Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Diminished returns

See For Yourself:

It occurs to me now that years and years of taking orders from authority figures really fucked up my ability to manage my time, and to direct my efforts towards goals of my own choosing. Whenever I had time to myself, I just wanted to do nothing, perhaps because I was accustomed to goal-directed activity being unpleasant. And it was unpleasant partially because I wasn't the one setting the goals. I suppose these repeated periods where I squandered my time were when I rejected being an agent for someone else's goals, but was incompetent at setting my own and executing on them.

Self-development and career development both require work, but only one secures us income. To the degree that the former diverges from the latter, it is income that people require before self-discovery. We can live without knowing ourselves, but we cannot live without a material basis for doing so.

As the hurdles for "making a living" grow greater in size, the scope for self-development narrows, insofar as these categories fail to overlap. Work that is directed by others will never produce any guarantee that its goals or methods are also your own.

Politically speaking, we need to live but we also need to live as ourselves, in which case we take on double-work: the work of contributing toward that which earns us income, and the work of contributing toward ourselves.

Consumerism tells us to relax when we aren't working as required by its needs. Our work is done as producers; now we must consume! But as our friend suggests, that investment leaves nothing extra for ourselves.


Anonymous said...

"we also need to live as ourselves"

who else would we live as? what we need is to support each other in our own efforts at personal development.

JRB said...

When I was young I was taught just to be myself, just so long as that was someone acceptable!

Ben There said...

Point well made but again, I can't imagine a scenario where accomplishing one's own goals can be completely decoupled from also contributing to someone else's goals.

Randal Graves said...

Could always luck into a rich uncle who's leaving his vast wealth to you.

I think this is why when someone gets, say, a week off, it's never productive because the first half is spent decompressing and the latter half is spent thinking 'oh shit, I gotta go back to work in a few days.'

Joe said...

Not sure if you're familiar with John Taylor Gatto's writings on the public "education" system, but he argues that one of its main purposes is to create a population full of people who are basically unable to function without authority figures telling them what to do all the time.

JRB said...


I haven't read any of Gatto, but it sounds about right to me!


Yeah, that's why I think two weeks is minimum if you actually want to relax.


I can't imagine a scenario where accomplishing one's own goals can be completely decoupled from also contributing to someone else's goals.

I think the answer is that you have to pursue your own goals whatever the scenario.

If the scenario is imposed, then contributing to somebody else's goals isn't in question -- you can't avoid it.

The only question is whether you're going to pursue your own, and what I'm saying is, there are a lot of obstacles to doing that, especially when so much time and energy is already going elsewhere.

The best option I see is to try to turn the work you have to do into work that you want to do. In other words, to begin to resist, if only in small ways, those aspects of work which you most despise, while advocating for those which you endorse. I think this is important, if nothing else, to contribute toward a sense of self that is lost when we just go with the flow.