The forgotten role of labour?

The forgotten role of labour?

The information age is upon us and has brought with it the concept of ‘digital nomadism’ and the 21st Century Career. We have more flexibility in the work-force than ever before, yet the current highly ranked corporate employers are losing 1/4 of their workforce every year. What is really interesting is that this paradox of labour and productivity was foretold nearly 200 years ago by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a German philosopher.


Hegel provides an argument that humans are social, political and cultural beings motivated (unknowingly or not) to participate in society on three levels – familiar, civic/market and state/government. This is counter to the view of John Stuart Mills and Adam Smith that we are first and foremost Homoeconomicus – selfish, perfectly rational individuals motivated to provide labour in return for a salary bound by a contract. Regardless of our motivations, the main way most of us participate in civil society is still through our provision of labour to produce services and products deemed useful by the market. This is equally as true now as it was in the 19th century when Hegel was prolific.


Hegel used the story of the Lord and the Labourer to demonstrates how participation in the labour market impacts upon our ability as individuals to become fully human and fully aware – able to recognise ourselves as individuals and simultaneously as an integral part of society. He also uses the story to warn us of the dangers of the abstraction of labour, particularly through the use of ‘tools’ (think computers).

In the story, the Labourer is able to quantify and realise his contribution to society by transforming natural resources (including time) into produce (commodities and services) that are sold on the market. The labourer achieves awareness of his own boundless capability for creativity and productivity, even if he does not own the produce created or if it was done to satisfy individual needs (to generate income). In contrast, the Lord is lacking self-actualisation because he has not contributed a part of himself to the development of the produce that society values, and yet he has generated an income (profit) from it. Freelancers and self-employed folk not being very common in the 19th century, the work of almost all labourers was performed for the Lord, who sold it and kept the profit.

As a result of the labourers’ efforts, the commodities that he produces and then sells become the method by which he is recognised by others. This simultaneously alienates the individuals’ identity from his true-self, whilst granting him an identity amongst society. He becomes a member of a community, known for produce of a certain type and perhaps of a certain quality. Furthermore, the labourer recognises the illusion of self-sustenance and understands his mutual dependence upon the produce of the community, thereby confirming the social motivations to cooperate with the community.

Labour then is not an instinct, but a social construct where the individual acquires skills necessary for work only by learning universal laws of work, a kind of practical education which instils in people the spirit of cooperation. Therefore the ability to contribute, to provide labour, to produce, and to see what we produce sold on the market is integral to the integration of our identities into the identity of the community/society and vice versa.

shovel to dig on the farm
shovel to dig on the farm

Now add to this that Hegel identified that the particularization of labour and separation of it from nature through the use of tools decreases the value of labour by the same proportion as it increases productivity. His intention was to show that the industrial revolution and the factories it created would lead to increasing levels of worker dissatisfaction, disillusionment and disconnection from society.

Without a connection between nature, our work and our community, we are bereft of any understanding of our place in society, our contribution to the greater good and as a result, we are likely to be fairly unhappy in our work. The resurgence in the production of boutique, tailor-made, and bespoke artefacts or the sacrifice of job security for impact, autonomy and passion in the workplace can then be seen as an effort to connect again with nature and our communities respectively, rather than the restless, impatient, irrational decision of an ADD driven millennial.

This post relied heavily on Paul Ashton’s ‘Legacy of Hegal’ Seminar at the University of Melbourne for the interpretation of Hegal, analysis and application to job satisfaction is purely the authors.

Goethe’s phenomenology

I’m living in Munich, Germany these days and I have been learning a lot, or maybe it just seems that way when the inaccuracies of our stereotypes are revealed to us. I thought something I picked up recently about Goethe (I didn’t know he was a philosopher/scientist) might be of interest to you, it is about the recent resurgence of Goethe’s scientific theory of phenomenology.

It seems Goethe’s theory has never been widely popular but it may now be emerging as an element of counter-culture against the cold, rational process of ‘modern’ science. Reading about how Goethe advocated for an immersive, experiential method of learning struck me as being aligned with a recent MOOC I participated in from MIT on Theory U and its application to creating societal change, as well as the Agile Manifesto and Quest Augmented Strategy.

Goethe’s phenomenology is being put forward as a scientific means of ‘fostering openness toward the living presence of the natural world..and it’s sensual presence as expressed, for example, through light, darkness and colour’. As far as I can tell this openness is expected to come from Goethe’s phenomenological scientific method more so than our modern, cold, laboratory based method of examining phenomena because Goethe’s advocates for an immersive, experiential examination in the natural environment of the phenomena rather than within the vacuum of a laboratory.

Theory U, the Agile Manifesto and Quest Augmented Strategy all seem to have the same thing in common – they advocate at some level for an emphasis and prioritisation of experiential learning over theoretical learning. Granted, in most cases they argue for this because of the increasing rapidity with which the world is changing and the increasing redundancy of the past, but they still trumpet the benefits of immersive, experiential learning over and above theoretical knowledge. Also, it is worth noting that is only one element of the above concepts, they are all worth exploring further.

Based on the recent success of these three concepts, is there then hope that a move towards experiential learning  in general will teach us better how to be open to different cultures and be more adaptive to technology and changing climates? Rudolph Steiner, the creator of the Waldorf/Steiner School certainly seems to think so, but that is not new. These schools have been in operation since the early 20th century. The movement of people, the diversification of the workforce and our ideas and the openness of our leaders and society to these changes seems more and more critical and required as changes occur more rapidly. Despite what some might think, the election of BREXIT and Trump as USA president are unlikely to slow the pace of change. Regression is change also, and if the global financial crisis showed us anything, it was that our economic and social systems are already vastly interconnected. Decisions or actions in one place will create a ripple effect around the world that can compound rapidly to create severe and unexpected implications, and change, where it originated.

A glimpse of our true selves

A glimpse of our true selves

The sunlight shines through the mist and leaves

streams of light sparkle and glint across my beaded visor.

The road bends gently, undulating in three dimensions

designed for ultimate riding pleasure.


The mist clears over the river Saar,

a mysterious, reflective surface is revealed.

In waiting for the clouds to lift,

we wait to catch a glimpse of our true selves.


The clouds have lifted, the tourists descended,

A muddy brown river remains.

Passing from one heavenly cloud bank through a torturous, winding path

To another heavenly cloud bank.

A glimpse of our true selves.

True Aristocracy

“True aristocracy is in being a nomad; those who settle lose their lineage.”

Yuruk Proverb.

The Yuruks (or Yorouks), as I understand it were nomads of the Turkish/Greek/Macedonian region in the 14th century. Apparently they still be wandering in those areas.

I’m not so sure that lineage is all that important, I see it as distinct and separate  from family, community and aristocracy.  True, historically aristocrats were of a particular lineage that was supposed to be better than the commoner, it implied they had some connection with a god. A greatness of person. It became an excuse for the subjugation, control and repression of the commoner.

If the greatness of people(s) should primarily be measured by what and who they accept, not by what and who they reject – the various nomads of the world would truly be aristocracy. I base this proclamation on the hypothesis that those who settle lose not their historic claim to aristocracy (lineage) but  their modern claim – their tolerance. Settlements entail boundaries, barriers, borders, walls and fences. Settlement entails protectionism and homogeneity, a fear of ‘outsiders’ and those that are different.  This could not be clearer then it is in the land of the rising sun.

Thanks Nick and the young priest in ‘Chocolate’ the movie (Easter tolerance speech) for the inspiration .

Closed mindedness

I think I’ve just completed some kind of strange cycle or spiral*.

I came to Bali in 2002 a pretty naive, innocent, innocuous boy amongst mostly people older than me. I didn’t really comprehend everything that was happening. In fact, I don’t think I had a clue. I couldn’t read people, I couldn’t tell what they were thinking, feeling or what they wanted. I was armed with a very basic set of assumptions about the world, which with hindsight, were great. I was the quintessential country bumpkin with deep sense of curiosity. I absorbed what I could identify, I was excited by it all, but ironically I think I thought it was all a bit immature but I also recognised that maybe I was a tad serious and that this was part of why I was here – to let go a little bit, to be a bit more fun.

Nine years later, I feel like I have completed a loop of the spiral. I learnt to really appreciate the moment during uni and to have fun. I physically realised during honours and in getting a job at PwC that your own expectations can be limiting. I nearly didn’t. I learnt at work a bit about people, finally. Previously I thought if I treated people how I wanted to be treated that is what would happen. I thought ‘Management’ as a subject was a waste of time. Not always. Eventually I learnt a bit about girls, but it took a long time. They still astound me on a regular basis and my stupidity probably still astounds them sometimes. I learnt all through this a little about being more open minded, to love and express feelings, to thank my dad and take care of my mum. I met amazing people and I wanted to be like them.

Now, sitting in Bali again – trying to be like the amazing people I know, I feel like I might be losing touch with the open-mindedness and I may have forgotten that first lesson a little bit – How to have fun and appreciate the moment. I think this because I look around me and instead of seeing innocent, ignorant or naive (20 yo) boys who really know how to appreciate the moment, I see drunk obnoxious louts and girls who should have more sense than to like them. Most of them are Australian.

* Why does ‘Spiral’ have downward or negative connotations? A spiral could be upward or downward right? I actually meant an upward spiral – to what I’m not sure but the upwardness in my mind signifies progress. Even though I don’t believe in teh virtues of heaven, hell or the corporate ladder, up is strangely still the way to go.

Australians – Who are you now?

Do you feel like Australia is over-regulated these days? Do you lament that the iconographic image we built of our-selves through the blood, sweat and tears of the Diggers and the integrity and determination our international sports stars during the 80’s and 90’s has been lost? I do and I hope you do to.

The image and identity of Australia as a land of larrikans, opportunity, fairness and a place where we work hard and play hard is important to me, because I’m Australian. When I meet people overseas and tell them I’m Australian it colours and tints their perspectives and judgements of who I am and can massively impact on my life.

When I was contemplating this trip I heard reports from some Poms and Aussies returning from London that  we worked just as hard, if not harder in Sydney than they do in London. Including longer hours. I was appalled. It ruined my mental projections of Aussies abroad and probably put a few cracks in the rose tinted glasses I know I wear when thinking and analysing Australia. This is one of the reasons why Morgan Parkers post struck such a chord because he has returned to Sydney after a long period away and about 6 months travelling by motorbike through Asia, and it seems he got a bit of a shock.
I wonder, what will Australia be like when I return? Will it have changed as much as how I look at and conceive it? Historical foreign policy choices are certainly starting to have much more of an impact on my thinking. 

Doing what he said without even knowing it.

I feel compelled to draw attention to this quote provided by L in a comment on another post. The reason I was compelled to do so was because without knowing it, this explains exactly why Jakarta was so fascinating:

“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.”

Carl Jung

For those that still doubt the relevance to their world, especially those living a cosy, secure life, I suggest otherwise if you consider that your world is a purely pyschic world, as Jung did:

“All comprehension and all that is comprehended is in itself Psychic, and to that extent we are helplessly cooped up in an exclusively Pyschic world.”
Dili has its own challenges, its own way of confronting the senses, the conscious and I assume the unconscious and i’m still grappling with the right words to describe it. More later.

Loving and leaving

I liked what Jung had to say about trying to define and describe Love:

“If he [who tries to define love] possesses a grain of wisdom, he will lay down his arms and name the unknown by the more unknown, ‘ignotum per ignotius’ – by the name of God.”

For Jung, according to my interpretation, God was a label for the unknown. So within this context, knowing that which I do not know and can not describe, I ask you – which of following scenarios would you prefer:

1. You meet a handsome traveller and bungee madly and ecstatically into the pit of love with him, enjoy the thrill, feel more alive than ever before in your life, suddenly understand your purpose in life and how the world is supposed to be and then watch as he cuts the cord that ties you together and leaves you to dangle over sharp rocks covered in poison envy. All of a sudden your legs feel like they are made of jelly and it seems someone just removed your stomach and replaced it with a bucket of ravenous tape worms swimming in acid.

2. You meet a handsome traveller, knock down just enough of the walls to your garden of eden so that he can smell and see the roses blooming but can’t touch them. For a while you feel safe, comfortable, satisfied and sleepy – as if you just ate two servings of mums lamb roast with baked potatoes, pumpkin, carrots and turnip with peas and gravy soaked up with fresh bread rolls covered in butter (and no garlic Mary!). Then he leaves and your sad in a way similar to when you eat too much and regret not trying that new dessert that didn’t smell quite right but everyone told you to have a piece of because it was aaaaamazing, even though they all got belly-aches after.

3. You meet a handsome traveller, smile and indulge your imagination in thoughts of “I wonder how long he is here for” and “Did he just return my smile, no he couldn’t of and if he did he is probably a man whore.” Then he leaves and you get hit by a a grandma on a mobility scooter who drives faster than you in a car and you die peacefully from internal bleeding, massively high on the huge amount of morphine the doctor gave you because he was sick of your whinging. You die wondering “Did he really smile at me”. But hey, at least you didn’t feel any pain.

Label them as you will, I feel I’m definitely a Number 1. And no, its not because I’m a CA.

Carl G Jung and the unconcious in Jakarta.

Found a book on Carl G Jung today – “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”. It is a combination biography / autobiography. Decided that reading it would be a good way to bring my entertainment budget back under control! Plus, had a quick flick through and noticed a few sections on the unconscious and the ego, a few pet topics of mine.

Reading through some of it has made me realise that these guys were really going out on a limb with some of this stuff. They were pioneers in an academic (and also practical) sense sometimes. I haven’t come across any reference to crazy wacky experiments in this book so far, but from what I know of elctro-shock therapy the basis for that treatment (which I heard is being revived in a modified and more humane sense in teating depression) was some pretty far-out experiments.

From what I’ve read so far, some of Jung;’s early work on the unconscious was based on his own dreams. The thing that got me most was that these guys were developing real theories that are still in play today, and they were doing it from scratch, not off the back of a ‘How to’ book but a synthesis of a massive amount of wide and diverse information.

In the current age we are so gifted with easily accessible information and yet it seems we do not use it often enough. How many of us have considered the works of Jung, Freud or Neitzche and wondered what lessons lie in modern psychology that might help us with our day to day problems, or more importantly – in making our lives better and happier? Not many, because instead we go to a self help book on positive psychology. How much of the original work has been lost in translation? I don’t know, but I’ve read a few positive psychology books and nothing as poignant as the following statement of Jungs has jumped out at me before:

“ I realised that the Unconscious is a process, and the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious” Carl Jung.

This understanding apparently helped Jung arrive at the central concept of his psychology: the ‘process of individuation’. More on that later – once I’ve read about it! What it helped me understand was that these days when we talk about disaffected and disadvantaged youths we often refer to the ‘environment’ that they are raised in and we accord it a portion of blame for the way a person acts. We often refer to characteristics of this ‘environment’ such as the socio-economic back ground or living standard of a persons child-hood, or the education level they receive or the social intelligence of our parents. Whereas now it seems to me that it is those experiences derived from the environmental characteristics which are captured in the process of the unconscious and how the ego influences those experiences that really determines how we think and ultimately how we act.
Environmental characteristics are obviously very front of mind over here in Jakarta. The poverty and class divide is pretty obvious, not to mention the much more frequent interaction here with ‘underworld’ figures such as touts, drug dealers and prostitutes that rarely happens (to me anyway) in Australia. The relationship with these underworld figures here is also much trickier – because pretty much everyone here is an entreprenuer of some sense, a drug dealer will be just as happy to sell you a tour (or pick up a commission selling you a tour) as they will be fixing you up with a ‘nice girl’ or selling you drugs. Being as objective as I can, it seems to me that these underworld figures are much more acceptable to me here in Jakarta then they would be at home. This may be because they also seem much more humane and more like ‘real people’ rather than ‘underworld’ figures in a sense. I put that down to the way the environmental characteristics have impacted them as they grew up and how it is affecting my unconcious now that I’m here in the middle of it.
So, must admit I’m having trouble keeping the emotions in check some-times, but hey, thats what feeling alive is all about, right? I Hope I’m not scaring anyone off from visiting Jakarta, one thing I haven’t felt at any stage is physical threat. I’m pretty sure even if you got mugged here they would do it with a smile, a “Mr” and probably even offer you a ride home in their Rojak.