Two Cons: “Institutional Education” and “Meaningful Work”

You fell into the trap: you got an institutional education.  You funded that education with loans. Those loans, you still believe, will have to be repaid. Also, there’s all the consumer debt you slowly accumulated while looking for “a career,” that silly, stupid beast. Ah, now all the loans will be repaid by working them off. That’s why you work now, that’s why you have that bullshit job you have.

The hook went deep and it’s still got you. Can you feel it jerk its way into your gut?

Had you known, many years ago when you were young and stupid, that the goal of institutional education was to coerce you to work each day for the rest of your life on the grounds that you now had to pay off that debt you got, then you would have avoided the trap. Where were all the grown-ups, then? Huh? But you didn’t know and there weren’t any grown-ups (or they were out to exploit you) and you didn’t say no to that moron Common Sense: that education is “obviously” funded by taking out loans and that the point of education is to make you into a total worker.

Man is this shitty. But it gets worse.

Because since then you’ve deceived yourself into believing that old song and dance, which is really a new song and not much of a dance, about doing “meaningful work.” Bleck! You’re gonna work–you bought this lie too–most of your waking hours; you’re gonna work largely to pay off the debts you wouldn’t have had had you not be so “educated” (can it even be called education, or shall we better call it by its name: a nasty, ugly, rotten con?); and you trick yourself daily into believing that you’re doing meaningful work when in truth it’s a bullshit job. But all this is what the early Marx sniffed it out as: it’s ideology, that is, false consciousness, false beliefs, continually reinforced, about what is actually the case.

Oh but you know you’re not alone. Because everyone around you is working and working each day, all day because they too believe they have to pay off debts and because they too believe (i.e., make themselves believe) that they’re doing “something meaningful” with their lives. Stick first, carrot second. Indistinguishable actually because the carrot was always attached to the stick. That was the magic trick.

The world of total work, meanwhile, casts its ever longer, ever larger shadow over the totality of life. Is there anything else? Huh,

Now, maybe, maybe, you get the joke. The world of total work is a world of actual enslavement. Only this time each person has enslaved himself. Damn if that dead asshole Foucault wasn’t right about that. How about that for an absurdly new turn of events? Self-enslavement: perhaps, at such scale, a novel form of folly.

What other great inventions can we humans come up with? Come on now: something to outdo the Anthropocene.

Time to Get Tougher Ourselves

The following character is not so easy to describe in a single word, yet one can get good at spotting him. He is strong, tough, courageous, brave, properly proud, free-spirited, lighthearted, dispassionate, hearty, lively, enlivened, thumatic, vibrant, bursting with life, ‘crazy,’ wild, bloodthirsty, full-throated and big-hearted, ruthlessly committed to discovering the truth, occasionally enraged or outrageous, a lover of pain for the sake of the Good, quiet in such a unique way of ‘being quiet,’ full of bold laughter not least when it comes to himself and his own faults, a risk-taker based on reason, someone who lusts to stake himself to what is grand, a maker of challenges beyond all imagination, a generous spirit, a figure of exhilaration not flowing from imprudent acts, a being antipathetic to creaturely comforts, a rollicky yet self-controlled person, preternaturally cheerful especially amid tension and extra pressure.

The tough person is not at all meek or soft but all stoutness, openness, intense flexibility, fierce agility. What made him so? Hard to say. Surely at least: adversity but, more notably, his facing up to adversity. But surely not that exactly either. Facing up to it by thinking hard about it and by adapting in ways that overcome that particular kind of adversity. Overcome, though, not by forcing his way through like a dumb bulldozer but by making that form of adversity either obsolete or under his control.  Increasing pressures withstood. Aching surprises responded to with alertness and agility, with a warm tranquility. Muscular flexibility. Mental power akin to casuistry. Thinking slowly, very slowly, and acting surely and quickly like a lightning bolt.

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Conversion and elitism: A propaedeutic to reading Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life

This is the third set of reflections on Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013). In the post below, I am tacking back, by way of Charles Taylor’s work, in order to understand how Stoterdijk arrived at his version of neo-Nietzschean elitism.

The first set of reflections can be read here.


Before one comes to the question, ‘How is conversion possible?’ one must confront the genuine challenge that modernity has a truck with the very idea of conversion. One place where the refusal of conversion is in great evidence is in the realm of the therapeutic. In A Secular Age, Charles Taylor discusses the triumph of the therapeutic in terms of two basic claims. I cite him at length:

The modern therapeutic perspective develops partly out of the Enlightenment (in inspiration, Lockean) idea that the human agent is malleable; on the basis of certain fundamental motivations (e.g., seeking pleasure, avoiding pain), the agent can be trained to identify his ends in a variety of different ways. To redefine these ends through re-education thus does not force him to abandon an intrinsic direction of his being; and if it ends up making him better able to adjust to everyone else, it can lead to greater harmony, greater general desire-fulfillment, and thus a gain all around.

The other source of the triumph of the therapeutic is the desire to do away with the category of sin, which attributes at some level an ill will to the sinner. The deviant is a victim of bad training or illness; he is not there as an agent endorsing his lamentable, destructive behaviour, someone we should therefore condemn; rather he is caught in a cycle of compulsion, from which we can liberate him through therapy. (633, my emphasis)

Taylor’s argument against the therapeutic dispensation turns on the assumption that there is a loss of transcendence. Under this regime of thought, there are only ordinary goods to be pursued and secured, with greater or lesser a degree of success. If transcendence is impossible, then one might subscribe to a materialist view according to which human beings are malleable (what changes is only the already-existing) and exculpable (since one’s conduct, already reduced considerably to behavior, is not up to one). It seems that the patient or client is, at bottom, merely a being who suffers and so is in need of help or amelioration of his condition.

Continue reading “Conversion and elitism: A propaedeutic to reading Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life”

‘You must change your life’ or ‘You must change life’?

This is the first set of reflections on Peter Sloterdijk’s You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).


‘You must change your life,’ writes Peter Sloterdijk in his eponymous book of philosophy. His provocative project is to redescribe human beings in terms of forms of practice or training programs. Some programs are explicit (such as those formulated by yogis or by virtuosos), others inexplicit and inarticulate (such as daily routines), yet all human beings, he claims, are at the same time producers and products, dancers and danced, lovers and loved. The guiding thread of the book, then, is an investigation into the various ways in which the call to change your life have been articulated from antiquity to the present.

On my reading, there are two seminal moments. The first is ahistorical, basic, logically prior: ‘Can humans be uprooted from bad habits?’ (411). The second is historical, contingent, prescient:

Modernity is the time in which those humans who hear the call to change no longer know where they should start: with the world or with themselves–or with both at once. (323)

Continue reading “‘You must change your life’ or ‘You must change life’?”

Philosophical Improv no. 2: Education Thesis

In this short video, I explore the thesis that the virtues must be ‘raised up’ to the point of beauty. In my forthcoming book, Radiance: An Essay for Unsettled Time, I discuss the important connection between goodness and beauty.

To view other episodes in this series, you can visit my YouTube channel.

I’m a Ph.D.-trained philosophical counselor who teaches individuals and organizations throughout the US and Europe how to inquire into the things that matter most. A former resident of the Upper East Side in New York City, I now lead a simpler, more contemplative life amid the gentle mountains of rural Appalachia.

For more about me, you can visit

The necklace worn in the video was designed by Alexandra Marcella Lauro, a maker of meditation jewelry. To view her collection of meditative jewelry and to purchase a necklace, you can go to