Act in order to think

“Action, tempered by reflection, is the critical component in recovering from cosmology episodes. Once you start to act, you can flesh out your interpretations and rework them. But it’s the action itself that gets you moving again. That’s why I advise leaders to leap in order to look, or to leap while looking. There’s a beautiful example of this: Several years ago, a platoon of Hungarian soldiers got lost in the Alps. One of the soldiers found a map in his pocket, and the troops used it to get out safely. Subsequently, however, the soldiers discovered that the map they had used was, in fact, a drawing of another mountain range, the Pyrenees. I just love that story, because it illustrates that when you’re confused, almost any old strategic plan can help you discover what’s going on and what should be done next. In crises especially, leaders have to act in order to think – and not the other way around.”
Karl Weick

An arbitrary mechanism of power

“If the old capitalism ideally involved an entrepreneur who invested (his own or borrowed) money into production that he organised and ran and then reaped the profit, a new ideal type is emerging today: no longer the entrepreneur who owns his company, but the expert manager (or a managerial board presided over by a CEO) who runs a company owned by banks (also run by managers who don’t own the bank) or dispersed investors. In this new ideal type of capitalism, the old bourgeoisie, rendered non-functional, is refunctionalised as salaried management: the new bourgeoisie gets wages, and even if they own part of their company, they earn stocks as part of their remuneration for their work (‘bonuses’ for their ‘success’).
This new bourgeoisie still appropriates surplus value, but in the (mystified) form of what has been called ‘surplus wage’: they are paid rather more than the proletarian ‘minimum wage’ (an often mythic point of reference whose only real example in today’s global economy is the wage of a sweatshop worker in China or Indonesia), and it is this distinction from common proletarians which determines their status. The bourgeoisie in the classic sense thus tends to disappear: capitalists reappear as a subset of salaried workers, as managers who are qualified to earn more by virtue of their competence (which is why pseudo-scientific ‘evaluation’ is crucial: it legitimises disparities in earnings). Far from being limited to managers, the category of workers earning a surplus wage extends to all sorts of experts, administrators, public servants, doctors, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals and artists. The surplus they get takes two forms: more money (for managers etc), but also less work and more free time (for – some – intellectuals, but also for state administrators etc).
The evaluative procedure that qualifies some workers to receive a surplus wage is an arbitrary mechanism of power and ideology, with no serious link to actual competence; the surplus wage exists not for economic but for political reasons: to maintain a ‘middle class’ for the purpose of social stability. The arbitrariness of social hierarchy is not a mistake, but the whole point, with the arbitrariness of evaluation playing an analogous role to the arbitrariness of market success….”

Slavoj Žižek

Think of our humanity as a privilege

“People are frightened of themselves. It’s like Freud saying that the best thing is to have no sensation at all, as if we’re supposed to live painlessly and unconsciously in the world. I have a much different view. The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.” 
Marilynne Robinson

Virtuous Work

“As we might expect, a workable approach to remaking Paradise turns clever certainties about the nature of constructive work upside down. Paradise gardeners are reknown for their “zero-work ethic” – Mollison’s “reclining designer.” That’s because we are elementally about co-creating landscapes that are attuned to Nature’s patterns and rhythms: self-sustaining, edible landscapes that require an absolute minimum of intervention on the part of the Gardener. In other words, no toil: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin.” The yoke is easy.
Of course, taking it easy hardly fits in with conventional notions of virtue, but then again, our civilization’s valuation of the nature of virtuous work may well be rotten to its core. As Terence McKenna puts it: “Now you see, the current theory of problem solving is that we must solve all our problems with solutions that make a buck. Well, it just may not be possible to solve the problems of the 20th century and make a buck at the same time. But if you’re willing to put aside that notion, then the human future appears endlessly bright.” Or, to paraphrase the words of the Christos, Mammon sits fundamentally at odds with the irresistible march of evolution. That, in a nutshell, is the stark truth underpinning a collaborative return to the Garden, perhaps the truest attunement to the Great Work we are capable of. “Work, motion, life,” says William Bryant Logan, “All rise from the dirt.””

Nick Routledge