Friday, May 15, 2020

"The scholar in his study"

I've been told my blog's too eggheaded. Too hard to read, similar to the Emperor telling Mozart his music had too many notes? Well, not that much of a comparison to genius. But, here's good news. More pictures. The bad news. Only two Rembrandts; and me, snapped.
 That's Faust, ca. 1652.  "A Scholar in his Study" Rembrandt - Artwork on USEUMThere's another. Definitely looks like he's into the occult. A third one, of the artist himself under this title, doesn't wow me. R van R seems too furry. But you can take a look yourself.

Here's me, last Tuesday. I don't do selfies, which was the assignment, but I had to send a photo to work of, well, me working from home, in preparation for a "Town Hall" one day and then a "Pulse Meeting" the next. Today, I just got off a "water cooler" every Friday hour that appears to be totally voluntary, but like certain now-reoccurring events in my calendar of late, more and more becomes a place I am to make my virtual appearance. I now have presences on WebEx for my main teaching job, plus Microsoft Tools for such gatherings.

Other obligations put me on Zoom. Chats by Skype. At least the latter two include friends and family--my older son in Portland and his special one talked two hours to us for Mother's Day, for instance. And I keep in touch with a group that can't meet together, even if I do not join the rest of the extended family playing Scattergories online, as I get too nervous. Speaking of rattled sensibilities, the suspicious skeptic in me wonders cui bono~who benefits? As with 9/11, once measures get as the Irish say "copper-fastened," they aren't loosened. No, it's not three million Uighirs in a police state. But we will be monitored more.

Meanwhile, as in China's Social Credit System, the Google-Apple unprecedented partnership to track a third of the world by app, and the installation of surveillance software to "supervise" workers at home as much as in a cubicle or its equally oppressive successor, open-plan office, be careful, I keep saying silently to "colleagues" about what one wishes for.

Apropos, check this out from Josef Pieper's 1948 Leisure, the Basis of Culture. I re-read his little volume on Scholasticism to refresh my memory before tackling Gilson, and I liked it as much as I did back in college when I needed it to bone up for my medieval history of ideas seminar. Today, this popped into my feed. Proof that philosophers stay relevant, as ever.

‘Total work’, a term coined by the German philosopher Josef Pieper just after the Second World War in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture (1948), is the process by which human beings are transformed into workers and nothing else. By this means, work will ultimately become total, I argue, when it is the centre around which all of human life turns; when everything else is put in its service; when leisure, festivity and play come to resemble and then become work; when there remains no further dimension to life beyond work; when humans fully believe that we were born only to work; and when other ways of life, existing before total work won out, disappear completely from cultural memory.
The article begins: "Imagine that work had taken over the world. It would be the centre around which the rest of life turned. Then all else would come to be subservient to work. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, anything else – the games once played, the songs hitherto sung, the loves fulfilled, the festivals celebrated – would come to resemble, and ultimately become, work." And on the inevitable other hand, the unemployment rate is officially around 15% but it must be much higher; both my sons lost their jobs two months ago. My students report deep cutbacks in their families, parents, or siblings. This all is told as if suspended, and that somehow everything's already resuming. Our bosses want us back in plain sight, our betters want us contributing to the GDP and not slacking, and somebody out there's got to pay taxes, since the wealthy won't pony up. Already in California, it's as if we're all supposed to be eager to embrace free-spending "normality." Me, I'm not so sure.

And I wonder if Mother Nature's happy to breathe freely lately. Not that this respite will last, but it may be a final reminder of what life could have been if more of us cut back. On driving, on consuming, on endlessly racing about towards a global oneness via jet packs. On Wall Street, the investors are cashing in. Kroger's ending its $2 hazard pay bonus for workers, the better to fund the $350 million they're spending in buying back their own stock. Those tax cuts turned out great. This week, I noted with rueful mien on a "Plan-demic" viral (!) video making the rounds at the bottom a link to Alex J's peddling of masks.

For this will not be the last time our freedoms will narrow, as our planet asks for life support. While I can't work out the balance between these competing factors, the necessity to curtail our extravagance with the need to support an ever-growing demand for open borders, untrammeled movement, endless pro-business and pro-population growth, I remain uncertain, as I was in the Great Recession and after 9/11, how everyday folks will find their options restricted, as the powers that be continue to consolidate their hold on us.

The whole essay: If Work Dominated Your Every Moment, Would Life Be Worth Living? 

P.S. On the other hand, judging by his blurb, its author doesn't have it bad at all. "Andrew Taggart is a practical philosopher and entrepreneur. He is a faculty member at the Banff Centre in Canada, where he trains creative leaders, and at Kaospilot in Denmark, where he trains social entrepreneurs. His latest book is The Good Life and Sustaining Life (2014). He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico." 

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