I have nothing against unions as such. My father was a rank-and-file member, all his working life, of the Boilermakers' Union. SEIU, however, is a public-sector union, a horse of a different color. So what's the problem with public-sector unions? Briefly, this.
You pay taxes. Some of your tax dollars go to pay the salaries of so-called 'civil servants.' Some of these 'civil servants' belong to unions that automatically deduct union dues from their salaries and funnel this cash to the union bosses and lobbyists who pressure Democrat Party legislators to do their bidding. Legislators, being human, love their power and perquisities, and do whatever they can to hold onto them. To stay in power they need votes which they get from the union members who vote as a block for the Dems to get as many goodies as they can.
So we the people are forced via taxation to support the fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable Democrat Big Government agenda. Would you say that that smacks of corruption?
Suppose you object that that the Dems are not fiscally irresponsible. Well, then you are wrong, but you have a right to your opinion. That's not the issue, however. The issue is whether it is legitimate to force people to support political parties whose ideas they oppose.
Liberals tend to oppose cooperation to competition, and vice versa, as if they excluded each other. "We need more cooperation and less competition." One frequently hears that from liberals. But competition is a form of cooperation. As such, it cannot be opposed to cooperation. One cannot oppose a species to its genus.
Consider competitive games and sports. The chess player aims to beat his opponent, and he expects his opponent to share this aim: No serious player enjoys beating someone who is not doing his best to beat him. But the competition is predicated upon cooperation and is impossible without it. There are the rules of the game and the various protocols governing behavior at the board. These are agreed upon and respected by the players and they form the cooperative context in which the competition unfolds. We must work together (co-operate) for one of us to emerge the victor. And in this competitive cooperation both of us are benefited.
Is there any competitive game or sport for which this does not hold? At the Boston Marathon in 1980, a meshuggeneh lady by the name of Rosie Ruiz jumped into the race ahead of the female leaders and before the finish line. She seemed to many to have won the race in the female category. But she was soon disqualified. She wasn't competing because she wasn't cooperating. Cooperation is a necessary condition of competition.
In the business world, competition is fierce indeed. But even here it presupposes cooperation. Fed Ex aims to cut into UPS' business -- but not by assassinating their drivers. If Fed Ex did this, it would be out of business. It would lose favor with the public, and the police and regulatory agencies would be on its case. The refusal to cooperate would make it uncompetitive. 'Cut throat' competition does not pay in the long run and makes the 'cut throat' uncompetitive.
If you and I are competing for the same job, are we cooperating with each other? Yes, in the sense that our behavior is rule-governed. We agree to accept the rules and we work together so that the better of us gets the appointment. The prosecution and the defense, though in opposition to each other, must cooperate if the trial is to proceed. And similarly in other cases.
Is assassination or war a counterexample to my thesis? Suppose two warring factions are 'competing' for Lebensraum in a no-holds-barred manner. If this counts as a case of competition, then this may be a counterexample to my thesis. But it is not that clear that the Nazis, say, were competing with the Poles for Lebensraum. This needs further thought. Of course, if the counterexample is judged to be genuine, I can simply restrict my thesis to forms of competition short of all-out annihilatory war. Or I could say that rule-governed competition is a species of cooperation.
Competition, then, contrary to liberal dogma, is not opposed to cooperation. Moreover, competition is good in that it breeds excellence, a point unappreciated, or insufficiently appreciated, by liberals. This marvellous technology we bloggers use every day -- how do our liberal friends think it arose? Do they have any idea why it is so inexpensive? Competition!
Not only does competition make you better than you would have been without it, it humbles you. It puts you in your place. It assigns you your rightful position in life's hierarchy. And life is hierarchical. The levellers may not like it but hierarchies have a way of reestablishing themselves.
Furniture-mover in Santa Barbara; exterminator in West Los Angeles; grave-digger in Culver City; factory worker in Venice, California; letter carrier and mail handler in Los Angeles; logger in Forks, Washington; tree-planter in Oregon; taxi-driver in Boston; plus assorted day jobs out of Manpower Temporary Services in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Boston. One thing's for sure: blogging beats logging any day of the week, though the pay is not as good.
Five reasons to avoid blue-collar work: (1) The working stiff gets no respect; (2) the pay is often bad; (3) the work is boring; (4) working-class types are often crude, ignorant, resentful, envious, and inimical to anyone who tries to improve himself; (5) the worker puts his body on the line, day in and day out, and often bears the marks: missing thumbs, hearing loss, etc.
Being from the working class, and having done my fair share of grunt work, I have been permanently inoculated against that fantasy of Marxist intellectuals, who tend not to be from the working class, the fantasy according to which workers, the poor, the 'downtrodden,' have some special virtue lacking in the rest of us. That is buncombe pure and simple. There is nothing to be expected from any class as a class: it is individuals and individuals alone who are the loci of value and the hope of humanity.
But individuation is a task, not a given. Nicht gegeben sondern aufgegeben.
There are no true individuals without self-individuation, something impossible to the mass man who identifies himself in terms of class, race, sex, and who is never anything more than a specimen of a species, a token of type, and no true individual.
And then these types have the chutzpah to demand to be treated as individuals. To which I say: if you want me to treat you as an individual, don't identify yourself with a group or a class or a sex or a race.
A Bukowski binge appears to be in the offing, following hard on the heels of Beat October, all part of ongoing ruminations on styles of life and modes of muddling along the via dolorosa of this vale of samsara enroute to points unknown. Here is something that came out of my pen early in the predawn:
Barfly and gambler, flâneur and floozy fritter away their time. And they are condemned for so doing by the solid bourgeois. But the latter thinks, though he may not say, that the pursuits of the monastery and the ivory tower, though opposite to the low life's dissipation, are equally time-wasting. Prayer, meditation, study for its own sake, translation and transmission of culture, the vita contemplativa, Pieperian leisure, otium liberale, moral scrupulosity, mindfulness, the various disciplines of palate and penis, heart and memory, working out one's salvation with diligence -- all will evoke a smile from the worldly bourgeois fellow, the man of substance solidly planted in the self-satisfied somnolence of middle-class mediocrity. He's tolerant of course, and superficially respectful, but the respect becomes real only after the time-waster has managed to turn a buck or secure a livelihood from his time-wasting by becoming a teacher in a college, say, or a pastor of a church.
Your last post puts me in mind of the hoary old story of the timid student hovering outside his tutor’s door not knowing whether to knock and disturb the great man. At that moment one of the college servants walks past: “Oh, it’s all right dear, you can go in. The professor’s not doing anything, he’s only reading”.
Ambivalence towards reading and other activities in the life of the mind reflects the fact that we are embodied spirits. As spirits, we dream and imagine, think and question, doubt and despair. We ask what is real and what is not. It is no surprise, then, that we question the reality and importance of reading and writing and study when these activities are not geared to what is immediate and utilitarian such as the earning of money. Our doubts are fueled in no small measure by the lethargy and hebetude of the body with its oppressive presence and incessant demands. The spectator of all time and existence, to borrow a beautiful phrase from Plato's Republic, should fully expect to be deemed one who is 'not really doing anything' by the denizens of the Cave.
The bias against the spirit is reflected in the phrase 'gainful employment.' What is intended is pecuniary gain, as if there is no other kind. The bias, however, is not without its justification, as we are embodied beings subject to all the vicissitudes and debilities of material beings generally.
Morris R. Cohen, A Preface to Logic (Dover, 1977, originally published in 1944), p. 186, emphasis added:
It would certainly be absurd to suppose that the appreciation of art should justify itself by practical applications. If the vision of beauty is its own excuse for being, why should not the vision of truth be so regarded? Indeed is it not true that all useful things acquire their value because they minister to things which are not useful, but are ends in themselves? Utility is not the end of life but a means to good living, of which the exercise of our diverse energies is the substance.
Or as I like to say, the worldly hustle is for the sake of contemplative repose, it being well understood that such repose can be quite active, an "exercise of our diverse energies," but for non-utilitarian ends.
Ralph Nader, for example. Does he ever enjoy life, rest in contemplation, put aside for a time all his views and projects and schemes for improving the world? Does he consider consuming less jet fuel in his zeal to improve the unimprovable?
Chalk it up to my contemplative, quietistic bias, but activism as a way of life strikes me as ultimately meaningless. It is similar in meaninglessness to money-making as a way of life. And it doesn't matter whether one's activism points Left, Right, or sideways.
It is self-evident that money can only be reasonably pursued as a means to an end, and not as an end in itself. I would say the same about activism: the only reason to be active is to secure the conditions of contemplation. I intend the latter in a broad sense to include scientific and philosophical theorizing, artistic and literary creation, and the like.
But don't suppose that quietism rules out action and involvement: there are malefactors to smite and wrongs to right. One should do one's bit. I stay informed about the passing scene, I vote, I speak out. But that's all at the margin of my life, where it belongs. There is more reality in an hour of meditation or a ten mile run than in political activities.
If I had Nader's ear, I would say: You need to be more and do less. Enjoy what is, which, after all, is the constant and irremovable basis of all your frenetic advocacy and activity.
Setting aside his policies and programs, I admire Nader the man. His honesty and integrity are manifest. He is not in public life to feather his nest or advance himself in the usual ways. Still, a life consumed with activism falls short of the ideal.
If you can 'relate' — as we used to say in the 'Sixties — to what I have just written, then you have more than a few paleoconservative bones in your body.
Prevalent attitudes toward work and money are curious. People tend to value work in terms of money: an occupation has value if and only if it makes money, and the measure of its value is how much money it makes. If what you do makes money, then it has value regardless of what it is you do. And if what you do does not make money, then it lacks value regardless of what it is.
A man stands on a street corner, Bible in hand, and preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. Passersby regard him as of no account, as a loser, a bum, a fanatic. They give him a wide berth and would be embarrassed to be seen associating with him. But let the fellow clean himself up, get himself admitted to a divinity school, earn a degree and become an assistant pastor somewhere, and suddenly he has social status of sorts. For now his preaching is a livelihood, a means of attaining a comfortable living standard, and he is now a serious and productive member of society. He is now of account and is known to be such at the local bank. He amounts to something in the economic and social currency of the realm. As the Danish Socrates might have said, he has learned how to make a living from the fact that another man was crucified. The allusion, of course, is to Kierkegaard.
A novelist sits in her garret and scribbles away day by day. Her relatives and acquaintances think her a failure despite two published novels. You see, they fell stillborn from the press and she barely covered the costs of writing them. When she explains that she lives for her art, some smile indulgently, others display demeanors that run from quizzical to scornful, but all mock her behind her back. For it is clear to them that she is wasting her time on a lot of nonsense. But let the novelist hit paydirt, and all changes. Now she is of account. Scorn turns to envy. She is on her way to becoming a person of substance in one of the more crass senses of this irridescent word. For now she has found a way to turn a buck from her writing, and that confers value upon it.
Suppose there were no way to make a living from philosophy, or that one’s chances of making a living from it were about as good as a chess player’s from chess. Suppose, in other words, that philosophy had no place in university curricula and that there were no teaching jobs. How much philosophy would be published? How many journals and presses would go under? How many introductory texts would see the light of day? What would become of the professional organizations, the conferences and congresses and the rest of all that philosophically marginal busy-ness? How many ‘philosophers’ would abandon philosophy and end up in real estate?
Would it be a bad thing if there were no way to live from philosophy? The answer is not obvious and indeed depends on one’s conception of philosophy. Consider a related question: Would it be a bad thing if no one were able to make a living from religion? In thinking about these questions, you may want to consider the examples of Paul the tentmaker, Spinoza the lensgrinder, and Thoreau the surveyor.
What they lived for, and what they lived from, were kept distinct. An exemplary modus vivendi if you want my opinion.
I do appreciate e-mail, and I consider it rude not to respond; but lack of time and energy in synergy with congenital inefficiency conspire to make it difficult for me to answer everything. I am also temperamentally disinclined to acquiesce in mindless American hyperkineticism, in accordance with the Italian saying:
Dolce Far Niente
Sweet To Do Nothing
which saying, were it not for the inefficiency lately mentioned, would have been by now inscribed above my stoa. My paternal grandfather had it emblazoned on his pergola, and more 'nothing' transpires on my stoa than ever did beneath his pergola.
So time each day must be devoted to 'doing nothing': meditating, traipsing around in the local mountains, contemplating sunrises and moonsets, sunsets and moonrises, and taking naps, naps punctuated on one end by bed-reading and on the other by yet more coffee-drinking. Without a sizeable admixture of such 'nothing' I cannot see how a life would be worth living.