A Society of Workaholics, Research Time, 30/09/2017

I’m never too quick to condemn capitalism. Two reasons why. One is because everybody’s doing it. We’re in a resurgence of anti-capitalist activism, equally critical of our destructive industrial practices and the financial policies that crush billions of lives.

For good reason, of course. There’s plenty about the drive to ever-more-intense industrial production that’s probably making Earth uninhabitable for us. Climate change, yes. But even beyond that, just consider the horrible effects that basic pollution has on our ecosystems.

The goal that most of us have in our lives is to spend our energies doing
something we love. That's the heart of so much career advice, even
though there aren't many folks who can do that. Even in the fortunate
industrialized West, too many people spend too much time having to do
something they don't want to do. This seems a source of social tension.
Do you know how much plastic you eat every day? Tens of thousands of microscopic plastic particles are eaten by fish and crustaceans every day. We eat those same plastic particles when we eat those fish.

We aren't just drowning in our shit – we eat it too. That’s the second reason why.

But if we can correct the mistakes and self-destruction of mass industrial capitalism, we shouldn’t abandon markets entirely. One obvious reason is because state-run industrial endeavours have rent scars in the Earth too. Consider the destruction of the Aral Sea to water massive cotton farms on the orders of the Soviet government.

Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition is a critique of the industrial society human civilization had become – among the many things it is. That’s one of the many philosophical ideas she finds in comparison with the life and morality of Polis-era Greece.

This political problem is a question – pretty simple in the ordinary way we encounter it. Do you work to live? Or do you live to work?

Consider how the economy of Polis Greece worked. Yes, there are plenty of material differences that make directly emulating it ridiculous – the drastically lower population, that it was almost entirely agrarian.

Forget that – philosophy is about understanding what concepts can guide new action for our new situations. Isolate a concept – See what actions and processes its framework of thinking can lay out. See how it changes your conceptions of what’s possible.

I grew up surrounded by values like these about your work. You should
always feel that your work is dignified, a source of honour, pride, and
pleasure too. Work should be something that, even when it may drain
your energy, you enjoy it, and it has benefits beyond your own
pleasure as well. We want to make a living in a calling or a
vocation, not merely a job. Watch Mike Judge's Office Space, and
you see how he valorizes manual labour as honourable work.
That's true. But consider public service like community
leadership, or even teaching.
So look at how their economy worked. The whole purpose was to produce enough that you could live off its surplus for the rest of your life. Put a lot of effort, labour, and work into your life and career at the beginning. Make a huge enough surplus that you can stop working for a while.

You can now afford to pay other people to labour for you – run the household, make food, do all the little tasks of staying alive that take so much time. That way, you can devote yourself to what you’ve always wanted to do, what you’ve been raised to aspire toward all your life.

Join the government.

Of course, Polis Greeks didn’t have a government like we do. There was no welfare state bureaucracy. There was the military, tax collectors and financiers, scribes recording the debates of their leaders.

Leaders would plan new construction in the city, represent their community to other cities, make decisions about how the city as a whole would handle its business. But Polis Greeks didn’t consider any of this business of leadership to be work. They wouldn’t expect to be paid.

The whole reason why they were able to become leaders is that they’d already built enough wealth to live on without having to build any more. Surplus was to be spent on supporting your public life as a community leader and statesman.

What kinds of personalities do our values today of workaholism and
unstoppable accumulation create? I don't think I'm comfortable
living in a society where our most powerful people are the ones
deranged enough to think it's perfectly good to profit off the misery
of others because unstoppably growing wealth is the primary
good in your life. Is this a reasonable way to live? A good way?
That’s what they considered retirement. Rather, they had this phase of public leadership that came between your working life and your retirement.

Contrast that kind of personality with the attitude all too popular today about wealth. You just keep accumulating. There’s no stopping you. Just keep growing and growing and growing your personal wealth in assets. Own more and more and more.

Who needs $47 billion? Even the billionaires who become philanthropists never truly divest. They hold on to so much money and assets so their value can continue to grow and fund more philanthropy.

Why did you need to lock up that much wealth for yourself at all? Philanthropy moves faster when everyone else has the money in the first place through their own jobs and careers. This is the moral ideal at the heart of today’s mania for basic income.

But a basic income from the government is only necessary because the private economy isn’t providing it. It should, because that’s why anyone goes to work all – they want to earn enough to live, to retire comfortably, or spend more time in their lives as leaders in their communities.

We’re a society of workaholics. Why should we have to be this way? How else could we live if all of us chose to prioritize our lives a little differently? Imagine what our society would be if no one ever wanted to become a billionaire at all.

Look into the most abstract features of their souls. Now you’re doing philosophy.

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