The quest for achieving peak productivity is now akin to a religion, one consisting of high priests (time management gurus, life hack specialists, productivity coaches, headlining management professionals), various teachings (apps, tools, approaches, methods, reminders, workstation re-designs, forms of discipline), and millions of willing aspirants (early adopters, workshop participants, testifiers, devotees). A search for “how to be more productive” yields, at present count, 40,900,000 results.
What remains deeply puzzling about the obsession with personal productivity is that it is a rather uninteresting goal. Isn’t peak productivity an oddly deflating cultural ideal, especially when put in comparison with Achilles’ heroic feats, Solon’s excellence in statecraft, St. Thomas Aquinas’s holiness, Beethoven’s beautiful symphonies, and G.I. Gurdjieff’s spiritual search? How did it become such an ideal for us to aspire to?
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, comes to “occult” all other aspects of life.
In this interview with Big Think, I talk about the nature of total work:
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A Clarification On UBI
In the middle section of the Big Think interview, I briefly discuss Universal Basic Income (UBI). I haven’t yet advocated for it nor have I argued against it. What I argued instead is based on some antecedents: IF UBI were to be passed and IF it were sufficient to cover an individual’s material needs (that’s not what’s being prototyped in Finland, e.g., as I understand it), then what effect, from a philosophical point of view, might this have on the population in question? I suggested that IF my theses about total work are true (to wit, more and more people are on the way to becoming total workers) and IF UBI so understood were to come to pass, then what’s disconcerting is that most people wouldn’t know what to do with genuine leisure (otium). Given the work society into which we’ve been born and to which we belong, I think that UBI, so understood above, carries some risks since it raises the specter of nihilism, a specter that has been dwelling like a shadow beneath the surface of modern people’s lives while they work and work and work…
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