Sunday, March 26, 2017

Beware the School of Life

Lately, every time I watch a video on YouTube, in my peripheral vision, on the sidelines, or in the center when my video ends, YouTube offers me a selection from The School of Life. I don't know how much YouTube has been bribed to show me those videos and to tempt me to watch them, but I'll wager that some not so small amount of money has passed hands.

The style of some of those videos is similar to this one I made to promote the unrequited love aspect of Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way.

The School of Life videos are better drawn, more professionally edited and feature a sensible sounding male voice with a British accent. "Sensible" is the word that comes to mind when listening to the advice they offer. It's quite a bit like talking to my distant relations in Great Britain. Urbane, well read and very, very sensible.

Here's the sort of advice you might get from one of the  School of Life videos:

  • Everyone has feet of clay, goes to the bathroom, puts on their pants one leg at a time, so don't let being painfully aware of your own failings blind you to the fact that you are just as much a mess as everybody else. Chin up and do your best.
  • We instinctively choose people who remind us of our parents to mate with, even when they remind us of our parents' worst qualities. So when choosing a mate, whatever you do, do not listen to your feelings. Be sensible, and choose somebody nice.
  • People don't come with an owner's manual, so this makes anticipating another person's needs difficult. But in order to keep your relationships going, do your best to help your partner unravel what makes you tick.
  • Machievelli has a bad reputation for telling princes how to do evil things, but in fact he is just trying to help nice people find a way to get by in life by manipulating others for their own good.
  • We are told to respect other people, but in fact when someone is throwing a tantrum, you should treat that person like a very small child.
  • Work is boring, but there is a good reason for that, so carry on. At least we know it is equally boring for the CEO of your company as it is for the lowliest janitor -- so it's fair! 
I don't even know where to begin. In case you think I am exaggerating, go watch some of their videos. I do not think they need any more promotion from me than they are already getting from YouTube, so I am going to limit myself to just one of their videos, the one about how boring work is and why it's all good.

Take this statement "The modern job market gives us no option but to specialize." It makes it seem so one-sided. Us against the job market. But if everybody didn't agree to specialize, what would happen to the job market? Is there something that inherently makes the job market trump all our individual wishes? I mean, I could understand it if just one person wanted to give expression to the multitude of possibilities within himself, but nobody else wanted that. But if all of us want the same thing, couldn't we do something about it? What is forcing us into jobs we don't actually want?

According to our sensible middle class British narrator, this was first explained by Adam Smith, who said that "the division of labor massively increases collective productivity." Remember this word: collective. I'll come back to it.

And then we move on to a discussion of Karl Marx. Make no mistake, our middle class British narrator actually knows something about Marx's writings, which the average American, whether a conservative, a liberal or even a libertarian does not. Most Americans I have met -- those who like Marxism and those who detest it -- assume that Marx was for redistribution and collectivization of the ownership of  the "means of production." They assume that he was preoccupied with inequality of wealth and that it was out of an egalitarian concern for meeting the material needs of the poor that he wanted socialism or communism -- or progressivism or whatever we are calling that -ism today, because the last -ism we used has fallen into disrepute. Wrong! Marx actually cared about the mind of the common laborer and was afraid he would die of boredom. He wanted to put an end to the forced drudgery of the constant repetitive actions in the factory. He cared about ordinary people's minds and souls, something no modern day socialist cares a fig for.

Now, here is where our sensible guide to Marx comes in with the most sensible twist of all. Marx was wrong! he tells us. But he wasn't wrong because redistribution of wealth violates the rights of the individual. He wasn't wrong because theft is bad. He was wrong because collectively we can produce more stuff  by all of us doing work that bores us out of our gourd. So it's all good!

"In suffering this way we are participating in a common human lot," the Sensible Narrator tells us. But the thing is, it is not a common human lot. In a free market, you can choose what you do. You can change your mind and choose again. And yes, you can even work at one job by day, and follow another career by night.

In my own life, I have been a lawyer, and a linguist, a novelist and an ape language researcher, a mother and an academician, a poet and a lyricist and a playwright. And that's not counting my hobbies of painting, taking pictures of butterflies and editing YouTube videos. My life is not boring at all. I do not do the exact same thing every day, and while some of the changes from one profession to another have been serial, many other things were done and continue to be done in tandem. There are such multitudes lurking in many of us, and they find external expression every day. I was almost tempted to say that there are such multitudes in everybody, but that would have been falling into the universalist trap that the Sensible Narrator has set.

The fact of the matter is that contrary to what we have always been told, not everybody wants the same thing. Not everybody is the same on the inside. You cannot just imagine yourself in another person's shoes and know instinctively how they must feel.  Not everybody wants to be free! Some people just want to be safe and loved and taken care of, while other people want to go on grand adventures. We are always going to be in trouble if we imagine that we can solve all the world's problems just by catering to our own desires on a global scale.

Karl Marx felt sorry for the average factory worker from the 19th century, because he tried to put himself into that person's shoes and realized that he would be bored silly! He had a kind heart, and he wanted to rescue the multitudes from boredom. But guess what? Not everybody is Karl Marx. Not everybody is bored by repetitive work. Some people are bored instead by reading multi-volume works on economics or how to build a utopia. Some people feel safe and comfortable doing the same job, day in, day out and repeating the same actions, provided they are paid well and given plenty of security.

Work does not have to be boring, nor is it boring for a great many people. Some people like to learn things by rote and keep repeating, and others like to think for themselves. There is room for both sorts on the planet, and for many other sub-types that I have not named.

There is a problem, though, if government interference forces all people to work day in, day out at secure jobs to pay for everybody's collective prosperity and security. And this is why some of my libertarian friends are running into a wall while talking to others, when they use the assumption that we are all the same at heart and all want the same things. The materialist argument in favor of capitalism only works on materialists. The romantic argument in favor of freedom of self-expression only works on romantics. And don't even get me started on how silly it is to mistake our sensible pro-status-quo friends for people who care about liberty and justice, just because they are anti-communist.


  1. We are all quite different in our own ways. I might check out these videos sometime.

    1. Yes. We are different.The videos are well made, but deeply anti-romantic and pro-status-quo. It explains why life is what it is. But in doing so, it reveals what the School of Life people think life is like. It's not like that for everybody.