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The Central Political Issue
Andre Gorz | Elsewhere | Factoids | Revisiting Ikigai
Quote of the Moment
The abolition of work is a process already underway ... The manner in which [it] is to be managed ... constitutes the central political issue of the coming decades.
| André Gorz
The issue of ‘the end of work’ has risen to the top of the business buzz, most obviously because of ChatGPT and related chatty AI tools.
in 2014, I was a contributor to the Pew Research Center’s Digital Life in 2025, where I wrote this:
The Web will be the single most foundational aspect of people’s lives in 2025. People’s companion devices — the 2025 equivalent of today’s phones and tablets — will be the first thing they touch in the morning and the last thing they put down to sleep. In fact, some people will go so far as to have elements of their devices embedded.
The AI-mediated, goggle-channeled social interactions of the near future will be as unlike what we are doing today, as today’s social Web is to what came before.
The ephemeralization of work by AI and bots will signal the outer boundary of the industrial age, when we first harnessed the power of steam and electricity to amplify and displace human labor, and now we see that culminating in a possible near-zero workforce.
We have already entered the postnormal, where the economics of the late industrial era have turned inside out, where the complexity of interconnected globalism has led to uncertainty of such a degree that it is increasing impossible to find low-risk paths forward, or to even determine if they exist. A new set of principles is needed to operate in the world that the Web made, and we’d better figure them out damn fast.
My bet is that the cure is more Web: a more connected world. But one connected in different ways, for different ends, and not as a way to prop up the mistakes and inequities of the past, but instead as a means to answer the key question of the new age we are barreling into: What are people for?
In a world where our ‘labor’ will be increasingly devalued, how are we to spend our time?
Some of my recent writings at Sunsama:
How do risk-takers challenge conventional wisdom to create meaningful change?
How can one overcome the ‘impossibility theorem’ and make a choice when none of the available options are shared by a majority?
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Andrea Olsen reports: According to a study conducted by the Edelman Trust, 1 in 3 people don’t trust their employer. According to research, this lack of trust costs U.S. companies approximately $450 billion to $550 billion annually.
By square footage, there is more housing for each car in the United States than there is housing for each person, and more three-car garages are built than one-bedroom apartments each year. | Max Holleran
The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 caused the death rate in New York City to climb about 50 percent over the previous year, a phenomenon not seen in nearly 200 years. | Joseph Goldstein, N.Y.C. Life Expectancy Dropped 4.6 Years in 2020, Officials Say.
I believe I first came across the term ‘ikigai’ in the early ‘10s, probably as a result of Dan Buettner’s TED Talk about the Blue Zones, those regions in the world where Earth’s oldest people live. They not only eat a healthy diet, but a healthy mindset focused of purposeful living.
But, like many people, I think of ikigai in the form of a chart that was promoted by Marc Winn in 2014.
A Venn diagram that appears to yield passion, mission, profession, and vocation as the intersection of four key elements of human activity:
That which you love
That which you are good at
That which you can be paid for
That which the world needs.
But it seems wrong to me.
According to Kyle Kowalski, a few years later Winn revealed the footwork behind this diagram:
In 2014, I wrote a blog post on the subject of Ikigai. In that blog post, I merged two concepts to create something new. Essentially, I merged a venn diagram on ‘purpose’ with Dan Buettner’s Ikigai concept, in relation to living to be more than 100. The sum total of my effort was that I changed one word on a diagram and shared a ‘new’ meme with the world.
So, it was all make-believe.
The original purpose diagram may have been this, by Andres Zuzunaga:
These circles and intersections line up, with the center filled with Purpose (Propósito, in Spanish).
Others — like Tim Tamashiro — have tinkered with the activities, like changing ‘that which you can be paid for’ to ‘that which you can be rewarded for’, where ‘rewards’ can take many forms, not just cash.
But the diagram still seems wrong to me.
So I tinkered with these ideas, and revised the circles and intersection to line up with my often-expressed ideas about purpose and its relation to work and community:
We need a new work culture that relies on the primal drive for autonomy and mastery in our work, the sense of belonging that comes from sharing goals and meeting them, and the impulse to gain the respect of those we respect.
I also want to make explicit the central loop of learning behind purpose.
Here’s what I came up with, in a series of charts on Purpose: Learn, Master, Respect, Help
Learn What You Are Drawn To — We should follow our natural curiosity to learn about the things in the world that interest us.
Master What You Learn — As we explore more of the aspects of the subjects of our curiosity, we approach mastery, which is the natural outgrowth of our pursuit of understanding and knowledge.
Gain The Respect Of The Respected — Our activities related to learning and mastery lead us to others who are likewise involved in their own efforts toward learning and mastery in the subject area we are investigating. We may come to respect those others, especially those who help us gain deeper understanding, such as those we work with. This leads naturally to wanting to gain the respect of the respected, as well. One form of respect is payment for our work: perhaps the baseline. But payment without true respect is more of a shadow, a corruption of respect, than what we aspire to.
Apply What You Know To Help Others — Helping others is a high calling. Choosing to help others in their own search for learning, mastery, and respect is the impulse of most teachers. And just as important is helping others outside of the learning relationship, in more direct ways, such as supporting family and community institutions, contributing time and money, or other forms of service.
Passion, Compassion, Vocation, Avocation — The primary intersections of the diagram are quite different than Winn’s.
Passion — Our passion is where we are enmeshed in the loop of learning and mastery.
Compassion — Our compassion is the reflection of our involvement in community, and our efforts to apply what we know to improve the world, at any scale.
Vocation — Our vocation — our ‘calling’ — arises from our work toward mastery in the effort to gain the respect of those we respect. This can be plain old work — as in working for a living — but hopefully, it is more than just a paycheck.
Avocation — I use this more in the ancient Latin sense — a calling away from one’s work — and less in the modern sense of a hobby. For example, the doctor serving on her City Council is providing a service to her community independent of her medical skills. Note that she is likely to gain the respect of others outside the medical profession or her patients.
The Missing Vertices
There are several points of intersection that can be thought of as signposts on the way toward meaning and purpose.
No Community, Yet — Slightly out of balance, since the learn, master, respect elements have not yet led to avocation serving the community.
Not Drawn To This Work, Yet — Slightly out of balance, since this represents not having a passion (or having lost it) for the work one is doing, even while being respected for mastery and dedication to community.
No Mastery, Yet — Again, an out-of-balance situation: a person who has not gained mastery in a domain of interest, although engaged in community and business application.
No Respect, Yet — When an individual is involved in learning and mastery out of passion and compassion, but those who they respect have not recognized their work.
The core of the diagram is meaning and purpose.
We can find meaning in any and all of the explicit circles and implicit loops of this diagram, which is an outgrowth of the dynamics involved.
Purpose is the reason we get up in the morning, the goals we set, and the sense of making progress toward those goals.
Meaning is a muscle, not a mood. Meaning emerges from the myriad activities associated with the circles and loops of purpose. It’s not a medal or a parchment with a seal of wax, but something that animates the space between us and others the way that a carpenter’s workroom smells of wood shavings, and how a crowded city square hums with ten thousand sounds of people walking, talking, and maneuvering their passage past each other and through, all happening at once, at once independent and dependent on each other.
There is no summation of meaning, it must be considered as both tiny and enormous at the same time.