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Friday, November 26, 2010

Grey Economy of Ourselves

A couple of days ago I stayed at my friends Adriana and Robert's place in Brussels and we had a good long conversation watered with Beaujolais Nouveau and Hungarian palinka. Staying without work for several weeks some years ago Robert was testing people's reaction by telling them that he was taking care of his kids when answering questions on occupation. Surprised reactions made him think how much we are associated and somehow defined and unjustly framed with what we are doing as a profession.

Some time ago I came upon a quote from Nietzsche Untimely Meditations: How we labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than necessary to sustain our daily life because to us it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from herself; universal also is the shy concealment of this haste because everyone wants to seem content and would like to conceal more sharp-eyed observers......."

I think Nietzsche got it right: we are afraid of ourselves and the emptiness that lack of haste and full occupation could possibly reveal. Life is easy when we are busy, we have a reference point, a business card, a story to tell. We also have deadlines, direction, schedules, pressure. Where are we? Is our character defined by how well we keep our deadlines, how organised we are to deliver what we produce: knowledge or cars. Is our smartness proven by the quantity of products we sell or our inventiveness by the advertising lines.

Gulag labour

I think Nietzsche was feeling that modern society was speeding up and the faster we go, the more we lose ourselves.

It is obvious that there is time needed for just being, for watching the sky 'that will be there after us', for looking for little gems crystallized in our loneliness and silence or in other words: facing ourselves, the fears, the unpleasant truths and the beauty. There is a need for an entire, legitimate identity outside of the regular economy, a grey economy of ourselves (not to be understood as valuation of house work).

On the other hand, I am convinced that what we do is important. I disagreed with my friends Dimitar and Irina when during a discussion in Greece they stated that work doesn't matter and it is a means and not an end. We should not seek escape in work but it seems to me that those who can should try to prove a point in life through work, to make a little difference. I realise this is a luxury but those who can - should afford it.

Only in this way, a compromise can be found between Nietzsche's constant escape from ourselves and the imperatives of modern society.

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