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Step 17: Stochastic arts: The Cure for Narcissism

“I think therefore I am” promotes narcissism. Can an attentive job alter your disposition?

Descartes dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” leads us to champion internal logic as a means to identify the self, driving a wedge between ethics and reason, leading to the promotion of narcissism over communal or moral virtues. Matthew Crawford discusses an alternative conception pairing how we relate to the world through “work” and Artistotle’s ideas on art/craft.


introduction by Mistah Lisa [link]
all music courtesy of Feslyian Studios [link]

Part I

Looking at Rene Descartes from a deconstructionist, post-modern lens (pop-psych 101) shows a type of self-referential narcissism, or solipsism, in the phrase “I think therefore I am.” If the primary way we know ourselves is through intellect, then we cease to give as much value to morality or ethics as a virtue to cultivate.

In Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soulcraft” he casually brings up this wedge between ethics and reason. The book pushes back against notions of white collar work as creative or intellectual, and offers subtle distinctions on how people relate to the world and find fulfillment.

Bringing up Aristotle, we find that actions are caused by a “choice”, but “desire” drives our reasoning towards our “ends”. The problem with championing reason and rationalization is that we can both rationally come to a conclusion, but those “ends” may be radically different. The question is, are we cultivating morality or ethics to curb or guide our “desires” into outcomes beneficial for society?

Part II

If we follow our desires, are we a bad guy? What happens if society hi-jacks our desires? How do we recognize sociopathy, animal desires, and narcissism when our society champions these “bad guy” behaviors?

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World considers that the citizens are fulfilling their desires. But the society’s technocracy has altered their desires to be for scientific progress and base desires (sex, drugs, and rock n roll), which leaves citizens empty, unfulfilled.

This is not a fiction, this is reality.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.

Upton Sinclair

On Idiots

Pulling from “Shop Class on Soulcraft” on the etymology of the word “idiot.”
Essentially, it means to be a “private person,” which becomes a pejorative when you are doing it in public.

Part III

Crawford mentions our “disposition” that leads us into jobs, however those jobs also form us. He warns of “easy intellectual mastery” where we can abstract the world into a cognitive model, and how this leads to a confusing retreat from the particulars of the real world when our mathematical (rational) models fail us.

This is the delima of theory or practice, techne or episteme. Crawford offers a distinction about how we approach the world, perhaps a dispositional difference between the two. Theory ASSERTS while practice must be ATTENTIVE to the world.

In the arts Artistotle says we waver between fatalism and mastery, finding where human agency lies. But producing a vision from your head is constructive, while the healing arts (doctors) or being a mechanic means you never have fully comprehensive knowledge of your subject: you do not start from scratch and manifest your vision with full awareness of each particular. These arts that must deal with investigative healing are known as “stochastic arts” and their goal is to PROMOTE rather than PRODUCE.

The need to investigate, be attentive, is at direct odds with self-absorption, leading Crawford to suggest the stochastic arts are a cure for narcissism. One must be tuned-in to subtle clues forming patterns to correctly diagnose a cause and promote a cure that is accurate and non-damaging.

The Idiot Model

Mapping out the Taylorism evolution of the workplace into an idiot factory, where corporations deconstruct the need for employees to have judgement or perceptive attentiveness (which costs more) so they can hire unskilled labor.

Crawford’s suggestion for pushing back against “absentee capital” and “systemized carelessness” : We can purchase local produce and understand that impact, but do we utilize a local mechanic, offering him/her the opportunity to be challenged, make judgments, and carry on a pool of local knowledge?


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REFERENCES / RESOURCES

Rene Descartes: “I think, therefore I am” [wiki]

Matthew Crawford “Shop Class as Soulcraft” [link]

Aldous Huxley “Brave New World” [link]

Aristotle: Stochastic arts [link]

All philosophers should look like this.

Arthur Schopenhauer [link]

A man can do what he wills, but cannot will what he wills.

Arthur Schopenhaur

Adorno, Habermas “instrumental reason” podcast [link]

Frederick Taylor… Schopenhauer looks like a badass compared to this guy.

Taylorism or “scientific management” [link]

By Ryder Richards

Ryder is an artist based in Texas who happens to do other things, like reading, writing, and woodworking.

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