habit related to some certain area. “Passion” can then express either that reservoir of energy itself (which, so, is involved in curiosity: if curiosity is not purely “idle,” then it involves that energy, i.e. passion) or a state of extreme involvement. So if I write songs, have gotten a lot of pleasure in the past out of writing songs, am (at least in certain recurring moods) motivated to do this, maybe more than anything else, then I could call that activity my passion (or calling). I think a great point that Dylan has made here is that there are different ways of approaching such a calling: one which relies solely on bursts of energy (“passion”) such that in idle times, you couldn’t care less about the activity (so you might have juvenile rock ‘n rollers killing themselves because their “passion” is less a mature activity than a bout of bipolarism) and one which involves something more conscientious. One could have a view of human psychology that says that real satisfaction always is a matter of these fits of passion: that delight is inevitably coupled with suffering and emptiness (some things that Nietzsche says suggest this view). I would defer to actual empirical psychologists as to whether this is correct: whether we really have to choose between Mozart and the “last man” in Nietzsche’s terminology. This is related to the question of whether genius and madness are necessarily correlated. From what I understand, this is not the case: we can, as Dylan suggests, come up with an approach to education and self-habituation that does lead to fairly reliable levels of satisfaction that does not involve either abandoning ourselves to an unpredictable id or strapping ourselves into a super-ego grind.
Wayne Schroeder says
Regarding Passion and Curiosity/Wonder (this should tie together in the end):
Catherine Malabou’s new book, Self (2013), (with Adrian Johnston) entitles her section, “Go Wonder: Subjectivity and Affects in Neurobiological Times.” Affect, initially defined by Deleuze as that which modifies, alters and changes) becomes the underlying structure of subjectivity. She eventually pulls heavily on the current neuroscientist Damasio and his emphasis on affect which he further defines as emotion and feeling.
Malabou begins with Descartes’s treatise The Passions of the Soul (a specific kind of affect). Soul would be defined in Descartes as subject.
1) Descartes defines passion generally as: “We should recognize that what is a passion in the soul is usually an action in the body.” There are both visible bodily movement which produce action and visible muscular actions: fear, anger, anxiety, etc., as well as invisible bodily movement by the heart and brain called “animal spirits . . . extremely small bodies which move very quickly, like the jets of flame that come from a torch.” This passive aspect of the soul’s passion is associated with sensation.
2) There is an active aspect of the soul’s passion which is associated with volition and cognitive acts.
3) The third aspect is what Descartes calls the “passions of the soul” proper. Descartes makes his infamous positing of the pineal gland as the seat of this aspect of the soul, the seat of psychical affects, emotions which unite the soul to the body. For Malabou, this is Descartes’s expression of the brain as a mirror of the self, the basis of self also as other.
Malabou goes on to develop Descartes’s most fundamental passion of wonder, our being astonished by a very new or different object. It is the only passion that involves no evaluation, no judgment of its object. It is pure openness to the extraordinary and alterity (the other) as such, everything that is not the soul and interrupts its self-identity. Wonder imposes stillness on the body, struck by novelty and reflecting the beauty and presence of the soul.
The passion of wonder is conjoined in Descartes with generosity, the free disposition of our volitions and resolution to use that freedom. Generosity is esteem for ourselves that should be developed as a habit–freedom to control our willing, and good use of that freedom, by overcoming the disruptions of passions. Generosity notes that others also have the same capacity to exercise free will for good or evil and so we will not prefer ourselves to others. Generosity is thus a species of wonder combined with love, which involves having proper pride or rightful self-regard/respect.
“Wonder is the surprise at the extraordinary, an it is the ideal way to regard others because it is prior to judgment and thus free of prejudice.” (p. 18)
What do you think about initiatives aimed at people being ‘self-sufficient’? I’m wondering if this has a correlation with community involvement being at an all time low? I mean, do you think this is realistic for a community’s vital health or is increasing additional stress? And, how would supporting ‘self-sufficiency’ equally support ethical and cultural diversity among members needed for a community’s collaboration initiatives?
Wayne Schroeder says
I like the idea of being self-reliant, competent, not dependent on others for what I should be taking care of myself, exercising my talents and skills according to my abilities, etc. There is an insidious autonomy which was highlighted by Kant and the Enlightenment which emphasized self-sufficiency as a privatized separate-from-others false dichotomy, and which has permeated Western civilization, and American independence, as opposed to Eastern civilization and recognition of social values (both false values when idealized). As long as responsibility (self-reliance) is balanced with relationship (interdependency), I think we get creative competition rather than aggressive dominance or passive submission. Thanks for asking.
Thanks, Wayne. I’ve been thinking about this and thanks for mentioning Malabou’s new book.
In “Being and Time” Heidegger was very sceptical of curiosity.
To me it seems curiosity is born of boredom and rarely is the start of genuine involvement because it is only cursory .
“Look what a cute little catty it is ” a mother points it out to her daughterin the Zoo.”And look here this bear is so much bigger than your teddy bear “.
I think what motivates people are issues with self-esteem, challenges , the Heideggerian “They “.To do something better than another guy( or at least not worse ) this is the real mover.Curiousity here has it’s role too -it might point out to such challenges/contenders and wake up the real passion
I’m not sure that the passion always comes from competition, from a desire to do something better than the other guy/gal.
Let’s go back to my example above (3), the Munich agreement. If investigating Chamberlain and Daladier’s motives, as well as Hitler’s rather impressive poker playing, at the Munich conference were to become my passion or obsession or at least one of my passions and obsessions, which is possible, I wouldn’t be competing with anyone. Rather, it would be my curiosity fueled by a passion to dig into their conscious and probable unconscious motives, probably because it all seems like an egregious example of how policy makers and people in general lie to themselves, of cowardice, but understandable cowardice, in the face of a real threat to business as usual, of the inability of people to accept that business as usual is over, etc.
I might want to tell others what I discover, but not out of competition with them. Rather, because I want feedback and a bit of recognition.
For myself I think I just need feedback. That’s my point about ‘self-sufficiency’, I’ve never heard of such a ridiculous concept. I have yet to come across a person who doesn’t recognize all the many very different people who need to be recognized as well when it comes to recognition.
“If investigating Chamberlain and Daladier’s motives, as well as Hitler’s rather impressive poker playing, at the Munich conference were to become my passion or obsession or at least one of my passions and obsessions, which is possible, I wouldn’t be competing with anyone”
Yes,not directly at least.However I still think of the motives underlying this or that curiosity .To become more familiar with something might be interpreted as desire to become more knowledgeable -since more powerful..It is a Nietzschean/Spinozan’ point that the greed for knowlege , the desire ” to dig ” deeper is conditioned by our craving for more ability ,more power .And more power gives us better chances to withstand potential competition.
You wrote :”…, because I want feedback and a bit of recognition.”. This is conditioned by the Heideggerian Das Man ” the They “.
To me it seems two factors are important here- the unconscious (mostly) craving for power and also mostly unconscious craving for recognition from Das Man – the both of those feeding from each other.
There’s a TED talk re this and I think it’s true, in that, it shuts down creativity.
Thank you for the link Tammy.It’s awesome !
You’re welcome. I don’t think we allow to much wondering anymore. I hope my kiddos will one day reflect on theses things that they think boring. Well, I’m going to go back to my primitive brain (mind?) for simple profane existence and stability or good old fashion structure. May god bless America (sarcasm there).
There is a big difference between wanting to “do something better than the next guy”, which would seem to be a conscious motive and Nietzsche’s will to power, which, according to Nietzsche (and I’ll agree for the sake of discussion) is behind all our conscious motives.
The source of my (and everyone’s) curiosity might well be Nietzsche’s will to power, but that’s does not mean that it’s necessarily motivated by a desire to “do something better than the next guy”.
As for Heidegger’s “das man”, that seems to be a sociological generalization, which may or may not have been true about Germany in the 1920’s when Heidegger wrote Being and Time, but it does not seem to apply to my seeking recognition from people like you and other readers of this blog and other forums where I comment my ideas. I don’t consider you to be a member of das man and I hope that you don’t consider me to be one either.
In my original post I wrote “I think what motivates people are issues with self-esteem, challenges , the Heideggerian “They ” ”
Self esteem certainly has a lot to do with competiveness.with the desire “to do a better or at least not worse than another guy ” -so it is will to Power as conscious .Challenges factor is also about will to power often without an obvious contender .As they say one can ” challenge himself ” following either consciously but mostly unconsciously ” the will to Power.
The Heideggerian “the they ” is an existentiel and thus applies to everybody whether it is in the Nazi Germany or elsewhere.If somebody posts on a blog of course he seeks recognition from the members of the blog among other things such as expressing one thoughts’s and getting feedback. In fact getting feedback is one of the forms of recognition too which can be positive or negative . If one doesn’t care about feedback ( the form of recognition ) then why not to write just in the ” word” processor” .Why to bother getting to internet ?
And of course I am a member of Das Man as everybody else is ( well if he//she is not a desert or an uninhabited island hermit ) ::)
Heidegger claims that das man is an existentiel and applies to everyone and apparently, you do too, but I’m hardly the first person to observe that Heidegger takes what he observes in the society of his days from his rather rightwing viewpoint to be constants of the human condition, without any evidence. See Adorno and Bourdieu as critics of Heidegger, among others.
By the way, Being and Time was published in 1927 and the Nazis took power in 1933, so Being and Time cannot be situated in the context of Nazi Germany, as you seem to believe.
“By the way, Being and Time was published in 1927 and the Nazis took power in 1933, so Being and Time cannot be situated in the context of Nazi Germany, as you seem to believe”
Yes .Thanks for correction.I know that.Simply I understood you calling Das Man ” a sociological generalization” as a manifistation of your dislike for Heidegger.And this dislike of Heidegger probably stems fromthe Heidegger’s involvement with the National-Socialist party.Correct me if I am worng.
“Heidegger claims that das man is an existentiel and applies to everyone and apparently, you do too, but I’m hardly the first person to observe that Heidegger takes what he observes in the society of his days from his rather rightwing viewpoint to be constants of the human condition, without any evidence”
Without any evidence ? Wow . Honestly have you read “Being and Time “.?
Das man is translated as “the they” -roughly it is the opinion/ /perception of others of a particular Dasein and how this opinion /perceptions influences the very core of Dasein his/her opinions/perceptions and actions.It has nothing whasoever to do with the rightwing politics.
For instance read “Vanity Fair” by Thackeray.
If you have in mind some particular criticisms of the existentiel Das Man by Adorno or Bourdieu -please share .
For me As you could guess these guys (their merits notwithstanding) are a far shot from Herr Heidegger. 🙂
Yes, I’ve read Being and Time.
Here are links to Bourdieu’s and Adorno’s books on Heidegger. I recommend Bourdieu because he’s clearer, but if you are a Heidegger fan, you might prefer Adorno, since his prose style is as hard to understand as Heidegger’s is.
These seemed interesting and a counter for possible over optimism on the potential of things like 3d printers etc.