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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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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Letting others be: A fictitious admonition

No words must needs be addressed to him if what he is doing does not accord with what I think he would be better off doing. Let him be. That there may be other ways of doing something, some incontrovertibly or demonstrably better than this one he prefers or seems to anyway: what of it, man? Am I to concern myself each passing day with the details of this man’s affairs by sticking in a finger–a pointer, a probe, a dull knife? Must my tongue be fastened to his business or to hers? Come now: let it pass.

Or stay. Turn. Turn around. What urges my this way when I say what I do or, if I don’t, seethe in it all or if I wait until the pot falls and then tighten my heart in frisson, in torqued satisfaction? Shall I have a deep look–at myself, at this ugliness?–for ugliness it is. Looking, looking closely, if I dare, I see: self-righteousness…

With this, I cannot let myself be. No more nonsense now. All this time lost exhorting, lost chastening, spent correcting others! No letting be for an instant! All this stupid incorrigibility! The arrogance, the futile ignorant arrogance! What a roundabout!

Shocked? Horrified? Revolted–with myself? A good entry point from which to investigate myself: only, careful, unincriminatingly.

In Stillness: A 10 minute chant and meditation

Before leaving for Denmark where I taught a course at Kaos Pilots, Aleksandra and I recorded a 10 minute chant and meditation, which I have included below. One morning before dawn we sat as usual on meditation cushions. Aleksandra held an iPhone up to her mouth and chanted this two stanza poem.

An earlier version of the poem came to me while I was in Aarhus preparing to teach last year’s course at Kaos Pilots. I have since revised it again and again. Yet it was only Aleksandra’s final revision, on that morning when she intoned these words, that brought out the poem’s simple, intoxicating beauty.



Sit in





Oh my

Mind fasts

It stills

Is full

Making perspicuous the connections: Cheerfulness, surprise, and marvel

1. It dawns on me that there is a particular kind of person that I have been trying to describe over the past couple of years. There are three sets of terms that bring this kind of character more sharply into focus: dispositional terms, aesthetic terms, and an occurrence term.

2. The dispositional terms are lightheartedness (as in my book, Cultivating Discipline Lightly), cheerfulness (as in my posts about Nietzsche), chipperness, and eagerness.

The aesthetic terms are fascination, wonderment, perplexity, marvel, intrigue, and disinterested interest.

The occurrence term is surprise.

3. How are the dispositional terms connected to the aesthetic terms and to the occurrence term?

4. A P sort of man is someone who is open to being surprised. By a ‘P sort of man,’ I mean specifically cheerful, lighthearted, eager, chipper.

5. Presented with a surprise, the cheerful man is bound to feel perplexed, fascinated, a sense of marvel, a sense of intrigue, or a disinterested interest about what it is he is in the presence of. His proper response–perplexity or fascination, etc.–would depend upon his right perception of the situation.

5. A surprise is the starting point for an inquiry. Had he not been cheerful (or lighthearted, etc.), he would not have been surprised; he would have passed things by without notice. Had he not been surprised, he would not have been put in the spirit of (e.g.) marvel. Had he not marveled, then he would have never inquired.

6. I am trying to describe a kind of person who is ever on the verge of inquiring. The boundlessness of things astounds him. He is in a certain mood. (A beautiful mood?)

7. Why would any of this matter? Because we too often hear of the ‘happy man,’ the ‘tranquil man,’ the ‘resilient person,’ not to mention the ‘miserable man’ and his despairing cousins. But where do we hear of the cheerful man ever open to surprise, eagerly so, ever ready to marvel, and just on the cusp of inquiring? That must be the best man living the best kind of life!