Do What You Love?

In a recent article in Jacobin, art historian Mika Tokumsitu addresses one of the most popular mantras in Western culture today: Do what you love, love what you do. Tokumsitu argues that the attitude behind this little inspirational slogan is a Trojan horse – a set of assumptions quietly eroding our respect for work itself.

This is Tokumsitu’s contention: if we believe that personal fulfillment is really the ultimate purpose of labour, then who do we expect to do all the other jobs that are not so existentially fulfilling? After all, society depends on a great many people doing a multitude of messy, unpopular, and quite ‘unlovable’ tasks, day after day. Even more importantly, the self-actualized doer-of-what-thou-loves still depends on the janitorial staff, the electronics assembly line manufacturer, and the sewage line maintenance crew. You can only do what you love as long as someone else makes sure the toilet isn’t backing up. As an ethos, doing what you love invites us to ignore the importance of most real work, and re-labels everything else as a romantic pastime.

The idea that a person can arbitrarily select any activity or interest they ‘love’ and then expect to receive monetary compensation for pursuing it depends on several factors, not the least of which include social class and economic mobility. For instance, the mother whose immediate concern is buying groceries for her children is not in a position to contemplate how her job as a cashier is supposed to reinforce her transcendent sense of meaning. For her, work is work – not a mechanism to validate her theoretical and unique identity on the planet.

Tokumsitu’s conclusion: the message that our work ought to be emotionally gratifying and spiritually rewarding only deepens the trench between the working class and the intellectual class. Even though the rallying cry to do what you love seems to celebrate the importance of work and career on the surface, it is essentially elitist and anti work at its core. Practically speaking, society would altogether fail to function if everyone did nothing but the things they love, therefore the ‘option’ only exists for a small, select segment of the population.

I also wonder what the personal implications are for believing that our work must be the object of our love. In our insistence that every dimension of life should be loveable and edifying, do we consequently undermine our ability to truly love anything? If I truly love my work, in what sense then do I truly love my family? In our effort to find jobs that we love, do we inadvertently cheapen our love for everything else?

Maybe the point of work is to work. And maybe the more we respect work as work, the more we will appreciate our interdependence. And maybe, just maybe, if work is respected, then workers, too, might be appreciated as more than minion cogs in a vast machine, slavishly working to provide a handful of ‘creative’ people the opportunity to believe employment is only meaningful if it is also a passion.

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The Witchcraft of Job Creation

When did we collectively come to believe that it is the responsibility of our government to create jobs and spur innovation?

This thought has been stuck in the back of my head for a couple weeks now. It was provoked again on Tuesday when Mike Moffatt posted:

I’d love to have a clip of every poll that claims the government created X thousand jobs. I’d put them all together then underneath have the subtitle ‘Governments don’t create jobs, entrepreneurs do.’ It’d be mind exploding. (via @MikePMoffatt, tweet 1, tweet 2; edited for style and cohesion. See links for original wording.)

Although Moffatt’s original thoughts referred to the political right’s propensity to declare “job creation” as a political victory, it seems to be an increasingly common mantra from all political stripes and colours. Apparently governments see themselves as the genesis, architects, and guardians of… private sector jobs?

Also blurring, it seems, is an ideologically rooted sense of ‘right’ and ‘left’ in political dialogue. Yes, it would appear that rhetorical posturing is as vicious as it has ever been. However, my friend Glen Pearson recently posted an article bemoaning the collective slide to ‘the middle’ — that is to say: appealing to the centrist vote without disrupting the partisan alliances has become a primary political challenge of our time. To gain power, both sides end up diluting core values to find resonance with voters who are sitting on the spectrum gradients of ‘centre’. The result, posits Pearson, is that everyone lands in a wishy-washy middle ground; a place devoid of strong moral, ideological conviction either way. (See Glen Pearson, On Protest and Power, March 25, 2012)

Stir in a globalized and unstable ingredient called ‘economic uncertainty’ and what do you get? Perhaps a federal, provincial, and municipal obsession with job creation? Is the new ‘political centre’ is just an ideologically amoral void which leaves us with nothing but to treat our politicians like pseudo economists?

When political debate dissolves into banter and theorizations about job creation, we should be concerned: the global market is indeed an extremely complex system, but it is literally driven by fickle feelings, a grand swath of personal valuations, and very human motivations. If any government or politician tells you that they can peer into a crystal ball and manipulate this system to magically create jobs in your city, state, or country, you should ask them if witchcraft is actually their profession or just a personal hobby.

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Santa Claus Economics

As long as the gifts are duly wrapped, delivered and tucked under the tree, children can happily go about their holiday bliss with no thought whatsoever about Santa’s completely undisclosed sourcing for raw materials. Neither need they give pause to wonder about the North Pole’s CSR position. What child stops and considers the wages and living conditions that elves receive in remunerative compensation? Since Santa’s revenue stream seems minimal (warm milk and cookies does not monetize to scale), there arise serious uncertainties about his corporation’s employee care policies. Indeed, Santa’s drive to undercut all competition leaves any thoughtful observer to only speculate at the true externalities.

A thorough calculation might leave some people to wonder if North Pole Corp is in fact a fraudulent institution that merely pads the belly of it’s CEO at the expense of its workforce. (Santa is the 1% – #occupynorthpole) But of course, Santa’s global marketing team has successfully squashed every rumor of his operation’s unethical behavior by spinning his image as a benevolent philanthropist for children around the world. This branding campaign of pediatric concern is unparalleled in its success, especially considering that even the metrics used to determine Santa’s gift payout scheme program for moral behavior — known simply to outsiders as the “nice list” — has never been made available for an ethics committee to scrutinize.

No, there’s a plain explanation for all of this: it’s just magic. Christmas magic. So forget about it. Holiday cheer, my friends, joyous Noel!

However, if you think Santa Claus is a thing of mythology, legend, and fairy tale, do you dare to ask yourself where all this stuff actually comes from?

Only if Santa’s magic were true could we celebrate this holiday with a clear conscious. (And what’s really more ridiculous: a benevolent man with a flying sleigh or a society that builds its entire retail economic vitality on a yearly shopping event?) Thankfully, as long as we keep believing the fairy tale of Santa Claus economics we avoid the need to investigate the actual consequences of this annual materialistic rampage.

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