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Regenerating Freedom: The Challenge
The end of the Industrial Revolution gave rise to an unfulfilled promise, that technology would liberate us from the struggle for existence and create enough freedom for everyone to fulfill their highest aspirations. Economists of that time “regularly predicted that, well before the twentieth century ended, a Golden Age of Leisure would arrive, when no one would have to work more than two hours a day” where “for the first time since creation, we’ll be faced with our real permanent problem – how to use our freedom to live wisely, agreeably and well”1.
That didn’t happen. That is the problem.
The year is 2016. Our technological capabilities have reached unprecedented heights yet we are still in chains. The necessities of life occupy most of our days, while it has become harder to afford raising a family today than it was before the rise of dual-earner households2, leaving little spare time for anything else.
Most people never face “our real permanent problem”, and when they do they are terrified of the prospect of having free time – and spend it on distractions, go back to work or engage in work-like activities. We are like some convicts who have been in jail for so long they want to get back to it when they are finally freed, because they do not know how to live outside prison. We have forgotten how to be free, our lives have become our prison.
And just like life in prison leaves its mark, so does a life spent working:
“When Eric Hoffer retired from the waterfront he said he still kept dreaming of loading and unloading ships and sometimes woke up in the morning aching all over from a night’s work. He wrote, “One might maintain that a pension is pay for the work we keep doing in our dreams after we retire.”3
Retirement has become the period where we realize that we “have the means to live but no meaning to live for.”4
We have grown so dependent on work for our identity that we feel worthless when we’re out of a job5. I want you to pause and think about this for a bit. We feel worthless when we have no master. We have adopted our employer’s valuation on our person as our identity. We have internalized being a means, heteronomous. For once we are no longer of service to our employer, we feel worthless as if the only source of worth and meaning came not from ourselves but from another. It is the pinnacle of heteronomy.
You have to understand what happened. This was not accidental. Others have noticed:
“Throughout the years of teaching management, I was struck increasingly by the loaded meaning of work that has been created over the last century of management theory and practice. The social engineer joined up with the time-study man and the mild-mannered therapist. Corporations, which had always had cultures, became “cultures” that sought to transform employees into one big happy family. Companies tackled the problem of employee alienation with “entertaining” that encroached on workers’ leisure time in the guise of business dinners, corporate beer busts, sports outings, and “networking” events. Managers, charged with the task of “making meaning,” tried new ways of persuading employees to invest more of themselves in their work than the job required. Banal work got dressed up to look meaningful. At the close of the century the manager’s mantra is made up of “quality,” “commitment,” and “teamwork.” All of these approaches to management attempted to change and control the meaning of work in an organization. Under the old school of scientific management, the alienated worker did what he or she was told, got paid, and went home. The work may have been boring, the wages low, but at least everyone knew where he or she stood. Today the transaction is not as honest. While we still trade our labor, most modern work requires us to give away a slice of our private lives. Workers of the past were just overworked; today many workers are overworked and overmanaged. The exhaustion that paints the faces of workers at the end of the day may be not physical but emotional, because work demands more of the self than the accurate and efficient performance of the task at hand.”6
This trend has continued unabated. Working for a modern company or a startup doesn’t mean merely learning to do something. It means learning to be someone – even if it isn’t you.
In fact, one pundit, after citing research suggesting that no degree is better than a Liberal Arts degree for getting a job, goes as far as suggesting you take acting courses: “Because that’s what you need to do: Act like this is the job that you want more than anything in the world and communicate that you will do anything it takes to succeed”7.
Of course the irony with anyone pursuing a Liberal Arts degree so they can get a job lies in the fact that its original purpose was “meant to teach them how to use their leisure, not how to work.”8. In fact that’s why they are called Liberal Arts, the arts that are worthy of a free person9, comprised of subjects pursued for their own sake10. The Humanities have a similar reason for their title, being the kind of activities that make us uniquely human11.
To learn what is worthy of a free person, “essential…in order to take an active part in civic life”12 and what makes us uniquely human is seen today either as “useless”, acquiring value only because it has become the “tech’s hottest ticket”13 or “worthless” until 10 CEOs prove it isn’t14.
No one mentions anymore that whatever doesn’t belong to the Liberal Arts, what is worthy of a free person, belongs to the Servile Arts (artes serviles15); in other words, what you’re studying when you’re studying business, is what is worthy of a slave. The distinction is summarized by Pieper:
“Liberal arts,” therefore, are ways of human action which have their justification in themselves; “servile arts” are ways of human action that have a purpose outside of themselves, a purpose, to be more exact, which consists in a useful effect that can be realized through praxis. The “liberality” or “freedom” of the liberal arts consists in their not being disposable for purposes, that they do not need to be legitimated by a social function, by being “work”.16
The reason the Liberal Arts are seen as no longer relevant is not because they have lost any of their intrinsic value but because the majority rarely possesses enough free time to realize their need and worth or take active part in civic life. In fact, we have outsourced our civic life to representatives, thinking we are free because we vote our masters every four years17, not realizing that representation only makes us heteronomous18 – for strictly speaking there can be no reconciliation between autonomy and representation. With barely enough time to manage our own affairs engaging in public affairs seems an extravagance; an extravagance those already in power are all too willing to pick up and maintain, finding it quite convenient that most people are trained to be servile rather than educated to be free.
The situation is a complex one, given that:
“We find ourselves in a world we do not fully understand. The sheer changing complexity of everything around and inside us is as fascinating as it is overwhelming. Natural forces, both inner and outer act on us with what seems like an inescapable necessity, while simultaneously feeling that our will has a certain freedom to shape our destiny.
We do not come to this world alone but are accompanied by others like ourselves, parents and the whole medley of people who make up our contemporaries, who have been alive in the world we’re joining longer than we have. But we soon learn there have been countless others that have left us a legacy and record of innumerable decisions made in the face of experiencing the world, whether in the form we find it today or in another that is long gone. Everyone gives us, by gift, record, artifact, ceremony, tradition, payment or example, their own opinions as to who we are, what world we have found ourselves in and what we’re supposed to do in it.
Yet little time is left to pause and ponder. In school or elsewhere, we are rushed to be taught or told what to do and are supposed to make a living before we really learn how to live and what life is worth living. Then the years pass relentlessly, our prime for most of us provided we reach it, dedicated to a recurring activity that sustains our life and the world around it without justifying its suffering nor explaining its wonder. Past our prime, some of us will be lucky to live our last years in peace, finally catching up with old questions at a time we lack the mental fitness or adequate time to answer them. In the end, we prepare for our last farewell, never to return to that world in the form we learned to live in it.
There is no pause button in life. We constantly find ourselves in crossroads and have to make decisions and face consequences even if we don’t choose.”19
In short, existence is very complicated; knowing what life is about and how we should go about living it requires a lot of time, energy and effort, whether it refers to the personal or the socio-political dimensions.
However, the availability of time is a necessary precondition for the expenditure of energy in the form of effort.
It doesn’t matter how you want to change yourself or the world if you simply don’t have the time to do it. Unless you increase your temporal autonomy20, change of any kind is improbable.
What is to be done?
Is there a way we can reclaim lost time to pause, ponder and act on what life is about and what we should be doing in it?
Can we create an open, replicable, adaptive, decentralized, regenerative and iterative framework dedicated to the minimization of unwanted human labor and the maximization of spare time, without harming the environment, depending on the government or requiring the servitude of others, that anyone could build anywhere in the world at a low cost and achieve a dignified life with only ~2 hrs of necessary labor a day?
What is meant by Open
The framework would be accessible to all without restrictions, monetary or otherwise, transparent in the sense of anyone being able to see how it works down to the nuts and bolts and inclusive in allowing anyone to contribute and participate in its development. Its spirit is that of free software and not merely of “open-source”21.
What is meant by Replicable
The framework should be designed in such as a way so as to facilitate its replication by anyone, anywhere in the world. That means from publishing everything related to the project under Creative Commons Licenses approved for Free Cultural Works to sharing the 3D designs of essential tools so that anyone with a 3D printer can print them.
What is meant by Adaptive
The framework ought to be designed and developed in such a way that it can be adapted to the local conditions of those trying to implement it. For example, perhaps before receiving the documentation or manual required for building the framework, you could fill out a form that customizes the instructions to your particular conditions. For example, the framework might need to be set up differently if it concerns a population of 2 people versus a population of 50; differently if it’s setup in a place with a tropical climate versus a temperate one; differently if those building it have advanced technical know how versus having little to no technical know how and so on.
What is meant by Decentralized
The framework itself does not require any coordination with any central entity for it to function nor does it ever require any permission or license from any entity in order to be used or built.
What is meant by Regenerative
The word regenerative rather than sustainable was chosen because:
“The term “regenerative” describes processes that restore, renew or revitalize their own sources of energy and materials, creating sustainable systems that integrate the needs of society with the integrity of nature. The basis is derived from systems ecology with a closed loop input–output model or a model in which the output is greater than or equal to the input with all outputs viable and all inputs accounted for. Regenerative design is the biomimicry of ecosystems that provide for all human systems to function as a closed viable ecological economics system for all industry. It parallels ecosystems in that organic (biotic) and synthetic (abiotic) material is not just metabolized but metamorphosed into new viable materials. Ecosystems and regeneratively designed systems are holistic frameworks that seek to create systems that are absolutely waste free. The model is meant to be applied to many different aspects of human habitation such as urban environments, buildings, economics, industry and social systems. Simply put, it is the design of ecosystems and human behavior, or culture that function as human habitats.
Whereas the highest aim of sustainable development is to satisfy fundamental human needs today without compromising the possibility of future generations to satisfy theirs, the end-goal of regenerative design is to redevelop systems with absolute effectiveness, that allows for the co-evolution of the human species along with other thriving species.”22
For further information about regenerative design and its differences from sustainable design see the relevant Wikipedia for it.
What is meant by Iterative
What is meant by iterative is that the design mindset with respect to the framework would be characterized less by the need to produce a complete and perfect framework and more by iterative and incremental development23. That would make anyone trying to apply the framework, in full or in part, a valuable source of feedback for improved iterations.
B. Hunnicutt, Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream (Kindle Location 2913), Temple University Press, 2013, Kindle Edition.
See for instance, M. Woodruff, “Raising A Kid In America Is More Expensive Than Ever”, Business Insider.
J. B. Ciulla, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work (Kindle Locations 389-391), Crown/Archetype, Kindle Edition, 2000.
J. B. Ciulla, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work (Kindle Locations 243), Crown/Archetype, Kindle Edition, 2000.
J.B. Ciulla, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work, (Kindle Locations 130-144), Crown/Archetype, Kindle Edition, 2000.
S. Adams, “New Study: Is No Degree Better Than A Liberal Arts Degree?”, Forbes, italics mine.
J.B. Ciulla, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work, (Kindle Location 220), Crown/Archetype, Kindle Edition, 2000.
J.B. Ciulla, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work, (Kindle Locations 219), Crown/Archetype, Kindle Edition, 2000.
See the relevant references to Aristotle J.B. Ciulla makes in The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work, (Kindle Locations 219), Crown/Archetype, Kindle Edition, 2000, as well as the Wikipedia Entry for the Liberal Arts.
G. Anders, “That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket”, Forbes.
J. Linshi, “10 CEOs Who Prove Your Liberal Arts Degree Isn’t Worthless”, Time.
Here I’m clearly echoing Jean-Jacques Rousseau that, according to Castoriadis in his essay “The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy” as found in the book Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy (Kindle Location 1432), Oxford University Press, 1991, Kindle Edition, accused the English of entertaining similar illusions for their parliament.