Saturday, August 24, 2013

Working, seeing, being

Some of the things I've been reading and thinking about this week...

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, by David Graeber, Strike! Magazine:
While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn't economic: it's moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the '60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Learning How to Live, Jenny Diski, New Statesman:
An unquenchable passion for work might be a panic-stricken way of concealing the fear of a lack of passion for life itself.


Children are always being told to stop doing "nothing" when they're reading or daydreaming. It is lifelong training for the idea that activity is considered essential to mental health, whether it is meaningful or not. Behind the "nothing" is in part a terror of boredom, as if most of the work most people do for most of their lives isn't boring.

Teach Your Kids That What's Good For Them Is Bad, by Sophia Dembling, Psychology Today:
I have heard frequently from parents whose children's teachers have expressed concern about a child's tendency to play alone or lack of a large social circle. Learning to play together nicely is part of the lesson plan, learning to happily play alone is not. Daydreamers are chastised. School campuses have few spaces that facilitate solitude; school schedules rarely accommodate quiet time.

The Art of Looking: What 11 Experts Teach Us about Seeing Our Familiar City Block with New Eyes, by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings [a review of On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, by Alexandra Horowitz]:
Her approach is based on two osmotic human tendencies: our shared capacity to truly see what is in front of us, despite our conditioned concentration that obscures it, and the power of individual bias in perception — or what we call "expertise," acquired by passion or training or both — in bringing attention to elements that elude the rest of us.


And so we return to the straitjackets of our perception, that disconnect between seeing and knowing what to look for, filtered through the uncompromising sieve of our attention.

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