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What if money was no object?
October 10, 2012 5:23 AM   Subscribe

What if money was no object? [SLYT] A brief talk by the philosopher Alan Watts. Previously
posted by MuffinMan (61 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really like this philosophy.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:34 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hate this attitude. If money was no object, I would do absolutely nothing, really. I'd spend time with my wife, I'd play some video games, but I wouldn't become a master of anything I could get a fee for. I think a lot of people are this way, too. There's a certain privilege that comes from having lucked into being able to turn your hobbies, interests, etc. into a career that most people don't experience. Plenty of the jobs that need doing aren't anyone's hobbies, but they still need doing, and most people are lucky if they can find a career in which they can derive some occasional pleasure from doing it. That's not a miserable existence, though, because there's plenty of stuff other than your job from which to derive pleasure.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:41 AM on October 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


"Isn't it better to live a short life doing what you like doing, rather than a long life, doing what you don't like doing?"

I haven't studied philosophy in any depth, but my empirical impressions thus far suggest that life is a bit more nuanced than this.
posted by three blind mice at 5:42 AM on October 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


"Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it's to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?"

"I do," Dunbar told him.

"Why?" Clevinger asked.

"What else is there?"
posted by Segundus at 5:51 AM on October 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


If money were no object I would endow a fund for the preservation of the subjunctive mood.
posted by nicwolff at 5:51 AM on October 10, 2012 [48 favorites]


His point (or perhaps his main point, he makes more than one) can be generalize to this: it's better to get a job in a field that you are interested in, in itself, than a job in a field that isn't interesting to you.

Sure, not everyone can just spend all-day outdoors riding horses for pleasure, but people who like that can get a job teaching horse riding, working as a CPA for a tack company, etc.

It's not "do what you would do, if you were rich" it's "work in the fields that you find interesting and would be attracted to, even if you weren't paid." It's not luck to identify what you find interesting and work toward getting a job in that (or a related) field.

A more subtle point that he makes is to condemn our school system for convincing (or allowing) our children to think that they don't find anything inherently interesting and would "just do nothing."
posted by oddman at 5:52 AM on October 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: all retch and no vomit.
posted by procrastination at 5:56 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's all retch and no vomit.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:56 AM on October 10, 2012


On preview, it's all retch and no vomit.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:57 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


My experience, though, has been that the experience of making a living at what you enjoy can quite often destroy your love for that thing. Often to the point of you never doing that thing again. At least not for pleasure.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:58 AM on October 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


Flea wrangling is a tough gig in anyone's book.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:01 AM on October 10, 2012


I agree with his sentiment. I think modern life for most people is actually quite rubbish and I wonder why they persevere. really why does society bother with a lot of this meaningless activity; of shuffling around money and desires.

I think its useful to ask have many of the gains in productivity actually been wasted by us; just more miserable toil for more empty luxuries.
posted by mary8nne at 6:03 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know money is a fiction, but it's kinda tied up in how we all divvy up the finite resources and stuff.

It's why the rich are so protective of amassing the biggest piles of money, because it's relative, no?

I think I'd need to hear this philosophical talk without the 'dudes skydiving into caves' montage to appreciate it.

6 billion of us can't be travelling the world and RedBull skydiving into canyons.
posted by panaceanot at 6:03 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's not luck to identify what you find interesting and work toward getting a job in that (or a related) field.

A more subtle point that he makes is to condemn our school system for convincing (or allowing) our children to think that they don't find anything inherently interesting and would "just do nothing."


It's absolutely luck; he can do what he's interested in because his interest is one that occasionally produces work, and he's good enough at it to find work doing it. The stereotype of the unemployed philosophy student exists because most people, even people who enjoy philosophy, aren't smart enough to make it a career. The fact that they enjoy it, isn't enough; he was lucky that, for him, it was.

His question is: "what would you do if money were no object?" A lot of people would do nothing and I don't think this has anything to do with the school system convincing them they don't like doing things (a point so subtle that only you, rather than the FPP bothered to make it); I liked school, I don't like working, and no matter what he says, you can only get paid if you work. There are also things that entirely non-remunerative.

Like I said above, spending time with my wife and making her happy is the thing I like most; it's also the thing I am best at. It's the answer to every one of these asinine talks about following your bliss or doing what you live. It's also something that cannot not ever earn me a dime, no matter how many philosophers with dreamy soundtracks try to tell me otherwise. So, I do a job that's adequate, from which I derive some small pleasures, and which I would absolutely not do if there weren't a rent payment due, and I go home at night and do the thing I really love there. And I'm happy, no matter how much people keep trying to tell me otherwise.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:06 AM on October 10, 2012 [13 favorites]


If money was no object, I would do absolutely nothing, really. I'd spend time with my wife, I'd play some video games, but I wouldn't become a master of anything I could get a fee for. I think a lot of people are this way, too. There's a certain privilege that comes from having lucked into being able to turn your hobbies, interests, etc. into a career that most people don't experience.

If money were no object, you wouldn't need to make a career of your hobby.

As for whether anyone would become a "master" of anything: I'd more than make up for any slackers. I've got 4 or 5 long-term learning projects going on at all times and it's mainly having to go to work that slows me down. I expect there are others like me and in this hypothetical culture presumably that would be encouraged and therefore more widespread.
posted by DU at 6:08 AM on October 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Finding your Passion is a racket.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:11 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


> His point (or perhaps his main point, he makes more than one) can be generalize to this:
> it's better to get a job in a field that you are interested in, in itself, than a job in a field
> that isn't interesting to you.

Interested certainly, but probably not profoundly, passionately interested. I'm content to have a job I quite enjoy (in computing, where I was an eager hobbyist before going pro) but one that isn't so central to me and who I am that I can't stand people telling me what to work on or how to do it. I could never do something that actually is central to me (namely drawing) for money because of not being willing to do this at someone else's direction and to their specs. That would be a horror show and you've never seen a starving artist starve as fast as I would starve. Sure I could live with being late Picasso where there are frantic buyers for anything that happens to drop from my sketch pad, whatever it might be. But how many gigs like that are there?
posted by jfuller at 6:12 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's not "do what you would do, if you were rich" it's "work in the fields that you find interesting and would be attracted to, even if you weren't paid." It's not luck to identify what you find interesting and work toward getting a job in that (or a related) field.

One of the main problems with encouraging this kind of attitude is that all of the "interesting" fields end up with a glut of workers which that the industry can exploit without giving much compensation in return. Look at academia for example, there are so many more people that want to be tenured professors than there are actual jobs for them that it turns most academic jobs into low-paying dead ends. Meanwhile much less sexy careers like being a plumber or electrician end up being able to command better pay and benefits because there are not as many people who make it their life goal to become a plumber. The reality is that there's X number of jobs in Y number of fields out there, and as a worker you have to balance what you want to do as a career with the realistic chances that you'll be able to live the kind of lifestyle you want to live in that career. Telling everyone to just pick whatever career they imagine they would like and start doing it until they get paid may work for some people but as an overall way to manage employment it doesn't make a lot of sense.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:21 AM on October 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


"The stereotype of the unemployed philosophy student exists because most people, even people who enjoy philosophy, aren't smart enough to make it a career. "

That's a classic mistake. You don't need to be a philosopher to have a career that is related to philosophy. I know several people who have phil degrees (i.e. an interest in philosophy) and work as office managers in philosophy departments, managing editors (for journals), serve as ethics advisers for hospitals, etc. Saying to yourself "I like philosophy and perhaps I'd like to work in a way which makes use of this interest" has, literally nothing to do with luck. (Yes, getting a specific job, has an element of luck to it, but that's true in all circumstances, even when you don't really want the job for itself. So, that can hardly count as criticism of his main point.)

He's not saying that you have to be a poet, if you like poetry. He's fine with the point that not everyone can be a successful poet. He is merely pointing out the fact that poets need editors, secretaries, proof-readers, etc. So, if you are going to be one of those, why not be one for a poet? If you are going to be an accountant, but you love sports, work towards being an accountant for a sports team.

Don't just work for the sake of work itself < That's his main point, anything else you read into it is on you.
posted by oddman at 6:22 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


6 billion of us can't be travelling the world and RedBull skydiving into canyons.

Not all at once.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:25 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, poets need editors, secretaries, proof-readers, etc. If all you want out of life is to hang around in a place where there's some poetry to read, those jobs may be sufficient. If you want to be a poet, it won't likely come close to being fulfilling.
posted by Longtime Listener at 6:31 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not all at once.

I fear you under estimate Red Bull's passion for the Human Centipede.
posted by bswinburn at 6:32 AM on October 10, 2012


I don't understand the objections here based on "but you won't make much money". That's exactly the point of the video. Stop judging journeys based on the destination. You may end up at the destination (being able to command high fees) but you also may not (a short life).

You may disagree with this philosophy, but at least judge it by it's own standards. "You can't make much money by ignoring how much money you make" is just stupid.
posted by DU at 6:34 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


DU: yeah, but grinding poverty doesn't make for a very pleasant existence. Quality of life matters, and money (up to about 75k) is a big component to that.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:38 AM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Quality of life matters, and money is a big component to that.

It sounds like you know what you are passionate about, then?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:41 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is probably my favourite Alan Watts recording - Alan pretends to be God while the audience ask him questions.

Audience Man: 'When did you become God?'
Alan: 'Now.'

Audience Lady: 'Will you marry me?'
Alan: 'No.' [bursts out laughing]

I have a huge boxed set called 'Out of Your Mind' that quite frankly, changed the way I view everything. And I do mean everything. There's millions of clips of it on YouTube btw...
posted by Monkeymoo at 6:43 AM on October 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


That's a classic mistake. You don't need to be a philosopher to have a career that is related to philosophy. I know several people who have phil degrees (i.e. an interest in philosophy) and work as office managers in philosophy departments, managing editors (for journals), serve as ethics advisers for hospitals, etc. Saying to yourself "I like philosophy and perhaps I'd like to work in a way which makes use of this interest" has, literally nothing to do with luck. (Yes, getting a specific job, has an element of luck to it, but that's true in all circumstances, even when you don't really want the job for itself. So, that can hardly count as criticism of his main point.)


This is kind of unrelated to the video because he doesn't actually make that argument. He says "if you want to spend your day horseback riding, teach at a riding school" which is a job that IS horseback riding, not related. He also explicitly says "what you like doing" not "in the generically described field you like."

As for getting those jobs, it's part luck and part privilege. You have to be fairly smart to have any of the jobs you mentioned. You have to have access to education. I know plenty of people who were/are interested in philosophy who are neither smart nor educated enough to have any of the jobs you mentioned. This attitude is basically one aimed at high earning intelligent upper middle class workers, and for them it's more okay, but it's incredibly patronizing for people who simply don't have access to most jobs.

I don't understand the objections here based on "but you won't make much money". That's exactly the point of the video. Stop judging journeys based on the destination. You may end up at the destination (being able to command high fees) but you also may not (a short life).

I don't think the video is genuinely arguing for people to starve to death rather than do work they don't enjoy. Maybe it is. If it is, then I don't have any particular desire to deal with that argument on it's own terms because it's advocating for people to starve themselves to death. If "dying at an early age rather than have to spend 8 hours a day less than perfectly happy" is the "destination" than fuck that journey; making that trade if off is crazy.

I think the author of the video genuinely believes that most people will make money if they only pursue the things they're passionate about. I think reality bears out that that is not the case, at least for people who aren't smart, talented and educated, which is most of us.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:46 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


yeah, but grinding poverty doesn't make for a very pleasant existence

That's not a "but". That's a possible rephrasing of part of the video. "A short life doing what you enjoy."
posted by DU at 6:48 AM on October 10, 2012


However, if sex were no object, Alan Watts and his colleagues may have followed a much different path.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:51 AM on October 10, 2012


I think this video needs to be taken in conjunction with Watts' broader approach: a uniquely Western approach to Zen Buddhism. Existing somewhere between traditional Zen, with its focus on the hard discipline of zazen, and a more in-the-world zen of the West, Watts was not a superficial thinker. Distilling a lifetime of thought and work into "do what you want to do" is, depending upon how seriously one takes it, both exactly the point and a disservice.
posted by ellF at 6:55 AM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think a lot of jobs would become more bearable if we only had to do them 20 hours a week instead of 40; almost every job I've been in has enough downtime that with proper scheduling, that would be possible.

If they weren't becoming obsolete and I only needed to make a pittance (and had nationalized health care) I'd go back to working in bookstores. I had more fun at that job than almost anywhere else I've worked, and only left because of the money and the long hours. Standing around in a bookstore all day, helping people find books and spending the rest of the time checking out the new releases or reading at the counter, wearing jeans and tennis shoes...it was great. Got lots of exercise shuflfing book boxes and carts and generally running around.

I make a lot more sitting on my ass moving a cursor around, but I don't have nearly as much fun.
posted by emjaybee at 7:02 AM on October 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Bertrand Russell argued that nobody should work more than four hours per day in In Praise of Idleness, way back in 1932. We should be talking about one to two hours per day given modern computing technology, emjaybee.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:07 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Alan Watts is awesome, but I think that the main thrust is being a bit misread because of the metaphors. I don't think he is saying "I like skydiving into caves." and only work at a job that allows you to jump into caves, but in a deeper sense, work at what you find fulfilling and not be driven only by the rewards, as people allluded to above - you don't have to take
it so literally. Its philosophy goddammnit!
posted by sfts2 at 7:10 AM on October 10, 2012


My experience, though, has been that the experience of making a living at what you enjoy can quite often destroy your love for that thing. Often to the point of you never doing that thing again. At least not for pleasure.

Absolutely. I've been a voracious reader and enthusiastic cook of interesting ethnic foods since early on in college (30-some years). I wish I had a dollar for every well-intentioned but misguided friend who enthused "You should quit your day job and open a bookstore / cafe!" Yes, because what I want to do is ruin the things I love most with credit pressures and the demands of unfairly critical customers. I'd rather have the day job that's fine but no barrel of laughs but which pays well, and enjoy the things I enjoy with the ones I love.
posted by aught at 7:24 AM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't understand the objections here based on "but you won't make much money". That's exactly the point of the video. Stop judging journeys based on the destination. You may end up at the destination (being able to command high fees) but you also may not (a short life).

Money is just one component of it. If money wasn't involved it would be a hobby rather than a career, and part of Watt's point is that once you master whatever it is you are interested in you can get paid for it. But anyway low-paying jobs tend to suck in a lot of other ways because the fact that whoever hired you can't or doesn't want to give you very much money for your work means that a lot of other aspects of your employment are also probably not going to be ideal.

Watts makes it sound like picking something that seems interesting and doing it is inherently fulfilling and even if you end up being a total failure at it. In a lot of cases it's really not. The person who is asking for advice in Watts' story doesn't already have a burning passion for something that gives their life meaning, Watts is saying to pick something as vague as wanting to work outdoors. Is working outdoors really going to be so great that even if you make no money, have to work inconvenient hours, can't go to the doctor when you get sick, hate everyone you work with, and miss out on a lot of other non-career aspects in life that you'll be happy because at least you don't have to be in a building for 8 hours a day?

I like what I do for work but I also purposely make career choices that make it likely that I can have a good chance of choosing from a lot of good jobs instead of struggling to get a crappy job. Jobs all have trade-offs and most people's dream job isn't as great as they would expect it to be. Picking something you are vaguely interested in and trying to have it be so fulfilling that it makes up for everything else negative in life makes significantly less sense to me than looking at what opportunities are out there and doing one that gives you enough compensation to be worth your time and energy you spend working on it. I agree with a lot of what Alan Watts says about life but life is a lot more than what you decide to do for money.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:24 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


6 billion of us can't be travelling the world and RedBull skydiving into canyons.

Interesting thought experiment - how much of the world's workforce would we need if this happened. Surely, we'd need some people to make the Red Bull and the parachutes, but if everyone was doing it, and didn't care so much about having a nice McMansion and SUV - well why not? So there's no one to pick up the trash? So what, we're not generating all that much of it, since we're all out skydiving, and not sitting at home watching the TV, chowing down on take-out food and building semi-disposable Swedish furniture.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:00 AM on October 10, 2012


Modern life, it seems to me, is set up to encourage people to make as much money as they can and then to look around for something to spend it on. Watts seems to be espousing the notion of looking around first, deciding what you'd like to get hold of in life, and then working out how to go about getting it. Surely that's fairly sensible, no?

People doing jobs they like do them better and more efficiently than people doing jobs they hate. Perhaps better vocational guidence is the way to deal with our aging population and the economy's overall need to produce more for less.
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 8:00 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is working outdoors really going to be so great that even if you make no money, have to work inconvenient hours, can't go to the doctor when you get sick, hate everyone you work with, and miss out on a lot of other non-career aspects in life that you'll be happy because at least you don't have to be in a building for 8 hours a day?

I'd like to think that a society humane enough to allow people to pursue happiness would also have decent health care, pleasant folks to work alongside (since they like what they are doing), and interactions far more meaningful than the crud of the office drone's daily existence.
posted by ellF at 8:08 AM on October 10, 2012


My parents' advice to me was to get a high paying job, make a bunch of money and then go do what I wanted, (which, at the time, was art.)

Actually, though, that works out to: Spend 4-6 years amassing debt, spend 2-10 years getting to a point in your career where you can comfortably pay it back, spend 10-20 years making the payments, spend another decade trying to save enough money to do what you want, and then start working on your passion at the lowest rung of the ladder. Hopefully stay alive long enough to get in your 10,000 hours towards mastery, and then, when you are in you late 70's or early 80's you can begin to appreciate your life, provided you haven't died already.

Worst fucking advice ever.
posted by bashos_frog at 8:09 AM on October 10, 2012 [24 favorites]


I listened to this twice (thought I might have missed something the first time) and didn't hear a sentence or idea that couldn't have come from an undergrad bull session. Would have preferred the bull session, in fact, since it would lack the pretentious film in the background.
posted by she's not there at 8:24 AM on October 10, 2012


I think modern life for most people is actually quite rubbish and I wonder why they persevere.

It sure beats doing agriculture all day every day starting when you're 12 years old.

Plus, we've got vaccines, antibiotics, Hubble photos, video games, and an overwhelming abundance of great books and great music.
posted by straight at 8:32 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Taken as an actual plan of action, yes, I think this simplistic and even sophomoric. But taken as one of a list of tests to apply to any action plan, I think it's very wise. Are you doing what you are doing merely because you think it'll get you where you believe you want to be? Or are you doing it because you actually like doing it? For some courses of action, it's a good idea to find that out. For instance, taking a job, getting married, having a child, etc.
posted by DU at 8:47 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


All rich know vomit?
posted by chavenet at 9:00 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Find that out in a non-binding way. Meaning you can still take the job, etc, but know going into it your reason why.
posted by DU at 9:01 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think modern life for most people is actually quite rubbish and I wonder why they persevere.

It sure beats doing agriculture all day every day starting when you're 12 years old.

Plus, we've got vaccines, antibiotics, Hubble photos, video games, and an overwhelming abundance of great books and great music.


Recognizing the problems of the modern world does not immediately constitute a rejection of the benefits, or a preference for a world that has none of the problems AND benefits.
posted by charles148 at 9:02 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just as ellF points out the wider context of Alan Watts speech in terms of his approach as a philosopher and educator, I think it's also helpful to note the time he was speaking. I believe this talk was from 1960, a time when society as a whole was much more conformist in terms of following the path that was expected, and people were just beginning to question society's expectations from every angle.

Bulgaroktonos speaks 50 years later when the results of some of this questioning has been tested in the real world, when we are recovering from a recession etc.

Alan Watts is great, and I think what he was trying to do here may sound quaint now from our perspective in a world where we are trying to find safe footholds as capital rushes around the world at warp speeds destroying jobs left and right, but back then he was trying to shake people out of a mindless complacency that he saw as a threat to the world at large.

The vocational advice might not work so well in 2012, but God knows there is still far too much complacency, and that's why on the whole, his Watts' works and words are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago.
posted by bonsai forest at 9:09 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the world is still very conformist—we are just blind to it. Watts' perspective is as valuable today.
posted by polymodus at 9:28 AM on October 10, 2012


Practical observations in a related AskMe response from grumblebee.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:31 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: My experience, though, has been that the experience of making a living at what you enjoy can quite often destroy your love for that thing. Often to the point of you never doing that thing again. At least not for pleasure.

Maybe, maybe not. I know some cowboys and oldfart mule packers that work for squat wages and found. They'll do that until they drop, and when they get too boogered up to work they won't have a pension or health care plan to speak of. If you ask them why they do it, they'll tell you some bullshit about how they can't do anything else. Old school guys, mostly they are men, but a few women do this. When I got out of the army I intended to make a few bucks in one of a few business ventures, but shit happened, and I got into horses and mules instead, first as a volunteer packer for the Forest Service, then I went to farrier school, and hung out my shingle in the foothills near Clovis, California. I got in with an old-school cowboy and we worked up a pretty steady business, servicing pack station stock and the like.

I did it for a long time...work from June (gathering stock, taking them up to the pack station. Trim and shoe a hundred or so horses and mules to get them ready, spend some time working new stock and cutting out my green string, which I would ride for the season). Then spend the season on the trails, hauling dudes to their favorite places in the wilderness. Quit the season in November, when the snows come. On my days off I liked to ride various trails I seldom saw when hauling dudes around. In the winter I serviced my shoeing customers--trims, shoes, trained their fractious young mules and horses--alll this to build up enough capital for maybe some horse jewelry or a new saddle, another set of packer's boots or a new slicker, or fix up the truck. Pack stations don't generally pay much to their wranglers and packers. I made about $1500.00 to 2K per season, cash money, and sometimes I'd get to cut out a young horse the owner didn't want to mess with, or pick up some pack gear that I could take home and rehab into a useful fit. The corral boss maybe gets a better deal, but he earns it. I would have made more money charging them by the head to do their stock, but I wouldn't have been able to work as a packer all season, and get to live in clapboard bunkhouse and eat in the mess hall.

If you want a true moment of zen, then pad down a forest trail in the middle of the night, at the end of a thirty-mile day, leading a string of savvy mules. They make no sound, even their hooves land softly enough that you have to be in the saddle to hear them, except now and then back in the string, a hoof will toe off a rock in the trail, and the mule will snort softly, embarassed at his clumsyness. They have their pride. I can't see the ground, but my horse can, and he knows every rock on this trail, and he knows how far away the corrals are, so he paces himself accordingly. We come to the end of the trail and out on to the gravel, and the string dresses and poses when we walk to the feeders where they'll be unpacked. Grain awaits them. I hear a the kitchen door shut. The corral boss and another packer come out to help me unsaddle the stock and put away the gear. Cook has kept a steak warm for me. I'll get up in five hours and ride down into the camp at the junction of the Middle and North Forks of the San Joaguin, to haul out that party of fishermen--I'll pull four empty saddles and seven mules in. Usually we send two packers when the string gets to be more than seven critters long, but everyone is out except the corral boss. I'll spend the night on the river, on account of how far and how hard the trail is. I'll take the new horse, a night-blind appy, so I have try to get back before dark.

When I retired from all that (farriers and lower back pain are close buddies), I took RedBud on a six-week honeymoon, a pair of good mountain horses and my favorite mule, riding from the back end of Yosemite down into to Kings Canyon, staying up about 8,000 feet as much as possible. We ate brookies on a stick and watched the livestock munch on late forage in string meadows. After we left Red's Meadow, we saw exactly one party of backbackers the whole trip. She whined when it was time to come down to the trailhead. Me too. I went back up to the high country every summer until I got too boogered up to sit in the saddle. I miss it. Too many trails, not enough time to ride them all. If I had another set of years I'd spend them in the Cascades or maybe the Rockies, doing the same goddam thing.

I'm pretty sure I could have made more money if I'd stayed with my first ex-wife and flipped houses for a living, but at the end of 30 years I'd have had those memories instead of the ones I have now.
posted by mule98J at 9:46 AM on October 10, 2012 [29 favorites]


When I read The Way of Zen in the middle of America so many years ago it was a revelation for me. I will never stop loving Alan Watts. I don't care too much for the message in this video. If everybody was following their passion nobody would drill oil wells, assemble cars, lay carpet, cashier the convenience store; those millions people doing jobs like that which seem essential to keeping the economy going are doing it only for the money--the money is exactly the object.

What are all those millions people? Chopped liver?

As a religious instructor delivering Buddhist teachings to neophytes Alan Watts was in a class by himself. As an astute commentator on what's wrong with how all of us are living our lives he could be a bit of a pompous ass. The money shot from the wikipedia article on Alan Watts :

When questioned sharply by students during his talk at University of California Santa Cruz in 1970, Watts responded that he was not an academic philosopher but rather "a philosophical entertainer".

His cohert was Timothy Leary and Ram Dass and Robert Anton Wilson. All fun and thought provoking authors but none of it is any gospel truth. Also if you look at the youtube comments you see that the guy who made and posted the video is exchanging comments with youtube commenters. Bad job by that guy.
posted by bukvich at 9:48 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Modern life, it seems to me, is set up to encourage people to make as much money as they can and then to look around for something to spend it on. Watts seems to be espousing the notion of looking around first, deciding what you'd like to get hold of in life, and then working out how to go about getting it. Surely that's fairly sensible, no?

It sounds nice, but all this talk of doing what you like and not worrying about money so much is a very privileged, classist position to take. You can only not care about money when you don't have to worry about it. It strikes me like a white person declaring that race shouldn't matter and what's the big deal about it.

It's not that people are drones or wouldn't do anything without money, it's that most people have very little choice in what they do. Someone upthread said it has nothing to do with luck: this is utterly false. It's entirely about luck. Having the ability to chose at all is luck, and most people realistically don't have that choice.

Some guy toiling in a factory might have the soul of a poet and would really love to write poetry, or even just be in the industry, but it was never an option due to all sorts of circumstances. He was born poor, he didn't have access to decent education or connections, he's got bills to pay, a family to feed, etc.

What's the use of telling most people, "Don't focus on money so much!" when lack of money is what utterly constrains everything they do? Are they fools for responding to their circumstances? I feel like the flipside of this attitude, the classist side, is that those who do scramble for money and do work they don't like must be mouth-breathing sheeple, consumerist drones who can't see the prison they're building for themselves. I think most people see their prison, they just have no option to escape.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:53 AM on October 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


If everybody was following their passion nobody would drill oil wells, assemble cars, lay carpet, cashier the convenience store...

I dunno, it seems to me like we could get by pretty well without a lot of those jobs. Plus a lot of people like that stuff. I can definitely see someone liking drilling oil wells: geo-science, outdoorsy, big machinery. Or laying carpet. It's kind of a manual labor + redecorating thing.

There may not be enough people to meet current demand, true. But we have too many people anyway, not to mention the fact that these are hardly vital jobs. If only the people rich enough to afford a "carpet artisan" had carpet, how much worse off would we be?
posted by DU at 10:10 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Alan Watts is great, and I think what he was trying to do here may sound quaint now from our perspective in a world where we are trying to find safe footholds as capital rushes around the world at warp speeds destroying jobs left and right, but back then he was trying to shake people out of a mindless complacency that he saw as a threat to the world at large.

There is arguably a direct causal connection between this kind of off-brand-hippie follow-your-bliss philosophical outlook and the fact that capital is rushing around the world at warp speeds destroying jobs left and right. This is basically the thesis of Thomas Frank's entire oeuvre. It's partly the idea that money shouldn't matter that fomented the political will to gut so-called "defined-benefit pensions" (i.e., pensions) and bust unions—those labor aristocrats are just a bunch of greedy materialists, right? And who cares about factory jobs, they're old and boring and square, we're all going to be so much more fulfilled by our new creative-class jobs as "knowledge workers" and "symbol manipulators" that will show up Real Soon Now.

Work sucks. I am wholly on board with the idea that people ought to be able to get by while working less and ought to have more control over their work. But that never seems to be where these arguments go—they always seem to conclude in the idea that people should be willing to work more, and not care about money, because they should be doing something that they are passionate about, and if they're not, that's a character flaw on their part which could be fixed if they would only adopt the correct life outlook, rather than a systemic problem with the way our civilization is currently ordered.

I mean, I'm sure that in the 60s this was not what they envisioned when they were espousing these ideas, but that doesn't change the fact that they have been very useful to the kinds of people who are responsible for moving that capital around and destroying those jobs.
posted by enn at 10:15 AM on October 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree it's valuable to know and understand how ideas can be manipulated or misused (or simply misunderstood) by those working at cross purposes to the originator, but I disagree that someone like Watts ought to be judged as responsible somehow for this misuse. i.e. Watts never espoused an off-brand-hippie follow-your-bliss outlook. You can characterize the video that way, but read, or better yet, listen to Watts. He was learned and brilliant at conveying his knowledge to a wide audience.
posted by bonsai forest at 12:09 PM on October 10, 2012


I played the video again. Nowhere does he literally argue that money shouldn't matter. He is only using it as a hypothetical, i.e., a thought experiment. His concluding statement is one that encompasses money but refuses to be dominated by it: "therefore, it is so important to consider this question: What do I desire?" He's trying to nudge his audience towards self-critical thinking and reflection.

I think the fact that how the money aspect has been a fixation of this discussion speaks more about our entrenchment in the reinforcing structures that Watts describes in the final third of the clip, and less about Watts being biased/quaint/unintellectual.
posted by polymodus at 12:35 PM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


enn, I think another example of what you're saying is the way we think of paying teachers. They're supposed to be teaching because they love children and they love teaching, not because they want money. So we really don't need to pay them much.

There's lots of things wrong with that, but the most relevant to this topic is that, no matter how much you love children and love teaching, there's still lots of difficult, unpleasant, and dull work that needs to be done as a teacher. And that's true in almost every job, including ones where you're trying to do what you love. Work is hard and that's why you're getting paid for it. I think most people will be disappointed if they expect to enjoy their job all the time.
posted by straight at 1:11 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Work is hard and that's why you're getting paid for it.

I disagree. As just one example - learning jiu jitsu is way harder for me than anything I do at work, and I pay for the chance to do it. You don't get paid for work because it is hard, you get paid for it because the person paying you can get more value from your work than you can get from it yourself. (Or you sell your work directly if you can get the most value yourself.)

I also disagree with the argument that choosing what to do is a privilege, although I will say that having an easy choice may be a privilege. Anyone can choose what to do. If you value feeding your family more than following your calling, then you can choose that. Many people do not - quite a few caregivers have walked away from their charges. Others have followed paths that greatly decrease their life expectancy. People always have a choice - its just that sometimes none of their options are the ones that they would prefer.

Life is tough, decisions are tougher. Watts is just warning against taking the go-with-the-flow default decision without considering the possibility that another option might be better in the long run.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:03 PM on October 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


If everybody gets to turn their poetry into a lucrative career, hadn't we better hope someone decides to take up sewage treatment as a hobby?
posted by MrBadExample at 8:42 PM on October 10, 2012


There may not be enough people to meet current demand, true. But we have too many people anyway, not to mention the fact that these are hardly vital jobs. If only the people rich enough to afford a "carpet artisan" had carpet, how much worse off would we be?

You realize that while carpet is not per se a prerequisite for civilization, laying carpet is merely one example of a host of jobs that fall under the category of construction, which absolutely is necessary for civilization? So yes, if only people rich enough to afford artisan floor installers had floors, I'd say we'd be pretty fucking bad off.

Maybe if everyone followed their passions there would be enough construction workers to keep building and repairing buildings to keep people from dying of exposure, but it's hardly guaranteed, and I for one, would rather keep using my evil money to entice people to build me shelter than have to die in the cold.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:34 AM on October 11, 2012


[Folks, edit window is not for smoothing our your not-nice comments. Just recomment and please use it for typos only.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:46 PM on October 11, 2012


The best Alan Watts anecdotal datum I have come across recently:

When Stiles met him, the Brit was deeply in his cups, spouting obscene limericks. "I liked him immediately." But Stiles was also astonished at the amount of alcohol Watts consumed. "I asked myself how can anyone consume a fifth of vodka every day and live." When the middle-aged Watts died in the Mandala in 1973, Stiles had his answer: you can't.

(from Erik Davis' essay Druids and Fairies)
posted by bukvich at 12:42 PM on October 12, 2012


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