Total Work Newsletter #50: Preaching, Endgames, And Secular Monks

Plus: Three mistaken identifications


To Subscribers: It’s unlikely that the next chapter will be coming your way this month as Alexandra and I were on a family trip in the first part of February and because we’re going on a meditation retreat in a few days. My aim is to have it to you around mid-March.

To Everyone: In this issue, you’ll learn about a genuine, self-proclaimed bullshit jobber, about secular monks and ice baths, about prophetic visions, and more. I hope a piece here and there speaks to you. (I, for instance, was quite moved, almost to tears, by the Brooks’ piece.) More: I hope you see how you can examine parts of your life in light of the arguments contained herein.

A Textbook Case Of A Bullshit Job

HT Paul Millerd

Preaching, Endgames, And The Precarious Family

#1: CULTURAL MADNESS | We Are All Workers Now | 10 min. | TEDxABQ | Talk

Sum: Of his own accord, a friend of mine managed to disinter this TEDxABQ talk of mine, one given in late September 2018, and then to edit it. This short talk conforms to the genre of preaching. In my opinion, it may be the best talk I’ve given in recent years.

#2: DECADENCE | Secular Monks | 5 min. | First Things | Essay

Sum: Another piece of mine. The backstory to the surprise publication of this First Things piece is long and windy. Suffice it to say, a well-edited 2000 word piece will be published in the March issue of First Things. Happily, it’s also posted online. It’s but one attempt to trace out the possible effects of Total Work in areas—such as getting marriage and having children—as yet unexplored.

#3: THE NEW FREE AGENCY | 1,000 True Fans? Try 100 | 7 min. | A2Z Blog | Analysis HT Khe Hy

Sum: I have mixed feelings about this story. On the one hand, I’m still sympathetic to the Jeffersonian ideal of the free person who worked his own land and who was thereby free to participate in the civic life of his face-to-face community. Jefferson would have been appalled at the ways in which corporate capitalism helped to eviscerate autonomy and community both. Seen from this vantage point, one may just make out how some in the digital age could revisit such an ideal. Having “100 loyal fans” may be one way of doing so. On the other hand, the author falls prey to hegemonizing “monetization.” Everything is turned into commerce. To counter this view, consider reading my post, “Rethinking Economics: Husbandry, Commerce, and Gift.”

#4: THE PRECARIOUS FAMILY | The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake | 15 min. | The Atlantic | Long Form Essay HT Paul Millerd

Sum: This is David Brooks at his very best. Brooks is a schematic writer: that is, he lays out arguments in terms of schemas. In this case, the schema is the following: (1) throughout the nineteenth century, extended families were the norm; (2) from about 1950-1965 (I have no idea how the dates are so precise here!), the nuclear family was born and was supported by institutions amenable to the nuclear family; (3) since 1965, the nuclear family has been unraveling, and loneliness has abounded. I might call this the “precarious family.” Brooks, ever the realistic optimist, sees novel developments in (4) the form of the “forged family.” I found this story very poignant, especially because, having been raised in a Protestant household, I know first-hand the effects of the dissolution of the nuclear family. My only quibble with Brooks’s argument is that he doesn’t consider at any great length how capitalism really requires “self-expressed,” “unencumbered,” staunch individuals. Karl Polanyi, in The Great Transformation, showed how this was so.

Sisyphus Reimagined

HT Dylan Willoughby

Three Mistaken Identifications

1.) The Reign of the Tech-workocracy.— Total Work propounds the idea that I am the Doer expressing my doerhood in the mode of working on the world and in that of working on myself. (On “working on myself,” see “Secular Monks.”) What I, the Doer, fear is boredom or any case of non-doing.

2.) The Reign of Secular Materialism.— Secular culture, meanwhile, advances the proposal that I am the body. I am the fit body (see Instagram). I am the desirable body (also Instagram). I am the aging body (see “Jennifer Lopez and Secular Spirituality”). I am the body that can live longer and longer (see stories on amortality). What I, the body, fear is my own perishing, for if—that is, when—the body perishes, I perish too.

3.) The Reign of Hyperintellectuality.— The techno-academic culture that predominates claims that I am the mind. (See David Chapman, “A Bridge to Meta-rationality vs. Civilizational Collapse”.) I am the smart mind. I am the funny mind. I am the witty mind. I am the brilliant mind. I am a genius. I am the successful, ingenious startup founder. What I, the mind, fear is losing my faculties—memory, acuity, sharpness, and so on. Indeed, I, the mind, fear silence for I have draped myself in speech.

Socrates and Ramana Maharshi join hands in asking, “But am I the Doer? Am I the body? Am I the mind?”

Asking yourself these questions in earnest will take you beyond Total Work, secularism, and the narrow binds of rationality. As Maharshi beautifully put it, just as a stick stirs the fire and, in so stirring, is consumed by the fire, so thought, stirring with the enigma of existence, is utterly consumed in the mystery. The mystery that is us.

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