Total Work Newsletter #26: The East Is A Career
Total Work, a term coined by the philosopher Josef Pieper, is the process by which human beings are transformed into workers as work, like a total solar eclipse symbolized in the logo above, comes to obscure all other aspects of life. In these newsletters, I document, reflect upon, and seek to understand this world historical process, one that started at least as far back as 1800 and possibly as early as 1500.
Announcement: In this issue, I include a stunning excerpt on the relationship between careerism and the Holocaust. Of the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, the book reviewer Corey Robin writes, “It was the singular achievement of Eichmann in Jerusalem, however, to remind us that the worst atrocities often arise from the simplest of vices.” The excerpt is included at the end of the issue.
I Have To Be Occupied, Doing Something Productive
Jordan Peterson's Daily Lifestyle Schedule - YouTube (HT Peter Limberg)
Peterson: “I’m always trying to do everything I possibly can as fast as I possibly can.” Later: “I don’t even know what I would do if I didn’t do that.” And the punchline: “I don’t like to be unoccupied. I have to be occupied, doing something productive all the time. Because otherwise I’m not pleased with myself.”
No Dark Age, The 4-day Week, And Amazon's Faux Sacred
#1: NO DARK AGE | Average American Worker Takes Less Vacation Than A Medieval Peasant | 5 min. | Business Insider | History HT Dylan Willoughby
Business Insider Sum: “Medieval peasants lived grueling, terrible lives. But their vacation days beat out the policies now common even in progressive societies.”
Overview: The piece does a comparative analysis that, though breezy, is helpful. This quote stood out to me: “The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed,” notes [Juliet] Shor. “Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.” Unfortunately, the case for what is other than and more important than work is still made in total work terms: “Study after study [the author writes] shows that overworking reduces productivity. On the other hand, performance increases after a vacation, and workers come back with restored energy and focus. The longer the vacation, the more relaxed and energized people feel upon returning to the office.”
#2: 4 DAY WEEK: Work Less, Get More: New Zealand Firm's Four-day Week An 'Unmitigated Success' | 3 min. | The Guardian | News HT Dylan Willoughby
Guardian Sum: “Reduced hours for same pay increased work-life balance by 24%, cutting stress levels and boosting commitment.”
My Brief Take: The 4-day week could, if successful, be a Trojan Horse. How so? It could enable some people to begin to see that there are aspects of reality available to them outside of work and indeed beyond it. Right now, however, the argument for the 4-day week is still total work-inspired: you can be more productive and efficient over the long haul if you’re allowed to work less.
#3: ALWAYS ON | Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas In A Bruising Workplace | 15 min. | NYT | Feature HT Daniel Kazandjian
NYT Sum: “The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers to get them to achieve its ever-expanding ambitions.”
Brief Take: This is a long feature from back in 2015 on the culture at Amazon. Detailed herein is a fiercely competitive, always-on environment of total work. It’s helpful to read the piece in quasi-theological terms. Witness ennobling sacrifices, worshipful dedication, and blessed struggle.
How To Become A Total Worker (In Just 6 Minutes)
How To Achieve Peak Productivity (with Sebastian Marshall) (HT Peter Limberg)
ND Mag Opening: “Not long ago, in a Starbucks in Evanston, I eavesdropped on a couple breaking up. It couldn’t be helped. We were wedged together, the unhappy couple and me, in a corner of the coffeehouse, so tightly that we might as well have been commuters on a rush-hour train. I had a newspaper open and every once in a while would try to read a sentence or two but could never get far. My attention kept drifting to the love affair being terminated next to me.…”
My Brief Take: This short piece is an oldy in that it was penned in 2006. What’s interesting is only hinted at here and there in the piece. It’s the “growing professionalization of love.” Not only is love, when pitted against careerism, deferred: “If love and work are at war, love is losing badly.” It’s also that everything else, here love, is submitted to the inexorable logic of utility, cost-benefit analysis, and careerist calculations. Ergo, a nice case study in the language of total work.
A Final Note: Freud once famously remarked, “Love and work… work and love, that’s all there is.” But that’s entirely untrue because historically myopic. Relationships and work are the hallmarks of the victory of the bourgeoisie, and we, in turn, are the inheritors of a narrow vision of what the good life could be.
Robots And Aging
Credit: Axios Future Newsletter
The Worst Atrocities From The Simplest Vices
In this week’s issue, I include an excerpt from Corey Robin’s “Dragon Slayer,” a London Review of Books book review of some books on and by the late political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Robin presents Arendt’s timely critique of careerism. His words begin just below the pluses.
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Many people [Robin writes] believe that great crimes come from terrible ideas: Marxism, racism and Islamic fundamentalism gave us the Gulag, Auschwitz and 9/11. It was the singular achievement of Eichmann in Jerusalem, however, to remind us that the worst atrocities often arise from the simplest of vices. And few vices, in Arendt’s mind, were more vicious than careerism. ‘The East is a career,’ Disraeli wrote. And so was the Holocaust, according to Arendt. ‘What for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world.’ Genocide, she insisted, is work. If it is to be done, people must be hired and paid; if it is to be done well, they must be supervised and promoted.
Eichmann was a careerist of the first order. He had ‘no motives at all’, Arendt insisted, ‘except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement’. He joined the Nazis because he saw in them an opportunity to ‘start from scratch and still make a career’, and ‘what he fervently believed in up to the end was success.’ Late in the war, as Nazi leaders brooded in Berlin over their impending fate and that of Germany, Eichmann was fretting over superiors’ refusing to invite him to lunch. Years later, he had no memory of the Wannsee Conference, but clearly remembered bowling with senior officials in Slovakia.
The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt’s critique of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In an era when capitalism is assumed to be not only efficient but also a source of freedom, the careerist seems like the agent of an easy-going tolerance and pluralism. Unlike the ideologue, whose great sin is to think too much and want too much from politics, the careerist is a genial caretaker of himself. He prefers the marketplace to the corridors of state power. He is realistic and pragmatic, not utopian or fanatic. That careerism may be as lethal as idealism, that ambition is an adjunct of barbarism, that some of the worst crimes are the result of ordinary vices rather than extraordinary ideas: these are the implications of Eichmann in Jerusalem that neo-cons and neoliberals alike find too troubling to acknowledge.
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Comments, Suggestions, Articles on Total Work?
Feel free to send comments, suggestions, thoughts, and articles about total work to me at Andrew Taggart <email@example.com>.
If You’d Like to Become a Patron…
Thank you to my growing list of patrons! If you feel called to support my philosophical life, you can do so here <https://www.patreon.com/ajt>.
Looking for some clarity about the nature and history of total work? Start by reading my brief overview of total work on my Patreon account <https://www.patreon.com/ajt>, Next, take a look at the first issue of this newsletter <https://www.getrevue.co/profile/andrewjtaggart/issues/total-work-newsletter-1-working-ourselves-into-a-frenzy-89819.> Next, check out my Quartz at Work pieces (December 2017- present), which are available here <https://work.qz.com/author/andrew-taggart>. Lastly, visit my website, totalwork.us <https://totalwork.us>, which is devoted to investigating this topic and which is also still under construction.