Elitism and Music

Tyler Cornwall`s life revolved around his love of Techno. He spent most of his free time listening to Techno and could easily classify any Techno track within its appropriate subgenre including Post Early 2000s Berlin Minimal Housey Techno. Whenever he encountered people whose music taste revolved around what they heard on the radio he would feel superior as he had done the work to dig through all sorts of music to discover the most beautiful music in the world, Techno.  Consequently, in Tyler`s daily life he took every opportunity he could to display the beauty of Techno and would try to illuminate and re-educate those who did not see its shining beauty.  

Kyle Cassian had the same characteristics as Tyler, except in his case his love was for Extreme Metal, rather than Techno.  On one occasion Kyle had even skipped work in order to respond to a poster on an internet discussion board who had disparaged extreme metal, as something that lacked musical ability and all sounded the same. With his post Kyle had fulfilled his raison dètre as he had overwhelmed the naysayer with a post revealing the distinction between different genres of Extreme Metal, and explained why Extreme Metal takes a great degree of talent to perform. There was no way this naysayer would ever go around badmouthing Extreme Metal again.

By happenstance Tyler and Kyle ended up posting on the same internet discussion board. Kyle had bad mouthed Techno and referred to it as something `that any talentless idiot with a decent computer could make.“ This drew Tyler`s immediate attention and soon after he responded to Kyle. Tyler`s response clarified the history of Techno and how much talent was required to take simple, seemingly dull, rhythms and make something infectious with them.  Furthermore, he posted several examples of what he considered to be quality Techno. This did not convince Kyle however. In fact Kyle was offended by the fact that somebody could take Techno so seriously. Extreme Metal was a truly majestic art form, but Techno was trite and any person with the least sense of the true meaning of what good music was, could not consider Techno to be good.  

Soon after this exchange of posts occurred two other people posted additional responses to Kyle and Tyler. The first of these, Harvey Johnston, was upset with the fact that these two people were trying to prove that a particular genre was good. His response argued that there no way to distinguish between good music and bad music, and that music was merely a matter of preference. For Harvey, just as some people like Olives and others do not, some people will like Techno and others won`t.                                   

 However, the other poster, Anthony Martin, took a different tact. He saw the great passion for the beauty of music that both Kyle and Tyler had, and because he shared that passion for beauty, he wanted to expose them to his favourite forms of music, Classical and Jazz. He did not try to illuminate their minds or convert them to being avid listeners of Jazz and Classical; he merely suggested some artists they might like given Tyler`s love for Techno and Kyle`s love of Extreme Metal.  In this way Anthony just wanted to share the love that he had developed. While Anthony did think that his music taste was more elevated than Tyler`s or Kyle`s, and this elevation signified his ability to grasp a more nuanced conception of beauty, he was motivated by a simple desire to spread his love of music.  He merely wanted to encourage the growth of a love in others that had enriched his own life.

Authentic Desires and Excellence

Often within contemporary liberal democracies it is suggested that people should be authentic and only pursue goals that they endorse and they should also avoid refraining from satiating a desire, because society views that desire negatively.  The preceding is a popularly held conception of authenticity at its most basic level.  This conception of authenticity does not seem to be a problematic ideal, as it encourages integrity rather than gravelling servility, but the difficulty is that this conception of authenticity also tends to encourage self-satisfaction and can push people away from striving for excellence and developing their own potential as much as it can push people to develop their capabilities.

The difficulty is that some people may have a desire to excel, but they refrain from acting on this desire, because it would involve giving up the satiation of some other desire. In this case both desires are authentic desires in that they both are desires of the person, and they are not desires that the person wants to be rid of,  like the desire for alcohol that a recovering alcoholic has.  For example, I may feel a desire to excel by volunteering to promote literacy within my community, but due to the fact that I also have the desire to experience as much material comfort as possible I forgo the volunteer opportunity because it conflicts with the other desire, as volunteering involves giving up time that I could use to watch TV, play video games, or eat fine food.  In this case, both volunteering and experiencing material comfort are authentic decisions in that they are responses to authentic desires, but it seems like we would think less of the person who chooses to satiate the desire for material comfort over the one who pursues the desire to volunteer to promote literacy. We think that the person who pursues the desire to volunteer to promote literacy is somehow a more admirable person, because they correspond more strongly with the type of person that we aspire to become, than the person who chooses material comfort over volunteering to promote literacy. The one who chooses material comfort is certainly not a bad person; they may be perfectly humorous, genuine and nice, but they seem to have failed because they have chosen a fleeting experience of comfort over developing their character.

This example conveys two related yet distinct sets of desires. On one hand we have a desire for excellence.  That is we have a desire to become a certain sort of admirable person. On the other hand we have authentic desires to have certain kinds of experiences. These two elements are not unrelated as my character may influence the kinds of experiences I choose to pursue, but nonetheless they are distinct as the desire to see a concert is qualitatively distinct from my desire to be more courageous, generous or wise.

To get back to the preceding example we might say that we think less of those who let their desire for experiences of certain kinds prevent them from acting on their desire to excel, that is their desire to become a more excellent person. The reason for this is not an empty moralistic judgment that is the leftover of puritanical religions. Rather, the reason for this judgment is that ultimately people have to live with the fact that they have made certain choices to develop their character in particular ways, whereas the experiences that a person has are far less important. I may be upset that I have never got to see a band that I love perform, but if I pursue the authentic desire for notoriety at the expense of my authentic desire to be a good friend I have engaged in a much larger failing. Such an act reveals that I am weak-willed and have deeply problematic priorities and the same can be said of the person who lets their desire for material comfort prevent them from promoting literacy.

To get back to the issue of authenticity we have two sets of authentic desires. We have authentic desires for certain kinds of experiences, and authentic desires to excel, or put differently to become the kind of person we find most admirable. Ultimately, if we let our desire for certain kinds of experiences get in the way of our desire to excel we have failed in the task of living a fully developed human life. Those human lives that we esteem are admirable not because those who lived them had wonderful experiences, but because these people had admirable traits that lead them to do excellent things. Consequently, we need to prioritize the authentic desires we experience that are most important, and avoid letting trivial, but authentic, desires get in the way of fully developing our potential for excellence.

 

 

 

Love and Recognition

Steven Kruppe and Jasmine Walker were a couple deeply in love with one another.  They were similar in all relevant ways, yet their energies and personalities complemented each other to create a perfect whole. The most peculiar, yet admirable trait, that they held in common was that each did not care what any other thought of them. Neither person was bothered by negative reputation, nor did they feel shame if they did something that “society” deemed inappropriate. Jasmine was known to fart loudly in elevators rather than hold it in, as she was unconcerned with what others thought of her, and Steven would reveal any detail of his personal life at the drop of a hat if he felt so inclined. He once shared the details of his genital warts with a cashier that was ringing up his groceries. The cashier felt deeply uncomfortable, but in Steven’s mind he was just trying to warn the youngster about the dangers of unprotected sex.

Further, the fact that Jasmine and Steven did not care about what others thought of them was not confined to strangers; rather Steven and Jasmine had agreed that within their relationship, they should not do things that they did not enjoy just to please the other. Consequently, Steven would wash the dishes, not because Jasmine would appreciate such an act, but because washing the dishes was an activity that was truly fulfilling to Steven. The same principle applied to all of Jasmine’s activities; Jasmine cleaned the toilets twice a week, not because Steven was obsessed with cleanliness and she wanted to please him, but because her authentic calling in this area of her relationship was to clean toilets. In fact she only felt whole if she cleaned toilets.

One day Steven received a diagnosis that he had terminal cancer, and that he had only a couple of months to live. Unexpectedly this diagnosis was shocking and upsetting for Steven. At first Steven just thought about all the things that he would not be able to do in his life, but then he began to have a new concern, and a concern that he had not experienced in a long time; he began to worry about how he would be remembered by Jasmine. He now had an intense desire for Jasmine to remember him as a loving, honest, courageous man who deeply cared for her.

When Steven told Jasmine the news she was devastated. After finding her soul mate she was now bound to lose him; “how could she find somebody like Steven again?” However, she was perplexed by certain changes that began to occur in Steven’s behaviour. Steven began to do things that he did not enjoy doing, that Jasmine appreciated having done. At first she saw this as a betrayal of her and Steven’s philosophy. She thought to herself that “this diagnosis must be driving Steven insane as he has betrayed the very element of his lifestyle that formed a bond between us.” But over time she began to see that Steven’s “insane” acts were enhancing their bond, and she began doing things that she did not enjoy to in order to please Steven.  

Instrumentalism and the Love of Learning

Within industrialized countries usually when a child, or someone else for that matter, asks why it is important for them to do well in school, they are told that they should do well in school because this will help them get into a good university and get a good job so that they can support themselves in the future. This instance reflects a problematic attitude in industrialized societies that schooling is primarily the means by which citizens acquire the skills necessary to pursue a career. This attitude is troubling because it tends to stamp out an intrinsic love for learning, by encouraging people to think of any form of learning as merely a means to an end, rather than something that could have value on its own account.

We can see how deeply this attitude manifest itself within industrialized societies, because from a young age we are constantly told that the reason why we need to do well in school and learn things is so that we can get a good job. We are never told that the most admirable kind of human being, might be one who not only has a breadth of knowledge, but also someone who loves learning and is constantly drawn to develop a firmer grasp of the world and their place in it. This shows that members of industrialized societies are encouraged and habituated to think of learning as a tool external to themselves that will help them get the job that they desire, rather than an element of the best kind of life for a human being.

If we become habituated in thinking of learning as simply a means to career improvement our love of learning may be stamped out, as we will begin to only see learning as a means to an end. This is problematic as one thing that gives man his value is that he longs to understand the world and his place in it, not just so he can attain comfort through a career, but because understanding the world and his place in it is an intrinsically worthwhile activity. Therefore, if learning merely becomes a means to career improvement we will be clever beings with a variety of technical skills, but we will lack a fundamental element of what gives us our dignity                                                    

Furthermore, there is great freedom in the attempt to learn for its own sake, rather than to learn to attain some further end.  In such a case one is not doing something that is commanded by necessity. Consequently, learning to pursue a career is a less free activity, than learning because of the intrinsic value of such education. Thus, if we merely pursue learning as something that can help us get a good job, in a certain sense we will be less free than if we pursued learning as an intrinsically worthwhile activity.

Currently, the way that the value of education is framed tends to encourage people to merely think of learning as a means to a career, but at this point it does not seem that this framing has fully stamped out the understanding of the importance of pursuing learning for its own sake. A testament to this is that there are still many people who pursue degrees in the humanities and the social sciences, which have fairly minimal job prospects, because they see the activity of trying to understand what it means to be human as intrinsically valuable.  However, if industrialized societies continue down the path of framing education as merely a means to a good career, over time we may begin to fail to see the intrinsic value of learning, and this would be problematic for all of the reasons I have noted above.

 

The Fetishization of Quantification

The widespread use of programs like “Microsoft Project” indicates the degree to which the culture of advanced industrialized nations fetishizes quantification. In such nations as soon as something is quantified it becomes more reliable as a guide to judgment even if the process of quantification is absurd or arbitrary. For example, to return the example of “Microsoft Project,” it seems highly implausible to say that one can give an accurate percentage estimate of how far one has completed a particular task, or the percentage of Project A that are covered by Tasks X and Y. The use of these tools for planning is completely understandable as they provide a structure that enables people to more easily organize tasks, but the fact that these tools  are taken so seriously, and no one seems to question whether the quantification that is required by “Microsoft Project” can be performed in a non-arbitrary way reveals the fetishization of quantification. It begins to seem that as long as we quantify something, it is more reliable and less arbitrary than something that has not been quantified, no matter how absurd or arbitrary the process of quantification is.  

The question then arises as to why we have this attitude? One plausible explanation is that numbers taken in abstraction to how they have been gathered seem much more reliable than personal judgment. For example two bags of flour may seem equally heavy to me after I have lifted each one, but when I weigh them I realize that one is indeed far heavier than the other.  The problem with this attitude is that while there are certainly places where quantification is beneficial, quantification in and of itself does not separate us from personal judgment. Rather quantification throws personal judgment one step back into the background.  For example, when judging whether one can quantify something we always have to ask if we can reliably and non-arbitrarily translate this thing into a numeric value without missing something important about what is trying to be measured.  So even when quantification is prudent and sensible, quantification requires judgment, just as all human activities require personal judgment. So by quantifying something we do not necessarily increase our objectivity, or the reliability of the information that is being conveyed. 

It may be obvious to say that a quantified measurement involves as much judgment as a non-quantified judgment, but most people will react much more positively to something that is quantified, than something that is apparently a personal judgment of an individual, despite the fact that all quantification involves judgment, while being one step removed from that judgment. This indicates that many have a bias towards the quantified,   because it seems somehow more reliable than what is not quantified.  Consequently we seem to fetishize quantification as we seem to think that quantifying something somehow makes it more reliable while being unable to explain how it make something more reliable or non-arbitrary. Therefore, the problem with the fetishization of quantification is that it blinds us to the importance of the centrality of judgment to human life and if we are blinded to this facet of human life we will never understand ourselves or others, we will merely know facts. Of course we will be making judgments, but we will be doing so without a reflective consciousness of the fact that we are making such judgments.

 

The Rich Life of Homo Economicus

Homo Economicus or James Peterson as his friends called him was a confident teenager just entering the prime of his life. However, despite his confidence James had some very difficult choices ahead of him.

During High School, James played in a hardcore punk band called “The Rotting Mung Beans.”  James acquired a great deal of pleasure from playing in the band, and according to his calculation playing in this band was what gave him the largest percentage of the overall pleasure that he acquired through living. According to his calculation playing in “The Rotting Mung Beans” accounted for 40% of the pleasure that he gained on an average week while spending time with friends and family gave him 35% of his pleasure in an average week.

James was a fine guitarist and “The Rotting Mung Beans” had developed a significant following within the Sequoiaville area. Their sound could be compared to  Black Flag, the Dead Boys and Minor Threat.  After realizing how much pleasure he derived from playing in the band, and their relative likelihood of success, James made the difficult decision of not entering a post-secondary institution so he could devote all of his time to playing with his band. While this decision was difficult for him to make, it was fairly simple. James merely discerned that he would gain the most pleasure and experience the least amount of pain if he took this path.  Even though James had graduated at the top of his class and could have pursued any profession this was irrelevant as according to his calculation every other life path he could have taken, besides playing with “The Rotting Mung Beans,” would yield more expected pain and less expected pleasure. In fact, he had discovered that the level of expected pleasure he would gain by devoting his time to playing in his band was 50% higher than the rate of expected pleasure that he would gain by pursuing any other career. Likewise, the rate of expected pain that he would experience by devoting his time to playing in his band was 30% lower than any other life path that he had before him. 

James applied this decision procedure to all of his decisions, and this decision procedure was not something that he had constructed, but rather it was something that was a natural part of his constitution. Making decision in any other way was unthinkable to him. He thought to himself “how could anyone make a decision in any way except according to the rational weighing of expected pains and pleasures? Surely any other method would be irrational and artificial.”                

Furthermore, this decision making method had worked for him in the past. While he had never done something magnanimous or honorable, he had managed to live a pleasant life thus far. Furthermore, he was a well-regarded person, because even though he was not particularly charming, his decision procedure had led him to treat people with respect, as this would ensure that no one would prevent him from leading his life according to his decision procedure. 

The Relationship Between Leisure and Entertainment

When one asks the question of what place entertainment should have in our lives most inhabitants of industrialized nations would respond that it is perfectly legitimate to spend one’s leisure time being entertained. In this blog, I would like to show the problematic nature of the aforementioned opinion.

Entertainment at its very core seems to be something that must be enjoyed through immediate consumption, rather than something that has durability and requires time to fully appreciate. For example, the quintessential entertainment activity might be watching a sitcom. At the time, the sitcom is pleasant, but it does not require reflective analysis, or a rich set of capabilities to appreciate. It is something that is immediately consumed. Just like eating a chocolate bar, we immediately consume a sitcom and enjoy that moment. Furthermore, entertainment does not teach us anything or stick with us; it provides us with a short pleasant experience, and once the experience is over we move on with our lives as though nothing has happened. When we watch a sitcom, we do not think that this episode really counts in the overall structure of our lives. It is a mere pleasurable experience with no further meaning attached. Entertainment is thus quite fairly characterized as a pleasant distraction.

Now it should be noted that I am not suggesting that sitcoms are inherently incapable of sticking with us and engaging reflective analysis. Part of what makes entertainment what it is, is the subject matter, but, the other side of what makes entertainment what it is, is how it can be appreciated, and how it tends to be appreciated within a particular context. In principle, there may be sitcoms that can engage reflective analysis and stick with us, but very few of us appreciate them in this way, and they can be enjoyed as merely pleasant experiences.

It is problematic to say that it is legitimate to spend one’s leisure time being entertained, because while entertainment is certainly a valid practise, if being entertained is the sole, or primary, purpose of our leisure time it will distract us from being reflective, and of discerning what kind of life we truly want to live. Entertainment temporarily abates the answering of difficult questions, and this is both its vice and its virtue. It is its virtue in that it allows us to temporarily get away from our problems and difficulties and face them anew. It is its vice because it is very easy to become addicted and overly preoccupied with being entertained, such that answering the question of how one ought to live ceases to be interesting and desirable.  It seems to me that one of the most admirable qualities of humans is that they have the capability to reflect on what kind of life is the best and most admirable. If we are overly focused on entertaining ourselves our capability for reflection atrophies and we are left living a life where we work so that we can be entertained during our leisure time. This sort of life does not seem that admirable and while it is certainly not the worst, the focus on entertainment within our culture threatens to destroy some of our most admirable capacities. Consequently, while there is nothing wrong with spending some of our leisure time being entertained, we should be ever vigilant that we do not let these pleasant distractions, distract us from other more important matters, such as answering the question of how it is best to live.

 

 

 

Ethical Thinking: Reason, Emotion, Intuition

In many ethical discussions reason is contrasted with emotion, and emotion is painted as the enemy of reason and consequently good judgment. This idea however, is problematic in that it fails to explain the way that practical reasoning tends to occur. The idea that emotion is the enemy of reason and consequently good ethical judgment usually suggests that emotion is the enemy of reason because emotions like sadness, contempt and joy will cloud a person’s judgment and not allow them to see which ethical issues are at stake in a situation. It is true that emotions can cloud judgment, but emotions also enable ethical judgment. Emotions are a necessary part of the very structure of ethical thinking. For example, if I am thinking about whether friendship is good I will ask myself whether a life with friendship would be less worthwhile than a life without friendship. To answer this question initially I will have to ask whether I admire a life with friendship more than a life without friendship. But to ask what I admire more is to ask about how I feel about something. Or put differently, to ask about my emotional reaction. Now once I have understood my emotional reaction to friendship I can reflect upon it, and revise that reaction in light of contradiction with other feelings I have, or in light of some higher good, but the engagement of our basic emotional reactions, or feelings, about things is required before we can reason about what is valuable. Furthermore, once we have rationally analyzed whether something is good, we must ask whether the solution that reason has provided is convincing; that is, we must ask how we feel about the solution provided by reason, and whether it really captures our basic feelings about ethics or convinces us that our basic feelings were misguided and need to be revised. So we move back and forth from feeling to rational analysis and back again to feeling. If we take emotion out of the question when we ask the question “whether x is good” we have nowhere to start answering the question and cannot complete answering the question. Emotional reactions must be reflected upon and can be revised by reason, but it seems that emotional reactions must play a part in our thinking.

Now it may be argued that admiration, and contrastingly contempt, are not emotions in the strict sense as when we usually think of emotions we think of sadness, anger, love etc, but not admiration or contempt. On this account my argument would have failed to show that emotions are a part of ethical reasoning. But like sadness and anger, admiration and contempt are something we feel, rather than something we think. I feel admiration for a person; reason may play a role in my analysis of what a person is like, but my admiration for them is a feeling. Consequently, it seems plausible to suggest that admiration and contempt are emotions. Thus, it seems credible to think that while emotions may not be the motor of ethical thinking, they are a necessary part of ethical thinking.

However, one plausible way of denying that emotion is a part of the structure of ethical thinking is to argue that while emotions are not involved in ethical thinking, intuitions are necessarily involved. Intuitions like emotions are something that we feel, but unlike emotions intuitions imply a certain judgment about a certain thing. One can conceivably be sad or angry for no reason thus these emotional reactions imply no judgment about any particular, but if one admires something, or some person, this suggests a judgment about a particular thing. On this picture it is true that feelings of admiration and contempt are necessarily a part of ethical reasoning, but these feelings are intuitions, rather than emotions, and consequently, emotions need not have a role in ethical reasoning. I would be willing to accept this argument, and in fact this is the sort of approach I lean towards, however in order to deflate the idea that feelings are not a part of ethical reasoning it was important to discuss the emotion/reason dichotomy. We have to realize that much of the thinking that we do concerning what is valuable is bound up with feeling, and consequently feeling is not the enemy of reason.

Critiquing Political Rhetoric: “Big Government”

The term “Big Government” is often used by the American Right to suggest that anyone who is for “Big Government” is necessarily opposed to individual freedom and individual rights. This use of the concept of “Big Government” is harmful to political dialogue because it covers over the actual disagreements between those who endorse “Big Government” and those who oppose it.

I will begin by noting that “Big Government” simply refers to a state that intervenes to a large degree in society. Now do those who favour “Big Government” actually oppose individual freedom and individual rights? It seems to me that in fact there is no inherent tension between being a supporter of individual freedom and individual rights, and “Big Government.” To explain why this is the case I will examine two possible arguments for why” Big Government” might be opposed to individual rights, and argue that neither of these establish a necessary tension between “Big Government” and individual rights and freedom.

Firstly, one critique of” Big Government” notes that because “Big Government” requires greater taxation than smaller government, supporters of “Big Government” must be opposed to individual rights, because greater taxation necessarily violates a strong right to private property. Let us call this the proprietarian critique of “Big Government.” The problem is this critique of “Big Government” depends on a contentious conception of individual rights in which one cannot be coerced to monetarily support societal imperatives without fundamentally having one’s property rights violated. However, this conception of individual rights is not something that all reasonable people can be expected to hold, and thus it is completely reasonable for someone to believe that individuals have a weaker right to property that is not sullied by high levels of  taxation. The disagreement between the proprietarian critic of” Big Government” and the supporter of  “Big Government” is not that one is for individual rights and the other is not, but rather that they hold differing conceptions of individual rights, and how strong one’s right to property ought to be. 

Secondly, another critique of “Big Government” is the idea that as government becomes larger and intervenes more in people’s lives it will be more likely to endanger their rights.  Let us call this the slippery slope critique of Big Government. This critique however does not show that proponents of” Big Government” are unconcerned with individual rights and freedom, because someone can perfectly consistently recognize this danger, and say that the benefits of “Big Government” are worth it, despite the dangers. Likewise such a proponent of “Big Government” can also support such devices as the rule of law, separation of powers, and third party watchdogs to ensure that the dangers that “Big Government” poses do not erode its citizen’s liberties. It is an empirical question whether “Big Government” actually does endanger the rights of people and history does not seem to suggest that “Big Government” tends to leads to the dissolution of individual rights and freedom within constitutional liberal democratic states. Most Western European States that are characterized by “Big Government” have not experienced much erasure of individual rights and freedom, despite the expansiveness of the initiatives that the state undertakes.

Consequently, there does not seem to be any tension between supporting “Big Government,” on one hand and supporting individual rights and freedom on the other. Many people in both America, and Europe are strong supporters of individual rights and freedom, and supporters of “Big Government.” The position that these people hold is not paradoxical rather it results from disagreements about the nature of individual rights, how dangerous “Big Government” actually is to individual rights, and whether there are constitutional devices that can prevent a strong state from endangering the freedom and rights of its citizens. Consequently, when the American Right use the term “Big Government” to suggest that those that favour a more interventionist state are opposed to individual freedom, they are falling to the level of mere polemic and not actually talking about the actual disagreements they have with proponents of “Big Government.”

Now, let it be known I am not a blind partisan of “Big Government.” The society that “Big Government” creates is problematic in many ways, but “Big Government” has no necessary opposition to individual rights and freedom, and thus opposing it, on the grounds that it is necessarily corrosive of individual rights and freedom is dubious at best.

 

 

 

 

Problematizing Authenticity as a Vocational Ideal

The notion of authenticity is a central element of modern western culture. This idea supposes that persons ought to be true to themselves. When the notion is applied to the entire life of a person it is difficult to argue with as almost no one would argue with the idea that people ought to be true to themselves and live a life that reflects their particularity or uniqueness. But when the notion of authenticity is transformed into a vocational ideal it becomes problematic. Authenticity as a vocational ideal is the notion that a person’s career should be something that expresses their particular nature and thus something that the person finds deeply meaningful and fulfilling. With this notion of authenticity, a successful career would be doing something that reflects your particularity and that you find great fulfillment in. I will refer to this notion of authenticity as “careerist authenticity”, while I will refer to the more general notion of authenticity, as authenticity simpliciter.

The problem with careerist authenticity can be seen from two sides: from the perspective of people trying to choose a career, and for employers who are hiring people. I will look at each side in turn, and note that from the side of the person trying to develop a career, careerist authenticity often fosters anxiety and malaise as people realize that a career that would be authentic from the standpoint of careerist authenticity would not be one they would be willing to pursue because it would involve endangering their survival, stability or comfort. From the perspective of the employer, careerist authenticity becomes problematic, precisely because many people end up choosing comfort, stability and survival over careerist authenticity. Thus, employers who buy into careerist authenticity screen out people who are willing to work, because they feel that if a person is choosing a job for wealth, stability or comfort, they will do a poor job. This itself creates an additional problem in which people are encouraged to present themselves as someone who will find fulfillment in their career, even when they will not, as many employers want employees who view their career in terms of careerist authenticity.

I noted earlier that for those choosing a career the notion of careerist authenticity can foster anxiety, and a certain malaise. The notion of careerist authenticity has this effect because if someone buys into this concept than unless one is very lucky and finds a job that pays reasonably well that embodies one’s calling and allows one to find fulfillment in it, one will be very disappointed and anxious because of the fact that achieving survival and comfort will mean choosing less meaningful work. Let us take a look at an example. Someone realizes that their most authentic calling is writing music. This person would write music if they could for a living, but they realize that they have little chance of being able to support themselves through writing music as a career, and thus they realize they must find a job to ensure their survival and comfort. Or they could try to pursue writing music as a career, understanding that they may fail and be impoverished because of it. A plausible reaction to this situation is anxiety over the fact that one will not be able to do what one finds most meaningful to survive, but rather will have to do something one is less drawn towards. Some may view this anxiety as childish, but I think this construal fails to account for the problem. These people want to contribute to society through pursuing a career that is an expression of their authentic calling; they are not simply people who do not want to work in the “real world.” Rather, the “real world” makes it impossible for them to devote themselves fully to their authentic calling without endangering their comfort and survival.

This anxiety however is reinforced and made more intense, by the tendency for parents and educators to stress the careerist authenticity view of life. As a result of this many youths tend to unwittingly adopt the careerist authenticity view because that is how they have been taught to understand their career and their life. Furthermore this anxiety is also intensified by the affluence of western societies. Much western youth never experience impoverishment, and thus they tend to forget that the primary purpose of work is to achieve survival and enough wealth for comfort. Similarly, one additional thing that intensifies this anxiety is the fact that the modern age is founded upon the conquest of nature. Consequently people have a sense of hubris and feel that humans are perfectly entitled to remake the world to suit their pleasure. Therefore, the fact that the world fails to allow people to fully devote themselves to their most authentic calling, is much more upsetting than it would be for someone with a more premodern understanding of society in which society reflects nature, and society cannot be constructed in whatever way to suit whatever human desire. Although the notion of a career itself a modern invention, so this comparison itself is perhaps not that adept.

On the side of the employer looking to hire someone, if the employer understands careers in the terms of careerist authenticity they will only look to hire people who fit with a particular position in terms of careerist authenticity. That is they will only look to hire people whose authentic calling is to work in a particular position. This is problematic from the standpoint of modern standards of business efficiency itself, because many people who would be good workers are screened out because of factors that are completely arbitrary with regard to business efficiency itself. It is true that if someone has a career that fits with careerist authenticity they will likely do their job better than someone who has a career that does not because they find their vocation deeply fulfilling, but still there are still many people who would do a good job in a particular position, even if the career is not an ideal position for them according to careerist authenticity. So, from the standpoint of business efficiency itself careerist authenticity is problematic. Furthermore, this attitude is problematic for employers to have because it encourages dishonesty in workers as they must sell themselves not simply as people who will do their job well, but who will find meaning in their job and people who are “passionate” about their job. This encouragement of dishonesty can develop into a habit and corrupt people, because habituation in vice encourages further vice, as habituation in virtue develops virtue. Not to mention the fact that this need to play the role of the passionate worker further alienates the worker.

So, given all this criticism of the notion of careerist authenticity, what is the best way to counteract this problem? The answer is unclear to me. There are many possible ways to radically alter the economy such that meaningful work can be separated from the pursuit of the means to life and people do not have to face the agonistic choice between meaningful work and survival through work that is understood by the worker as a mere means to survival. However, I do not have the space, nor do I have the expertise to get into this issue.

One other possible solution is accepting that the advantages of a bourgeois commercial society of jobholders, have certain costs, and one of those costs is that we will have to face the agonistic choice. Related to this solution is trying to encourage a shift in the modern culture away from understanding careers in the warm fuzzy terms of careerist authenticity, and ensuring that employees and employers understand that the careerist authenticity is problematic, and that it is better to be honest that careers are primarily a means to survival and comfort, rather than something that represents one’s authentic vocation or calling.

However, the solution that I have just proposed is problematic as careerist authenticity itself is reinforced by the imperatives of capitalism, in that firms and employers wish to sell themselves to possible employees as firms that will provide people with careers that fit with the terms of careerist authenticity itself. This is not to suggest some orthodox Marxist notion that the relations of production determine ideas and culture, but rather more modestly that productive relations will reinforce certain ideas and certain cultural forms. Consequently, it seems that careerist authenticity is here to stay, at least for the mean time, and will remain a part of the culture of the modern west, until some fundamental changes occur.