Wednesday, November 18, 2009


My main critique of the Possibility Alliance was that unless one was a gardener, animal husbander, cook or builder, there was not yet available the opportunity to pursue an avocation. Though serving others is a real important human need, the ability to engage in work which is creative, challenging, character-building, at times joyful; work that one can get better at over a lifetime; that engages the hands, the brain, and the heart; that is in line with one's values and does not exploit other beings; and that engages the material world, is also important and we can define it as avocation. Service is a way to help other people. Avocation is a way to serve the spirit that moves in all things, in unique ways.

The buddhist concept of right livelihood is an intermediate between avocation and livelihood. It has the part about work that is in line with one's values and ethical, but not necessarilly the rest.

Work as a means to personal fulfillment is a liberal western idea, relatively recent, although many artisans and peasants have had that idea for a long time before 19th century liberalism and the industrial revolution. Here is a quote from one of Gandhi's disciples, Lanzo del Vasta that contrasts work as avocation and (most) Mainstream work:
"A man makes himself by making something. Work creates a direct contact with matter and ensures him precise knowledge of it as well as direct contact and daily collaboration with other men; it imprints the form of man on matter and offers itself to him as a means of expression; it concentrates his attention and abilities on one point or at least on a continuous line; it bridles the passions by strengthening the will. But in order that work itself, and not just payment for it, shall profit a man it must be human work, work in which the whole man is engaged: his body, his heart, his brain, his taste. The craftsman who fashions an object, polishes it, decorates it, sells it and fits it for the requirements of the person he intends it for is carrying out human work. The countryman who gives his life to his fields and makes his flocks prosper by work attuned to the seasons is successfully accomplishing the task of a free man. But the worker enslaved in serial production, who from one second to another repeats the same movement at the speed dictated by the machine, fritters himself away in work which has no purpose for him, no end, no taste, no sense. The time he spends there is time lost: he is not selling his creation, but his very lifetime. He is selling what a free man does not sell: his life. He is a slave."

Let us examine the way that Mainstream Kult is defining work and career.

First, work is confused with livelihood, or more precisely with how one earns money.
When people ask "what do you do?" or "what do you do for work?" they mean "what do you do for money?".

Second, if money is the motivator, it is not the best way to motivate and to produce an excellent product, as Alfie Kohn claims in Punished by Rewards. For excellence, one needs intrinsic motivation, which is what the aspects of avocation listed above provide.

Third, the middle class concept of career is not incompatible with avocation as defined above, but career for most is more about social status than anything else. Also, most of the few privileged people who have careers that give them joy still fall short on connecting with the material world, because most careers now are computer or office related. My avocation has so far been science--mainly theoretical physics, which has the above shortcoming. I correct for that by engaging the material world with engineering projects, which although they fit the definition of avocation, do not give me as much joy as theoretical physics. I think most people who have a career do not have much time for anything else in Mainstream Kult. And most of the few privileged who have careers are not meeting the ethical standard of not exploiting other beings in their work, although the exploitation is usually indirect.

Fourth, avocation as defined above is somewhat of a masculine need, and the masculine references in Lanzo's writings may not have been only a relic of the 1940s. To work in order to have comfort and security is a feminine trait. I advocate balance within individuals, whatever gender they are. I will work to ensure food and shelter for me and all beings, AND I will risk my life/livelihood so that all people could also have the opportunity to have an avocation. I see most people working so that they and their families could have comfort and security, regardless of what that entails for other people (especially if those people are out of sight).

Fifth, work for money that is neither for service or for avocation is like prostitution or like slavery. Prostitution does not have to be about selling one's soul though, it could be an avocation; I am using the cultural connotation attached to that means of livelihood, where one does not only sell one's body, but one's soul. I would rather starve than prostitute myself.

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