Matt, I have been lurking on OT for several years, and lately following you daily. I appreciate so many of your contributions, they spark a lot of reflection and dialogue. Right now I have many ideas and responses piling up that connect to your most current preoccupation – your Dream. I hope PM is an appropriate way to share my thoughts with you (I just can’t bring myself to post, besides, tl;dr, lol). If it starts a conversation GREAT, but if not just use/muse what you can. I intend this offering to support you.

There are a lot of ways in to the interconnected topics you engage … but I’ll start with WORK. You seem a bit at odds with it lately; here are my thoughts.

I. The Meaning of Work

Necessity of Work
That we have to expend energy to live is a given. The basic relationship of living things with the natural, physical world is one of (unequal) energy exchange. We survive by tipping the balance in our favor – more input than output. Although we have off-loaded much human labor to machines and eased our burden by harvesting energy-rich resources, human effort is still required and so we work. I see no way around this existential constraint; work cannot be eliminated. I find your goal to never work again puzzling, especially because you are not unfeeling and inconsiderate of the rights and need of others. How can you do this fairly? For me the problem of work is how to make it less onerous, more joyful, more dignified, more uplifting.

We have made progress. Many jobs are interesting – even exciting – to those whose skill sets they match/exploit/use. Other jobs that would be tolerable are made insufferable by necessary interaction with other less-than-kind people, as you well know. You have noted many times that you enjoyed the tasks of your job at Goodwill – it was your co-workers and supervisors that made working there untenable for you. But this is a people problem, not a work problem. And yes, many jobs are boring, stultifying, having little value in their execution or performance, but are still MUCH better than the subsistence living (let alone feudal serfdom and slavery) that preceded the industrial revolution. We are not yet smart enough to exploit nature well enough that no one needs to work. But even if we were, there are other reasons that make work meaningful to people.

Work as Structure
One filter I see people through is the need for structure. Two basic types in this scheme: those who need structure, and those who don’t. Within the group of those that need structure, there are again two types: those who can make structure, and those who can’t. Here are some associations I make among these groups.

People who don’t need structure are rare. They are so intelligent, creative, and flexible that they live by competently improvising, day-to-day. Many live equitably, managing fair gives and takes fluidly. Some are artists, musicians, inventors, who enrich culture and life for all. But there are always cheaters, grifters, and con artists who live off the system they do nothing to maintain.

Of the people who need structure, those who can’t make their own are followers. Structure making is high-level thinking, comprising the management of multivalent systems at multiple scales. Creating order out of such complexity is hard work – mental work is the hardest thing humans do. So some people opt to plug in to structure that others make for them. They are the cogs in industrial, corporate, religious, cultural machinery. This is a kind of piggy-backing, but I think it not unfair. People in such situations willingly accept fewer material rewards, in light of the hard mental work they don’t have to do. They see the structure they rely on as a form of pay, or as a benefit of less-skilled work. This is where I put many working class Trump supporters. They are happy to work for wages that allow them to raise a family and be secure. They don’t aspire to wealth, because they know the greater effort it takes, and either understand their own limitations or value things that working so hard at such a high level would cost them, like time with family and friends. They are un-resentful of other life-styles too, accepting that greater effort earns greater rewards – as long as they are getting a fair deal. Which they believe they no longer are.

There are really capable people who excel at making structure, and do so willingly for others. I generally think of these people as entrepreneurs, inventors, also teachers of every level, religious leaders, philanthropists, and others in public service at high level. A great many of these folks live equitably, enjoying out-sized rewards for their tremendous contributions, but of course there are cheaters too, whose rewards are not justified and come at the expense of others. Private equity executives, for example.

In every honest case, though, work provides structure that most people need.

Work as a Social Construct
People also need to belong – we are a social species. We create many, many, many types of groups to satisfy this need. One is the workplace. As important as belonging is, so is signaling that you belong. A job is a participation badge, as are the spoils of work: home, car, clothing, hobbies. I am unsure from your posts if you have little need to belong, or are at odds with the ways available to belong in our cultural milieu. If the first, you are very unusual, but I get it. I am an outsider in so many ways – left-handed and female, INTJ/INTP and unusually intelligent, although I am comfortable with it. If yours is the second reason I am very sympathetic. Belonging possibilities in contemporary Western culture are narrowly defined and are so abstracted and removed from meaningful human interaction as to be inauthentic. I think we share these struggles. However, I am just as determined to live equitably, as I am to live on my own terms.

II. The Ethics of Work

I can embrace your dream, because I don’t need you to be anything – I am broad enough to embrace many concepts of participation and many frameworks for belonging. Neither who you are, or the choices you make are any reflection on me (unlike all shaming Priscillas). So I can respect you and your choices ….. as long as they don’t burden, hinder, or harm me or others. In the main, this means you have to support yourself. I see it as a moral obligation.

In the contexts I outlined above, all work is important. But some work is devalued, mostly by those who rely on comparison with others for self-identity (Powers, for one). An example I use to make this point (especially with friends who like to rank) is that of garbagemen. We live in a city, and the people who collect and dispose of our garbage are the most important public service workers we have. Aesthetic and physical comfort depends on garbage pick-up, and in the extreme, so does our health. José Saramago brilliantly and viscerally made this fact in his novel “Blindness.” For another illuminating take, check out the recovered/rediscovered/uncovered humanity of Brazil’s recyclers in Victor Muñoz’ photographic essay “Pictures of Garbage”. I do not want to live in a world without garbagemen (or women), and I take good care of mine. Most OT sucksters don’t see it this way (although I do believe BoBro gets it), and use the forum to profess their hierarchical view of work and workers, and to shame non-workers. I do share their concern with, if not disdain for, those who don’t/won’t work. But I think I have a more generous view of work, so fewer people are out of law in my world. A lot of work is unrecognized as such, and so invisible, without value.

Unrecognized work has a long history, because historically it has been the work of women or of low-caste members of society. Google ‘emotional labor’ or ‘worry work’ for descriptions of the hidden work of contemporary life that is usually unacknowledged and uncompensated. Those who most vehemently discount it are often the ones who most benefit from it. See the Catholic Church for an obvious and egregious example: doctrinal sanction of the unpaid and devalued even-though-necessary work of women, which intentionally signifies women as inherently less worthy.

Information sharing is one type of hidden labor, and I see this as the work you do. It is how I know you and what my amicable feelings towards you are based on – your curious, critical, questing, contemplative, and generous intellect. Especially compelling to me are your posts in the Science and Engineering thread regarding the latest medical/health/biology studies, but I find your philosophical musings also worth my time. It is significant to me that you are not satisfied with discovery, that you are driven to share what you learn and know.

So, contrary to the opinions of most OT-ers, I think you do work and contribute. If you were inclined to participate more fully in your society, Reference Desk Librarian would be an excellent – ideal! – sanctioned job or profession for you. But I also believe your dream life as you envision it has the possibility of maximizing the offerings uniquely yours to give. Because it is founded on sharing – via Instagram, OT posting, and conversations – I think it valid work. You have expressed an almost philosophical refusal to be existentially pigeon-holed by any job, and yet I could see this ‘work’ as your calling, and thereafter define you. Maybe the drive for meaningful work isn’t pie-in-the-sky, but instead innate and valuable? Rather than dismissing work as an inherently unfair concept, I think we should strive to re-define it, to include all possible forms and flavors of human capital and labor, and then to fairly compensate them.

The question for you becomes, how is your Dreamwork underwritten? In other words, how do you get paid?

Self-funding is the most acceptable model in contemporary culture, since your dream’s product and the labor required to produce it are economically invisible.
GoFundMe is a model that accommodates more forward thinking about work, yet also satisfies barter/transactional frameworks, in that contributors expect a benefit from your shared perspectives and knowledge, and as such are clients or customers, however indirectly.
Universal income is another valid payment model, if it is framed as compensation for the hidden labors of life, of which altruistic knowledge-sharing is one.

With respect to self-funding, I really have no problem with you using a UI settlement as start-up cash. You’ve paid into the fund for years, as have your employers, and if it propels you into another fair, albeit novel, work-for-pay situation, well then, that’s exactly what it’s for. I would have a problem – philosophically – with you using any or all government ‘welfare’ program payments as your perpetual, basic income source. I think it unfair to others.

III. Adulthood

Hinduism explains life as a series of developmental stages, with varying responsibilities. I make (a Western) sense of this in terms of the changing relationships an individual has with the wider world. As a child, you have limited responsibilities for others; rather, others are responsible for you. Adolescence is that part of childhood where you seriously prepare for the next stage – taking care of yourself. This marks the beginning of adulthood, and encodes the first principle of responsibility: you alone are responsible for yourself. I take this to mean you are required to engage in equitable exchanges with others, i.e., you do not take more than you give.

This is the crux of my issue with perpetual reliance on government assistance – or any other subsidy – for the necessities of life. As an adult in this our contemporary human evolved state, you are beholden not to be a burden to others. Of course, calamities happen. But built into any modern social safety net are the ideas of impermanence, and paying in. The Western cultural expression most easily understood this way is insurance. You pay for protection against unforeseen and no-fault random happenings, against bad luck. That’s fair to others, because you’ve provided for your benefit in advance. You’ve hedged against calamity, contractually, with a group. In your case using your UI settlement for any new venture is cashing in on your policy, and so valid. Living on the dole, on the other hand, is an unfair, out-of-balance exchange with others.

(Of course there are people who can’t work, and I believe there are equitable ways to accommodate them. But you are able, so I’ll leave that discussion for another time.)

The other developmental stages of life that follow the acceptance and attainment of personal responsibility in Hindu philosophy simply enlarge the circle of caring to match an increase of capacity. When you have taken full charge of yourself, you can then care for children and spouse; when your family is secure you can expand your scope to cover community. Community responsibility takes many forms, like serving as an elder in your church, or starting/running a business that keeps others employed. Your dream falls into this stage, for me, due to its emphasis on sharing; I see you caring for a collective well-being. The final Hindu developmental stage is an inward turn, where you forsake the outer world, and attend to your spiritual growth. I also see your dream having this aspect to it, in some part.

One of my favorite poems is Rudyard Kipling’s “If”. It is a wonderful meditation on grown-up personhood. Maybe you know it? I think you would like it, if you haven’t already encountered it.

I am excited for you and your dream, and I hope it comes to pass and is more fulfilling and healing and wonder-full than you can imagine. I’ll be following your journey on social media, and here at OT too. I am about as far away from your starting point as possible in the continental US, but if you make it [to Connecticut] [here] you are welcome to come and see me – for a shower, a meal or two, a bed for a night, and lots of conversation. Good luck!


(And feel free to include any/all in your posts, but keep me anonymous? Thanks)


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