Total Work Newsletter #27: Join Me In A Day of Rest
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: Since Alexandra and I will be traveling back to Southern California next week, I’m not sure whether I’ll put out Issue #28 next week or the week after that.
Being Slaves And Whores Of Civilization
John Hughes in The End of Work: Theological Critiques of Capitalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), p. 185:
Business and commerce are not evil activities in themselves; the tragic difference in the modern period is that these activities are no longer subordinate to higher ends and greater social goods but have been released from traditional restraints and made the ultimate horizon of human living [cf. my The Good Life and Sustaining Life–AT]: ‘That men of business [writes Eric Gill] should be our rulers is bad enough; that their way of thinking should permeate and possess the minds of whole nations is a tragedy compared with which war, pestilence and famine fade into significance.’ When Gill claims that such a 'civilization’ is little more than slavery and whoredom, [William] Morris could hardly have expressed himself better!
Anticareerism, Craft, And Monasticism
#1: AGAINST WORK/LIFE BALANCE | David Whyte On How To Break The Tyranny Of Work/Life Balance | 12 min. | Brain Pickings | Review HT Pete Sims
Brief Sum: Maria Popova reviews David Whyte’s book The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship.“
My Brief Take: At one point, she quotes Whyte: "We should stop thinking in terms of work-life balance. Work-life balance is a concept that has us simply lashing ourselves on the back and working too hard….” Part of the review details Whyte’s critique of the shoddy concept, “work/life balance.” The other part attends to his three commitments to work, self, and relationships.
QZ Sum: “Why I’m an ‘anticareerist,’ and you should be too.”
My Brief Take: This is my latest Quartz At Work piece. I write, “Former Facebook president Sean Parker once remarked, 'I think a career is something your father brings home in a briefcase every night, looking kind of tired.” I think it’s worse than that. I think that careers are a bad and destructive idea—not just for the person who embarks on one, but for everyone.”
Axios Opening: “The narrative around the future of jobs is that almost any occupation involving a repetitive process — from assembly work to accounting — is vulnerable to automation. According to McKinsey, automation could eliminate up to 800 million jobs around the world by 2030.”
A Cue: Scroll to the bottom of the link above to read the relevant piece on human creativity. The author interviewed admits that AI could spell a painful transition for those (a) who’ve been in jobs that have been automated (or shall be automated) and (b) who aren’t accustomed to utilizing their creativity.
#4: CRAFT IS (SORTA) BACK | How Craft Is Good For Our Health | 5 min. | Conversation | Opinion HT Pamela Hobart
Conversation Sum: “Craft allows us to enter an immersive state of balance between skill and challenge.”
My Brief Take: This piece raises, once again, the relationship between beauty (as an end in itself) and utility (X is good just in case X enhances, e.g., mood, well-being, etc.). Craft really collapsed as industrialization won out, and now it’s able to re-enter the scene in the twenty-first century as a useful form of therapy. It’d be nice to see whether there could be more Ruskins and William Morrises admirably showing that craft (a) embeds us in a continue tradition of craftsmanship (if it does still), (b) is concerned with doing something fine (kalon: excellent, well, beautiful), and © does indeed have the epiphenomenal effect of enhancing well-being. All three are true, and in a good society would not be separated out.
OODR Sum: “In the excerpt that follows, we shall follow Luther’s train of thought, from the time that he became a Papist Monk, through to the time that he himself turned against Monasticism. We are enabled to observe in here certain of his serious deficiencies; for example, by lacking familiarity with Orthodoxy, he had reacted against the heresy of Papist “indulgences” by going to the other extreme, i.e., that of an “effortless salvation”; we can furthermore observe here the dramatic contradictions in his thoughts, when on the one hand he is seen to extol the historical Church, and on the other, to regard the Church as being “misled”. This is the dramatic path of a heresy leader who abandoned the Papist heresy, only to introduce a worse one: Protestantism.”
Overview: I’m curious about how the Protestant critique of monasticism was part of a broader historical and theological process that, I believe, led to the eclipse of the vita contemplativa (the contemplative life). For the monastery was indeed set apart from ordinary life and commerce and was also, at least until the end of the medieval period, exalted. Luther, with the help of other Protestants, put an end to it.
My Brief Take: The late Fr. Georges Florovsky, and this not very approvingly, writes about Luther (1483-1546), most especially Luther’s critique of monasticism. Two points stand out in this long, and fascinating, excerpt. 1.) Luther claims to have discovered what he calls “passive righteousness”: genuine faith in God alone, and not human works, saves. Luther: “For in this we work nothing, we render nothing unto God, but only we receive and suffer another to work in us, that is to say, God.” In faith do we receive God’s grace. 2.) What I gleaned from Luther’s various barbs thrown at monks and monasticism is that he loathed monks’ self-righteousness (how “puffed up over their own life and conduct” they were, Luther thought), their hypocrisy (they set themselves apart from others to seek moral perfection, yet they are as sinful as laypersons), and, perhaps above all, the inequality created (Luther avers that there’s no reason why the farmer is any less holy in the eyes of God than the Franciscan monk). The result, in no small part, is the toppling of many monasteries as priests, monks, and nuns left and began to marry one another.
The Crisis Of Meaning And Philosophy's Renewed Passion For Truth
From John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter, Fides et Ratio: On the Relationship between Faith and Reason (1998):
One of the most significant aspects of our current situation, it should be noted, is the “crisis of meaning.” Perspectives on life and the world, often of a scientific temper, have so proliferated that we face an increasing fragmentation of knowledge. This makes the search for meaningful difficult and often fruitless. Indeed, still more dramatically, in this maelstrom of data and facts in which we live and which seem to comprise the very fabric of life, many people wonder whether it still makes sense to ask about meaning. The array of theories which vie to give an answer, and the different ways of viewing and of interpreting the world and human life, serve only to aggravate this radical doubt, which can easily lead to skepticism, indifference or to various forms of nihilism.
In consequence, the human spirit is often invaded by a kind of ambiguous thinking which leads it to an ever deepening introversion, locked within the confines of its own immanence without reference of any kind to the transcendent. A philosophy which no longer asks the question of the meaning of life would be in grave danger of reducing reason to merely accessory functions, with no real passion for the search for truth.
To be consonant with the word of God, philosophy needs first of all to recover its sapiential dimension as a search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life. This first requirement is in fact most helpful in stimulating philosophy to conform to its proper nature. In doing so, it will be not only the decisive critical factor which determines the foundations and limits of the different fields of scientific learning, but will also take its place as the ultimate framework of the unity of human knowledge and action, leading them to converse toward a final goal and meaning. This sapiential dimension is all the more necessary today, because the immense expansion of humanity’s technical capability demands a renewed and sharpened sense of ultimate values. If this technology is not ordered to something greater than a merely utilitarian end, then it could soon prove inhuman and even become a potential destroyer of the human race. (pp. 101-2)
Join Me In A Day Of Rest
Some months ago, a friend of mine sent me the late Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath. I read it and was delighted. Since at least April 2017, I’ve been concerned, as you all know, with what the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper once called “total work.”
Over the years, I’ve listened to conversation partners in my philosophy practice talk about how total work has been weighing them down, and I’ve also begun writing a book about it.
And so, after my wife Alexandra and I returned from sesshin (in case you missed it, you can read a bit about it in Issue #25), we decided it was time to devote one day a week to rest–not for the sake of enhancing our productive capacities but “autotelicly,” that is, purely for its own sake and for the sake of rediscovering that sense of abiding stillness that is, if only we open ourselves to it, is always there. Our Sabbath, which admittedly involves a bit of “life hacking,” happens to fall on each Wednesday.
The Schedule Of Our Sabbath
A day of rest is not a day of idleness. It is, rather, a day of focused, relaxed energy, one that’s centered on the Source of Life or on ultimate questions.
On the night before each Sabbath, Alexandra and I turn off our mobile devices. We don’t use the Internet on the Sabbath and keep our phones turned off.
Our day observes the following schedule:
4:30 a.m.: Wake up
4:45 a.m.-6:15 a.m.: Seated meditation
6:30 a.m.-7:15 a.m.: Dry sauna meditation*
7:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m.: Art-making (Alexandra: visual art; Andrew: writing)
10:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m.: Ashtanga Yoga as spiritual practice
11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Mindful lunch and leisurely walk
12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.: Art-making (Alexandra: visual art; Andrew: writing)
2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.: Reading
3:45 p.m.-4:45 p.m.: Love-making
5:00 p.m.-7:00 p.m.: Mindful dinner and leisurely walk
7:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.: Seated meditation
8:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.: Reading
9:00 p.m.: Bedtime
Our day, as you can see, is focused on the aesthetic and the contemplative. What can be challenging is making the transition seamless from X to Y. It can be easy to get attached to what you’re doing or to feel minor resistance to the next thing. To definitively mark the beginning and ending of each activity, therefore, we strike a Tibetan singing bowl.
Two Questions: Rest From What? Rest For What?
It’s key to discern what you’re resting from and what you’re giving yourself up to. Alexandra and I were resting from Internet and device use. She was resting from the tasks she ordinarily does, and I was resting from the conversations I usually have. And we were resting for the sake of contemplating ultimate things.
I invite you to join me in resting. You needn’t devote an entire day to rest, but what about part of a day? What if you devoted part of any day to contemplating why you’re here or to what human existence, yours especially, is all about? What if you set aside that time to inquire deeply into what matters most yet is too often forgotten? How indeed might Life in general and your life in particular be transformed?
* We have a dry sauna at our house.
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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.