Two boo’s for ‘living in order to work’


Call me puzzled. I can’t help but recall a wealthy man I used to tutor while I was living in New York City. He was an heir to a famous American dynasty and was doubtless so wealthy that none of his grandchildren would ever need to work. Despite this, he worked very long hours, founding and co-founding companies, some of which would be very familiar to you. Why would someone who doesn’t have to work long, hunger to work–and to do scarcely anything else?

I’ve only begun reading Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, which was originally published in 1899. On the opening pages, Veblen makes plain that barbarian cultures initiated a class distinction between laborers and elites (who were engaged, variously, in politics, warfare, religion, and sport). Until very recently in human history, it simply appeared self-evident that, provided that an economic order had advanced to the point at which not everyone needed to work (there could be slaves, women, and a class of male laborers, say), leisure was regarded as obviously preferable to working, that one worked (if one did, if one had to) for the sake of leisure, and that whatever we mean by ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ or ‘significance’ must needs be sought in non-work. Furthermore, leisure was the honorable, dignified, laudatory term and the second term–whatever is not leisure, i.e., work–would be derived from the leisure concept.

It is therefore surprising (a) that the wealthy, early 50-something man I used to tutor should choose to spend most of his life working and (b) that someone who is out of work would, even if financially secure, find his life boring because he is not working. What is going on? It is a question I cannot yet answer.

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‘God cannot be amazed’

‘God cannot be amazed,’ states Josef Pieper in Happiness and Contemplation. So much the worse for God, I think.

It can be good to think about what God cannot be. God knows, so he cannot be amazed. Not ever. The Thomist Pieper:

In contemplation a mirandum is seen, that is to say, a reality which evokes amazement because it exceeds our comprehension even though we see it, and have a direct intuition of it. Amazement is possible only for one who does not yet see the whole.

A mirandum: a thing wondered at, a marvel. I see and see much, but I do not see the whole. Not yet.

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‘Nothing happened until it did’: Kensho and positive samadhi

Nothing had happened, but then I hadn’t expected anything to happen anyway. We must have descended the long stairwell, feeling the polished wood of the handmade rail with soft fingers as we went. Then we would have stepped outside into the early afternoon sunlight and onto the sidewalk, possibly looking up at the bowing trees. We would have folded arm in arm first and then made our way to the 90th St. entrance to Central Park. Did we not always do this? This was all as it would have been with nothing actually happening.

Nothing happened until it did, a something extraordinary that unveiled our world unglossed and wordlessly splendid, as glorious as it must always be to those with eyes and lungs to see and breathe.


‘When you attain kensho,’ Katsuki Sekida writes in Zen Training,

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Openness, wonder, and joy

Philosophy is not for those who presume to know all there is to know. Nor is it for those who, being bourgeois, take life to be wholly self-explanatory. ‘The commonplace mind,’ writes Josef Pieper in ‘The Philosophical Act,’ ‘rendered deaf-mute, finds everything self-explanatory’ to the point at which ‘”wonder” is no longer there.’ Now that must be a great loss unknown to the self-professedly knowledgeable, such a magnificent and terrible loss to the one blanketing all reality in the endless commonplace. What unmarked, unremarked upon despondency!

There is only wonder, so we shall learn, once one is brought to doubt whether he knows something at all. But then how is someone brought to such a doubt, and what disposition brings one to wonder’s doorstep?

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What is lacking in having no strong attachments

It is easier for most of us to recognize, as if by default, Marcia’s prolonged grieving over her son Metilius than it is to understand someone who does not grieve or miss anyone who has passed into and out of his life. We recognize a mother’s strong attachments to her too soon gone son, and we wonder with her about whether a cosmos can be just if it takes away a son before his mother. The scene, such as it is, looks manifestly human and Seneca’s letter of consolation is intended to relieve her of her grieving by revealing the cosmos to be providentially well-ordered.

This, as I say, is the recognizable case, yet what of the less recognizable and seemingly less usual one? I am referring to the person who has rarely or never had strong attachments to others–be they lovers, friends, or family members–and hence does not feel possessive, does not miss or reminisce, and does not grieve someone who has gone out of his life or passed out out of existence. What if too such a man were to say that, on the whole, he is contented with life and believes firmly in being self-reliant and self-sufficient? Is this man inhuman (by which I don’t mean: monstrous) or is he god-like? For the gods are often described as self-sufficient, independent, and happy with themselves.

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