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Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Consider the phenomenon of players jamming a toothpick into the button that initiates a play so that the machine plays itself Contlnuously and the player becomes a mere bystander, watching the credit meter rise and fall (mostly fall). In Australia, an “autoplay” feature has been incorporated into slot machines, to serve the “mature” player who has moved beyond control to pure automaticity, and experiences himself as part of the machine. Such desubjectification does look quite a bit like death.

This might seem exotically pathological, but I can detect something like a death instinct in myself, for example in those times when I slump in front of the TV and watch whatever is served up. It becomes an occasion for self-disgust as soon as I rouse myself from the couch, and is no great source of pleasure while I am in the trance, so why do I do it? I think because the passivity of it is a release from the need for control. As someone who is self-employed, I don’t have the jig of a regular job, so the disposition of every hour is a matter of choice, an occasion for reflection and evaluation. Sometimes I just want to stay where I am and watch Dateline, because that’s what’s next. Let death come.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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Perhaps We are all becoming autistic, in this broad sense. If so, it is not without reason. As the world becomes more confusing, seemingly controlled by vast impersonal forces (e.g., “globalization or collateralized debt obligations”) that no single individual Can fully bring within view; as the normative expectation becomes to land a cubicle job, in which the chain of cause and effect can be quite dispersed and opaque; as home life becomes deskilled (we outsource our cooking to corporations, our house repairs to immigrant guest workers); as the material basis of modern life becomes ever more obscured, and the occasions for skillful action are removed to sites overseas, where things are made; to sites nearby but socially invisible, where things are tended and repaired; and to sites unknown, where elites orchestrate commercial and political forces—when all of this is the case, the experience of individual agency becomes somewhat elusive. The very possibility of seeing a direct effect of your actions in the world, and knowing that these actions are genuinely your own, may come to seem illusory.

— Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction

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Freedom cannot be defined in strictly negative terms, as the absence of confinement and constraint. In fact, in many cases, confinement and constraint is actually a means to liberation.

If you have musical aptitude, you may give yourself to practice, practice, practice the piano for years. This is a restriction, a limit on your freedom. There are many other things you won’t be able to do with the time you invest in practicing. If you have the talent, however, the discipline and limitation will unleash your ability that would otherwise go untapped. What have you done? You’ve deliberately lost your freedom to engage in some things in order to release yourself to a richer kind of freedom to accomplish other things.

This does not mean that restriction, discipline, and constraint are intrinsically, automatically liberating. For example, a five-foot-four, 125-pound young adult male should not set his heart on becoming an NFL lineman. All the discipline and effort in the world will only frustrate and crush him (literally). He is banging his head against a physical reality—he simply does not have the potential. In our society many people have worked extremely hard to pursue careers that pay well rather than fit their talents and interests. Such careers are straitjackets that in the long run stifle and dehumanize us.

Disciplines and constraints, then, liberate us only when they fit with the reality of our nature and capacities. A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we put it out on the grass, its freedom to move and even live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if we do not honor the reality of its nature.

In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions.

— Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism 

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A cultural earthquake

[I}magine leaving the United States for a decade or so and returning to find that while the wider society continued to get up on Monday and go to work and school, a substantial number of churches left their buildings dark on Sunday and gathered for worship on Monday instead-perhaps getting up before dawn to do so, perhaps gathering after the work day was done, perhaps skipping work altogether-and, for good measure, now called Monday “the Lord’s day.” You would conclude that something absolutely extraordinary must have happened-or at least that they believed something extraordinary had happened.

As evidence that something extraordinary did indeed happen on the Sunday after Jesus’ execution, the shift in worship from the seventh day to the first is arresting. But it is also, for those of us who believe the first disciples’ report of Easter, perhaps the most vivid and indisputable sign of the cultural power of the resurrection. For through a complex and far-reaching chain of events, that tectonic shift from Saturday to Sunday directly shapes the lives of the great majority of the population of earth-even though many of them are Christian only nominally or not at all.

The latte-sipping customer at Starbucks on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is taking her time with the Sunday Times — why? Because in much of the world, the first day of the week has become the closest thing we have to a day of rest. Even when “blue laws” restricting business on Sundays have largely been repealed, the manager of the local department store who has to fill in schedules starting at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. is still, however vestigially, touched by the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is like a cultural earthquake, its epicenter located in Jerusalem in the early 30s, whose aftershocks are still being felt in the cultural practices of people all over the world, many of whom have never heard of, and many more of whom have never believed in, its origins.

— Culture Making, Andy Crouch

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Our oldest human skills atrophy. GPS, for example, is a godsend for finding our way around places we don’t know. But, as Nicholas Carr has noted, it has led to our not even seeing, let alone remembering, the details of our environment, to our not developing the accumulated memories that give us a sense of place and control over what we once called ordinary life. The writer Matthew Crawford has examined how automation and online living have sharply eroded the number of people physically making things, using their own hands and eyes and bodies to craft, say, a wooden chair or a piece of clothing or, in one of Crawford’s more engrossing case studies, a pipe organ. We became who we are as a species by mastering tools, making them a living, evolving extension of our whole bodies and minds. What first seems tedious and repetitive develops into a skill — and a skill is what gives us humans self-esteem and mutual respect.

Yes, online and automated life is more efficient, it makes more economic sense, it ends monotony and “wasted” time in the achievement of practical goals. But it denies us the deep satisfaction and pride of workmanship that comes with accomplishing daily tasks well, a denial perhaps felt most acutely by those for whom such tasks are also a livelihood — and an identity.

 …

Indeed, the modest mastery of our practical lives is what fulfilled us for tens of thousands of years — until technology and capitalism decided it was entirely dispensable. If we are to figure out why despair has spread so rapidly in so many left-behind communities, the atrophying of the practical vocations of the past — and the meaning they gave to people’s lives — seems as useful a place to explore as economic indices.

— Andrew Sullivan, My Distraction Sickness–And Yours

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Planned neglect

The key to a productive and contented life is “planned neglect”— knowing what not to do and being content with saying no to truly good, sometimes fantastic, opportunities. This happens only when you realize how truly limited you are, that you must steward your little life, and that of all the best things to do on the planet, God wants you to do only a miniscule number.

— Randy Alcorn (as quoted in Do More Better by Tim Challies)

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In industrial England, children as young as six were sent to work in the mines. The passage of laws barring child labor strikes us as clear cultural progress. But in fact there was child labor in England long before industrialization. In an agricultural world children worked alongside side their parents from an early age. Such an arrangement was not necessarily exploitative–a fact recognized even today by the exceptions child labor laws make for farm families.

It was only with the rise of industrialization–hailed as the clearest sort of “progress” at the time–that the conditions emerged within which children’s labor, previously acceptable, became a distortion of human life and dignity. The “progress” of child labor laws simply restored a kind of equity and safety to childhood that the “progress” of industrialization had undone.

A world where children do not have to toil in dangerous conditions far from their parents is clearly an improvement over one where mine owners treat children as dispensable units of labor. But what about a world where children never get to participate in the economy of the family, never see their parents at work and are never given responsibility for cultivating the earth? Is that really an improvement over the world where families shared responsibility for their corner of the created world, where boys and girls learned skills alongside their fathers and mothers, and where culture was created largely by the communal effort of families rather than commercial enterprises? At one scale, we see clear progress; at another, larger scale we realize that while much has been gained, something real has been lost.

— Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling 

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