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Jobs Suck

For the life of me, I don’t know why people have been talking up jobs. All the jobs I’ve had have pretty much sucked.

If you can believe it, I was a security guard for the Chicago Bears back when their summer training camp used to be held in my hometown. Next summer I was a bilingual verifications agent, someone who confirmed that, yes, Jane did want to switch to AOL’s long distance calling plan or, es verdadMaria quiere cambiar su servicio de telefono (It’s true (or that’s right): Maria does want to change her telephone service).

I worked at Abercrombie & Fitch right around when it was thought to be the hip thing to do: to get paid $6 an hour to wear flip-flops and cargo shorts and to be a “brand rep” following the “style guide” to a T. I was a surprisingly mediocre server at a Marriott, almost dropping glasses of wine as I traversed the thick carpet from the bar back to the restaurant. Oh, and I was an temporary executive assistant at a place that built engine turbines: I entered data into spreadsheets, took calls and wrote post-it notes, and ordered more supplies. So impressed by me or rather because their permanent executive assistant ultimately quit, they asked me to stay on at the end of the summer and I was like no thanks.

After college, I could only find a job–a real blow to my ego–at a mobile home park where I mowed grass until (not my fault, I swear) the mower broke and I was relegated to weed whacking duty, which involved whacking weeds on blacktop and which, therefore, really sucked because when you whack weeds on blacktop, the threads wear down super-quickly and, in consequence, you need to stop this industrial beast, pull out more thread, and start it up again. And then repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

In grad school, I taught disaffected students and we pretended that they gave a shit about Kant or Hume; all semester long we half-winked at one another, knowing why we were there (hint: payment (me) and requirement for graduation (them)). After grad school, for a couple of semesters I taught business writing (again, if you can believe it) at a purportedly liberal arts college that was also purportedly Catholic. It got paid a pittance, and the place felt more like a crappy public high school, one with a super-long commute alllllll the way up to the Bronx by subway. (For those of you who care, that’s the very last stop on the 1 Train.) The name of the school? Manhattan College. Now that’s branding for ya!

Gigging and being enterprising were almost always more enjoyable partially or largely because they were free of pretense and bullshit. Over the years, I got paid (in no apparent order) to plant trees, to move library books from one library to another, to do grunt work around a house. I can’t even remember all the things I need. In each case, we met, I did the work to the best of my ability, they paid me, and that was that. Usually a handshake agreement bound us together. And in time, I became more enterprising and found that I was good at it: among many other things, I set up a successful tutoring business, I personally trained people, I taught people how to rock climb, and so on. I made up stuff that people were willing to pay me for. We came to an agreement. It was usually a pretty good thing.

OK, I suppose you’d say that I never made the transition from jobs to career (nor to the Promised Land of “meaningful work” or to that of “the calling”), and that’s certainly biographically true. I leaped, rather, from crappy jobs to being a solopreneur, that is, to being a practical philosopher who, with others, considers matters of ultimate concern. Yet that would be to miss the larger point: careerism, by my lights, is just a repackaging of jobism in that the former provides a fancier-sounding justification for the latter. It is the abdication of freedom by intellectual means.

Let’s get real. Regardless of how good certain jobs are, they still have something about them that really, inherently sucks. I don’t care if you’re an AI researcher doing cool shit at Google. Is your time your own? Can you come and go as you please? Do you not have obligations to fulfill and responsibilities to meet that you think aren’t patently silly? What about all those pointless meetings? Do you choose to be around these colleagues? How about that commute to the Bay Area, huh? What about where you live–is that up to you? Just tell me: are you a free person?

Jobs may not make us into slaves, but they don’t make us free.

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This, of course, is a literary piece. If you like, you can read more sophisticated anti-job and anti-careerist pieces at Quartz

And on a personal note: my wife Alexandra and I will be a meditation retreat from Oct. 13-21. After that, I’ll be giving a talk on wisdom as well as taking part in a panel discussion of AI at Global Solutions Forum in Vail, Colorado. For these reasons, I won’t be blogging again until after October 25th. You can expect to receive 6 posts a week around that time.

Depth

When we say that somebody “lacks depth,” what do we mean?

I take it we mean (a) that this person is, in a certain sense, thoughtless, (b) that he or she hasn’t suffered or hasn’t suffered much (or, more likely, hasn’t registered that suffering), and (c) that he or she hasn’t struggled.

Take first glimpses of my meaning. Think of someone who is tormented and who knows that he is tormented. Think of someone who, we say, is really “wrestling with something.” Think also not of someone who is purely “lost in thought” (a mathematical puzzle, say) but more specifically of one who is deep in thought about herself.

Depth of character seems to me to be a kind of alchemy where all three elements are brought together and thus transmogrified. Suffering becomes struggle and struggle, through thoughtfulness, becomes something much, much purer. Depth, therefore, is suffering raised to struggle, which is elevated by deliberate thoughtfulness to (call it) “beauty of soul.” For undeniably the deep person is a beautiful person.

Astonishingly, we can experience someone else’s depth through intuition and perceptiveness, not necessarily through words. There’s, we sense, just “more to” this person: a presence, yes; also a way of carrying herself; but most of all a gravitas, a gravity, a basic dignity; plus, as I say, an unspeakable beauty. Such a person is not just something to behold but someone to meet with one’s entire being.

The Limits Of The Entrepreneurial Mindset

Everyone Is a Solopreneur…

I recently finished Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, a book that recounts his journey to becoming an entrepreneur as well as the birth and success of Patagonia. There is much to praise in the book, not the least of which is Chouinard’s, and Patagonia’s, central commitment to trying to mitigate the worst effects of the ecological crisis. Yet what I would like to dwell upon here is the ‘entrepreneur’s mindset,’ most especially the limits thereof.

An anecdote: I was a panelist at a conference in Hungary in 2018 when another panelist, then a CEO at a major telecom company, said that the trend is toward every young person having to become his or her own “personal brand.” That is, each person would need to be more of a solopreneur-meets-self-promoter. It seems that becoming more enterprising is now, by a number of people’s lights, at once necessary because on the verge of ubiquity and virtuous.

I do think there are important entrepreneurial virtues and capacities of the kind that Chouinard embodies (courage: the ability to take reasonable risks; resourcefulness: the ability to get a lot out of very little; imagination: the willingness to picture what does not yet exist; and so on), yet this mindset soon enough runs up against its own unexamined limits. These are the very limits that I’ve observed during philosophical conversations over the years with many entrepreneurs.

Limit #1: It’s Not Always Win-Win-Win

The entrepreneur’s and the technologist’s presumption is that it’s always win-win-win: investors win, users win, and the entrepreneur’s team wins. But this is not even close to an accurate picture of how social and political life actually is.

Instead, social life is shot through with conflict. The simple yet undeniable truth is that so long as most humans are not enlightened beings (in the Eastern sense) their interests will continue to clash. Not always, to be sure, but frequently. Too often entrepreneurs spirit away this undeniable truth, which is a delusional (because overly optimistic) move. While the opposite–namely, that everything is zero sum–also isn’t true, there needs to be much greater understanding of the fact that conflict is something that ought to be accepted and, once accepted, taken as a starting point for deeper thought. This in lieu of whisking it away beneath the carpet on the assumption that everything is a problem that can be solved.

Limit #2: The Existence of Suffering

The first social truth is that conflicts exist. The second is that suffering exists.

A common move, evident as much in an entrepreneur’s startup pursuits as in his or her personal life, is to presume that suffering doesn’t really exist. You see this when entrepreneurs deceive themselves into believing that genuine suffering cannot exist. Next, should they acknowledge that there is some suffering–in others, in themselves–then they seek to diminish the degree of this suffering. “Oh, at least we’re not in Syria.” Next, after having diminished the extent of their suffering, they go immediately for solutions usually in the form of practical actions that they or others can take. Everything, they believe, must be actionable.

This is a recipe for what I call “kickback”: so long as people try to end suffering by adopting the approach above, they’ll continue to suffer more, albeit in indirect ways. See how resentment, frustration, anger, bitterness, and other negative emotions slowly emerge as a consequence of thinking that you can just spirit away suffering by means of problem solving and other, related maneuvers.

Conclusion: The Lack of Depth

The Achille’s Heel of the entrepreneur, then, is what I’ll call “lack of depth.” For becoming a deeper person is the result of taking up conflicts and of taking on suffering. Period. In this way does the soul, as it were, grow deeper, wider, and vaster as one’s view of human beings and the world becomes more sophisticated, nuanced, subtle, and capacious. So too does one become not just a more compassionate human being but also a wiser one.

You Are Not What You Think You Are

You’re alone tonight, and you don’t like being alone. Ever, let alone tonight.

For you, there’s nothing worse–or almost–than being alone with your own thoughts. Because these thoughts and these emotions are painful. Your self-talk–that is, your self-referential talk–pains you.

“I hate myself.” “I’m not good at anything.” “I’m not a good X-er and X-ers are very important to be.” “I’m not at Y point in my life, and I’m being passed by.” “I know what I should do, but I’m not doing what I should do. I’m not where I should be. I need to hurry up to get there.” “I don’t have Z quality and if I had Z quality, my life would be better; I would be better.” “I’m loveless and unlovable. powerless, insignificant, and pathetic and thus I’ll always be alone.”

The standard line of thought is that you need to develop healthy self-esteem. (Or, a la CBT, you need to “challenge” “unhealthy” or “irrational” beliefs.) Now you’re an adult, however, not a child. Hence, perhaps the standard line of thought is not the right one for you.

For notice that “I love myself” and “I hate myself,” that “I’m great” and “I’m pathetic” are all self-referential thoughts. What if the trouble, nonduality suggests, is with all self-referential thoughts? Not with the existence of self-referential thoughts but with getting caught up in and thereby held captive by such thoughts.

Better yet, the trouble lies in the following:

  • Taking a thought or emotion to be permanent rather than transient
  • Presuming that you are identical with that thought or emotion
  • Believing, therefore, that you shall continue to be held within the cage of thought X or emotion Y or thought pattern Z

You’ve made a whole bunch of mistakes. To see what the mistakes are, begin by imagining that you are a tree. Feel your roots sink down into the earth. Feel the water suck up into your trunk. Feel the sturdiness of your trunk, the angling of your arms, the leafing of your hands.

Now, peel yourself off the tree, walk 10 or 15 paces away from the tree, turn around, and simply look at it. Observe it.

The same thing is true of your thoughts and emotions, but you don’t know it. When you ask yourself the question, “Who is it or what it it that it observing or contemplating this thought [e.g., I’m no good])”?, you soon discover that you are, as it were, peeled off of the thought and that you must (so to speak) travel backward so that you can look at the thought.

From this point of view, YOU ARE the Observer. As the Observer, you clearly notice or deduce:

  • That no thought or emotion is permanent (see that each thought comes and goes)
  • That WHO YOU ARE cannot be identical with any thought or emotion, be it a lovely thought or a terrible thought. Why? Because the thought comes and goes yet you remain throughout the process of the thought coming and going. Ergo, since you perdure while it disappears, it follows that WHO YOU ARE cannot be it.
  • Therefore, it likewise follows that you are not in the cage of negative thoughts or negative emotions for you stand at a different–no, better: a higher–vantage point.

The eye cannot turn around to see itself; the ear cannot turn around to hear itself; the nose cannot smell itself; a fingertip cannot touch itself; the tongue cannot taste itself. All can only perceive an object that is other than themselves. At this early stage of the practice, the idea is to simply accept the provisionally dual nature of Observer and Observed, where the two are not understood–again, at this stage–ontologically distinct.

Get established in being the Observer. Continue to remember that, from this point of view, YOU ARE the Observer. When you do, you also find that there’s a mild peace or niceness associated with being the Observer. Therefore, you experience, here and now, that not being with others does not mean being painfully alone.

Psychotechnologies Of Self-transformation

To avoid the existential threat to the human species, the late Stephen Hawking warned, in 2017, that we would need to begin the process of interplanetary colonization. Other, more sanguine prognosticators, not starting from the risk of total annihilation of homo sapiens, have come to a similar conclusion. Mars, they say. Onward and upward.

Not yet is anyone asking, “Are human beings, as they are, really worth it?” Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges, in her book The Sixth Extinction, that human beings may indeed be a “weedy species” in that we spread out, as those above are indicating, as much as we can while laying waste to other species. On this score, I’m in agreement with Kolbert and her ilk on the left.

Yet their questions remain at the purely Its, or Lower Right, Level as can be seen in Ken Wilber’s oft-cited 2 by 2 below:

Wilber

Unlike those posed by Hawking et al. (It Space) and by Kolbert et al. (Its Space), my questions are focused squarely on the I and We Spaces.

Observe that it seems rather pitiable that some human beings have developed superior physical capacities (Adam Ondra, for instance, may very well be the best sport climber and boulderer around), yet those physical capacities are not complemented with comparable mental capacities. Note, further, that intellectuals at universities are, in truth, hyperintellectual and therefore have received no education in the art of dance or in that of oratory, nor do many, given the secular institutions at which they teach and do research, have any genuine spiritual inclinations, let alone deep spiritual practices. Then too Zen roshis are masters of enlightenment, yet, as I’ve suggested in earlier posts, are surely not the ones you would go to when your aim is the “art of the possible”–to wit, politics.

This is troubling, for human beings in general remain unevolved or undeveloped in modernity inasmuch as we are one- and two-dimensional creatures. That is to say, we don’t even have any rigorous and widely accepted anthropologies (what is a human?), let alone any robust cosmologies that including this anthropology. And because we have neither, we therefore lack any widespread training, practice, or education in the cultivation of the whole creature: physically, instinctively, emotionally, volitionally, cognitively, relationally, politically, and spiritually.

It follows, I think, that we’re really not ready, as a species, for interplanetary colonization. It follows, too, that we need to do more than simply “clean up our rooms” and become “responsible individuals,” as Jordan Peterson thinks. We need not just synoptic visions, as John Vervaeke urged in a recent discussion I had with him, but also psychotechnologies of overall self-transformation. We need both.

The Russian mystic Gurdjieff once said that humans are machines; we must become men. Something like this is what I mean. Can we know ourselves and, in turn, can we master ourselves by dint of our integration into the newly understood and amply seen cosmos? The fate of intelligent life may hang on how we answer this question.