Friday 5 June 2015

Advice to young Christians: work at the fringes, avoid large institutions

Given the nature of current society - is there a positive approach to life?

One way came from an e-mail that I got from a pen-friend, Laeeth Isharc. He pointed-out that it is (almost always) a delusion to imagine that we can 'work within the system', to 'change it from within': in practice, this is simply a path to corruption and self-dishonesty.

But we could instead aim to work at the fringes and avoid large institutions.

This does not answer all problems, of course; but it does provide a (potentially) positive framework for organizing life.

And the decision to work at the fringes and avoid large institutions might - in and of itself - induce and reinforce a good and helpful attitude to planning life.



David said...

What would be some examples of successfully working from the fringes to illustrate this advice? Are we talking self employed? Small businesses, etc.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - One distinction about the nature of an institution might be - Is your boss a person or a committee? Were you appointed by a person or a panel?

As for fringe - that is obvious enough. Fringe is not-mainstream. And not aspiring to the mainstream (not envying it, nor emulating it, nor reacting against it, nor resenting it) is vital.

Nicholas Fulford said...

A person still has to wrestle with the Red Queen, and not having sufficient resources to do that means many who might otherwise work around the edges are drawn into the middle. A living wage is necessary, but so is work that is held as good and meaningful.

However, I do think that social status, economic and hedonistic expectations often bind people to work that is not meaningful within organizations that are less than ideal. (I am fortunate to work for a good company which I feel has a strong set of guiding principles.)

It is like toying with the One Ring - first disgusted, then drawn and finally enamoured with "The Precious". The path to corruption is one of increments that are scarcely noticed in the beginning. Like Dorian Gray's portrait - clean at first - slowly morphing into hideousness, one small compromise at a time.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - Bad enough for you; but think how much worse it would be for a young Christian!

Adam G. said...

Christians in the old days were better armed against these kinds of temptations when they had formalized them as the World.

David said...

@ I guess the practical question is once you have been assimilated/appropriated by a large institution how do you buck the system and opt out? I have an average income for a job I struggle to value and see as grossly ineffectual/harmful at the institutional/organisational level, but my skill set and contacts/knowledge/ access to other viable fringe opportunities is limited. I have been trying to find some way to get out of this situation for a while now but I don't know how to do it. Furthermore if you want to try and have a family soon, which I do, this means a radical change in income source is too risky as the resources generated by the wretchedly unhappy work life is essential to keep (Catch 22). It seems a lot of my peers, friends and relatives have found the same pattern to be true. Once the 'man' has you tied down with a mortgage and an institutional job title protected by red tape it seems like you are in a spiders Web that is very difficult to extricate oneself from it. If you try to go part - time they tell you your not committed/driven enough to grease your way up the pole and they give you more paperwork so your 4 days working week is effectively 5 anyway but you get paid less and lose the leisure time you were trying to win back. You are also earmarked for the cull at the next organisational restructure. If you retrain with an expensive masters degree or similar, even if you can afford it, to increase your hourly rate and then cut back, this will usually mean an even greater moral compromise to go further into the types of role such as "management' or 'Human Resources' (has there ever been such an ugly/detached title?) Sinking further into the quagmire you were trying to get out of anyway.

One lives in hope for a solution, some greener grass somewhere, but thus far it seems elusive to even identifying in principle. The Baby-boomer generation seem to have been able to clear this hurdle in last 20-30 years by being born at the right time and owning property at the right time, which fortuitously enabled them to have the Capitol to invest in an 'opt out' arrangement like property development/becoming a landlord/investing in a small private business such as a BnB, holiday homes, etc. Unfortunately, unless I am mistaken, my generation, simply do not have access to that kind of capital to afford a fringe opt out to live pleasantly and independently in the countryside somewhere, unless they have a wealthy family, which I have seen happen as well. Saving for an opt out seems unrealistic. For the rest of us, escaping the 9 til 5 trap (realistically such a job takes far more from you than that anyway in terms of loss of leisure time, the will to live, etc.) requires an X factor of some kind to pull it off. A kind of heroic Steve McQueen in the great escape drive and resourcefulness to escape over the border into Switzerland on a motorbike where the system will finally just leave you alone in peace...

I still am v attracted/long for a fringe life. For example, I saw a TV program yesterday about Iceland. A family there made there living collected Eider down from ducks nests and rearing the chucks to increase numbers in the wild to counter the effects of predation, they also had a thriving blacksmith business and bred Iceland horses in a small farm holding. Difficult hardy work I have no doubt but there seems something unquestionably *real* about this kind of way of life compared to slavishly sitting behind a desk satisfying the insatiable paper monster of a large institution and talking about things all the time in meetings, therapy sessions, etc. with no actual tangibly *real* results. If modern depression is a personality type, then my personal tendency to depression appears to be contingent on a yearning for an authentic or *real* way of living in the world before the next one, God willing, parts me from the yoke of the paper monster for ever.

Bruce Charlton said...

@D - Your framing is probably inaccurate.

As an employee in a large state bureaucracy you are probably feather-bedded and de facto unsackable - by the standards of the private sector.

You are probably very comfortable - and in no danger of starvation or exposure, by world historical standards.

You have probably made little serious effort to economize - eg by cutting out expensive holidays, not eating out, making do, having no car or buying the fewest, cheapest cars, and using them as little as possible etc. You could probably save several K a year currently spent on luxuries, giving a greater margin for flexibility.

Two options. Stay put but reframe your work in terms of more important larger goals (religion, marriage, family etc). Or, if it is intolerable, you probably ought to reboot your work situation - new job and/or new location, either at home or abroad. A fresh start, one way or another.

Bearing in mind things always have to get worse before they get better - and maybe you need to save a cushion of several K pounds first.

Once you have a strategy to get on with - a Hero Quest! - everything will look different.

David said...

Thanks Bruce. Fair points. I agree there is definitely room for cuts and savings. I would benefit from a spreadsheet approach to our household finances to try and save more towards the eventual  'Great Escape.'

"As an employee in a large state bureaucracy you are probably feather-bedded and de facto unsackable - by the standards of the private sector."

On reflection this is an excellent point which I have to date undervalued. It is worth bearing this in mind when one considers the endless 'targets' that are used to bludgeon us as employees by management - and the intense psychological stress this engenders in employees causing them to burnout and become fundamentally demotivated - that it is probably all bark and no bite! So perhaps I should relax a bit more rather than trying to tow the line all the time - As you say my job is a safe bet and I am unlikely to get fired unless I do something drastic.