Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tokumitsu of Jacobin's "In the Name of Love" talks to the Atlantic about work mythology, cf Ribbon Farm on the difference between inconspicuous vs conspicuous production in the contemporary workforce (i.e. chimneysweep vs bard)

Tokumitsu: So in my book I have my theory about where it came from. I really feel like it comes out of post-World War II prosperity. The Protestant work ethic is work, work, work—work is a calling, work is virtuous. I felt like that was with us for a long time, but pleasure never factored into that much.
But then come the Baby Boomer generation—you have the wars seemingly over and there’s a lot of prosperity, though it’s been spread pretty broadly throughout society. And that gave people the opportunity to indulge themselves a little bit. And within the U.S. particularly, there arose a culture of self: thinking about what makes me happy and how to improve myself. [I argue that the] virtue strain of work and the self strain of work combined in the late 1970s and 1980s, and in a way pleasure-seeking became the virtue.

Tokumitsu: ... I feel like this whole culture of feeling good too is just really kind of hedonistic. And I also feel like it’s a little bit dark. There’s almost something in it to me that speaks of like addiction or something. We can never be at just baseline contentment. [emphasis added] We always have to be relentlessly seeking these “good feelings.”

The future of work looks bleaker than it needs to for one simple reason: we bring consumption sensibilities to production behavior choices. Even our language reflects this: we “shop around” for careers. We  look for prestigious brands to work for. We look for “fulfillment” at work. Sometimes we even accept pay cuts to be associated with famous names.  This is work as fashion accessory and conversation fodder. [italics original, bold emphasis added]

We can think of this as conspicuous production, by analogy to conspicuous consumption. First-world artisan tendencies take this to a logical extreme.

When you subconsciously think of work as something you consume for pleasure, you end up with a possibly irrational (economically speaking) attraction to artisan work. Even those who don’t actually end up as artisans choose work the way they choose cars, jewelry or handbags, over-valuing things like resume-value and exposure-value.

The result is a misguided analysis of the impact of computers and automation that makes us think the future of work is much darker than it is.

What’s the difference between a tradesman and  an artisan?  Think chimney-sweep versus bard as the extremes of the spectrum. Both are archetypes that mostly disappeared with late industrialization in the early twentieth century, thanks in part to automation, but there the similarities end.

One fulfilled a critical economic function by engaging in unpleasant and inconspicuous production. The other fulfilled a non-critical economic function in the economy by engaging in pleasurable and conspicuous production.

One generated a higher, less volatile income, but with little potential for upward mobility, the other generated a lower, more volatile income, but with more potential for upward mobility.

The median chimney sweep did better than the median bard, but the best bards did better than the best chimney-sweeps (by finding favor with a king for instance). Since this was before mass media, bard reward distribution was not as skewed as it would become, but it was still skewed.

The emerging future of work does resemble pre-modern patterns of labor organization in a few key ways, but most of us are going to turn into digital-era chimney sweeps rather than bards. And this is a good thing.

The difference between bard work and chimney-sweep work is that it far easier to convince yourself that a relaxing hobby is actually real work. It is a kind of 
gollumizing effect: behavior that makes you atrophy psychologically.

What makes it worse is that in an economy based on a fiat currency, shareholder value maximization and deficit spending, the capacity to generate an income does not necessarily imply that meaningful work is being done, either in a subjective psychological sense (it helps you evolve rather than atrophy) or economic sense (net wealth is being created rather than consumed or harvested). You might even end up having to pay to do real work.
For those who read this far and note the tag at the end of the post, all that pre-amble is a way to frame the above quotes as an observation about Mark Driscoll's taxonomy of manhood.  Driscoll spent years warning guys to not get "joe jobs" without necessarily defining what those joe jobs were.  Driscoll also spent a few years joking about how much he loved his "job". The implication in that attempt at humor might have been that he loved his job and that it was as though it wasn't really work for him.
... and then we got the Result Source controversy and the plagiarism controversy and that revelation about the extent to which ghostwriters could ghostwrite at Mars Hill and research assistants helped and ...
it did begin to seem as though Mark Driscoll could represent a production mill of occasionally recycled work rather than the production of anything particularly new or useful and at times even anything particularly interesting.  There was, to borrow Venkat's phrasing from ribbon farm, this conspicuous production thing with Driscoll.  The irony of this could be best framed by invoking Mark Driscoll's old standby about those who might object to what he said from the pulpit, he was just delivering the mail, you know.  Don't shoot the mailman.  Now, sure, he invoked being a postal worker but it's arguable the average postal work, even the average ineffectual postal worker, conveys more directly relevant and useful information to the average person in a day than Mark Driscoll ever did.  If you got your electric bill in a timely manner that was information you could literally act upon as soon as you found out about it if, you know, you get your utility bills by mail and all that.
It seemed like Driscoll was against jobs that were inconspicuously productive sometimes, while his own "job" was conspicuous production that turned out to have some problems with it.  First, we couldn't be sure how much of it was really his, secondly, we couldn't be sure to what degree the people who were actually getting the work done were acknowledged for it. 
Then again if people will buy Star Wars movies over and over again Mark Driscoll can recycle sermon ideas, too.  What the market will bear, perhaps.
Given the extent to which Mark Driscoll's returning to Ecclesiastes (again) it doesn't seem he's doing an real work at all so much as reconsolidating his branding.  He is, to borrow his old analogy about postal work, aiming to deliver the same mail he delivered ten and twenty years ago.  Driscoll now comes across like a bard who has spent his public career telling chimneysweeps they need to be bards. What may benefit Driscoll most is to go back and be that bread delivery truck guy, to be what Venkat at ribbon farm has dubbed the chimney sweep, who does the thoroughly unsexy scut work that produces something people can use.
Now maybe after nearly two decades doing the public speaking/motivational speaking/entertainment/ministry thing Mark Driscoll doesn't know how to do any real-world work but that seems unlikely.  It's more probably that he knows how to do real work but may not WANT to do work that has no prestige. He said last year that if he had to choose between being a pastor and being a celebrity he'd choose being a pastor.  Then he quit being a pastor in 2014 and only in 2015 on the charismatic leadership conference circuit scene has he seen fit to explain that, oh, yeah, God totally gave me audible verbal permission to go against everything I told everyone they ought to do in general and that I intended to do in particular.  So Mark Driscoll is no longer any kind of pastor but he is still a celebrity, a celebrity recycling his old material.  The transformation of Mark Driscoll into almost everything he warned Mars Hill against has seemed alarmingly complete. The tragedy and comedy of it seems to be that he seems completely ignorant of this transformation over the last two decades. In the lexicon of work types presented by ribbon farm Driscoll has clearly chosen to be a bard rather than a chimney sweep and time will tell whether the song remains the same as it ever was (seems like a fairly safe bet there).

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